Shoulds and Should-Nots for the Thai Classroom

teachingmonks

As a foreign teacher new to the Thai classroom, the cultural norms can be a bit overwhelming (and contradictory to what you’re used to). Here is a quick guide for things you should and should not do in your own classrooms to get you into a more comfortable flow (for you and your students!)

You should learn as many of your students’ nicknames as you can. (Trust me, they’re much easier than their Thai names!)

You should not call your students hurtful names or pick on them.

You should let your students get up from their desk during class. I was completely insulted the first time this happened and tried to phase it out, but I soon realize they are going to do it anyways! The students just get confused if you tell them to stay in their seat, because the Thai teachers allow them to get up and ask a friend for paper, pens, liquid paper, etc. during class.

My students don't know how to sit at their individual desks
My students don’t know how to sit at their individual desks

You should not sit or stand on desks or tables. If you need to for some reason (and you will), wipe it off afterward as a sign of respect. Even the kids take their shoes off before standing on a chair!

You should be affectionate with your students. The student/teacher relationship in Thailand is very different than most foreign school systems where it’s considered wildly inappropriate to touch a student (i.e. put your hand on a student’s shoulder). One of my friends even gets daily hugs from her younger students! I find patting kids on the back or putting your hand on their shoulder builds trust and reassures them when they can’t understand what you’re saying with words. Obviously, this depends on your own level of comfort and personal boundaries as well.

You should not hit the students. This is a tricky one because a lot of Thai teachers carry bamboo sticks in the government schools to discipline students with (especially in my all-boys high school). I find it is much more effective to hit desks or the board to get the students’ attention, rather than hands or bums (yeah, it happens). Since I do teach all boys, I’m not afraid to swat them lightly with a book as a joke, but you have to be very careful with personal boundaries. Never hit a student out of frustration or as punishment.

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You should use a lot of multimedia in your classroom: videos, books, magazines, movies. A lot of Thai classrooms are really well equipped thanks to a huge education budget, and all of my Thai co-teachers love when I play short videos or clips for the students. They even scold you if you use too many lessons straight from the book! My science classes in particular love Bill Nye. They have begun chanting ‘Bill, Bill, Bill!’ along with the intro song.

You should not walk into class without a lesson plan. This is a personal pet peeve of mine because foreign teachers often think they should put zero effort into lessons. The students’ level of English may be low and you may be able to get away with ‘winging it’, but it doesn’t mean you should! Your kids will learn more and you will have a smoother and more successful class if you come prepared. If your students aren’t learning, it’s your fault. Make it easy on yourself by making the effort!

You should use a lot of worksheets. Thai teachers love worksheets, the kids love worksheets and you get a well-earned break from teaching. I like to have some extra games and word searches on hand in case I run out of things to do during class. The kids go nuts for word searches.

You should not be surprised if you are going through the material faster than the students can understand it. Unfortunately, your school often holds you to a ministry of education schedule that is prioritized over students’ actual learning. Perhaps private schools are different, but I have found this to be the case at most government schools (and most private ones too). Better to accept it now than to fight it. It will save you a lot of frustration and stress. That doesn’t mean that you have to accept mediocrity for your students though! Plan some awesome lessons to get them excited to learn and practicing the material.

teachsing

You should play a lot of educational games. Whether Thai teachers like it or not (some do, some don’t), my students love to learn through games. It is a great way to practice English and get the students involved, and you build a lot of rapport with them this way. Not to mention it’s great leverage during class (Oh, you don’t want to do the work? I guess we won’t get to play hot seat at the end of class then….)

You should not get frustrated when your students cheat. For some reason, it is completely accepted, nay, almost encouraged in Thailand! Students here just have no concept of cheating being morally or ethically wrong. This was such a shock the first few weeks I taught that I ended up ripping multiple tests in half in frustration and disgust. Things have changed as I’ve seen Thai teachers turn the other cheek to cheating during midterms, but I’ve created my own balance: Lax with copying homework or ‘working together’ but an absolute no-cheating policy with testing. It’s the best compromise I could manage for resolving our two education cultures.

Have any other recommendations from your teaching experiences? Do you disagree with some of these suggestions? Do you have any questions about classroom do’s and dont’s? Let me know in the comments or e-mail me at leavesfrmthevine@gmail.com

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2 thoughts on “Shoulds and Should-Nots for the Thai Classroom”

    1. Yes, and you can definitely see the difference in the relationships between teachers and students. It’s not such an authoritative interaction and the kids are willing to joke with and make fun of me, which I really appreciate because it lightens the mood and takes some pressure off of me. I certainly prefer it, though some days they’re a little too open with their thoughts and opinions…(ex: ‘Teacher Blayne wears the same clothes every day’ – thanks guys!)

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