English in Thai vocational schools
My first post for ajarn.com and it is already a review. Yeah, I'm not new to the teaching community in Thailand but new to ajarn.com. So I hope you guys can take away something from my experiences and let me know what you think about it.
I came here 1.5 years ago and it was all planned as a 10-month experience. I had a high paid marketing job back home in Europe and everybody told me that it was crazy to leave my career and become a ‘teacher' here in Thailand. Like so many times before, I didn't care about what others said and just did it. After sending my resume to the Vocational Education Commission in Bangkok they replied after 4 or 5 weeks (which I now consider as pretty fast in Thailand) and told me that I should go to Udon Thani to work for the vocational college. Not knowing what a vocational college in Thailand looks like or what living in Udon Thani would mean I said ‘yes'. Focus in this post is, of course, the teaching experience.
When I arrived I was quite surprised by the way things were handled over here. They gave me my teaching schedule, told me what subjects I should teach and then said I'm good to go. No test teaching or introduction. Nothing. ‘Today you start in room 415. Good luck'. There was no intro, co-teaching or whatever. Neither for the students nor for me. Nobody told them ‘hey, there's a new farang teacher coming to your class' (they could have guessed that by seeing my name on their timetable though) and nobody told me what to expect. After having spent 3 weeks in Thailand before my first day at work my Thai skills were limited to ‘khop khun krub' and ‘sawadee krub' with some numbers that could have been added so you can imagine that I was kinda nervous right before entering my first class.
But you had books and material, right?
Nope! Not a single one because ‘We only have...well...like...Thai books...you have to do it on your own...'.
So there I was. Completely new in the teaching business, no books, no work sheets, no Thai language experience and pretty nervous. Great way to start the new ‘career'. Well as it turned out, it was.
While it wasn't that easy of course, I left almost every class I held in the past 1.5 years with a smile and a good feeling. From the moment I realized that students indeed are curious and that they are, despite their laziness, willing to learn and willing to give you a chance to express yourself, I was certain that this was the right choice. Sounds incredibly corny, but suck it. I don't care. I loved it.
However that doesn't mean that I was lucky with my students or that vocational students are the creme de la creme. That's actually far from being true. Vocational students are usually the students that get sent to vocational schools because their parents don't have the money for other schools or don't want to spend it on other schools since education isn't that important. Especially over here in the Isan area working in the noodle shop at home is considered by far more important than attending classes or doing homework (at least that's what I experienced).
So how did it went?
Well to say how I experienced my past three school terms I have to divide it into two parts. The classroom part and the organizational part. Let's start with the classroom part.
Like I said, I did love teaching students from the very first moment even though it wasn't easy most of the time. Language differences forced me into some drastic and unusual teaching and acting methods and led to a decreasing fear of embarrassing myself since embarrassing myself was quite often the only way to go.
First lessons usually were used to check the English and communication skills and to show that the new farang teacher (most of my students never had a foreign teacher before) isn't that bad after all and won't bite or shout or anything like that. Incredible how many students were afraid of talking with me in the beginning Usually there were two or three students in a class of 30 or 40 who spoke and understood English well and acted as translators in a case of emergency. New vocabulary and idioms however needed the before mentioned acting skills and led to a completely new teaching experience compared to everything I was used to and prepared for.
Soon I realized that this whole ‘being different' thing was the way to go and there was no need trying to act like a thai teacher. Students appreciated the difference and showed up in increasing amounts (even though they get points for showing up in class, it's not usual that the classroom is packed). We did a lot of ‘different' (being different from boring vocational college teachers is quite easy though) assignments, used multi-media and social media and even shot English movies. All that to show that English can be fun and it's not a problem to make mistakes once in a while. Attendance in my classes grew steadily and shows that even the lazy vocational students can be motivated and pushed to new heights. Now, after 3 terms, I'll leave the college but that is definitely the part I will miss.
Bottom line: Great experience, unforgettable moments, happy ending.
Organization? Say what?
Let's take a look at the other side of the coin. The work of a teacher when he's outside the classroom. Unlike some high paid private school foreign teachers (no hate here, just stating the difference) I had my office time (except the term where I taught 42 hours per week since there wasn't time for anything else) and was always there for everything that needed to be done.
What needed to be done: Nothing. While the college told me during contract signing that they are planning to hold English camps and introduce extra English classes for talented students and further things like that nothing ever happened that even went slightly into this direction. I came up with a lot of plans and concepts that only would have needed the ‘go' of the college but in the end saving money was always more important than helping students.
