A day in the life of a typical teacher in Thailand
Being part of the staff and school is afun experience, typified by the Thai ‘sanook’ approach to life. In other words, they try to make it enjoyable, or at least enjoy what they are doing. While discipline can be strict at times, the kids’ exuberance doesn’t get out of hand or become disrespectful to their teachers.
Here’s an anecdotal teaching day from one of our former graduates;
The school where I teach is a private school outside of Bangkok. There’s about 1,500 kids ranging in age from 5 to 14. The area is popular with the new Thai middle-class and many of the kids are from prosperous families. They are generally better schooled and more disciplined than usual. The school has three foreign teachers, but more are likely to arrive soon.
07:15 I usually arrive earlier than normal, since part of my unofficial remit is to be ‘seen’, that is to say, my Caucasian face is a major selling point for the school. That’s how it is in these schools, superficially anyway. I remember to dress smart, always clean shaven, with a tie on and my fingernails clipped. I stand outside and as the Mercs or tuk tuks pull up I open the door and say ‘good morning’ and the kids greet me back enthusiastically. In the depths of the luxury car some hi-so mum looks up from her smart phone and beams warmly. That’s my first brownie points of the day scored.
08:00 Just before assembly I wander around the school ground. I’m the rock star here, the other two foreigners are old and dull and hibernate, my arrival has injected some excitement into English learning. I might kick a ball with kids, always talking to them in English only, and then the gong goes and we all line up waiting for the radio clock to beep. At eight sharp we all launch into the national anthem and raise the flag. Afterwards the head mistress might make a speech, or the deputy makes announcements.
10:00 By morning tea I’ve already taught two classes, they are 50 minutes, with some class shifting in-between. I teach on rotation, seeing every students between 5 and 10 years old, once a week. There’s a palpable excitement when I show up. Their regular English teacher loiters shyly in the background. I always respect their homeroom teacher’s lead, asking them what we should teach, but they are graceful and leave it to me. Since our focus is spoken English, we take an exercise from their books but I spend quite a bit of the lesson on speaking activities and games.
11:00 After tea it’s back to the classrooms. Wednesdays is universally Scouts Day, whereby the kids all come to school in scout uniform and their day includes some ‘scout’ type skills building, this can range from making things, learning to be useful and cleaning up in the community to social responsibility and badge testing. Ever since King Rama VI encountered scouting during his education in Britain, Thailand has maintained a strong scout tradition, it helps instill discipline in the kids. Meanwhile, on one of the other four days various grades will turn up in their PT gear, for some physical activity. Some of the kids here are getting pretty obese from being spoiled on snacks and deep fried food.
12:30 We all eat lunch together. Dare I say it, but my social lunch diary is always full, most the teachers are ladies and they find me a novelty, inviting me to eat with them. In a childish and charming way there’s plenty of jokes, flattery and smiles. There’s always someone trying to set me up with some young teacher, but teaching is a conservative environment so I avoid any suggestions. Usually I make an effort to play with some of the kids during the break. If it’s hot I join the chess games in the air-conditioned computer room.
13:30 Afternoons can be a drag, if the classes are on the upper floors there’s a good breeze through the classrooms. Sometimes I’m free, and I get a bit of special privilege to hide out in the admin office where I prep lessons or read things. I don’t have to worry much about teaching grammar, mostly I’m the ‘speech therapist’, making sure they don’t say things like ‘tea-chuur’ or ‘sa-chool’.
14:00 Typically in the classroom we do role-playing games, it depends on their level. The young ones are quiet as mice, super shy, so I have to elicit speech from them. Just the other day I was leaning down to hear a soft voice repeating a lyric when I felt another curious little hand gently brush the hairs on my arm. We sing songs, or I get them up for a little dialogue of ‘shop keeping’ that I had prepared.
15:00 The last of the classes are finished by three. A lot of the students remain behind for extra activities, like computer club. Sometimes I stay and help, or give extra lessons, otherwise I go home and relax. Sometimes with a headache.
In reflection, much of what I do is to meet the expectations of the school managemen,t which is to please the parents. There’s a superficiality to it, the parents are chuffed as nuts if there kids come home gushing about ‘what teacher Michael’ did today in class. I do get a lot of flexibility on clowning around in the class, never afraid to be a little goofy, but always with the greater goal in mind of making them remember English usage. Mostly I keep the entire class engaged for the full 50 minutes, which is important.
Thinking back to my TEFL training, you only end up using certain elements in any one particular job, and mostly class discipline, presentation, concept checking and planning emerge as the constant tools that are critical. It comes with experience, but you should figure out what works and what flops. I plan a concept for the lesson’s learning and if it sort of works for the first class then I refine it and re-use. Planning is essential, and the younger they are the more frequently you have to shift on to a new activity to keep their attention span. Walking in on a class without any prep can descend into an embarrassing nightmare. But you should also get skilled at busking, especially if your lesson plan falls apart.
Remember, if you make an impression, and make it fun (very important here in Thailand), you’re halfway there. The parents and school’s expectations usually aren’t high, but it might be different if the head of English or EP department is a foreigner. As long they’re engaged they will learn and then you’ve achieved something.