Reality of Teaching English in Thailand

I decided I was going take a brief step back from Speech Language Pathology. At the time, I wasn’t fully prepared but knew it needed to happen. I ultimately landed on the decision to move halfway around the world and teach English in Thailand. But what exactly does teaching English in Thailand entail? I immediately began to scour the internet for any resource I could get my hands on.

      • What clothes do I pack for Thailand?
      • What shoes do I bring?
      • Are there novelties from America I should bring with me?
      • Travel essentials for Thailand?
      • Where is better to live? North vs. South? City vs. country?

You get the idea.

My Initial Dilemma

One research topic I struggled to google, was Teachers in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, I found more than my fair share of posts, stories, social media accounts and information about Thailand. But, I think the reason I struggled is because I didn’t really want to know.

Honestly, everyone’s experience is their own. It is this way with traveling too. Not everyone is going to love a particular location. Not everyone is going to enjoy teaching English. And honestly, not everyone is going to like their school placement or the town they are placed into. I just didn’t want to move to Thailand with any preconceived notion. I wanted to come in “sort of” blind, I guess you could say!

Although, prior to moving, I did actually speak with a few people who’ve made this life-changing move. I also read one or two blog posts. But, overall, I kept my research on this topic to a bare minimum.

When I first moved here to take the TESOL course in Chiang Mai, I wasn’t expecting to learn much. My job as a Speech Language Pathologist is focused heavily on teaching language and communication to children. Typically as a first language, but in my field, we do occasionally work with students who are ELL. You could say the TESOL certificate was more or less a formality. In Thailand, the TESOL certificate normally means more money.

Experience with the TESOL certification

Did I actually learn anything new from the TESOL? I guess I could say probably a little. I’ve never taught a full class of students. Especially not a huge class of 40-50 students with varying levels of English proficiencies. You could say the TESOL course introduced me to a new level of learn about classroom management.

Speech therapy is usually more involved in behavioral management or at minimum 1 on 1 management. These large scale management techniques were extremely helpful during my first experience in a full classroom of 38+ 6th graders. Let’s just say, I was in for a rude awakening. It was nothing like I thought it was going to be. Diffidently NOTHING like speech therapy (which was necessary at the time).

Classroom Experience

Since I started teaching English in Thailand, I have learned a few things.

1. Thai students will talk NON-STOP in class

2. Thai Students are ALWAYS on their phones.

It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them to quiet, shh, or niep (thai for quiet). It really doesn’t matter how many time I kindly ask them to put their phones away. Heck, I can even nicely threaten to take it away. It still doesn’t stop them. Honestly, most days it is not worth the fight. It’s me versus 30-50 students. I can’t nor will I ever win these struggles.

3. The students WILL do other classwork during English class.

This isn’t anything to take too personally. These students have such an intense workload composed of countless assignments and projects within an 11+ course schedule. They physically cannot get their work done. I’m not joking when I say 11+ courses. These kids literally have 11 or more different classes they are taking.

I have learned over time to just accepted these facts. No matter how hard I try, students will be doing homework, they will be on their phones, and they will talk over me.

Was I prepared for these factors? Of course I wasn’t. I don’t think anyone could have prepared for these factors. Thailand’s school system is NOTHING like in America. It’s much more intense.

There is not much I can do to stop the talking, the cell phone usage or the completing homework. But, I have learned how to get the kids to be semi-engaged to fully engaged. My smaller classes with 30 children, who tend to have a higher English proficiency are easier to manage these factors. However, the general rule of thumb though, cell phones, talking and homework will happen during class.

Management Technique

My secret weapon to try and minimize these factors has been two soft toy dice. These inexpensive, plush toys come to class with me every day. I use them when they talk excessively, are sleeping or simply not paying attention after I repeatedly ask them too. I throw the dice to two students and make them talk to each other in Q & A format.

It has been one of my greatest tools. It’s also ridiculously entertaining for me to watch the students plot who they will throw it to next. And by plot, I literally mean, plot!

