Teaching in Thailand; six months on.

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One of the assignments we were all set on the TEFL Heaven training course was to write a reflective essay.  Reflecting on my abilities is something that I have had to do continuously throughout my time as a Youth Worker, but I still found it challenging to reflect on my teaching skills after only 3 weeks on a training course and 3 days teaching at an English camp.  It has now been six months since I wrote that reflective essay and after teaching a full term and finding myself in the summer holidays I have decided to look back over this time and reflect some more.  I re-read my first reflective essay and a lot of what I am saying is just guess work… I think I might be like this… once I am actually teaching…  Here is a copy of the first reflective essay;

When I signed up to complete the TEFL Heaven training I already had a few years experience working with young people and so I already knew that I was able to communicate with and relate to young people in an informal setting.  I didn’t know if this set of skills would translate well into a formal education setting, but I am confident that my previous experience gave me a solid foundation to build my TEFL practice around.

Throughout the duration of the course I have found myself feeling very confident; for example, the first task of delivering a game/activity was something that I was experienced and confident in; other tasks such as writing hot topic plans and trying to understand the different and varying levels and abilities were very challenging and I began to see the difference between my previous youth work experience and the world of teaching that I was stepping into.  Rather than seeing this as a negative thing, or putting myself down about it, I saw it as an opportunity to build on my experience and develop my practice, concentrating on the weaker areas that I was less experienced in such as creating structured plans and fitting them in to a more long term goal of progressing students on to the next ability level.

Some strengths that my peers identified were that I am engaging, enthusiastic and that the children respond well to me; this most likely comes from my experience as a youth worker working with groups of young people in often chaotic surroundings.  Throughout the course I hae found that I am able to apply this experience to working with younger children – so much so that I am no longer apprehensive of working with younger students.  In a way I now want to get a Prathom placement because it will further push me out of my comfort zone, but I will also be happy to work with Matthayom students because I would be able to use all of my pre-existing skills.  Simply losing the fear of younger children is my biggest outcome from this course.  Another positive comment that repeatedly came up was that I am able to project my voice well; I think that this comes with confidence and experience – and I have had a lot of experience shouting at naughty kids!

While on teaching practice I found my arty-crafty side coming through, which is something that I will definitely be keeping up; I had forgotten how much I love creating things with groups of children and watching them see the final product, I think this is linked to my visual learning style – everything needs to be colourful, illustrated, fun and interesting. I had a real sense of achievement when I managed to teach the group the Rainbow Song and when I stuck up the friendship tree on their wall, it is so fulfilling to see an actual end product and to have immediate proof that your teaching is actually sinking in and is effective. 

I am aware that I keep referring back to my previous experience but I am a firm believer in the fact that we often don’t realise the true effects of courses such as this until we are in practice and find oursleves drawing on learning from the training.  I already feel that I have taken in so much and had so many new and challenging experiences that I will surely be realising the amount that I have taken from this course over the duration of my placement.

Six months on…

When I was first asked to reflect on my practice as a TEFL teacher I had just completed a short placement at an English camp teaching Prathom (Primary) students.  When I had applied for the course and throughout the training I was adamant that I wanted to teach Matthayom (Secondary) students, and actually had a little bit of a fear of working with younger children.  In my previous jobs I had worked primarily with young people aged 13-19 and so I felt comfortable and confident working within this age bracket.  When I found out that our practice camp would be with Prathom students I was worried as this was outside of my comfort zone and I wouldn’t be able to draw on any of my previous experience.  I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it – children that little bit younger are so enthusiastic, love playing games and being silly.  I found myself in a bit of a predicament, going full circle and wanting to be placed in a Prathom school.  Suddenly older students seemed less fun, and less of a challenge.  I had enjoyed being out of my comfort zone.  When I found I was placed in a Matthayom school I was still excited but a little bit of me was disappointed that I wouldn’t be singing the rainbow song or making friendship trees – however to think that older students would be any less of a challenge to myself as a teacher was wrong!  I am now so glad that I was placed in a Matthayom school, as much fun as it was teaching Prathom for those few days I think that being able to build on my existing skills and gain work experience that will be useful when I return back home is really important – when I decided to leave the UK I was doubting if I would want to work with teenagers again, but continuing to work with them in a different setting has proved to me that I do want to carry on working with young people when I return to the UK.  A reassuring thought that confirms I didn’t waste four years on a degree!

