What an ESL Classroom Is Really Like

What an ESL Classroom Is Really Like

Before I moved to Thailand, I had this idealized version of teaching: the classroom in my head had around 20 well-behaved students who hung onto my every word. They desperately wanted to learn English because they knew it would get them further than Thai alone. They were quick to follow my instructions and enthusiastic about my kick-ass activities. 

That version was quickly scrapped when I got in the actual classroom. Here’s what an actual ESL classroom is like:

  1. You get a lot of blank stares. I teach in the English program and am lucky that my kids are fairly proficient. It sincerely does not matter how well I think I have explained the activity, I will always get blank stares and need to re-explain (sometimes twice). Eventually you’ll hear one loud “aaaah-haaa!!!” from one student, who will then explain to everyone else in Thai. Then it’s like a little chorus of ah-ha’s across the room; it’s actually incredibly cute, albeit frustrating at times.
  2. Your lesson plan will not go as anticipated.  It’s really not worth putting the effort into a detailed lesson plan, because it will never ever go how you want it to. But, mai bpen rai – go with the flow, and if the students are grasping the material regardless, that’s all you can ask for.
  3. Classroom management is really freakin’ hard. If you know me, you know I’m not authoritative or domineering at all. I can use every trick in the book, but sometimes the kids will just not shut up. I can’t even negotiate with them because they won’t understand. Always the optimist, I try to take every shitty, frustrating lesson as a learning opportunity. What I have learned is that I need to tailor my lesson plans to my class’ personality. I may be teaching the same thing to the same age group, but I will have different activities planned based on what the kids like doing and what they are good at doing. For example, I have one class that is very responsive and at a high level, so I can do things like skits with them (and they’ll pay attention!). In other classes I have to resort to the textbook and worksheets, because that’s the best way to get through to them.
  4. Some students are apathetic no matter where you are. It’s frustrating that some students will just not practice their English because I know how much better their life is going to be if they pony-up and try to learn it.  It’s the same with all subjects across the world – some students just do not care about their school work. All you can do is try to make a connection with them and break through that wall.
  5. The kids will really, really steal your heart. I was disappointed when I was told I was going to be teaching P6 – they were a lot older than I was hoping for. Of course, I have grown to adore them. My students are hormonal, awkward pre-teens, but they are sincerely wonderful. I have known them for three months, but they’re at such a pivotal age that I have seen some huge changes within their personalities and interests, which is super cool to watch. I’ve already told them how much I’m going to miss them next year when they’re in high-school – but thinking about that is making me go teary eyed, so let’s wrap this up.

I’m so thrilled that I took the leap and moved to Thailand to teach. I may not want to be a teacher for the rest of my life, but I’m happy that it’s what’s paying my bills right now. While my vision of my classroom does not align with reality, I would choose my little rascals any day of the week.

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