So, You Want To Teach In Thailand?

Be very prepared, my friends, very prepared. “It Ain’t Easy” as the song goes. As a professional educator in American public schools with 29 years of teaching experience in grades 1 thru 12, I thought, “piece of cake”.
Keep in mind the fact that, developmentally, an 8 year old is an 8 year old and a 12 year old is a 12 year old, etc. no matter where in the world they live. Smiling, laughing and playing are all part of their nature. The difference between Thailand school children and American school children is the cultural development. The politeness, the kindness and the respect I felt from the school children I met in Thailand is far greater than the American classroom ( a future blog ).

Getting back to the classroom experience, I was given the opportunity by my gracious host, Mr.. Stevesuphan, to observe his 5th and 6th grade English classes ( each class is one hour long ). Believe me when I say my jaw dropped down to the floor as I entered the classroom and saw 45, yes, 45 smiling faces staring up at me and 45 voices in unison saying “sawatdee krap (ka)”. I thought, no way is any instruction going to take place in this crowd. However, as the hour went by, I observed Mr. Stevesuphan conduct the most awesome conversational language lesson I have ever seen.

His voice controlled the classroom. Even through the distractions, me being the biggest distraction as I carried on small group conversations, Mr. Steve had pairs of students give their conversational presentations to the class from the front of the classroom. The nice thing was that everyone applauded for the two conversationalists after each presentation. Everything was based on the positive as I left the class with feelings of elation in my heart.

After a quiet evening and a good nights rest ( wink, wink, Mr. Steve ) I learned that I would teach the 2nd grade class that morning. How hard can that be, I thought, as I mentally prepared a lesson on the ABC’s and some small rhyming words that would show vowel and consonant sounds (hat, cat, rat, fat, etc.). It’s only for an hour, I thought, and that will fly by before I know it. Well, those little ones were a lot smarter than I thought. They breezed through the ABC’s and even sang the ABC song. So much for that being part of the lesson as I glanced at my watch and noticed only three minutes had passed. Panic set in when I realized that I had 57 more minutes to occupy these young minds educationally. Certainly the rhyming words and letter sounds will eat the time away. Nope! These little boys and girls were smart. I began to sweat on top of sweat. I knew I was boring myself, so what must I be doing to these children. Thank goodness the Filipino teacher Ms. Melanie stayed with me in the classroom and even though Mr. Steve said he would not be present, I was relieved to see him slotted very quietly in the back of the room. I was saved by Ms. Melanie as she smoothly transitioned the class into her prepared lesson for the next half hour.

To save some of my dignity I will tell you that for the past 15 years I have been a high school administrator and out of the instructional classroom. But, even though I felt that I tripped and stumbled through the lesson, I felt the old, but familiar joy and happiness in my heart from my days of teaching. These children were beyond my expectations in both mind and spirit.

So, you want to teach in Thailand?
1. Go in with an open mind and a sincere love for children
2. Be very, very patient
3. Know what you are doing
4. Be prepared in your lessons
5. Have a working knowledge of the Thai language and a good dictionary
The rewards are enormous and beyond words.

Thank you Mr. Steve and Ms. Melanie for this life experience. Especially I thank the children.

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16 responses to “So, You Want To Teach In Thailand?

  1. Cool kids and teachers!! Loads of hope & happiness for our world!

  2. Great information.

  3. Hi Richard, Thanks for sharing the experience. I hope to visit Steve some times next year to volunteer a week or two. Your advice certainly helps me in my preparations. I am still studying Thai in YMCA and will be ready by the time I am off to teach in Thailand. Teaching is never my profession, but I am saving some NIE (Newpaper in Education) lesson just in case I need them. Chaiyo.

  4. After an awesome nite-out getting back at a shocking hour in the wee morning, i thought it was actually pretty amazing how we manged to get through our classes still intact.

  5. A sincere love of children. Rubbish. Work hard and know what your job is. Oh, and never use too much logic. Never ask a boss why.

  6. Richard Smith

    Hey Cotties,
    You would never work for me. I wouldn’t let you near my students with that attitude. Sounds like you need to find a job more suited to your negative personality.

  7. Siamjai has a good point. We prefer to hire foreign teachers fresh off the boat because they don’t know any Thai. This way our students are forced to communicate with them in English. If the students know the teacher speaks Thai then nine times out of ten they will use Thai instead. Some foreign teachers are tempted to use Thai to tell the students to keep quiet or to stand up. But, these simple classroom commands should be the first to be learned in English. Also, it is not a good idea for FOB teachers to use Thai in kindergarten classes. We don’t want the kids to pick up bad accents!

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Richard. From the looks of it, Steve’s school must be fun! I agree with your first four points, although I think these are general guidelines applicable to teaching anywhere, not only in Thailand.

    However, I’m not so sure about your last point, that a teacher must have a good command of the Thai language. In our webmaster’s school, I was actually discouraged from using Thai in the classroom. Sure, it would be much simpler to restore order in the room by just barking a few quick commands in Thai, but here is where your creativity comes into play… which leads me to point #6:

    6. Be creative and make an effort to conduct your lessons with fun.

    I think this is more essential to Thailand than to anywhere else. 🙂

  9. Richard Smith

    Hello SiamJai and Richard,
    Points well taken, gentlemen. Creativity and fun? Please add them to my list by all means. Thank you SiamJai.
    What I meant by a working knowledge of Thai was more from a listening perspective. As the children spoke (shouted out) in their native language, I wanted to know what they were saying more than what I wanted to say to them. By all means an English class should be conducted in English.
    Understand the excitement of having visitors in the classroom, plus my own excitement of being there, created a sort of havoc. We were all jabbering in our own languges. I was as excited at hearing their language as they were at hearing mine(I hope).
    Regardless, I loved evey minute and I thank both of you for your comments.

  10. Yes, I forgot to add that when I first started teaching here, I made a point of learning in Thai all new words that I was teaching the kids. So, when I asked them, “What does ‘run’ mean?” I will know that they have answered correctly when they say “wing”. Another neat trick is to write this word in Thai on the blackboard which really impresses people (more so than speaking). So, before each lesson, I would write out the word list in Thai ten times. I also asked a teacher to help me pronounce them correctly. But, I avoided speaking Thai in the classroom.

  11. Richard Smith

    Goods tips, Richard.
    These “tricks” of the trade are what we all need to know when teaching English in another country. You should think about writing that book Richard.

  12. Sorry it’s taken me a while to get back to your comments Richard Smith. I am sorry if I sounded negative, i did enjoy reading what you wrote. I do believe that working hard and knowing what your job is, isn’t negative. The first comments an un qualified faluang says at an interview is ” I really love the children.” What he should be doing is taking as much advise from his boss as possible. Try not to go out the night before school and get pissed. Stay home and make a decent lesson as the children deserve this.
    Another thing Richard S, why didn’t you ask Steve for the five things required to come to Thailand and teach?
    “15 years as an administrator” I wouldn’t care what your qualifications were you would not get past me at the interview with that know-all attitude and I would probably sack you if you came in smelling of grog on your first day too.

  13. Have a nice life Cooties.

  14. You too DICK

  15. What a shallow person you are Mr. “C” . I feel sorry for the children under your direction. How do you survive in this country with such an unkind heart. Oh well, someday it will catch up to you.

  16. I really enjoyed this story Richard Smith. I was thinking about teaching English to the kids when I retire, but was debating it due to not speaking fluent thai. I did go to a school last October, and was quite impressed with the level of knowledge they had. Thanks a lot!