What It’s Like to be an ESL Teacher in Thailand

What It’s Like to be an ESL Teacher in Thailand

As I type this post, it is 10:30am on Sunday morning in Bangkaeo, and we are currently in the midst of yet another power outage. While I have a feeling this power outage was premeditated (there are trucks driving up and down the street touting men screaming into bullhorns), I still don’t speak enough Thai to understand what is going on (and I’m not sure I ever will). As a side-note, bullhorn seems to be the ideal method for conveying a message to the entire town of Bangkaeo. I’ve been awakened by these bullhorns on multiple occasions (perhaps this is a testament to the bullhorns’ effectiveness), and many times the bullhorn-users seem to be selling food or electronics. I guess fliers in the Sunday morning newspaper haven’t quite caught on yet…

Anyway, I was lucky enough to be able to boil some water before the power went out, and as I sit here now, I munch on instant-chok (a rice-based porridge), a cup of Dunkin coffee brewed in my lovely French press (S/O to Anna Jay for that amazing care package), and peanut butter and banana toast. I’ve opened the door to my balcony to allow some fresh air and natural light in, and the breeze is a welcome relief as my fan is no longer in contention for cooling my shoebox of an apartment. Amazingly, I was able to sleep in today and yesterday (that never happens), and I’m currently belting out Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel” (yes, this is 2005). Basically, I’m feeling pretty good right now.

This is my first weekend in Bangkaeo in close to two months (thanks to an abundance of weekend trips), and it’s also one of my last. I officially move out of my apartment on March 15th, my huge suitcase will be lugged to Bangkok where I can store it for a month, and then I will embark on my travels around more of Southeast Asia. Suffice to say, I am thrilled to be moving on, but I also feel sadness and fear at leaving behind this place that has become home to me. I’m not sure where I might end up at the end of April, and as often as I arrive at these crossroads, I can’t say it gets any easier (but I promise I’m exploring all of my options).

As my time at RWB comes to an end, however, I thought I would share with you a typical day in the life of Teacher Erin. If any of you are like me, you will have had preconceptions about the ESL classroom, and I’m here to tell you: throw those preconceptions out the window. I certainly had an idea of my classroom being filled with thirty well-behaved, angelic, intently-listening students who were engaged and committed to learning English. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how the past four months went down…

6:30am: Roll over and hit snooze at least twice. Force myself out of bed by 6:45. Brush teeth, get dressed (shoulders and knees covered!), pack my bag. Listen to the traffic cops blow their whistles incessantly. Two swipes of mascara and I’m out the door.

7:20am: Walk to school. The campus entrance is a three minute walk from my apartment, but the back of campus (where I need to sign-in everyday) takes about ten minutes. Greet students and teachers. Wai and smile until my cheeks hurt.

7:40-8:20am: Morning assembly aka slight death to my soul. Students stand and sing the national anthem (as I’ve learned from experience, there is no walking or talking allowed during the anthem…), and spend the next half hour praying and listening to announcements in Thai. This takes place in the covered gymnasium, and lends itself to my staring off into space and sweating relentlessly. Head to the office. Eat a banana and drink a cup of coffee.

8:30-11am: The first class of the day is at 8:30am, but as I only teach four, fifty-minute classes a day, I am usually able to spend this period preparing lessons and grading papers and projects. I typically have one or two classes before 11am.

11am-noon: Lunch break. Either I pack fruit, snacks, and a peanut butter sandwich and eat lunch in the office, or I head across the street to one of my favorite coffee shops. RWB also has a huge canteen, where many students and teachers eat.

Noon-4pm: The majority of my lessons take place after lunch. I teach M1-M4 (7th grade- 10th grade), and I see each class two or three times a week. Currently, I am teaching: Fundamental English, Listening and Speaking, English for Presentation, and English Around You.

Typically, I spend the first 15-20 minutes of class explaining new concepts and vocabulary (using the whiteboard or a PowerPoint), and the last 30 minutes are spent completing worksheets, projects, and presentations. One of my favorite projects I had each of my classes work on this semester was having them come up with a detailed travel itinerary to an English-speaking country. Rather shockingly, a lot of my students seem to have a burning desire to go to New Zealand…

4-4:30pm: I am always out of my office by 4:30, and oftentimes, I am able to leave right after my last class ends. The only time I have to “bring work home with me” is when I am creating midterm or final exams, or when I have a particularly large number of projects to grade. At the end of the day, I usually head to 7/11 to stock up on snacks (shocker) or to one of my favorite restaurants to eat an early dinner. Lately, I’ve been invited to dinner by a lot of my Thai friends right after school, so I’ve been able to experience a more authentic Thai experience (and delicious Thai food I didn’t even know existed). After showering, doing some laundry, and blogging or binge-watching Netflix, I’m typically in bed by 10:30, ready to start all over again the next day.

Unfortunately (and contrary to my previously-held beliefs), many of my students do not understand why they should be learning English. Many of them (especially my older students), view my class as a time to get work done for their other classes or to take a snooze (no matter how fun or engaging my English activities might seem). Many of them view my class as an opportunity to misbehave or to play their guitars (yes, this has happened on multiple occasions). Some even think English class is a time to duct tape their friends to the wall (fyi: it’s not). Many of them like to see how far they can push me until I snap (luckily, it takes a lot for me to snap), and far too many of them use their phones constantly.

While my M4s are much better behaved than, say, my M1s, all of my classes have their days. Classroom management is one thing I struggle with on a daily basis, but anytime someone is out of their seat or misbehaving (cough, cough all of the boys in my M1 classes), I’m the first to send them into the hallway. Each class has their strengths (and weaknesses) and their specific interests, and so it is important for me to tailor my lessons around those characteristics. As you can probably guess, relevant and interesting lessons are essential. Another thing I’ve learned during my time as an ESL teacher is that explaining something to the entire classroom while trying to keep their attention does. not. work. Rather, I’ve learned to break the class down into smaller groups and slowly and carefully explain what I want them to do. Instructing the class in small groups is much more effective, as otherwise I’m greeted by a sea of faces covered in blank stares.

As my first gig as an ESL teacher comes to a close, I’ll be the first to tell you: I have infinitely more respect for teachers (especially as I’ve been graced with so many amazing educators) and all of the hard work (and stress) that goes into lesson planning and classroom management. How amazing that people are willing to wake up every morning and dedicate their lives to making a difference in so many young minds—and in such a tangible way.

Tomorrow is the final day of exams, and then I will have two weeks of submitting grades and preparing for my upcoming travels. As the end creeps ever closer and ever closer, I am doing my best to reflect on my time here and to consider what the best “next-step” will be for me. I will be sure to keep you all updated.


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