TEFL Flashbacks – letters to my previous self

Three years ago today I did my very first TEFL lesson as part of my placement on the TEFL Heaven course in Koh Samui.  Facebook very politely informed me at the top of my news feed today.  Good old Facebook memories feature, constantly reminding us of the wonderful things we have done in days past, and also some of the not so nice things which you can then delete and forget about forever.

This was my first proper lesson on placement as I was also being observed.  I can remember being a mixture of crazy excited to be getting in the classroom and crazy nervous at having to teach such little children.  I was a well seasoned youth worker but my main clientele were 17 year old young men and somehow I found this group of 8 year old more intimidating…

Anyway, seeing this come up on my Facebook news feed this morning transported me to where I was three years ago, and how things are so very much not what I expected them to be now.

If only I had a time machine, I could go back and tell myself…

Guess what?  You’re never going to go home!  That’s right, you may think that you are only going to stay in Thailand for a few months but so far you have now stayed for three years and you aren’t showing any signs of leaving yet…

Relax, you are going to do fine on placement (actually, you’re going to do pretty well… I’m still modest).  Just have some fun with it – you’re going to end up working at a high school once this placement done so make the most of these cute kids that you are inexplicably afraid of.

You’re about to be told where you are being placed for your long term job.  Do not, I repeat DO NOT tell mum to google ‘Hat Yai’, because the only results are about the bomb that went off a few months ago and she is going to go spammy.  Send her some nice links instead.  Soon enough when you Google ‘Hat Yai’, your (currently very young) blog will be in the results, sometimes #1 – yay you/me/us (this time travel stuff is confusing)!

Don’t worry about the bomb mentioned in my previous comment.  None will go off while you are there.

You will never believe where you are going to end up living – only bloody Phuket!  I know, I know, you have sworn to never go there.  But it will all make sense when the time comes.  And trust me, you can earn more money and go to the beach more often.

You are going to become overrun by pet animals.  I kid you not.  Get ready – you’re about to become an animal lover.  I know, it’s ridiculous.  But Thailand is going to change you.  Just wait and see.

I was so fresh and green back then, with half a plan of returning to my old job in a few months… little did I know.!

Coffee for one, please

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Sometimes a solo visit to Starbucks is the best way to sort your head on a Sunday morning.

A combination of writer’s block and not knowing what I will be doing six months from now has resulted in a head that needs clearing.  If it was sunny I’d be on the beach (come on rainy season, time to go home) but the clouds led me to the familiar comforts of of the green mermaid and her caffeine charged offerings. 

Sometimes all it takes is a few home comforts.

On another note, my sources (AKA my facebook news feed) inform me that THE COCA COLA ADVERT HAS BEEN PLAYED ON TV and therefore the official countdown to Christmas has begun.  Ordinarily this would start of my own bah humbug countdown to having to work straight through the festive season and not really having much of a Christmas here in Thailand BUT my friends, this year is different.  Now I’ve abandoned the dark side (… the Thai education system) and have embraced something all the more familiar (… the British international curriculum) – I GET ACTUAL CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS!! 

So I will be jet setting it back around the globe for an extra special Cornish Christmas that quite simply I cannot wait for and I think will do me the world of good, especialy with settling my mind on the whole where I should be living and working and what I want to actually do with my life debate that currently spins around and around and around my head.  Or maybe that debate is just part and parcel of being an actual grown up now.

And, just like that, as if she knew that I was hankering for a festive taste from home, the Starbucks barista has just handed me a free taster of their Christmas flavoured latte.

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By the way, this post was not sponsored by Starbucks in any way!

OK, the caffeine has been administered, the cinnamon swirl has been enugulfed and this post has just about come to a close.  More updates coming soon, once this head is cleared out (amd the unavoidable Starbucks heart palpatations die down).

Over and out.  >^..^< <

Reflections and responses…

Laptop is back in hand.  Order has been restored and all is well.  Hurrah!

So, my last post on ajarn.com certainly roused some opinions in a few readers.  I was accused of possibly being ‘happy clappy’ and an ‘instant expert on education’.  I did get some positive comments too, which was nice.  In fact, that article was my most commented on so far, which goes to show that it is a topic that many people have their own opinions on.

I’ve been churning some of those more negative comments around in my head and wanting to get some of my feelings down on paper (or in this case, type them on a laptop).  So here are some of my thoughts in response to those comments and some of my own reflections.

Happy clappy teacher?

