I taught English in Northern Thailand for one year, two semesters, at a primary school and also as a guest lecturer at a university. I taught five periods a day, five days a week, up to twenty six hours of, from ages 3 - 11, some small classes and others large and was a mentor to the university English major students to assess their work and professional teaching experience in collaboration and a personal tutor to students of all ages and adults after school and on the weekend, where I also became a swimming coach, with over twenty years of swimming experience.
I had many duties and responsibilities including: gate duty once a week greeting the students and parents first thing in the morning, attending every class with a lesson plan and objective, assessing each individual student and reporting back to colleagues and directors for feedback and scoring them mid-term and end of term with exams. Everyday involved looking after the students, always keeping an eye on them and assisting with anything they need or resolving any issues or conflict that arose and leading each class to the cafeteria, sitting with the students and ensuring they all eat and finish their food and at the end of the day being present as parents collect their children and have to sign forms to announce their presence. Once a week I also had to do an English morning programme for the entire school and faculty, fun activities for everyone to engage in and learn key vocabulary in the process. There were weekly meetings for all teachers to attend, discussing the learning process, improvements and upcoming events, which I had to always be a part of and was happy to, as each one was extremely enjoyable and a treasurable experience and piece of Thai tradition and most times had to set up the days following up to the events. Occasionally, my teacher duties sometimes stretched further as I attended seminars at schools and universities around Thailand and played a host to these events, where I did online training to Thai teachers on how to teach a foreign language and even had to be a judge to music and dance competitions to represent my school and university as an English Director. I built strong relationships with my students and outside school would spend time with them and at times support them at competitions for sports, music and other extracurricular activities.
I came with no previous teaching experience, but am leaving with a wealth of knowledge and skill from my time there, not only from teaching, but also from the beauty of Thai culture. I had a really immersive experience, with everyone in my day to day life (students, teachers, parents, locals) all with little to no understanding of English language, thus leading me to having to adapt by learning Thai to be able to communicate with them and language exchange, with a strong barrier, using body language and facial expressions everyday and getting to visually elicit meaning and understand their personalities and over time learning one another’s language and using that experience to incorporate into my teaching practises and learning myself by finding and enacting new ways of communication without speech and how to understand and use language correctly, finding shared interests and making them laugh constantly to form a strong bond and trust and Thai people respect you attempting to speak their language as they know how difficult it is for themselves to try to speak yours, a mutual respect and appreciation. A lot of my teaching was trial and error at first, many lessons experimenting to find my style, as I had so much creative freedom, given just the curriculum inside a workbook and then could base any lessons from that, all material, activities and practises were in my control and at my access and everyday each student was so excited to learn the language and practise it together in fun innovative ways. I exercised using pitch, tone and pace to help in understanding, speaking slower, enunciating and elevating my voice for certain words and phrases, as the Thai language is a tonal one and so easier for them to learn and pick up meaning if you use English in the same manner. I split up the lessons by skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) and made sure every student participated in class, but always was patient with their comfort and confident, encouraging them to enjoy learning and receiving feedback from their parents about how happy they are when they leave school and love my classes, means everything and makes it such a fulfilling position, as teaching a foreign language is one of the most challenging jobs, but also overwhelmingly rewarding, to be able to teach life lessons inside and outside the classroom, providing them with the tools they need to survive and communicate out in the world naturally everyday and being a role model to them and knowing how much you’re appreciated, it honestly made me realise my full potential and purpose out in the world. The analogy I have used to describe my perspective is that teaching was like watching a foreign film for the first time without subtitles, never hearing the language before, that was the most accurate way to explain what it is like teaching a foreign language.
I was far outside of my comfort zone as I moved out to Asia by myself, leaving all I ever knew to live alone for the first time, teach for the first time in a country and culture I had never been to before and so with all of that I experienced a lot of culture shock naturally and throughout the duration of my teaching, had to participate in many activities, celebrations and traditions in full Thai fashion, eat the best food I have ever had in my life (also the spiciest), adjust to the scorching high temperatures of Thai summer and adapt to living and driving and got to travel and explore the country and absorb everything going on around me; it was like living life for the first time again, absolutely everything was alien to me and that is such an exhilarating and euphoric feeling. Everyday was unpredictable, new and different and an unforgettable experience, adventure and sacred story worth telling, all of it was worth capturing, the tales are endless, I never wanted to put my camera down, but also embraced Buddhist practises of being present and just appreciating the moment with no expectations and I know I will never forget a single moment of any of it, the greatest memories, it was a life changing journey and the happiest and best time of my life without a doubt and just the beginning of what is to come, teaching in Asia, moving out here was the best decision I have ever made.
I had never known or had anything like this before, the way Thai people welcome you into their lives and homes, take care of you and the kindness they show, always smiling and willing to help with anything and everything, even if they don’t understand, and my favourite thing is how they are a proud nation of their culture and community is the most important thing, they do everything together and being brought into that community, there is no greater feeling, everyday everyone in my area waving at me and rushing to come and greet me, excited to interact even if just for a few moments, it is such a heartwarming experience and something that became routine and I couldn’t believe I’d lived so long without having this before and now couldn’t imagine my life without it, it was all I could’ve ever possibly asked for and so much more and I couldn’t begin to thank them all for everything they had done and given to me, I felt so at home, safe and comfortable from my first day until my last and couldn’t catch my breath most days due to how incredible it felt to be treated this way and everything I was included in.
The children are the best part, they started my day, kept me going through the tough days and also kept me grounded and humble and made me look forward to going to work everyday, seeing their excitement whenever they saw me, shouting ‘teacher’ and running to hug me, it made everyday worth it, everything was always for them and I felt at the end that I was just meant to find each and every one of them. I am leaving knowing I made a difference in not only the children’s lives, but everyone else around me everyday in the lasting relationships I made, contributing an active and valuable meaningful impact. It was an adventure, journey of self discovery and introspection, so much personal growth alongside seeing the growth and development of each student, where I learnt even more than I taught, about their culture and language; it was beyond all of my expectations and during the tough and long days, exhausted and frustrated, when I just wanted it to end to finishing and never wanting to leave and saying goodbye to the life and home I’d built one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and I leave unbelievably grateful, forever changed and ready to spread the kindness and customs I have gathered in my time around the world and proud of who I became, appreciating language more than I ever have before.
I came to Thailand with the company Xplore Asia, who assisted with every step of the journey, from the interview, job applications and placement, the whole visa process, flights and accommodation, legalising my degree and background checks and all the steps needed to work abroad in pre-arrival preparation and then when I arrived in the country, had airport pickup, orientation, language classes, history of the culture and further training in the field of teaching and education. I was then passed onto my agency at Kids English, who provided me with my job as an English teacher at the school and on hand assistance and support through the whole year, always giving me advice, information and helping with any questions or situations I had with the best solutions and frequently keeping communication, checking in on me and my experience and listening to everything I have to say and sharing their own personal stories and it was so comforting and were extremely inspiring by building up my confidence and praising my accomplishments and my journey and staying by my side from the first day until the last, I was extremely blessed with the team I was given and will be staying in contact to be able to share future endeavours, as they were there for the beginning of my teaching career and I owe part of my success to their support and care and cannot recommend them enough to future foreign teachers in Thailand.