Teaching in Thailand: 5 Reasons I Decided Not to Renew11 min read
In all fairness, I didn’t do too much research into what it’s like teaching in different parts of the world. There were blogs that I read, but I also didn’t want biases to affect my decision. I will go into detail later about what’s it like teaching in Thailand: 5 reasons I decided not to renew in just a moment.
I researched the various programs that I wanted to obtain my TEFL certificate, but that was it. I’m not sure why I went with this approach, but it all worked out perfectly.
Thailand was a great introduction to teaching abroad. I firmly believe that sometimes you must let the chips lay where they fall. Deciding to teach in Thailand was the furthest that I could go on the map.
I wanted to turn my comfort level upside down on its axis, and boy did I! So what’s it like teaching in Thailand: 5 reasons I decided not to renew?
Well, before I go into those reasons let me first begin with some background. My first teaching job was at a daycare as an assistant teacher at a preschool in a wealthy area in Massachusetts called Wellesley during college.
Teaching these very young learners was fun, but I was laid off from this position. However, I later heard that the entire school closed down a few months later citing financial issues.
During my first job out of graduate school, I took a position as an English Literacy teacher for middle schoolers at an after school program in Jamaica Plain. I was given free rein to design the curriculum.
At that time, I was knee-deep in the open mic spoken word community in Boston that I decided to create a spoken word curriculum using a textbook that I ordered from Amazon. We used music to learn, dissect, write, read, and perform poetry.
However, as my social work caseload demands became heavier while emergencies became more frequent, I could no longer commit the time needed to teach the second semester.
I was commuting from South Weymouth to Jamaica Plain twice a week. Between the commute and the increased caseload, I, unfortunately, had to call it quits.
Fast forward a few years later, and I find myself back inside of a classroom. Standing in front of 45+ non-English speakers. 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!
Luckily, I had some amazing teachers at the TEFL program. Also, I was able to put some of what we learned to practice during an English camp that we hosted on Koh Phangan island in Thailand to good use.
Fast forward some more I was placed at my first school placement in a small town called Bang Bo. For confidentiality purposes, I will not release the name of the school.
Excited and nervous all at once, it was time to begin my newfound career. Let’s dive into the what’s it like teaching in Thailand: 5 reasons I decided not to renew.
Teaching in Thailand: 5 Reasons I Decided Not to Renew
1. The Curriculum
I taught Matthayom 3 and Matthayom 6 students, who are older between the ages of 15-18. The school provided one textbook for each level to begin lesson planning.
During my training, our instructors informed us to not rely on these books because many of them are far too advanced for the students; therefore I would have to simplify the lessons. For the M6 students, the Thai teacher said, “No big deal, don’t worry about the textbook, just teach anything.”
I found myself creating random lessons that didn’t build on previous lessons. Although all of the students in Thailand receive English in school since primary age, many of them couldn’t tell me their name if I asked them in English.
For the M3 students, they receive grammar lessons from their Thai teachers in Thai, and I only taught conversational English. The textbook was difficult to follow.
It was very difficult to teach from the text. Often, I would plan a lesson; then the head of the English department requested that I teach a different lesson (grammar), consequently, there was a lot of confusion.
Lastly, the curriculum was inconsistent, and I wondered about the efficacy of the lesson plans. Again, teaching random topics in which students would forget about it a week later. I only met with the students once per week. I tried building from one lesson to the next, but with tardiness and various absences, it made it difficult. Eventually, I grew accustomed to this and accepted this as the law of the land.
2. Time Wasted
There was a lot of time wasted. I am an extremely flexible person and I understand that things change all of the time. Therefore I wasn’t too surprised when random things would or wouldn’t happen because we learned about this during the training.
But I began feeling useless. And coming from a background in real estate, in which, I understood how valuable time is, I couldn’t shake the feeling of frustration when my time felt devalued.
An already scheduled class is canceled, despite spending hours planning for this class. 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 cool, but I came to teach. I wasn’t teaching. During those times, I found myself working on my blog and reading a bunch of books.
