Teaching English in Thailand

I have a newfound respect for primary school teachers worldwide. Before I returned to Thailand and begged my old agency for a short-term placement in the midst of summer break, I hoped it would be an elementary position Not necessarily because I was looking forward to teaching young, adorable children, but because I really wasn’t looking forward to going back to high school.

Due to a nonexistent schedule for the first two days of class, I was randomly assigned the lower grades of 1-3, and told “just do whatever you want” by my Filipino manager. I entered the room to smiling faces and was greeted with a standard, synchronized, “Good morning teacher!”

teaching in thailandThey were absolutely adorable. For the first five minutes. That’s all it took for any last-minute lesson plan to morph into Plan B: Babysitting.

I have no patience for this. I signed up to teach students, not daycare. It’s adorable when you hug me, but not when five of you cling on and tug my arm and slap the back of my neck, all wanting simultaneous attention. I didn’t sign up to be a mom.

I really am sorry if your head hurts, or your classmate scratched you with his ruler, or punched you in the face after you tried to choke him out, but I didn’t sign up to be a nurse, either.

teaching in thailandI understand this is a necessary part of teaching youngsters, but it eats away at my patience like the roof of my room, hidden inside the school’s library, which cracks under too much pressure, giving way to a flood of water. Okay, that’s an exaggeration; I haven’t cried. Yet.

But that’s what you folks back home willingly sign up for, albeit with much better behaved students, hopefully, and I commend you.

When my schedule was finally made, I was relieved at what felt like a blessing to be given the older children in grades 4-6. However, my little paper timeline had classes marked “computer” and “math,” as well as “English.” It surely couldn’t be mine, for I haven’t seen the inside of a math book since high school. (That class at fashion school certainly doesn’t count as I’m sure the teacher sought to erase all previous knowledge and start again, using graph paper and a ruler for simple math equations. The ruler was for drawing a square around the answers so he could easily see them. This was a man who prided himself on his fluency in four languages. Last time I checked, those who excel in the liberal arts do not necessarily do so in math. It was true for him.)

Thai students“Uh, let me see if I got this right. So I’m teaching math to the older students whose math I don’t even understand?”

“It’ll be fine. It’ll come back to you,” offered my English coworker. “But if you fancy the younger ones, we can switch.”

I thought back to Grade 2 racing around the small room with scissors in their hands and shook my head. “Nah, I’ll figure it out. Thanks!”

And she was right. Math is actually my favorite of the three subjects to teach now, and its a good refresher for me as well. Grades 5 and 6 are small, only six and nine students respectively – a nice change from my classes of 50+ in Suwannaphum last year. Their English is already much better than my high schoolers, and they’re quite good students who can have a laugh and get their work done at the same time. I’m rather enjoying my short time with them.

Grade 4 still gives me problems, particularly because they’re stuck between the “clingy” phase and the “I’m too cool for school” phase. When the latter half gives me grief, I just look at the innocent faces of the others and remind myself it’s only three more weeks.

teach in thailand

Three more weeks. Three more weeks. Three more weeks!

One month will pass before I even notice it, but I still won’t know how my counterparts back home do it for nine, year after year. You’re immortal souls.

God Buddha bless you.


Teach English in Thailand
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

I Miss My Ex, But Not All of It

After teaching in China, I’ve been forced to admit how much I didn’t enjoy teaching in Thailand. It’s like the opposite of the phrase, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

I relate my experience more to a bad relationship – one where you don’t realize it’s bad until you’ve moved on to realize what a good relationship actually is. Now that Thailand and I broke up, I have not forgotten all the things I love about it – it will always be my first love, an affair that taught me a lot about myself and my partner – but I have since discovered one thing I didn’t like: Teaching.

My freshmen university students here, in China, are absolutely fabulous. They actually want to be in class, for starters, not just because their teacher is white, but because they want to learn. They understand what I’m saying (it’s a dream come true!) and actively participate when asked. Even the not-so-enthusiastic classes will come to the front of the room and speak, even if reluctantly.

In Thailand, if a student was adamant about not speaking (which is the reason they were in my class), they would simply run out of the room shed. I do understand there are some vast differences between my high-school-aged students (eighth graders and sophomores) and my college freshmen when it comes to maturity and taking control of their own education, as is true in any country (in fact, I spent a lot of time defending my Thai students for these very reasons), but there are some other huge factors that play into it too.

Chinese students are told on the day they are born how important it is to be educated, and they spend their entire childhood studying and stressing about their college entrance exams. It’s a part of the culture to be studious, and more than half of my students named reading and studying as hobbies (as well as sleeping and eating, but that’s another story).

In rural Thailand, the emphasis on education is much lower. A priority list with education at the top exists for few, and not one of my students was ever caught reading a book. Students will skip class for reasons such as helping with the family farm or being too tired from a field trip (like I was after this one), and it’s perfectly acceptable in a country that allows students to drop out after freshman year of high school.

Many of my Thai eighth grade students will choose that option, and the few who do finish twelfth grade won’t further their studies at university. They have other priorities, like caring for the family and helping mom with the family’s street-food stand.

I realize it’s completely unfair to compare China to Thailand – they are very different countries in almost every respect of the word. However, just like a girl can’t help comparing one boyfriend to the last, it’s hard not to make these kinds of connections.

Living in China could (and will) never take away the unbeatable adventure I had in Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia, but I loved those countries for their people, their culture, their food, their sites, etc., not necessarily because I loved my job. I’m forced to see that now, as unfair to my ex (Thailand) as that is, but teaching is the only contrast I will allow myself to make.

I foresee my time in China being no less than wonderful, and though I know my job will be more fulfilling and beneficial to my future than any of my days in front of a white board in Thailand, I don’t believe the rest of my China experience will ever be able to top my village life in Thailand.