As time went by I more and more got the feeling that I was only there to be shown off when farang parents visited the school or when contests of some kind took place. My chinese colleague felt the same way so it wasn't just me.
Furthermore the communication within the vocational college was just a pain in the ass. I don't want to write about exact examples since this is nothing that needs to be discussed in public nor does it interest any of you. However I can state that the farang teacher was always the last one to get noticed about anything (IF I got noticed) and that promises like supporting me with visa stuff etc. have never been met.
While this now sounds like ‘yeah mate, you just picked the wrong school' a friend of mine in another vocational school a few hundred kilometers away reported similar incidents. Maybe we both had bad luck with our schools but to me it simply looks like the majority of teachers and staff at vocational schools don't really care about their students or educational work at all. All they care about is that they have 2 days off (the main reason for many Thai teachers to become a teacher) and that they don't have to work to hard.
Bottom line: Incredibly disappointed by the way the organization in vocational schools is handled. Wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.
To finish without whining though: I still don't regret the move here and I still love teaching and I'm looking forward to my new challenge in the City Of Angels. Besides that I am, of course, glad to be part of the community here by now and am looking forward to some interesting discussions.
If you like what you read or if you want to tell me that I have no idea what I'm talking about, please feel free to head over to my blog or maybe you fancy a chat about social media and education.
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Hi Sasha, I'm working at a Vocational College in Phimai, Nakon Ratchasima and we are now looking for a native English speaker to teach here with us. Can you suggest where should I start? Our school never ever hire a foreign teacher before and I'm totally new in the field. Thanks!
By Gade, Mattaneeya, Thailand (18th June 2012)
Teaching sweet girls in Thailand has always been widely known to be much easier and far more rewarding than teaching the troublesome boys or mixed classes. Come teach at a boys' vocational school in Bangkok and I can guarantee that your experience would be much different; you would be regularly treated more like that isolated incident you described in Udon Thani, except the teens may be using bullets or knives instead of hard objects.
I lived in Thailand for over five years and I've not had one incident of harassment. In my neighborhood, people call out to me, 'I LOVE YOU!!!' I've broken up fights between Thais of all different ages when there weren't any other Thais around who cared enough to do anything (maybe that's why they say they love me; perhaps I've saved a life or two). So your experience of not getting help from bystanders doesn't surprise me. I hope that helps.
By Lisa, (13th May 2012)
@Lisa: My school was a vocational college where 90% of the students are girls, 7% ladyboys and 3% boys. So no gang violence here. And like stated in the article: I loved teaching and my students. I spent a lot of time with them hanging out, partying, traveling....They've been great from day 1.
Two weeks ago i had the first 'violent' encounter in Udon Thani (http://my-thai.org/when-thailand-loses-its-smile/) though but it wasn't in our school.
@admirer: City Of Angels = Bangkok
@Anthony: Exactly. Mai pen rai. Come again tomorrow. Even happened to me when I went to the embassy in Vientiane. The document had a spelling mistake on it so they didn't want to process it. And all you can do is to smile...
By Sascha, Thailand (13th May 2012)
Did you have any violent gangs running around at your vocational school? Sadly, this is a real serious issue in and around Bangkok with vocational schools and a reason why I wouldn't step foot anywhere around them if I could help it.
By Lisa, (13th May 2012)
do people in the uk say, how did it went? What is the city of angels?
By admirer, (12th May 2012)
I agree with you 100%. I have been teaching here in Thailand now for almost 7 yrs, from Anuban to highschool level. The actual teaching is fun 95% of the time but as you pointed out it is when you have to deal with the office/dark-side of the bargain. Whether it is being forgotten about and not being told about things going on with-in the school such as holidays/ events and general no classes for the day. Also when it comes to visa/work permit issues they either don't care or are just plain ignorant about what is needed and the hassle/stress of going through this every year. In my situation I have to travel over 200km to Nan to renew my visa and usually you can be sure that some mundane document in Thai is missing or just the immigration officer is having a bad day and sends me back to the school to fix the problem. Usually the school response is "mai bpen rai" you go back tomorrow. "Cheers!" Just what I need is to spend another 1/2 a day travelling to Nan for someone elses cock-up, as I look at them with a face full of durian fruit!!
By Anthony, Uttaradit (12th May 2012)