There is something alluring about moving to a foreign land and immersing yourself into an entirely different society. As an American who has taught as a foreign teacher in Thailand, I’ve had many people ask me if I would recommend for them to take the leap and also move abroad. Everyone is different and living abroad isn’t for everyone. Instead of making a blanket recommendation for everyone, I like to share some aspects of my teaching experience to see if it’s a good fit:
1) I taught 1st-5th grade. Some kids only have English class once a week, yet, there’s an advanced English program for kids who follow a structured curriculum and study everyday. Because of this, I was unable to fully get to know a lot of students as I would only see them briefly once a week.
2) The students are tricked into learning English as part of the curriculum. I teach the lesson and then play competitive team games involving the material we just covered, so they’re having fun and learning at the same time.
3) There were purposely no desks in the English classroom in some schools. We go over the material on the whiteboard while the kids sit in rows on the floor, then follow up the lessons with a game. How can we play games if there are desks in the way?! Plus, it makes learning a foreign language fun.
4) Of course you will get that one kid who randomly twirls like he’s in the Sound of Music in the back of the room, or the other one punching their friend, or someone randomly crying that you need to give out a hug to; but, overall, the kids are pretty well-behaved. You can’t have that high of expectations for elementary school behavior.
5) The whole class says, “Good morning, Teacher Ashley!” and, “Thank you,Teacher Ashley!” in unison at the beginning and end of every class – and it makes me happy. They are taught from kindergarten to be able to greet in English.
6) They respectfully “wai” (bow head and put hands together in a prayer-like fashion) and say, “Thank you,Teacher,” when I pass them their pencils or their workbooks. Teachers are highly revered in Thailand, so respect is very important.
7) The kids are really smart considering how difficult it is to speak English when you’re Thai. Just like it’s difficult to speak Thai if you are a native English speaker.
8) We all take off our shoes before entering the classroom. It’s cultural. Outside of your classroom will be 30 pairs of shoes, including your own. You will have to get used to teaching in socks.
9) Many of the kids have funny English nicknames that are on their name tags, and I’m not sure how they get them. I have students called Blueberry, Pancake, Cake, Mafia, Beer, Pooh, and Cartoon.
10) I “wai” Thai teachers when I pass them in the hallways, and they “wai” me as well. It’s a respect thing and they love it.
11) If instructed, my kids will sit quietly, Indian-style in a line with their eyes shut and meditate until they are told they can stop. Usually if they are misbehaving it will calm them down. And yes, even my first graders do this! It’s adorable and shocking at the same time.
12) You’d be surprised how fast most kids will become motivated if there’s a sticker involved. I’m also surprised when I get shot down after offering one. Stickers are a great way to get your elementary school kids to do their work.
13) Thai teachers can give a smackdown in school for bad behavior here, and no one would bat an eye at it – unlike in Western countries. I have seen it on several occasions. I heard if they act out and you tell their homeroom teacher, it’s asking for a Thai smackdown with a ruler. It’s a part of the culture that you need to accept or become comfortable with if you want to teach here. Sad to say.
14) I’ve had a Thai teaching assistant in my class at all times, but pretty much the entire class is taught in English. If there is a concept or instruction that the kids just aren’t understanding, then I will ask the Thai teacher to translate it. He/she will assist with classroom management, providing the materials, and translation if I ask for it.
15) I love saying the students’ names with a very exaggerated Thai accent – they crack up laughing, and I do too. In fact, I love being silly and making them laugh.
16) I accidentally wrote on the board in permanent marker on my first day of school. That was a memorable day. But nothing is too serious in Thailand, so be prepared for a lot of laughs.
17) I want to go back and thank every teacher I EVER had, now that I know what goes into it. The kids in Thailand helped me see the importance of respecting your teachers, something I saw less of in Western culture.
18) Some days I’m exhausted, and my throat hurts from yelling so much. Some days I’m energized, but overall, I can’t believe I did it.