One of the questions you might have about teaching in Thailand is “What kind of school will I be placed in?” Here at XploreAsia, our talented team places our participants in some of the most amazing schools in cities and towns all over Thailand. We work with government and private schools across the country to provide the best placements for incredible people like you, who have come to Thailand to make a difference as English teachers.
We had the chance to chat with one of our wonderful participants Elise Griffiths who just finished a semester of teaching English at a government school in Thailand. As a teacher, Elise inspired significant change in the lives of her students each day, but beyond that, we were struck with how she truly embraced living and learning in her local community in Thailand. Here, she talks about her greatest joys and challenges in the classroom and her experience teaching at a government school in Thailand!
Where in Thailand do you teach?
I teach in Nonthaburi. It’s about 30 minutes outside of the Northwest province of Bangkok.
What kind of school do you teach in – government or private, boarding school or other? How long have you been teaching at this school?
I teach in a government school. I teach math and science to advanced students in a Mini English Programme (MEP) to M1 and M2 (seventh and eighth grade). I also teach English to P5, M1, and M3 (5th, 7th, and 9th grades respectively). I taught there for one semester, but I am returning to America.
How many students do you have?
My MEP classes are smaller: M2 is 17 students and M1 is 24. I see them the most often (3-5 times per week). My other classes are about 30-35 students.
What are your working hours? Are you a part of extracurricular activities or after-school programs?
I work from 07:30 to 16:30 every day. During those hours though, I teach 3-6 hours depending on the day. Usually it’s about four hours.
I wasn’t a part of any regular after-school activities, but I did practice some songs with a handful of MEP students for Christmas.
I played guitar and they sang Christmas carols in English. They even made some dance moves to “Jingle Bell Rock.” It was precious.
Do you teach with any other foreigners?
There are two other foreigner teachers at my school. One is a goofy British man, and the other teacher grew up about 30 minutes away from me, studied the same thing in university, and ended up at my same school only a few months before, but we didn’t meet until we began this job in Thailand. Small world, eh?
How quickly did you get to know the other Thai teachers at the school?
This is difficult because I work mostly in the Matthayum (secondary) wing, but we also have Pratthom (elementary) and Annuban (kindergarten) in our school. My guess is that there are about 40-60 teachers total.
In my office, there are two Thai teachers who we all call “Phi Ta” and “Phi Jo,” which means older sister Ta and older sister Jo. I brought in fruit for them and would ask them questions about speaking Thai, so that bolstered our relationship. It took about a week to warm up to Ta and Jo, and about two months for the other teachers.
What is the community around the school like? How well do you get to know your students and their families?
There are no other foreigners in my area, so it forced me to speak Thai, which I loved. One of my M.2 MEP students lived in my apartment, so we’d occasionally talk in a common area in the building. She ended up feeling like my little sister overtime. Her father was also very kind and would “wave” my food in his microwave because I didn’t have one.
I also made friends with a wonderful woman named Noi, which means “little.” She ran a small restaurant just down the road from me and didn’t speak a lick of English. We’d converse about everything from our plans for Songkran to where to buy the best Tam Kha Gai to our sore throats we both got the same day.
Though we couldn’t always understand each other, she cried when I told her I was leaving Nonthaburi. It was unbelievably moving. In my opinion, attempting to speak Thai is the key to building relationships in the community.
What are some of your greatest challenges you face in the classroom?
Getting my students to focus was like pulling teeth some days.
Since you can’t send them to a principal’s office or give them detention, the discipline is entirely the teacher’s responsibility.
Especially in the non-MEP classes where I spoke more Thai than they spoke English, it’s difficult to earn the respect of the students who just don’t care to learn.
Being swift and consistent with repercussions that are universally understood was key to combating that challenge.
What are some of your greatest joys as a teacher in Thailand?
Some of the best moments are when my students finally understand a difficult topic, when I can tell they’re having fun, or even just watching them interact with each other. They are so full of life; it’s really refreshing to see.
My favorite moments though were when students would individually slip into the office and have conversations with me.
That’s when I really got to know them. They’re all so unique and have so much to them.
Seeing pictures won’t do it justice because it’s impossible to convey how each one is their own quirky, wonderful individual.
Thank you, Elise! We are incredibly touched by your experience in Thailand. You have clearly made a huge impact not only in the classroom, but in your community as well, and we love the stories that you’ve shared with us. We wish you all the best upon your return to the States, and we look forward to welcoming you into our valuable alumni network.