Teaching in Thailand (2 month reflection)

Now Playing: “One Call Away” -Charlie Puth

…That song is constantly stuck in my head πŸ™‚

Well, my time here has absolutely flown by, just as I knew it would. I have been in Thailand for exactly 3 months and I have been teaching for a few days shy of 2 months. In some ways I feel like I just started, but in others I feel like I’ve known these students for a full term already.

I am very settled into my teacher routine here in Ayutthaya. It’s pretty amazing, since I never expected to experience this lifestyle. Early mornings, late nights of grading and lesson planning, sticking around after school to get organized and prepare. Things my teacher friends talk about but now I am in that world!

A typical day:

  • Morning
    • Wake up, usually by 6:15am
    • Breakfast at home – Either PB and banana toast, cereal (I get Rice Krispies from the Western market!), or fruit
    • Try to squeeze in a stretch or short yoga session
    • 20 minute walk to school – Sometimes our students pick us up if they see us! We pop on their parent’s motorbike and get to school in about 5 minutes.
  • 7:30-7:50am
    • Get settled in the office and prep for the day. On busy days, I try to get to school earlier but waking up early is hard for me πŸ™‚
    • The four of us each have gate duty once a week during this time so we stand with the Thai teachers, opening car doors and ushering the students safely into the assembly area. Very cute time to see who carpools, who is related, and see their interactions with their parents!
  • 7:50-8:30am
    • Morning assembly! More on this in another blog but wow. The students sit in organized rows for a long period of time, and often with the sun coming down on them. The English teachers stand on the side and students enjoy coming up to say “Good morning, teacher!”
    • The school director and VP communicate information, I obviously never know what they are saying but there is a lot of talking.
    • On Mondays there is a school-wide Muay Thai warm-up that we partake in. On Mondays, we wear sweatpants. But really.
    • On Thursdays, monks come for a ceremony and blessing of alms given by the students and teachers. The assembly is extended and we usually miss most of first period.
    • There is an English word of the day most days. Students present the word and the entire school repeats it and spells it. Very cute! The Mandarin teachers present a few times a week as well.
  • 8:30am-12:00pm
    • Morning classes
  • 12:00-1:00pm Lunch
    • Our school provides a free lunch, which is extremely convenient and considerate. We get a buffet meal from the kitchen, usually consisting of meat, rice or noodles, and soup. There are many days it is way too spicy for me to eat, but most of the time it is delicious! I don’t always know what I’m eating but it’s all good πŸ˜€
  • 1:00-3:30pm
    • Afternoon classes
  • 3:30-4:30/5:00pm
    • Post-day chill out and prep for tomorrow in our office. I usually need to jot down notes from my classes, file any flashcards or worksheets from the day, and review what is happening tomorrow (or if anything needs to be changed)
    • Our office has windows to the hallway so students that hang around after school tend to knock on the window and giggle while we are working. They are so cute but sometimes it can be distracting! They just love their English teachers so much!
    • Walk home, maybe stop at a food stand for dinner, do errands, or go straight home
  • Evening
    • Many days I get chicken from a lovely couple near my house. I pair that with cucumbers and carrots from the market. But they are not always at their stand, as things are frequently and randomly closed here.
    • I might go out with my roommates or meet other friends at the market or a restaurant. I often get pad thai, salad, sushi, chicken or pork on a stick, or dishes with fish, meat, vegetables, rice, or noodles. And occasionally we splurge on Pizza Company, the amazing Australian pizzeria – they deliver!
    • Every other Tuesday, the foreign teachers from Ayutthaya gather at a local restaurant/bar for trivia! I have not won yet but I plan on it soon. Of course I am over-competitive but it’s a fun night that breaks up the week.
    • I live with two other teachers, Alana and Michelle, so we often grab our laptops and lesson plan most of the night. That is, when we aren’t watching Netflix or FaceTiming with friends and family.

 

My students and classes:

  • I teach Prathom 3, 5, and 6. In the whole week, I teach 22 50-minute classes and see 10 classes of 40 students. That is 400 students!
  • I have 3-5 classes a day but 6 on Tuesday (rough day!)
  • We go into the classroom of each class, so there is a lot of hustling around the 2 buildings in between classes. I carry a bag with all my supplies for the day, whiteboard markers, voice amplifier, water bottle, notebook, flashcards, computer, etc. It’s a real bitch when I leave something in my office, which is on the top floor! (Remember there is no AC and it’s usually 90+ degrees)
  • All students stand and greet their teacher at the start of class.
    • “Good morning teacher”
    • How are you?
    • “I’m fine, thank you, and you?”
    • I’m good, thank you, sit down.
    • “Thank you, teacher.”
  • They also stand and “Thank you, teacher” at the end of class. They love to scream these at the tops of their lungs for some reason πŸ™‚

 

