TEFL in Thailand; the good, the bad and the ugly

I have been teaching in Thailand for 5 weeks now; I know, I can hardly believe how quickly the time has passed either. The last you heard from me was right after I’d completed my first week of being a bona fide TEFL teacher; I was a fresh-faced, naive graduate and I honestly had no idea what I had let myself in for, or what was to come. Click here if you care to refresh your memory!

As always, I’m going to be real with you. I pride myself on telling you the whole truth and not fooling you into thinking my life is a made up fantasy world where backpacking is super easy 100% of the time like social media might lead you to believe. In my short 5 weeks (although it feels like I’ve been doing this forever), there have been times when I wanted to throw in the towel, call it quits, think of a plan B or just admit defeat and fly home. My stubbornness, hopefulness and annoyingly optimistic outlook on life in general would never let me do such a thing- and boy am I thankful for that. I’ve come to realise that I love teaching; maybe not every day all day, but I do. I still have a few moments where I have to talk myself down, but if you’ve never worked with children in any capacity then I can assure that this is completely normal. I couldn’t imagine myself working in an office at home again doing mind numbingly mundane tasks, THIS is the way to travel, save money AND live in a foreign country simultaneously; I would recommend it to no end.

Enough of my emotional ramblings; let me tell you all about teaching in this wonderfully weird country- the good, the bad…and the downright ugly.


It’s a lot of work…

Don’t think that teaching ESL is going to be a picnic or a walk in the park. This isn’t a job where you can toss it off and travel the world. TEFL is HARD work, a lot harder that I anticipated in fact. I teach 25 hours a week which doesn’t sound like a lot but when I’m not teaching I’m marking books and when I’m not marking books, I’m planning lessons. I teach over 650 students in a single week in 25 different classes and over 6 year groups…a LOT of preparation is needed if you want your day to go smoothly. 99% of the time; your hard work pays off, just don’t come thinking TEFL is all fun and games, because it certainly is not.

But the job satisfaction is like no other…

In my school; the English level is incredibly low; so low I’ve had to teach p6 students (who have apparently been learning English for 10 years) what a pen is. Having said that, my students aren’t dumb…they’re mostly lazy and they will do ANYthing in their power if it means they can get away with not doing any work. Sometimes, the kids surprise you; they will pick up a concept right away, use a word you never imagined they would know, speak in full sentences or remember what you went over from the previous week. This feeling is actually incredible and is like no other, it affirms that you are making a difference to these children’s lives; even if I teach my students 1 thing this entire term, I will still feel like I’ve done my job.

Thai teachers can be a bit of a nightmare…

I’m only speaking from personal experience here; but the thai teachers at my school, can be a bit of a nightmare. I’m not sure if it’s a communication issue, or they’re fed up of constantly seeing random TEFL teachers come and go each term, but I do not feel welcome at my school and there is something very off with SOME of my fellow teachers. My thai teachers are so nosey; they will probe me for details on every little thing and they LOVE to gossip about us when we’re not around. The teachers don’t include us in anything; we’re the last to know about anything going on in the school and we’re discouraged from going to assemblies. The worst thing is that my Thai teachers constantly undermine my authority. The bottom line is, if your TT’s don’t respect you, your students won’t either.

But the pay makes it worth your while…

Following on from my last point; it is a well known fact that western teachers get paid more than a lot of thai teachers, which could be a factor behind the some of the infamous rifts between TT and farangs. I can’t really imagine that being the case in my school; the staff are highly experienced teachers who have been there for decades. Having said that, you do get paid a lot more than the average Thai person; I think around 3 times more to be exact. Who wants to work in a crappy bar or work in a smelly hostel when you can be a teacher and earn SO much more. This is the perfect job for travellers to do.