In my original reflection I write about playing games, singing songs and arts and crafts – about how much I enjoyed these things and wanted to continue them in my placement.  The reality is that I haven’t been able to use these things in the classroom as much as I would like.  I was placed in a very large government school (over 3000 students) that does not have enough classrooms for students, and often not enough chairs or desks in those classrooms either.  Rooms designed for 30 students have to house on average 45-50 students.  Wooden chairs and desks are crammed in to the room in tight rows, with little room to move them.  A lot of the fail safe games that were in the youth work compartment of my brain simply would not work in this environment; needing students to stand in a circle, or room to run about.  I began to adapt a lot of the games that I knew (both from previous experience and my TEFL training) to work using rows of students, relay-style competitions that require only a few students to move at any time.  I found that I had to adapt pretty much everything I had learned, but it is achievable!  As for songs – most of my students are a bit too cool to want to sing in class, but I have been able to get them all singing when we have been on English camps of activity days, and I do have one class that really love singing so I guess it just depends on the group of kids that you have.  One of my M2 classes love singing pop songs and I started to do that as a bit of a reward, and when they found out I could play the guitar I was attacked with an acoustic at the end of each lesson with students shouting, “Teacher, sing a song!!!!”.  Arts and crafts – haven’t really happened at all.  My school doesn’t have the resources and I can’t afford to buy enough materials for 300+ students, so unfortunately this hasn’t been something I have been able to include in my lessons.

I think that something that I wasn’t prepared for was the practicalities of what a working week would be like as a teacher.  I taught four different subjects and had a range of levels and classes – from classes of 50 ‘regular’ ability students to a class of 3 higher ability students on the International Programme.  Sometimes I would be teaching the same topic to all of these classes and so would have to adapt each lesson to suit the abilities of each class – this often meant creating different level worksheets and tests, whole different sets of vocabulary, different activities depending on the size of the class – at times this meant a lot of planning, but it also meant that each teaching week was varied as I wasn’t teaching the same thing over and over again as each class was so different. 

Over the past term of teaching I don’t think there has been one day where I haven’t wanted to go into work.  I have enjoyed every single day.  Of course, there has been the odd lesson hasn’t been perfect because of a few troublesome students or a particularly naughty class, but on the whole I have really enjoyed teaching the students and seeing them (sometimes slowly!) grasping the language and gaining the confidence to speak in front of the class or even just one on one with me.  I think that Thai students are often wary of the English teachers that they have coming over to teach them – they aren’t stupid and must be aware that many of these teachers are only doing it for a Visa, are only in Thailand for a holiday, and often don’t stick around for very long.  I think that once you can break down that barrier of, ‘Oh, she’s just another farang teacher here for an easy ride for a few months’ and gain a bit of mutual respect, you can actually develop a meaningful teacher-student relationship with your students, and both parties get a lot more out of it.

I’ve just signed a new contract staying on at the same school.  I don’t know what or who I will be teaching yet, as there are quite a few new teachers coming on board and they want to do a bit of a shift around.  That’s one frustration that is sometimes hard to overcome – there is a lot of not knowing quite what’s going on, a lot of waiting for decisions and for signatures and for ‘department approval’ – I’m not sure if that is a Thailand thing or a large government school thing – but I’m lucky that I’m laid back about that kind of stuff anyway which is the best way to be here; just wait, remember that everything will be done in ‘Thai time’ (e.g. a slow and leisurely pace).  Relax, and remind yourself, you’re living in the land of smiles now.

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