It’s the most enjoyable thing to watch them try and find someone who isn’t paying attention or plot to throw it to a specific boy and a certain girl. They assume I don’t know what they are doing, but sometimes those students are dating each other. There have been many times my students have hit each other in the head. Sometimes it’s purposeful and other times it’s accidental (the dices bounce), but either way, I’ve taught them HEAD SHOT. We all get a good laugh and no-one gets hurt.

Teaching Conversational English

In addition to management, I had to learn how to teach “practical usage” of the English language. My primary focus in class has been conversational skills and functional purpose, while targeting the curriculum. The Thai-English teachers typically focus heavily on grammar. The native English teachers usually focus on speaking English in a conversation style manner.

However, let me emphasize, every school is VERY different in how they want their native English speakers to teach. Some schools have a strict style of teaching, including a step-by-step curriculum. As teachers, you must learn exactly what your school asks of you.

For me, I’ve been fortunate with a school, which gives me a lot of free reign in my classes and curriculum. I do have a general outline of what my Thai co-teachers are teaching, but I can generally teach what I want to teach and use whatever style works for me! They have found my dice toss to be fun too.

Using TESOL Techniques

In regards to teaching style, the way the TESOL course taught seemed more directed towards younger children; present the vocabulary words with pictures, have Q & A sticks for practice, then play games for speaking. Since I am at the Mattayom level (high school) and teach 15 to 18-year-olds, I have had to adjust the way I teach to support language growth and language function.

I still have general theme and vocabulary words. I also incorporate questions and answers into each class. However, I allow the students opportunities to guess the vocabulary words before presenting the word.

I try and get the students to figure out a full-sentence answer on their own. In addition, I tend to incorporate worksheets that follow a question-answer style vs. playing games. This allows them to have to speak to several students each time and practice conversation style English. Well, I try to have them practice conversational English. In reality, the students copy each other in WHATEVER I have them do in class. It’s just another factor to my reality!

These students really don’t like getting things wrong. I can tell that it’s been ingrained in them since a young age. Since their English skills are majority of the time less proficient, they don’t aways know the answers. In fact, many, if not most, don’t totally understand what is going on in class.

These factors has been a huge reality check as a native English speaking teacher. I didn’t know what I was going to walk into when I decided to teach English, but I don’t think I was prepared for all of this.

English proficiencies change with each class and I have to learn to adjust things based on each class’s particular level. It can come in the form of simplifying the lesson and/or vocabulary or changing the activity. I have had to realize not every student is going to understand. Many students rely on the writing on the board during the activities to “read” what they are supposed to say and that’s okay.

I do have several classes that finish everything I ask of them in half the time. This gives me a little challenge because I have to wing things to make it harder. These few classes tend to be my English-Program children. This means they’ve been learning majority of their studies in English for a minimum of three years. I actually have fell in love with these classes. I let them semi-create their own lessons, and they tend to go off on tangents most of the time.

Whenever I’m in doubt, I throw the dice around the room. I haven’t laughed harder or had more fun in my classes then the times the dice are out!

Now don’t get me wrong, I do try and incorporate games into class. But honestly with older students and only 40 minutes, the games don’t usually work out. They also they don’t usually happen in English. Games typically lead to the class getting out of control, which makes managing the 40-50 students very difficult. It’s fun to play games, but sometimes it’s just more work.

Final Thoughts

It has been quite an adventure learning to teach English to high schoolers. It’s vastly different from my job as a Speech Pathologist, especially when I compare it to St. Thomas, where I was working primarily with preschool-3rd graders. It’s given me the necessary break on intensive paperwork and legality aspect that my career holds. This experience has also provided me the chance to learned how to have fun again with teaching language.

Teaching English in Thailand been the break I needed mentally, and my stress level has reduced significantly. I can’t tell you that I don’t miss my career, because, in all honesty, I genuinely do! I miss the little buggers I use to work and their smiles and hugs, but my mental health needed this extended break. Teaching English abroad in Thailand has made me beyond happy and I couldn’t have asked for a better location or school.

Teaching English in Thailand
Teach English in Thailand
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