What to expect when you’re expecting… To Teach in Thailand

Obviously we can’t afford to run around the world for over three years treating everyday like a Saturday. So along the way we are volunteering and working our way through some of the countries, cities and towns we have the fortune of visiting. If we are not getting paid in shiny silver or crinkly bank notes, then what we get in return for our time and effort is accommodation and food, on most accounts anyhow.

So through February and March, we are teaching young children at a school in Thailand called, Chiang Saen Academy. Today however we would like to take some time out and enlighten aspiring TEFL teachers as to what you can expect to expect when you are teaching in Thailand, based on our experiences so far.

Some of this may be elementary, but we thought we would share our observations nonetheless:

1. Expect to be the only one who knows what you are doing on day one…

When we arrived at Chiang Saen Academy on day one, we were ready to teach any age group as in our locker we had some adaptable introductory lessons planned – which is a must, starting at any new school in Thailand, as we were soon to find out. After a little bit of waiting and some searching for an English speaking teacher, as nobody knew where we were meant to be or who to report to, we were eventually informed that our first lesson was not for another 5 hours.

2. Expect to be thrown into the deep end…

In the awesome heat of the afternoon, we turned up and knew what class we had. However when we asked about the pupils current curriculum, so that we could expand on this and teach some worthwhile lessons, we were met with some baffled hesitancy and told just get in there and get them talking English. Fine by us, but worth bearing in mind, as if you think you may have any text books or structure to follow, you probably won’t. At least we had a static schedule, as one volunteer who did not ended up leaving after 3 days of teaching, thanks to the frustration of a few last minute rescheduled lessons leaving her unsure of who and what to teach.

3. Expect to say a load of stuff, only for the children to look blankly as you ask them what day it is…

I really don`t want to paint a bad picture here, because yes they will struggle to understand 90% of what comes from your mouth, but most of the children are keen to learn and are exceptionally bright. Heck I still struggle to greet anybody properly in Thai. Just have patience and remain enthusiastic, it will click.

4. Expect pupils to do absolutely nothing if you don`t get them involved…

Like I just said, most of them will not know what you are talking about, which is tricky when you are tasked with keeping them engaged for the next hour or more. If this goes on for too long then you can certainly expect children to begin to sit and talk and do none of the work you have set. The key we have found is in keeping them talking for as long as possible, through chorusing or through ESL activities, just as long as they are not listening to you ramble for 40 minutes…Yawn!

5. Expect some of these same pupils to do nothing even when the rest are having fun…

Even when you have cracked the previous issues, you may be unlucky enough to have a few of those pupils who won`t want to participate regardless. They could be tired, preoccupies with girlfriends or boyfriends, or they could be bored. But why would they be bored when all the other kids are having a hoot? Well one reason could be that they are a lot smarter than you think, so they may need more of a challenge from you. You`d be surprised what a higher level task can do to motivate a more advanced child, just make sure they know, that you know, that they’re pretty smart, they like that.

6. Expect to struggle with names…

A lot of the pupils we have come across so far have names that we could not even begin to pronounce, so a lot of them in turn will give you their English nickname. This could be anything from Tax and Team sitting at the front of the class, or Milk and Cream giggling to themselves through every class. Even some of these though can be tricky to learn, so a good first lesson can involve an intro in English from each student and allow them to put their names on a class map for you so you have a reference point, it`s a good start.

7. Expect to teach a teacher…

Now this may be something unique to Melissa and myself and our experience here. But you may also find that when some teachers sit in on classes, they may even pay more attention to your lesson than your pupils do and this can lead to them getting a little too carried away, quite often, as they race to answer your questions. Just embrace it, they are learning too, just re-ask the question and then hope the kids were listening.

8. Expect to throw your timelines in the bin…

We knew that when lesson planning the allotted time given to activities needs to be a little generous. We just didn’t expect how out of sync some lessons can go. Sometimes an hour task can take 20 minutes, when other tasks scheduled for 15 minutes in the lesson, may drag out for 2 lessons. As long as they are learning don`t be disheartened. The best tip we can give is to prepare a few easy to start filler activities, just in case they race through your lesson and you’re left with a 15 minute gap to fill. This will give them time to practice and re-cap some of the target language you have been through with them.

9. Expect to have some fun and have a laugh…

When we first started TEFL-ing last year, we were advised by a few teachers to not smile when you first enter the class room. Personally we think this is counter intuitive in a TEFL environment. If you are not there to have a good time then what is the point. Have a giggle with the kids and relax, if you are not having fun, then how can you expect them to?

10. Expect to learn a lot…

As a teacher, you are there because you have some vital knowledge and experience that these pupils, young or old, can learn from. Whether you are a graduate or not, whether you are old or young and whether you have taught before or if you’re a fresh faced volunteer – you are going to learn something new along the way. You might even do as they always say and learn something new every day.

As much as we have included above and as much as you can prepare, you can expect that when you are TEFL-ing anywhere in the world, there are going to be some shocks, some surprises and something different every day.


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