5 Important Genuine Things To Know Before Teaching Abroad10 min read
What’s it like teaching in an another country? There were minimal differences between teaching in America and teaching in Thailand. Below I outline 5 important genuine things to know before teaching abroad.
Indeed, some may argue that America has more technological advances than Thailand, however, if you walk into any impoverished neighborhood or underfunded school in America I’m sure it’s difficult to tell the difference.
Nonetheless, children are children, and adolescents are adolescents. Some love school and some hate it. You have your class clown, your “cool” kids, and you have your very studious students, etc. That didn’t change.
More importantly, bearing witness to this reaffirmed that no matter what your cultural background we have similarities as human beings (at any age) because are more alike than we think.
Furthermore, I learned a lot when I taught in Thailand. Most of all I learned patience and how to put my ego aside.
When I decided to teach in Thailand, I didn’t do a lot of research. I didn’t want the never-ending world of Google to positively or negatively influence. Therefore, I committed to teaching without being swayed.
However, I did spend a lot of time researching where to obtain my TEFL certificate. Thankfully, everything worked out.
Also, I firmly believe that sometimes you must let the chips lay where they fall, which is why I felt the need to discuss the 5 important genuine things to know before teaching abroad.
Although, I never saw teaching in my future, coaching yes, however teaching, not so much. It’s interesting how life comes full circle. I’ve taught different levels throughout my lifetime.
In the past, I’ve worked in a daycare and after school programs teaching literacy. Luckily I gained the experience in creating a curriculum from scratch through those experiences.
On the very first day of teaching in Thailand, I had 45+ non-English speakers waiting for me to teach them. Initially, I thought to myself, how in the world am I going to teach these students that do not speak any English whatsoever to speak English!
Secondly, I thought, how in the world am I going to teach these students English!
Fortunately, I had some amazing teachers at the TEFL program because they provided us with the opportunity for a hands on experience through an English camp with about 50+ elementary school students.
Furthermore, this unquestionably prepped me to teach that very first day. Not fully, however, just enough.
5 Important Genuine Things To Know Before Teaching Abroad
1. The Curriculum
In Thailand, I taught Matthayom 3 and Matthayom 6 level students. The students are between the ages of 15-18. The school provided one textbook for each level.
The textbook didn’t correspond with the student’s levels, I often had to simplify the lessons or create my own. During our training, the instructors already informed us of this.
One Thai co-teacher said, “No big deal, don’t worry about the textbook, just teach anything.”
I found myself creating lessons that didn’t build on previous lessons. In an ideal world, I would build upon each lesson, however, the opportunity to do that didn’t exist.
In addition, there were times that I tried building from one lesson to the next because with excessive tardiness, and excessive absences, it made it difficult. Eventually, I grew accustomed to this and accepted this as the law of the land.
Although all of the students in Thailand receive English course beginning in primary school, however, many of them couldn’t tell me their names if I asked in English.
The students received grammar lessons from their Thai teachers in Thai. I only taught conversational English. Again, the textbooks had complicated lesson plans. I had to adjust.
On some occasions, I created lesson plans only to not teach it the next day. Also, the co-Thai teachers would request different lessons from what you’ve originally planned.
Lastly, the inconsistent curriculum had me worried about the efficacy of the lesson plans. Again, teaching random topics in which students would forget about it in a week. It’s difficult to know if their English improved because I met with the students once per week.
I learned quickly that flexibility is key. It’s important for you to remain open to changes.
2. Free Time
Sometimes classes are canceled. Actually, a lot of the time. Flexibility became a critical survival skill. Thankfully, in training, we learned about this.
An already scheduled class would be canceled, despite spending hours planning to teach. I had a Monday class that I didn’t see for almost three months.
Some people would be ecstatic about a free period, and there were days that it was okay. However, I came to teach. That didn’t happen as much as I’d hope.
During those times, I found myself working on my blog and reading a bunch of books. Granted it’s not like this everywhere, just in my particular school. I grew to appreciate the downtime because teaching back to back classes of 45+ students is a lot of work.
I grew to appreciate the downtime because teaching back to back classes of 45+ students is a lot of work. In the States, we are constantly on the go, whereas, here it forced me to slow down.
It’s okay for you to slow down.
During my TEFL training, the teachers warned us about the lack of communication that happens in the Thai schools. The foreign teachers were the last ones to know about anything.
We would find out last-minute about a school break, canceled classes, or even grading policies.
