What Is Teaching English In Thailand Really Like?
I usually leave the hotel at 8:00 AM. I like to miss the national anthem – don't get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for the country and people of Thailand – it's just that they blare it over the loud speaker so friggin' loudly, and daily as well, that it's just more than I can take (we only play the national anthem in my country at baseball games, and I wouldn't want to hear that everyday either) so I like to be sure and miss it. After the national anthem, there is the 'official' school anthem, and then morning prayers. A marching band marches out and plays the U.S. Marine Corps 'official' song – you know the one: "from the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli…" Afterwards, there are a bunch of announcements made from a podium in front of the entire student body at which point it's off to classes (finally).
I usually have my Mattayom sixes for first period. If it's a Monday, they will be hungover and partied out, so I won't go too hard on them. Usually, I'll just do an easy speaking lesson like "my weekend was________." The students will have the option of several words: "long, short, fun, boring, exciting" etc… I will have a student write the definition of the word 'exciting' up on the whiteboard in Thai, I figure they probably already know the definitions to the other words, but honestly, I'm not sure. After I go through each one of them individually with the exercise (yes it's repetitive and semi boring, but individual speaking is the only way to ensure cognitive progress) I typically leave class a few minutes early -they don't ever seem to mind- and ride my little piece-o-shit motorbike back to the hotel to take a shower and a quick nap on my hour break.
Now I know what you are probably thinking 'didn't you just leave the hotel an hour ago?' The short answer: Yes. The long answer: It is hella fuckin' humid out here and an hour break between classes is best used re-showering (haha is that a word? Out here it is…) and catching some rest before my next class, where I typically have to teach incorrigible little brats who have absolutely no interest in learning English at all: The dreaded Mattayom threes…
I have one class of Mattayom threes who actually want to learn English: my Mattayom ones. For the record, I teach Mattayom 3/1 through 3/8. In the words of a Thai teacher who shall remain nameless: "You teach a bunch of monkeys!!!" -in reference to all my threes – except my 3/1s (hopefully).
He wasn't lying – these kids make me wonder what teaching in the Appalachian Mountains or the South Bronx would be like – except I think I have a pretty good idea now… I can't serve enough cake & ice cream to my Mattayom threes and by that I mean, whatever I try to teach them, it's too difficult and needs to be dumbed down even further. Once I tried to go with a speaking exercise that went as follows: "My best friend is_______, because he/she is________." Two students finished that exercise, oddly enough, at the beginning of the semester I ran them all through "My favorite sport is________, but I also like________." Ok, I drew pictures up on the board to complement that exercise, but you get my point: These kids suffer more from a lack of desire, rather than a lack of ability.
After teaching my Mattayom threes and being pummeled by their general lack of enthusiasm for everything (it's the law that all Thai students learn English in high school – should it be??? I dunno) I get my lunch break – so it's off for some much needed 'Kao Pad Goon'- the only meal I actually know how to pronounce served at the restaurant near the school.
After lunch, I go back to my hotel room to take a shower (again, yes I know) and then I am back on campus to teach two more classes in a row. By now the students have shaken off their weekend, morning bullshit and are somewhat more enthusiastic to learn. I walk into the classroom and the students greet me, we all sit down and I take roll, by the time roll call is finished – some 35 to 60 students later – I will have assessed there general mood and decided upon an appropriate lesson. Inevitably, by the time I am finished taking attendance, half the students will have walked out of the class: they go play in the hallway, or make 'important' phone calls, or do what the fuck ever little kids in the country enjoy doing besides learning a language they will never use. I never bother to round them up, I am not a cop or a truancy officer. If you don't want to learn English, that's fine with me – I get paid the exact same amount either way.
Sometimes I delve away from strictly 'speaking' lessons and I give a handout with a picture of a farm (or something) and then we go into vocabulary building from there: I will ask, "what is this?" pointing to an item on the handout, and some of them will answer: "that's a tractor!" or "that's a pig!" If none of them know the answer, I will just give it to them and maybe half of them will bother to write it down. I figure most of them will grow up to be rice farmers or water buffalo herders, so it's an appropriate exercise.
After that, I'm off to my last class. There is usually a discernible energy in the air towards the end of the day. I walk into my last class with a little more enthusiasm myself (or not) and as I walk in, the students all stand to greet me:
"Gooood Afternooon Teacher!"
"Good Afternoon students, how are you?"
"I aaam fine thanks, aaand yooou?"
"I am well thank you, please sit down"
And that's what teaching English in Thailand is really like…
I'm all for people enjoying their time in Thailand and I know that teaching in the country can be incredibly frustrating, but at the same time teaching is too important a job to be slack at. Seriously, if you don't like it, move on and let someone who will be more dedicated to the students' needs take over.