TEFL teachers have a bad rep…

Don’t be THAT person who leaves half way through the term because they can no longer be bothered. Don’t be THAT person who doesn’t do their job properly because they can’t be bothered and only came out here for a laugh. Don’t be THAT person who turns up to work hungover or makes a fool of themselves in front of locals. You’re giving us all a bad name! Farang teachers have a pretty bad rep, especially in Thailand. When you first start teaching it’s like you’re already at a disadvantage and you have to work so hard to be taken seriously and for others to realise that you’re not a joke. I really want to be a good teacher; yes travelling is my number 1 priority but it’s in my nature to give my all to anything I put my mind to and I hate to be seen as a joke. Do us all a favour, if you’re going to be a teacher, take it seriously- a term is only 4 months It’s not that hard to stick it out.

But you will love your students…

When I initially began teaching; I hated a lot of my kids. There I’ve admitted it. The students didn’t respect me, they wouldn’t listen to me, I couldn’t get them to be quiet, I felt as if I’d tried everything and NOTHING would work. I was falling down a dark pit, I was getting really stressed, I wasn’t enjoying my job. A lot has changed since then, mainly that some time has passed. My students have now accepted that I’m the real deal and they will have to sit in complete silence, or not play games for weeks on end if they refuse to behave. I put a lot of ground work in with my kids which is FINALLY beginning to pay off; I have always refused to back down and my students now respect me for that. My students bring me sweets, chocolates and cakes all the time, they will hug me, high 5 me and shout my name whenever I walk down the corridor and it’s my main reason for waking up in the morning. I have some weird maternal feeling for them, like they’re mine and I get really protective over them; if someone calls them dumb or makes out as if they’re really badly behaved I’m the first one to defend them. I’m only 5 weeks in but I already get emotional at the thought of leaving them. (P.s you will have your favourites, it’s totally natural).

Students always pass…

This annoys me to no end and will continue to do so until I have finished teaching English in Thailand. Every Thai student passes school. No question. Some of you lucky teachers will be able to fail your students; they may get kicked out of your private school for example, but when they move to a government school, they will still get an automatic pass- that’s how it works. I have some terribly gifted kids; I mean they are amazing and they simply don’t get the recognition they deserve; especially when they’re only getting a few marks higher on exams than the students that don’t even bother to show up for class, are so badly behaved they’re constantly sat in the corner facing the wall, or the kids who can’t speak a word of English. I feel really bad for these students and I fear that it will demotivate them which is the worst thing that could happen to them; ‘why bother if I’m going to pass anyway’.

But it’s so much fun…

I love to see my students have fun while they’re learning English. Going to a Thai school can be pretty boring…and by pretty I mean mind numbingly so. Students stay sat behind a desk all day, simply copying from the board- does that sound fun to you? I incorporate so many games, physical activities, props, Β songs and dances in my lessons that I am properly exhausted after each day. I lose my voice after every lesson and sometimes I laugh so hard my belly aches. I have banter with my students despite not being able to speak the same language and we have real fun together. The highlights of my days are playing musical statues with my 6 year olds, doing class races with my 9 year olds and singing pop songs on Youtube with my 12 year olds. As I teach so many classes my days are never the same and it is impossible to be bored, you get out of TEFL teaching what you put in and if you make it fun for the kids, you’ll have an amazing time.


So there you have it, an in-depth look at what teaching in Thailand can be like. It can be exhausting, stressful, frustrating and can sometimes leave you regretting your decision to come out here in the first place. BUT if you can push through that wall, TEFL teaching really can be an incredible experience; it’s so much fun and can be very rewarding and humbling as well. I’m so glad I have decided to stick it out; I can already tell it’s changing me and my outlook on life for the better.

Here’s some photos of my school so you can get an idea on what a typical school looks like in Thailand. Follow me on Snapchat: katyaaruss for hilarious daily updates of every day teaching life.

Much love from wherever I am,IMG_4848IMG_4849IMG_4853IMG_4854IMG_4855IMG_4856IMG_4857IMG_4858IMG_4862IMG_4864IMG_4868IMG_4872IMG_4873IMG_4875IMG_4876IMG_4877IMG_4880IMG_4882IMG_4884IMG_4888IMG_4889IMG_4890IMG_4891IMG_4892

One Comment Add yours

  1. DreamTemples says:

    A really balanced view of life as a teacher.Your students are very lucky to have such a dedicated teacher. Keep up the good work!

    Like

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