If a Thai teacher had an issue with you, they would inform the agency that employed you first because the Thai people are known to avoid confrontation.
A lack of direct communication often created tension amongst the foreign and Thai teachers. More than likely, foreign teachers grew up in a culture that direct communication is the norm, whereas within the Thai culture man issues are resolved in a roundabout way.
It’s important to appreciate and respect the different customs of the country that you are a teacher.
4. Education Often Came Second on the List
The Thai students are very polite and friendly. They love to laugh and have a great sense of humor. I wrote a blog post about how courageous the Thai youth are.
However, I had frustrating moments at the beginning of my teaching experience. I found myself forcing the students to take the class as seriously as I thought they should. The students didn’t respond well to this because it’s my goal, not theirs.
Subsequently, I made a shift. In addition, I started to smile more and laugh with them instead. It became easier to teach my students because I met them where they were at and adjusted to their way of doing things.
Even more, some students arrived to class 5-30 minutes late to a 50-minute class every day. Many of the Thai children at my school weren’t interested in learning English.
Besides, in Thailand, you cannot fail a student, and because the students knew this, they didn’t put much effort into learning the language. Many of the Thai students are lazy.
Often, it would take me 10 minutes or more to get them to take out a sheet of paper. They moved like snails on worksheets.
I taught both the honors program and the non-honors program. Both courses were a complete contrast from each other. You can find these contrasts in any American high school.
It’s important for you to meet your students where they are and not where you want them to be.
In particular, it’s very common for Thai students to cheat. It’s also common for the Thai teachers to ask us to change the students’ grades so that they could pass the class.
Similarly, they asked us to give them extra credit by allowing them to do chores in the classrooms or have them carry books, etc. That didn’t sit well with me.
The students would blatantly cheat on worksheets, tests, and exams. I remember teaching a “get to know you” lesson, and they still cheated!
Are you going to tell me that the entire row likes the same food, music, and games? It’s still unclear as to what the consequences of cheating are. My frustrations about excessive cheating were equally shared amongst the other students.
One day the Thai teachers asked me to participate in English interviews with selected honors students, in which I asked them random questions, and they had to respond in English. I graded them on a scale of 1-5.
One of the questions prompted the students to tell me their thoughts about the educational system. I had at least three students share their personal opinions. The students collectively responded by saying:
“I really wished the students cared more about education. The education in Thailand is very low. The students are lazy, and they cheat all of the time. No one does anything about it. The education system needs to change so badly. Not enough students are learning.”
Incredibly surprised by what the students said, I continued to stand my ground because I refused to change any grades. If a student didn’t show up to my class, unfortunately, they didn’t receive any credit.
If they didn’t do the work, they didn’t receive any credit. Now, what happens after I submit the grades is up to the Thai educational system.
Wherever you teach understand that you may encounter cheating, and other forms of questionable practices, it’s up to you to decide if it’s something that you can witness or not.
Please note this is just my experience only at one particular school. I cannot speak for all schools nor can I speak for all of Thailand.
It’s unfortunate because many students in the classroom spoke English quite well, but they weren’t receiving the instruction that they deserved.
Likewise, it’s common to have multiple levels in one class which makes it difficult to ensure that everyone is absorbing the lessons. However, the students that had a fluency for the language helped the other students when they had questions.
Many of my students enjoyed speaking English because many of them realized how important learning the language is and how it impacted their career goals.
Interesting enough, even those that didn’t write anything down enjoyed having conversations in English with me. I hope these 5 important genuine things to know before teaching abroad are helpful to you.
Lastly, teaching in a different country is difficult. It stretches you outside of your comfort zone and brings to the surface your values. It forces you to adapt to a new set of rules and culture.
It’s important to stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone, however, don’t compromise your values. Despite some of the hiccups, I enjoyed teaching in Thailand and I look forward to continuing teaching abroad.
Although I knew there were some things, as a teacher that I wouldn’t do. That’s something that you must decide for yourself before teaching abroad. Draw a line in the sand early on.
What have you learned while teaching abroad?
Lessons that I’ve learned:
1. While living in a different culture, no matter what be a team player as much as possible. You’re in a different country with a whole new set of rules. Go with the flow.
2. Always maintain a sense of humor.
3. Jim Rohn said, “If you don’t like something change it. You’re not a tree.” I’ve learned that whatever happens in life, however challenging and uneasy, I have the power to change or fix it. Therefore, if you indeed just don’t like something, you can change it.
4. Co-workers are there for a reason, use them kindly. They are a great support system as they are in it with you.