During my TEFL training, the teachers prepared us about the lack of communication that happens in the Thai schools, again I wasn’t shocked. 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.
The most frustrating part was if a Thai teacher has an issue with you, they will inform your agency, who will then inform you. The Thai people do not like confrontation.
I had a frienemy at the school, and she was the head of the English department. She sent an email to the agency stating that I needed to teach more conversational English and play fewer games with the students. Appalled, I wrote a scathing email in response.
Here’s the thing, I stopped playing games with the students during my first month teaching because many of them would come 5-30 minutes late to class.
All of my lessons included conversational opportunities, interactive dialogues, etc. I know why my frienemy was hating, but I won’t blast her or the third-party person here for that matter.
4. Education Wasn’t Taken Seriously
Let me begin by saying the Thai students are super 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.
In the beginning, I would be very frustrated in teaching because I wanted the students to take education seriously. The students didn’t respond well to this. It was my goal and not theirs. When I started to smile more and laugh with them, it became easier to teach them. I met them where they were at and adjusted to their way of doing things.
Everything was a joke. We had microphones in the classroom, and every day I felt like I was a game show host. It was a blast using the mic!
As I stated previously, the students would come 5-30 minutes late to a 50-minute class every day. Not every class but it’s the norm.
English just wasn’t a priority for many of the students. In Thailand, you cannot fail a student and since the students knew this, they didn’t put much effort into the English classes. I loved a lot of my students, but the Thai students are lazy.
It would take me 10 minutes or more to get them to take out a sheet of paper. They moved like snails on worksheets.
Finally, being some from the Caribbean, the value around obtaining an education is the most important milestone in one’s life, to see this type of behavior was very frustrating.
Although I taught honor students who some were very studious and I also had a few classes that always did their work and always participated, however, this wasn’t the norm.
I came to realize that my ethics didn’t pair up with the school system. And after I did a quick Google search it wasn’t something that I was dealing with alone. The Thai teachers would ask us to change the students’ grades so that they could pass the class.
Or 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 at all. 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? There were no consequences regarding the cheating, even after asking the Thai teachers about it. They just looked at me and smiled.
I’ll never forget. The Thai teachers asked me to participate in English interviews with selected students, in which I asked them random questions, and they answer in English, then I would give them points on a scale of 1-5.
I asked the students very similar questions. One of the questions I asked was what they thought 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.”
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.
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.
For some people, this is a good fit, but it didn’t work for me. Granted, the students and teachers were very lovely and amazingly friendly. I had a lot of fun with my students despite two terrible classes out of 20.
This is what’s it like teaching in Thailand: 5 reasons I decided not to renew. Teaching in that particular school was a breeze. The environment is relaxed and the pay is easy, but I wasn’t gaining any skills as a new TEFL teacher.
It was unfortunate, many students in the classroom spoke English quite well, but wasn’t getting the instruction that they deserved. There were numerous levels of English speakers in the class that it was difficult to cater to them all. For some it was easy, and for others, it was quite difficult. Furthermore, I understand it might be a reflection of my teaching skills and not knowing how to teach various English levels.
Many of my students enjoyed speaking English. And many of them realized how important learning the language and the future benefits that it has to their career goals.
Deciding not to renew my contract wasn’t an easy decision. I grew fond of the students and I got comfortable. I’m sure it’s not like this in every school. I taught at a government school. I don’t know what it’s like to teach at an international or private school.
So there you have it, what’s it like teaching in Thailand: 5 reasons I decided not to renew. This is just my personal experience teaching in this particular school. Please understand, this does not represent every school in Thailand. But from the research that I did in considering another school position in Thailand, the likelihood of walking into a similar experience is likely, particularly in a government school. I’m not complaining and if I could do it all over again, I would. It still is an incredible experience.
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, don’t ever complain and go with the flow. Anyway, this is what the blog is here for right? 🙂
2. Whatever my beliefs are, I have to adjust it while living in a different culture, within reason of course.
3. Always maintain a sense of humor.
4. 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.
5. My co-workers were great, which means always be kind to your co-workers; unless they are mean.
6. Always maintain a sense of humor!