It's been a busy week! I've just finished my classes for Saturday, and I'm killing time before going to see The Hobbit in IMAX. I just love how even the most expensive IMAX ticket is only about $6.
This week, I've had the pleasure of helping a student prepare one-on-one for the IELTS test, one of many English competency tests. This particular student has just finished a Master's degree in law, so needless to say she's quite sharp. I feel quite dumb in comparison. Having not taught one-on-one before, this is a new experience for me. I must say, I quite enjoy it. I feel like so much more can be accomplished than what I'm used to in typical classes. Duh.
I'm also quite a fan of teaching for the IELTS, specifically the speaking section. I feel right at home; the speaking portion of the test is, essentially, giving an extemporaneous speech after a question-and-answer session. Impromptu or extemporaneous speaking was always one of my favorite (and most successful) extra-curricular activities, and I feel like I can really be of value to my student.
The week has also consisted of after school tutoring daily after school. I am continued to be amazed by the level of vocabulary that students have in Thailand, even if they can't quite formulate the words into cohesive sentences. This is especially true of the students I tutor who aren't in the English program that I teach in; they don't have native English teachers daily in most cases, yet still manage to generally understand what I'm rattling on about. I've also started teaching another one-on-one class on the weekends, and it is quite challenging; it's difficult to teach someone who is already quite good at English something new!
I insist that my students watch English speaking films whenever possible (and actually assign them to do so); in my mind, it's one of the easiest ways to learn and absorb English, subconsciously or not. I think I'm going to buy a few DVDs to loan to some of the kids to help guide them to movies that are easier to understand due to slower speaking rates. We shall see.
One other thing I like to do with all of my extra classes is this tongue twister: Ross ran rampantly around the wrestling ring. It forces them to practice differentiating between "R" and "L," even inside the same word. It especially helps to show the different ways "R" can be used. The kids typically get a big kick out of it, and so do I.
I must say, as much as I hated homework in school, I certainly can understand its purpose when trying to learn another language. I typically don't assign a lot, but I do like to think they at least watch an English film or listen to some English music from time to time to keep it fresh on their minds...
Aside from keeping busy with school and extra lessons, it's been an interesting week. There's no point in going into details, but I will say this: do be careful what agency you sign up with. Things can easily go wrong. Our salaries were paid to us several days late, and this is after the agency changed the pay date stated on our contracts AFTER we had already signed them. Of the six or so teachers working for this particular agency at my school, one finally got full payment, two of us got payments, but less than what we were due, and the other three have still either received no payment at all or only a small fraction of what is due. To say the business is a bit dodgy would be an understatement.
Even though I personally asked about possible taxes and/or fees that would come out of my salary, and even though my contract reflects what should actually be paid, that's not what I have thus received. I humbly suggest that, if you ever sign a contract, you make absolutely clear as to its terms. This is common sense, but if you get in a situation like this, it's good to know exactly where you stand.
It's too bad, too; the school we all work at is really great. The students and teachers are all about as wonderful as you can find, so it's too bad that we must work through an agency in the first place. I can understand the idea behind the agency, though; the school doesn't want to have to hire a full-time coordinator to deal with teachers missing school and/or moving, and I can't blame them. Still, it's a shame, especially considering that bad business practices cause an unusually high teacher turnover which isn't ideal for students.
The fact that the school pays far more for its foreign teachers than what the teachers actually get is a bit upsetting too, especially if the agency isn't providing any true service to the teacher. For example, for one of the two days that I had to do my visa run a few weeks ago, I did not even have a substitute teacher fill in for me even after ample warning to my company. It's ludicrous to me that I should be deducted salary for days I miss if no one covers for me anyway. I can understand paying the "middle man" if a service is provided, but that's not the case in our situation.
The bottom line: watch out. I'm not saying that other agencies operate unethically like this, but like in any profession, you must keep on top of your own affairs and "watch your back," so to say. That said, it's all quite meaningless, really, considering that the world is ending at the end of the week anyway... three cheers for the Mayans!