Teaching In Thailand – What A Joke
While much has been written about the teaching industry in Thailand, I’d like to write about my experiences.
After completing my CELTA qualification in Thailand I have embarked upon my teaching ‘career’. I currently work at a respected all boys’ school in Bangkok. Being my first teaching job it’s hard to compare against other schools, but having spoken with several teacher friends I think it’s fair to say that my school is fairly typical of Thai high schools.
Prior to starting I devised many lesson plans because I wanted to be well prepared. Even though teaching English isn’t my life ambition, I do believe something is what you make it. So I turn up at my school for the first days work keen to get started.
In my classes there are typically about 40 students. I teach Matayom 5 and 6. Like any school some classes are good, some are not so well behaved. The class sizes are obviously way too big, but that’s what I am stuck with.
The first thing that struck me about the school compared against my own school days, is the general attitude around the place. The students seemed generally respectful, but the whole place gave off an air of ‘it doesn’t matter’. The Thai teachers were very friendly and helpful, but I got the feeling that they had worked there all their lives. Indeed, this was confirmed later when I discovered most of the teachers had been there over 15 years, some over 20.
So my first day goes by and I notice there is a culture of the students turning up late. Okay, this is Thailand but when half my class turns up 30 minutes late I think there is a problem. Upon speaking with the Thai teachers about this they smiled and just seemed to accept that this is how things are. This was surprising because while students will be late occasionally, the disruption caused by half the class coming late messes with the rapport I create and also makes it difficult to do a good job. By this I mean that if I plan a lesson that revolves around 30-40 people and only half turn up on time, making that lesson work can be tricky.
Understandably, 16-18 year old boys probably aren’t really interested in learning English. However, I have students openly trying to sleep in class or making phone calls. I even recently had to confiscate a power saw from a student that he was trying to fix in class.
Now while I don’t suggest draconian measures, in my school days I would have been in trouble if I had exhibited this behavior. So each day I have regularly started confiscating mobile phones and throwing disruptive students out of my classes. ‘Well, it’s a high school, what do you expect?’, I hear you say. That’s true but in the west if you don’t attend classes or are a trouble maker you're usually gonna be put on report and your parents made aware of the situation and this usually has an effect of improving the student's behavior. Not here. When I suggested this to my Thai teacher colleagues they acted like it was a novel concept, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea’, they said with a blank look on their faces. I am rarely speechless but I just couldn’t believe their attitude towards student behavior.
While I have a large number of students I decided to set them some homework, something that would take them about 5-10 minutes to complete. I could have made my life easier by not doing it, but I wanted to work out what level each student was at so I could help them better.
Out of my 800 students, 11 handed their homework in. One of my students even copied their homework from someone else, in front of me. In their rush to get the work done they forgot to change the answer to the question ‘What is your Thai name and
nickname’. I didn’t feel like criticizing because I figure by actually making an effort to give me something he must be in the top 1% of my students.
I mentioned the lack of homework to my boss, he gave me a smile, and then it was kind of forgotten. It’s not my place to rock the boat but I am thinking something is seriously wrong with the teacher’s attitude. I think this has something to do with the student’s attitude also. I am beginning to wonder why the students turn up to their classes at all, I am wondering why I turn up as well.
About what works in the class room: First forget everything you learnt from your EFL course. Just turn up and act like an idiot for 50 minutes. Making jokes and performing like a circus freak generally works better than actually trying to teach the little fuckers something. My boss says, ‘try get them to talk and play some games’. Sure, I like to make my classes fun, but don’t Thais understand that life is not one big game? I often get the feeling that the students come to English classes as if they were going to watch a comedy show, expecting to assimilate my knowledge without lifting a finger.
There are some exams coming up soon at my school, which means easy days for everyone. ‘No teaching, lots of activities’, one Thai teacher said to me with a smile on her face. Hmm, it’s nice to see you have your heart in this, I thought.
In my classes there are a small number of very bright students. I feel sorry for them because they’re certainly being held back by their Thai education. The level of student’s ability seems to vary greatly within each class. At first I couldn’t understand this because the students are placed in each class based upon their exam results. It seems that homework is not the only thing that is copied in school. This is all very well but how can you teach a class when their level varies from idiot to clever?
I understand that in America if you fail 4th grade, you can go to summer school to pass it or re-sit the year. In essence if you don’t pass the year you don’t move on to the next. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this applies to Thailand, at my school everyone graduates. As one of my Thai colleagues said,’ If they don’t pass their exams they have the opportunity to take an easier test, if they don’t pass that or don’t turn up then they can pay the teacher to let them pass’. I wonder why my school goes to the bother of employing westerners; they could just not bother and save themselves the cost.
It pains me to think of the money I wasted taking my CELTA course. I would have been better to have a nice holiday somewhere or keep the money in the bank. While people may say that many western English teachers don’t do a good job or just do enough so that they can live in Thailand I think it’s a strangely unfair comment. Believe me, from my experience of a Thai high school that the last thing we need to worry about is the standard of western English teachers. The real area for concern lies elsewhere. So my advice if you want to teach English: save yourself the cash and don’t bother with an EFL course.
For anyone reading this who has never taught in Thailand or doesn't know what it is like, let me say that this is spot on. Yes, it really is accurate!
So much of what happens in Thai schools is baffling, defies any sense of logic and in many ways is heartbreaking. Education is one the keys to future success and the poor level of education that so many Thai students get is quite frankly, criminal.
The only thing I would point out however is that the CELTA that you did is a teaching qualification for teaching adults, and not kids…