Teach in Thailand
So you’ve finished your TESOL course and you’re ready to start your placement teaching English at a school in Thailand! Armed with lesson plans and engaging activities, you feel ready to tackle any challenge in the classroom. But what happens when your lessons don’t go as planned? Or you’re faced with an unexpected number of students? What are some of the ways to quickly adapt and change in a new environment?
Recently, we had the chance to talk to David and Khensi, who are both teachers at a school here in Hua Hin. Here, we chat with them about the individual challenges and joys they have in the classroom, tips and strategies for classroom management, and advice they have for incoming teachers!
Could you walk us through what you do in your TESOL teaching placement?
My situation is an interesting one, as I am my school’s EP (English Program) computer teacher. However, I was trained as an English teacher with XploreAsia, and before that, I had no teaching experience. Some schools will provide a curriculum, textbooks, and lesson plans for their teachers. For my school, there’s nothing for the computer program: no curriculum or a desired end goal. So it was my responsibility to create the curriculum, the topics, and the overall course goals.
How many classes do you teach?
My school has only one computer teacher, meaning I was responsible for every student enrolled in the EP program. The semester I started, the EP program consisted of M1 to M5, and in the current year (2017), it will include M6. It was a challenge coming up with what to teach each grade, as I had no real insight into what the students learned the previous semester, other than from a few midterms, exams, and tasks that I was able to find from the previous computer teacher.
How did you tackle the particular challenges of your teaching job in Thailand?
How do you create structure in a rowdier classroom or when students misbehave?
When students misbehave, I call out their name, and sometimes ask them to stop. When they don’t, I’ll close my gap between myself and them. Looking into their eyes for a period of time can win you a victory, simply through awkwardness. In some of your classes, that may not be effective at all, so you may have to find other tactics.
I’ve found that keeping a strong presence in the classroom, such as being ‘everywhere’ in the room and having your voice projected around the room, can be effective. A lot of the tactics for classroom management that you learn in XploreAsia are great: tapping on a student’s desk, calling their names, standing next them, asking the students questions, etc.
Honestly, have fun. That’s the best thing you can do.
What are some of your teaching tips that you can offer prospective and incoming teachers?
Teach slowly. Some individuals will be teaching at private schools, so you’ll have incredibly bright students whose possession of the English language is strong. Teaching slowly would not apply in this case.
Teaching slowly is good as it allows the students to follow along, although you do have to keep track of the stronger students who do not benefit from slow teaching. Have them help the others, possibly through translating (this is more towards teaching non-English classes), or by writing on the board for you.
Get to know your students. This is personally my favourite part of teaching, as they will appreciate you more if you see them as people and not as simply teenagers (or children).
You’ll also get a good grasp of where each student’s issues may lie and where their strengths can be found. This goes a long way in helping them learn.
Be patient. Take a breath when things irk you. Remember that they are young and you were in their shoes once. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
What advice do you have for anyone coming to teach English in Thailand?
Be prepared to potentially be in a position with big responsibilities and with a big say in the students’ education. It’s a big challenge, but a rewarding one. My advice, at least if you’re in a similar situation, is to teach something you know about or have an interest in. You’ll be able to learn on the go, even if you don’t feel confident with your knowledge.
Decide what you ultimately want the students to do (if it’s a big task at the end of the semester, like design their own website). After that, it’ll be a lot easier to figure out the general course path. You’ll be able to envision what your semester will look like, week to week, lesson to lesson, task to task.
If you’re in a similar situation, take advantage of the fact that you’re teaching in Thailand, as their relaxed nature allows you to make mistakes, and improve at a pace that’s not rushed.
Teaching Tip #1: At the beginning of some of my (difficult) classes, I usually write down the time that I am prepared to end the class – be it 5, 7 or (rarely) 10 minutes early. And if the kids don’t behave or make noise, I add minutes to the time and that way not only do the students behave, but they also police or scold the students who are disrupting the class because ultimately everyone’s behaviour affects the fate of the class.
So if they become noisy 11:05, I’ll shift the time to 11:07, and so forth. If they end up leaving at a normal or later time, they have only each other to blame. The goal for the students then becomes getting through the lesson as best as possible with the reward of an early release.
Teaching Tip #2: Another classroom management tactic is threatening the kids with point/score deductions. Usually the disruptive kids are the ones who can’t afford any sort of drop in their grades, and so by making this threat, the students are likely to take it seriously.
Sometimes, I’ll even walk around the class with the class list and if a student misbehaves I make eye contact with them and pretend as though I’m deducting points off of their scores.
Unbeknownst to them, I’m simply just making a dot next to their name. Once I do it with the first or second student, the rest of the class sees that I mean business, and I end up with a rather well-behaved class.
Teaching Tip #3: As a means of keeping the students on their toes and not letting the structure of the class be predictable, every once in a while I swap the front row students with those in the back row. Usually where a student decides to sit in every class influences how involved they want to be in the lesson.
Once I become familiar with a class in the sense that I can tell who wants to participate and who doesn’t, I start shifting kids around and breaking up familiar patterns and groups.
This usually involves instructing the shy and/or disruptive students to sit in the front rows just so that they are more inclined to listen and participate.
I do this every now and then at the beginning of the lesson. Even if the naughty ones are likely to be late, I make sure I have a few empty seats in the front row waiting for their arrival.
Thank you so much for all your advice, David and Khensi! We are so inspired by the work that you do, and we know that you are changing lives through your commitment to your students.
I’d love to hear from you! Have you taught before? What are some of your tips for classroom management? What have you always been interested in teaching but haven’t had the opportunity to do so yet?