Tips for the newbie teacher

Keep these points in mind and you'll cope far better


Teaching in the regular Thai program is generally seen as the least desirable teaching job in Thailand.

For most, it's just a stepping stone for a better job and few have positive things to say about the experience. While the job is relatively easy - you show up, teach your classes and go with very little paperwork or homework to mark - it can also make you feel like you are wasting your time. The short amount of time you get to spend with your students added to their low level of English makes it unsatisfying at times.

I'm quite rare in the sense that I've spent almost my entire time in Thailand (seven years) teaching in the regular program, save for a few months teaching EP. Since I live in a small southern province, there aren't too many options and my current school is so efficient at organizing my work permit and visa that I have no desire to look elsewhere.

For most though, it's a good first job to have for a term or two before looking for something more appealing. These are a few tips for the newbie teacher that I hope are useful.

Forget everything you learned in your TEFL course.

Okay, that's not entirely fair. TEFL is a good introduction to teaching but a lot of the methods don't really work in the context of a class of 45 noisy, misbehaving Matthayom students. TEFL relies on the cooperation of students, something which you won't get here. Don't spend too much time talking, get to an activity as soon as possible and if that means eliminating a few steps then so be it.

Don't force students to speak.

At the beginning, students will be shy. Young kids will sit quietly with their heads down or point at their friends. Teenagers will go to more extreme lengths to avoid speaking.

I recently taught at a technical college and the boys actually started jumping over each other to get to the door when I asked "What's your name?"

I genuinely feared some boys may try to escape by jumping out of the window so from a health and safety standpoint, it's probably best to not pressure them in the early weeks.

As time goes by, students will be more comfortable with you and hopefully less shy.

Lower your expectations.

The majority of Thai students you will encounter lack a proper foundation in the English language. The better students have a good knowledge of grammar but limited speaking skills. The worst are totally illiterate in English.

As such, most of the age-appropriate material you find in books or online will be beyond them. Keep the content of your lessons simple and take the extra time to make your own materials and worksheets.

Be a fun teacher.

One of my colleagues, a qualified teacher from England, once told me "I don't agree with this idea that learning should be fun. You can't play all the time, sometimes you have to just do the work."

I'm not disagreeing with him but the reality is, Thai kids and teachers have been conditioned to think of farang teachers more as entertainers than educators. Bear in mind also that they spend the better part of six hours a day copying off the board and reading out loud. The last thing they want to listen to is some farang droning on too much.

Don't be overly concerned about being taken seriously.

Keep in mind that you were not hired because of your amazing resume or electrifying teaching methods. You were hired because it benefits the school financially or reputation-wise to have a farang. They don't really care what you do as long as you look nice and smile sufficiently.

Be patient.

As I said, the general level of English is terrible and the older students get, the more self-conscious they are about their poor skills.

To mask their insecurity, many will try to be disruptive. Don't start ranting and raving as you will only look like an even more absurd figure to them. Younger kids can be managed a little more easily but teenagers will test your patience to the extreme. Your natural reaction is to assert your authority but unless you can speak Thai, they aren't going to respect you in that way.

The best way to deal with it is to go along with the chaos. Mark the lesson as a write-off and chat with the students.

Don't expect support.

Co-teachers do exist in Thailand but they aren't always reliable. I don't think there are any guidelines for Thai co-teachers on what their actual role is in class. Some show up for 5 minutes then wander off without explanation, others sit in class the whole time but are buried in paperwork and pay no attention to what's going on.

As for your lessons, all I've ever been told in 7 years is "teach conversation" and "have many activities". Ignore this vague nonsense and try whatever you want in class. If the students respond to it, keep doing it. Don't feel obligated to have students standing in front of class speaking all the time. Most aren't ready for that anyway.

In summary, don't get stressed by the job. Remember that you are merely the latest in a long line of farang teachers who have come and gone. There isn't enough time to make any real progress with students' English so just try and make it fun for them. Hopefully you will gain something from the experience which you can take in to your next job.


Comments

Excellent. Well-written, good advice.

By George, Bangkok (1 week, 2 days ago)

Athough I have never worked in this type of situaiton, this appears like some good general advice for English teacher coming to or staying in Thailand.

By Jack, Back home for a short while (2 weeks, 3 days ago)

James honesty is the best policy. Thanks so much for yours!