OK, so I didn’t actually identify my teaching style in the article, I just wrote that the school had said that they don’t want ‘TEFL style’ teaching.  And they weren’t directing this just at me, this was a general opinion being passed on to me because I tend to be the most outspoken.  (Side note: this is probably why this whole thing happened in the first place – I may have ruffled some feathers at this point and am now suffering for my sins…)

If I had to put myself into a teaching methods box, the one I would fit into would be the communicative approach.  I see no value in the memorisation of fixed dialogues of no real life use (which, incidentally is one of the favourite methods across Asia and especially in Thailand).  I would much rather enable my students to explore the language and understand the meaning of the language in contexts that will help them in real life situations.

I base my lessons around the basic concept that the teacher talking time (TTT) is gradually reduced as the lesson goes on, following the formula of presentation-practice-production (PPP) where I present the language and how we can use it, use activities to enable the students to practice using it and finally get to a point where the students are producing the language with minimum input from the teacher. But of course, this is life and so usually I have to magic up activities to fix situations as and when I need to.  Students get distracted and some lesson plans just don’t work!

I don’t walk in to a class of matthayom (high school) students and try to make them sing ‘Old Macdonald’.  I don’t even do the Hokey Kokey, a staple of many a TEFL training course.  There is a massive misconception of what TEFL style teaching is and I’m still not at the bottom of whether my school are under the impression that that is what I am doing in my classes.  Maybe if they had actually observed me and my colleagues in class they would have more of an idea.

In contrast to the happy-clappy ring around the roses impression that people get of TEFL teaching, my classes are usually a mix of vocabulary activities, small group work, class competitions, conversation activites, worksheets… it’s a mixed bag but it isn’t all pointless games.  I am also responsible for grading my students which I tend to do through 1:1 or small group speaking tests (NOT with pre-prepared dialogues – I am looking for natural, meanginful responses!) or having small groups presenting something to the class.  Plus checking and grading books, worksheets and participation levels in class.  You see?  It really isn’t just a hippy happy, lets all get in a circle and sing a song thing – although I have to say that having a silly time every once in a while doesn’t hurt…!

Instant expert on education

With regards to my being an ‘instant expert’ on education reform because I spent three weeks on a TEFL course – far from it!  I was merely using my blog space to vent my frustrations at the inability or refusal to address an issue that lies within a system, and more personally, an issue that I was having with my school.  That’s what a blog is for, right?  I didn’t make the figures up – Thailand really isn’t doing that great educationally – and maybe schools need to consider making changes or at least being more open to suggestions, not only from the teachers but other schools in other countries that are actually performing well.

My TEFL training was useful for preparing for working in the Thai classroom but I base most of my working approach on my six years experience working with children and young people as a youth worker in the UK.  As a youth worker I worked with some of the hardest to reach young people with a range of behavioural issues.  One of my roles was working with young people that had been excluded from mainstream education (for a range of reasons from behaviour to drug or alcohol abuse, family crisis or criminal behaviour).  During my time as a youth worker I developed a responsive, sensitive approach to working with some very unstable young people who had otherwise disengaged from all services.  I had to build up trust with those young people, being seen as just another face from the system alongside the teachers that rejected them, the social workers that judged their family, the policemen that charged them, the counsellor that made them talk… it wasn’t easy.  Every day and every individual brought with it a new challenge.  I learned to be flexible, to think outside of the box.  I gained an intuition and insight into how groups of hormone filled, anti-authority kids work – and it’s no different to how their minds work here in Thailand either.

I gained many, many transferable skills during my time as a youth worker and as part of my degree I studied group dynamics, psychology, sociology and learning styles – so no, I’m not basing my supposed ‘expertise’ (which I would never profess to have) on a measly three weeks on a TEFL.

OK, I’ve vented for 1000 words.  Time out.  Thanks if you made it this far.  Apologies for the general ‘ranty’ path this blog is travelling down – I promise you I am working at turning things around.  Just you wait!

Daily Prompt response: Home Sweet Home.

A few weeks ago I was in Thailand looking foward to coming home to the UK, now I’m in the UK looking forward to going home to Thailand.  I keep referring to home and people have to ask me where exactly I mean.

So what makes a home, and is it really possible to have more than one?

Cornwall is my real home.  It’s where I was born, grew up, went to school and made most of my oldest and dearest friendships.  It’s where I made the memories that stick in my mind like old photographs.  It’s the familiar, the comfort blanket, the home cooked meals.

Thailand is where my house is, my job, new friends and of course my cat (does a day go by where I don’t mention her?!).  It’s where the man I love is (pass the sick bucket, I do apologise).  Things are starting to become familiar, we have gradually made a home for ourselves over the past year and we have most definitely created a whole load of memories.

Some say that home is where the heart is, but when your heart is in two places I guess that means that you can have two homes.Just a quick note in response to this post over at The Daily Post.