Highlights and lowlights of teaching ESL

The good

  • “HELLO TEACH-A!”Β – Students LOVE their English teachers. I can’t walk through the hall or sit at lunch without a ton of students (even ones I don’t teach) running Β up and screaming HELLO TEACH-A!!!!! Or just waving until I notice them and say hi. They are so happy to be at school and even happier to say hello. It’s so cute!
  • Love for Teacher Stef – I get many notes and gifts from the students. They love to draw a picture and sign their name, and either hand it to me in class or bring it to my office. They’ll hand me whatever snack they have too. So sweet!
  • Communicating outside of class – There are a good amount of students that have the beginning level of fluency, and we can talk about the weather, or what we are doing in class that day, what they are doing at recess, etc. Here is Chai, who is fluent, and he tells me about his day in detail and always asks how I am πŸ˜€
  • Lesson freedom – While I have to follow a curriculum that matches their English lessons from their Thai teachers and their workbooks, I do have a good amount of freedom in my lessons. I try to create fun games with their vocabulary so they can really drill the pronunciation and spelling of words they may already “know” from their books. I can also tweak lessons for the best practical application. Their books honestly are pretty bad, teaching random words and phrases. I try to take the subject or the vocabulary words and teach a more practical usage of them.
  • Good study skills – Thai students are a little OCD with their note-taking (the ones that take notes). They have rulers, blue and red pens, pencils, and white-out. Man, they love their white-out. They will make meticulous, color-coded notes and are always interrupting me just to show me how well they have copied the board. So funny! They are also really hard on themselves about spelling, remember words, and being competitive!
  • Sharing music! – These kids love to sing, especially American pop music. I will sing little snipbits in class when it’s relevant, and when there is extra time, we put on youtube and they read the lyrics and sing along to a popular song. THEY LOVE CHARLIE PUTH (see below)
  • Inspiring moments – Watching these kids have a lightbulb moment or a proud moment of finally pronouncing something right after struggling so hard is just amazing. They really light up when they “get it.” Even though I have 400 students, I try very hard to have a personal moment with each kid at least once a week. That doesn’t always happen, but I try to isolate a moment in the speaking drilling, a game, a worksheet, or writing on the board, and then reference it again later so they know I noticed. This is coming a lot easier now that I’ve spent 2 months with them. I do know many of them very well, which is funny because we can’t really SAY that much to each other, but their personalities shine through in their actions and gestures.

 

The bad and the ugly

  • Various levels of English – Each class has a wild mix of different levels of English. Some students (who sit in front) might be near fluency, while students in the back can barely write out their English nickname. This is due, in part, to the fact that English teachers only have a 1-term commitment, so their education is not consistent!
  • Big class sizesΒ – My classes have 38-42 students in them and the class is packed. There is not really any free space for games and activities. Also, not every student cares about learning English. I would say about 15-20 students in each class actively pay attention, are eager to learn English, and participate in the games and activities. That is a great amount of students to teach, in general, but when that is only half of the class, what is the other half doing? OH. They are usually drawing, sneaking a fidget spinner, doing other homework, or worse – JUST SITTING AND TALKING IN THE BACK OF CLASS. It is incredibly frustrating, but this is extremely normal and common for Thai schools. Students do not fail or get left behind here, which means students literally don’t HAVE to try at all. I quickly got over taking this behavior personally, and instead try to make my lessons interesting and engaging enough that they want to participate. Some of them do get embarrassed if I flip through their notebook and they haven’t copied, or they can’t answer something we just drilled, but sometimes they just laugh and look at their friends. AGH!
  • Loud children – Because of that amount of talking, it is very hard to have an organized, thoughtful lesson! I can’t hear myself think sometimes, or the kids can’t hear me pronouncing something, or I can’t hear them drilling it back to me. I have to bang on the board or a desk and yell “Nee-yap!” “Quiet!” many times a class. At that point, the Thai teacher who is in the hallway may come in and scream at them. They definitely respect the Thai teachers more than English ones, but I have gotten used to it. They want to have fun and goof off, and if they don’t care about learning English, of course they’re not going to pay attention. But it can be very sad and frustrating when that takes away from the students who are truly trying.
  • Classroom managementΒ – Generally, the kids are loud and enthusiastic, so a good portion of class is spent on classroom management and settling them down (especially when a game is going really well! They just get SO loud). I try to let the stressful moments roll off my back, and I do think I have a good enough rapport with them that they know when I’m truly pissed, and they feel bad afterward. I will stop a game or take away the game altogether. I’ll make students stand next to the board, or stand in the hall, or come up to do some one-on-one conversation with me in front of everyone. They get embarrassed, but the next time, they’ll be right back at it, but that’s kids!

Loud kids, when they are having fun and especially when I pull out my phone

 

I am learning from these kids every single day and I love them dearly. The experience so far has been eye-opening, challenging, humbling, and inspiring. I can’t imagine leaving my students or this school, so stay tuned as I might be coming back for next term…. πŸ˜€

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