By Chip, Udon Thani (2 weeks, 4 days ago)

Mr James is spot-on and so are the comments. I, too, have hacked seven years in the trenches-trenches being government skools-and have had some rough teaching assignments. I will add: if you are not a 'people person', as too often people working out here are-misanthropes and the like; and you are high strung-have a perfectionist sort of persuasion(too 'tightly wrapped', ya dig?) you are sure to crumble. Personality issues matter. You can only accept so much. That's 'up to you' as they like to say out here. Kids are kids and managers do their job; you don't have to nut up all the time. Good luck. Remember, doctors don't want to help people, they like getting paid for their time.

By Kru Lambak, Rangsit (2 weeks, 5 days ago)

I can not express just how important reading this article was to me. THANK YOU JAMES!!! I had the same summary of the whole thing in the first two months.I was questioning if it was just that I was having a difficult time in adjusting and maybe I was just wiggin out. It is comforting in knowing that hey.....I am intact and have a clear vision of the situation. I have been ready to relocate and find higher ground. I would have never taken this placement if I would have known that there is not a gym closer than 1 hour away , and that having a roommate from the same organization has been a nightmare. Not helpful at all. A total mismatch. On the business side of it they did not tell us we would be going two months WITHOUT PAY!! Pretty shady business if you ask me. I am looking at Chaing Mai next year. I will start looking now. With some luck on my side maybe I can get there by November. Also, teaching 6th and 4th graders is a cake walk but in having a Master's level of education, I can surely make more than 28,000 baht and teach a higher level.
I STRONGLY RECOMMEND that teachers wear ear plugs and protect your earing. I put mine in before I leave the house. You can hear the big horns start blowing out the chanting at about 7:30 AM. I am not really sure what they are saying but man THAI people are indeed deaf.

By Delorece Girard, Phu Wiang, Khon Kaen, Thailand (3 weeks ago)

The first sentence of the conclusion is the most valid advice for all teachers in Thailand. The wheels on the bus go round and round. Just enjoy the trip.

By John Lawry, Bangmod (3 weeks, 3 days ago)

These are valid points, but only for regular Thai government school jobs. And this post nicely illustrates why any Thai with money pays for a private or international school for their kids' education. If you're serious about teaching and making a difference, get qualified, get a job at a better school and your experiences will be vastly different than whats described in this post.

By James, Bkk (3 weeks, 3 days ago)

A witty and informative article clearly written from a chap who has been there and done that.

Even experienced teachers sometimes get parachuted into the occasional 'Gen Pop' class and it can truly be a soul destroying couple of hours. Crowd control and low expectations are key!

One thing I'd like to add is the temperature - most newbies in such teaching environments won't get aircon in those rooms, just fans... As such, things can get sweaty very quickly. Think about prep - baby powder, a vest, dark clothes that hide sweat... Then, when in the classroom, don't go 'full entertainer' too soon... Manage your energy and hydration levels :-)

Thanks again for the article, I look forward to your next one.

James

By James Fairhead, Lampang, Thailand (3 weeks, 4 days ago)

This was the best piece I've read on this site in ages.

I'd also like to state that teachers that are cozy in these situations should stay there and not venture into positions and schools where something is actually required of them and the students have ambitions and dreams.

What's described here if we are honest is not teaching although I do not disagree with the author's assessment.

I will state though imo a huge plus for regular programs are no Filipinos. You teach with Thais as co-teachers. I know many of you have disdain for Thai teachers, but it's largely of your own and those that preceded you doing. I've had on balance very good relations with the Thai and the exact opposite with the Filipinos.

I am now wholly of the opinion that EP programs disservice students. Thai students are far better off taught by Thai teachers in their own language. There is nothing special Filipinos bring to the table and their English at many levels is lacking. Yes, if and when Thais can take my job including being the final arbitration of their exams, I will gladly step aside.

By Jim Beam, The big smoke (3 weeks, 4 days ago)

Sounds soul-destroying. No wonder most people only do it for a semester or two. I wouldn't want to be stuck in a job like that long-term just because there's no other options and the main benefit is working legally.

By SJ, Bangkok (3 weeks, 4 days ago)

Great little article James. These should be mandatory for all new teachers in Thailand. Realistically harsh but accurate common sense. It seems accepting these points is the path of enlightenment/ enjoyment.
Basically, make the students and yourself happy.
Cheers

By Kru David, Nan (3 weeks, 4 days ago)

It was a pleasure to read this...

A well thought out and easy to read article aimed at people thinking of coming to Thailand to live and work. Every item is spot on - this really should be required reading!

I hope my endorsement isn't the kiss of death! Ha ha!

By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (3 weeks, 4 days ago)

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