I’ve officially completed my first month of teaching in Thailand. And, I’ve been getting a lot of questions. The most frequent ones are “how do you like it?!” and “what’s it like?!” Those questions are way too broad for me to answer with one simple statement.
So, I’ve compiled a Q & A. I have enough information to give everyone a glimpse at what it’s like to be an employed educator in the Land of Smiles. HOWEVER, I would like to forewarn you that everything that follows is specifically based off of MY experience. Not every teaching experience is going to be the same as mine nor are the schools going to function the same. Without further adieu…
Q: Did you go through a placement company?
A: Yes, I did. I went through a TEFL school that offered a guaranteed job after the course. Now that Ive been in a real classroom, I’m so glad I took my TEFL course. Not only did I meet tons of great people, but I learned a lot that made my first month in the classroom easier to handle. I recommend looking for a reliable company with a guaranteed job placement. The placement company is called MediaKids and it’s been great working with them so far.
Q: What time do you work?
A: Classes start at 8:30a.m., so I have to be at work by 8 a.m. every day. Unless it’s Thursday. Thursday I have to be on campus by 7:30 a.m to do “Gate Duty”. Which is where you stand at the front gate and greet all of the students. You exchange “Wai’s” and they proceed into the gate.
Q: What’s a wai?
A: The “wai” is a symbol of respect where you put your hands in a position similar to praying.
Q: What’s it like to be one of 2 Western teachers at your school?
A: I walk around campus feeling like a celebrity. Nearly every student feels the need to say “Hello!” “Goodmorning!” “Teacha beautiful!” or wai me. It’s crazy how much attention I get. I feel like I’ve got my own feature in the display case at a zoo, and everyone is coming to look at the new American Girl attraction. It solidifies why I would never actually want to be famous-too many eyes on you. Though, being called beautiful 35 times a day is definitely a confidence boost, and my ego will be completely shot when I head back to the states where I’ll no longer be a hot commodity.
Q: How many hours do you work?
A: The amount of classes I teach each day varies between 2 and 5 classes based on the day of the week. I have 19 classes a week. My actual teach time is only 19 hours weekly. But, I’m on campus from 8am-4:40pm every day. Each day of the week I have a different number of classes, and my “planning periods” are different each day too. What I mean by “planning period” is some days I will have a first period, and some days I won’t. Some days I will have a second period, and some days I won’t etc. So, the periods where I am not teaching I utilize to lesson plan, make props for teaching, play bumper chairs or stationary stripper with Annie, sneak out to get iced coffee, or do something random on my computer (yes, I am utilizing a planning period right now).
Q: What are your classes like?
A: I teach two different age groups in high school (high school is called mattayom). The age range for mattayom is 12-18. I teach M1 and M4, which means I have the 12 and 16 year olds. There are about 40 kids in each class. Each age group is divided into 9 different subcategories based on intelligence (This is not based on only English. It includes every subject). Levels 2-9 you fight for. If you’re a 2, you’re extremely smart. And, if you’re a 9 you aren’t the brightest crayon in the box. Level one is the only one that is different. If you are in level 1; your parents pay for your classes. So, you could either be super smart or a dumbass with money.
Q: What are your students like?
A: This is a heavy question because every class is different. For the sake of time, and your attention span, I’ll break it down into two different categories.
The angels: I have classes that put a genuine smile on my face. They listen attentively, and nearly everyone participates. They’re extremely respectful and they ask a lot of questions, so you can tell that they really want to practice their English. They stand up to greet me, hold my bag on the way up the stairs, and collect things for me at the end of class. I’ll see them outside the classroom, and they’re all smiles. Even if all they can say is “teecha, bai nai?” (where are you going?)- they beg me to come over and talk to them, or simply sit with them. They’re awesome, and they really make me love my job.
Other: On the contrary, I have kids that I swear are the spawns of Satan. They’re completely out of control. Four kids are running around with a straws in their hands shooting spitballs at each other. There’s a boy throwing baby powder in a little girl’s hair. Someone has hijacked a hat and decided to toss it in the ceiling fan. And the kids in the front that actually want to learn in this circus of a classroom suffer because the kid in the back just smudged white out all over his friend and punched him the nose…now he’s bleeding. And here I am at the front of the class with a 12 year old trying to take a sneak peak down the front of my shirt thinking, “What in the f*** do I do now?!” Each situation comes with it’s own improv set, and I make it out alive. Sweating profusely because its 93 degrees outside and only 3 of my 19 classes have air conditioning, but I’m alive.
Q: How much English do they know?
A: The simple answer: not much. As far as my classes are concerned, they range based on behavior and language efficiency… drastically. Every six months there’s a new English teacher. They haven’t had consistency, so who knows what the hell they’ve been taught. They’ll know random words like “corruption” but won’t know what paper is. Maybe last year they had a teacher from Australia and this year they’ve got an American. The accents are different; pronunciation is different. As if the English language weren’t difficult enough to learn, let’s throw these little kids all these curveballs too. I spend the majority of my class acting out everything I’m saying. It’s a big game of charades, and sometimes I’m the only one participating in the acting part. But, I’ll have to admit, it’s really fun. I enjoy the challenge.
Q: What do you do in class?
A: The Thai education system says that I cannot fail a kid, so for many there’s no real incentive to learn. I spend the majority of my time treating it as if it were an elective that they actually chose to take. I make the dialogue relatable. I play games, dance, and bring in materials so that they can draw. I try to present information in a way that makes them feel like they’re simply having fun. They don’t even realize that they’re learning. I walk into class, and my kids shout, “Teecha Sam, teecha Sam, game game!”. Or, “Teecha Sam, dancing!” And it makes me think, “Wow, they’re really excited for my class today!” Maybe what I’m doing is working here.
Q: How much money do you make?
A: I make 30,000 baht. Which is about $1,000. Doesn’t sound like much, but a little goes a LONG way in Thailand. And, they pay for my rent. To give you an example on how far the dollar goes; I usually pay 30 baht for lunch/dinner. That’s a dollar for rice, some kind of protein, and veggies.
Q: How much time off do you have?
A: I have a lot of time off. There’s a million and one holidays during the fall semester. Though, western holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas I do work. Even when I’m not on holiday I find myself spending a lot of time wondering where my kids are. No school for the king’s birthday? No school for an academic competition? Oh, there’s a field trip today? They have an assembly for a bank opening? There’s a sports day coming up, so they’re all downstairs watching a scrimmage volleyball match. It’s awesome not to have to work. But, at the same time, I really want to see my kids. I mean I did come here to try to make a difference.
Q: Should I teach in Thailand?
A: I love it here. I really do. When they call it the Land of Smiles, it’s true. If you have any desire whatsoever to teach in Thailand, do it. No matter where you end up, there’s beauty in this country. Nothing functions the way that you think it’s supposed to, so prepare to be flexible. But, in the long run, everything tends to work itself out.
If I didn’t answer a question that you have, just ask. I’m an open book 🙂