Life as a TEFL Teacher in Thailand
Now that midterms have finished and I'm finally into a routine here, I figure now is a good time to share my thoughts and experiences on being a TEFL teacher in Thailand. It certainly has been an incredible experience thus far, but it has both ups and downs.
A Typical Day
My day begins at around 6:00 AM with a workout, shower, and breakfast. I drive my motorbike to school around 7:15 where I have to sign in by 7:30 AM at the latest. I then have an hour to have some coffee, get my day organized, and prepare myself for the day ahead.
I teach Mathayom 6, which is the equivalent to high school seniors in America (17-18 years old). I have 10 classes that meet for 50 minutes twice a week. Most days I have 4 classes, which keeps you busier than you'd first think. Once it starts, my day is relatively smooth sailing (so long as I did the responsible thing and didn't wait until last minute to complete a lesson plan, print materials, or whatever). I have plenty of down time to hang out in the office and chat with the other teachers, play on my computer, and relax in-between classes (which is necessary considering how hot it is with no A/C in the classrooms!). My school has a café with decent coffee, and a cafeteria with not-so-decent food.
After school I meet up with some friends and we play basketball or football for a while, then it's time for dinner, a shower, and to get prepared for the next day! This all is quite similar to my routine back at home, which is quite nice and comfortable. On the weekends I always try and make time to take my motorbike up into the mountains for some driving and hiking.
When they heard I have a degree in music I was nominated to be the new singer for the cafeteria... even though I hate singing.
Ups and Downs
There are many reasons people pursue TEFL. For me it provided a way to live in another culture, travel, and to share my passion for education. Generally speaking, TEFL is a fairly easy thing to get into. If you have a degree and a TEFL cert and are willing to do some research and preparation then chances are you'll find work. However, to be truly effective one must be flexible, willing to learn, and open to critique. This ease of access makes TEFL a great option for anyone wanting to gain a great life-experience. I have had a tremendously rewarding experience here thus far.
Being a TEFL teacher in Thailand is radically different than teaching in America. As a foreign teacher the students look at me as the fun and laid-back teacher; while I am liked quite a bit I am not respected as much as the Thai teachers. This can make discipline a bit challenging at times. The students are far more respectful here than back home (there is never blatant disrespect, backtalk, or any of the other things you'd see at a school back in the west), but being 18 years old they are still prone to using class time to talk to their friends and play on their phones. Also class sizes can often range from 30 (if you're lucky) to over 45 students. This means that class is bound to get noisy at times; and giving every student individual attention can be quite challenging. However, the students are what really keep me going throughout the day. They are all incredible fun kids who make class enjoyable for me. Seeing their English improve over the course of the semester has been a great feeling.
Helping prepare Som Tam.
Education here in Thailand is meant to be a fun experience, so I try to keep my classes fun with various activities and exercises as opposed to lectures which the kids will just tune out. I consider a class a success if the students were enjoying class and speaking English, which is about the most you can ask for!
One of the biggest issues that I have here is the lack of communication and organization between teachers and administration. It's not uncommon to walk into an empty classroom only to find out that class that day was cancelled, or the students are all on a field trip. You'll often be asked to do things last minute, or have crazy ideas sprung at you on a whim ("You have to come to school at 6:00 AM tomorrow for a meeting with the director!" or " Put on this ceremonial clothing and participate in the assembly this morning!"). Even things like getting copies made can be an ordeal. However, once you accept that it is simply how things work here, and adopt the "mai pen rai" attitude toward things, you'll have no problem taking it all in stride.
Teaching here can be an exhausting experience. My biggest struggle so far is trying to constantly be outgoing and energetic, which can really wear you down if you are an introverted person like myself. The large classes, the heat, the lesson planning, and everything else that goes with the job can be quite draining. Luckily the culture surrounding work here is quite lax, which keeps the job relatively low-stress. It's no uncommon site to walk into the office and see a teacher playing FIFA on his computer, or someone taking a nap at their desk. So long as you're getting your job done and are successful in the classroom then you are quite welcome to relax when you can. Compare this to America where sleeping or playing video games in the office would probably get you fired. I know if it weren't for this more laid-back attitude I would have burnt-out a long time ago. All the challenges I previously mentioned can be quite taxing, but knowing that my superiors all care about my well-being makes it easy to shrug it off and stay positive.
Enjoying some down time by playing FIFA with a student.
Most of my "real" struggles come with simply living here. Thai people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, but as a foreigner in any country you'll always feel like a bit of an outsider. Couple that with the fact that most people already have a stereotype of Western TEFL teachers and it can make a person feel quite alienated at times. That said, I have made amazing friends here in Thailand and have been welcomed into numerous social circles. Truthfully I have found that other expats are the ones who tend to judge TEFL teachers most harshly.
As you can see, being a TEFL teacher here in Thailand has its fair share of ups and downs, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. It's been the greatest experience of my life thus far and I can't wait to see what the future holds.
Sometimes I make oragami in the office (when I should probably be working, whoops!)