Recently there was a post on Reddit where a teacher in South Korea shared her experiences in a post titled ‘A Day in the Life – ESL Teacher in South Korea’. I thought it was fantastic and offered a perspective you don’t often see. Here is my attempt to show you what it’s like to be an ESL teacher in Thailand.
Every morning I’m up about 20 minutes before I have to actually leave the house. Quick shower, quick prayer that I haven’t put my keys in some inexplicably obscure place, and it’s on to my scooter for the ride to work.
Because I’m terrible at mornings I try and avoid as much human interaction as possible. Thailand is very active in the morning and if you had the time there are a host of street vendors offering up the traditional breakfast of ‘kow tom’ (rice soup) or strong curries that are a favourite of many of the locals.
I’ve never taken to such heavy breakfasts so instead I’ll make a stop at a 7/11 where I combine a ‘latte yen’ (iced latte) with yoghurts and croissants.
Most mornings I’ll make it to my desk with my 7/11 haul, but occasionally we’ll have to do gate duty. This entails standing outside in the hot sun and greeting the parents and students with a smile and a ‘wai’ (a Thai respectful greeting of place your hands together in front of your face). Needless to say, some mornings are easier than others.
Classes begin at 8:30 but at 8:10 we’re expected to go down to school assembly where the national anthem is played, the national flag is raised and the learners say a small Buddhist prayer for the day.
Our classes are 50 minutes each and on average, a teacher will teach 18 hours a week. A lot of the schools in the area run ‘English Programs’. This means that the learners have half their classes in Thai, and the other half in English. Our program teaches English conversation, English grammar, English reading, Math, Science and Health. The English levels of the learners vary from near fluent, to no English at all, and most sit somewhere in the middle. We tell ourselves that the teaching hours are the toughest, but in reality they are what makes our jobs so fantastic.
As primary school teachers, every so often we have to get artsy, no matter our level of ability. Below we have the boards used to help with classroom management, you move up or down depending on on your behaviour and at the end of every month we have a ‘Good Work Party’ for the kids who’ve been at the top of the boards consistently over the weeks. At least once a term we have to decorate our classrooms with something fun and English-y. Below, my Grade 6 classroom got a ghost and ghouls mashup with some tips for creative writing.
The kids are great! Most of the time. Each class has their unique personalities and some are definitely tougher than others. Some classes we have just 7 learners, while others we’re pushing 30. No matter the size, the most important thing is to go into every class with all the enthusiasm you can muster. Nine times out of ten, the kids will repay you with their bottomless energy and love.
If there’s one thing the kids are all competent with, it’s smart phones. After getting hold of my camera and working past my lock screen, here’s some classroom surveillance photos that my Grade 6’s took and found hysterical.
More Grade 6 photography skills.
A lot of the kids LOVE to draw. So much so that I end up with stacks of confiscated drawings every week. Here’s some fantastic Jurrasic World inspired drawings from my grade threes.
Our teachers generally come from either the UK, USA or South Africa. You learn a lot from working in an international office, each culture no matter how similar has subtle difference that you have to accept and adapt to. Learning to work with the Thai teachers is difficult because language and culture are big obstacles, but making the effort to narrow the gap can be one of the most rewarding things!
Occasionally our school will have special events that are unique to Thai culture, or are to bring a bit of ‘Western’ culture to the kids. We have days like ASEAN day, which celebrates the different nations in South East Asia; Parade Day which is about getting out in the community (and dressing kids in over the top outfits while we walk in the sun); and Christmas day where we have a bunch of activities like ‘Pass the parcel’ and decorating Christmas trees.
Every year ends in a big graduation ceremony where we say goodbye to the Grade 6’s who move on to high school. We have to put together a little song and dance with some of the learners to represent the English Program and this last year we did a genre crossing hip-hop/rock/pop dance number. Here’s my rock crew after they had busted out an awesome dance for Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’.
There are so many different uniquely Thai events. I think this next one was part of a ‘Sports and Activities’ day and the aim of this game is to knock a tennis ball around a chair with an eggplant that’s tied around your waist. I know. It’s awesome.
Driving home at the end of the day is tough, the traffic can get pretty crazy out on those roads and you feel very vulnerable on your scooters. I think it’s important to wear big full face helmets and to drive very defensively. Our city has two main roads and both offer different challenges, the top is fast and busy and the bottom is slow and chaotic with lots of schools ending for the day.
The bottom road still has some remnants of the history of the city with some parts of an old city wall still standing. While our city isn’t beautiful, it certainly has some beautiful parts and there are plenty of little spots, like the wall, where you can take in some of the beautiful culture that comes with the city and the country as a whole.
As a teacher you can make some money after school by doing private tutoring. The parents are quite demanding on their kids and want them learning English as much as possible. The going rate is around 500 baht an hour and if you have the energy it’s a way to boost up that Thai salary.
If you don’t tutor, then you have a bunch of time after work to do things for yourself. The country’s national sport is Muay Thai and there a lot of gyms you can join up with and learn the sport and get a decent workout. I elect instead to run at the local stadium, it’s free and the chance of being hit in the face is a lot less.
Homes in Thailand vary from shiny new apartments with air conditioning in every room, to more traditional bare-bones style houses. Our home is an old semi detached home in a quiet little cul-de-sac of a neighbourhood, we’ve been here a while now and have tried to make it our own but it’s still just a little ragtag collection of the last few years.
Nakhon si Thammarat is a growing city, in the last three years it has developed at a very quick rate. When I first arrived your dinner options were purely variations of local Thai food. Thai food is absolutely delicious, but I am happy to say that burgers, pizzas and sandwiches have been sneaking on to more and more menus.
There wasn’t always a whole lot to do outside of bars and restaurants but gradually that’s changing as the city grows. If we’re not out exploring for the weekend, or making use of the local bars then it’s board games and movies to pass the evenings.
Really though what makes Thailand such an excellent place to teach and live, is the time allowed for adventures. Our weekends are full of beaches, waterfalls, jungles and islands. The Thai people love their public holidays and our terms are dotted with three, four and even five day weekends. We only work around 10 months of the year and so some of us are lucky to have month long breaks between terms where we can explore Asia or save up for trips back to our families.
That’s my story of how any one day might go for us in Thailand, I hope you enjoyed it and that maybe it inspires someone to book a ticket to visit this wonderful country.