Tag Archives: ESL

The Hilarious, Silly, and Strange

This compilation of sayings and doings has been collected over the school year in a small notebook or on my iPhone. It includes things that have occurred to either myself or other teachers at my school that have made us crack up (including photos we managed to snap). I hope there is enough context here for you to get as much out of them as we did. Enjoy! Continue reading The Hilarious, Silly, and Strange

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Christmas at Wat Ben

Christmas abroad is hard. Not only are you missing your friends and family, but you miss the traditions associated with the holiday too. So, naturally, I was quite disgruntled to have to work on Christmas this year. I was homesick, cranky, and dreading the normalcy to come when I arrived at school. 

Continue reading Christmas at Wat Ben

A Day in the Life of an English Teacher

The old school building at Wat Ben
The old school building at Wat Ben

Here is a typical day for me as an English teacher at an all-boy public high school in Bangkok. Remember, I mostly teach Math and Science in English, so my experiences may not be the norm, but hopefully this post gives you some insight into what teaching here is really like:

6:45 Wake up and get ready for work. Sometimes I have breakfast or walk my ‘hood looking for fresh fruit (pineapple, watermelon, bananas) and coffee. Sometimes I splurge and get a latte and muffin at the nearby Starbucks (don’t judge me!).

7:25ish-7:45ish I ride to school on the back of my boyfriend’s moto. I’m supposed to be at school by 7:30 but no one really cares since most of the teachers can’t be bothered to make it by 7:45. This may not be the case for all schools, but our teachers definitely believe in the concept of Thai time (make it in on time if you can, oh well if you can’t).

Me, on a moto :)
Me, on a moto 🙂

7:45-8:30 Prep for my first class of the day, chat with the coworkers (foreign and Thai), maybe get 20 baht (65 cent) breakfast down at the canteen, have some tea or coffee.

8:30-11:00 Depending on the day, I have between 2 and 4 lessons, all 50 minutes (for my coworkers who teach English conversation, writing, and reading, 4 lessons a day is the norm, but some have as many as 6 a day). I teach math, science, and conversation in English, so I have a lighter schedule. I always have lunch from either 11:00-11:50 or 11:50-12:40

Hanging in the office
Hanging in the office

11:00 Get lunch from the canteen, the local outdoor kitchen behind the school (30 baht dishes, so yummy) or drive down the road to another outdoor kitchen with more options. This is where I get most of my Thai language practice (im maak! – very full!).

11:50-3:30 Finish up lessons, chat with students, use the wifi in the computer lab, watch shows on my laptop, nap in the secret corner behind the bookcase (yeah, napping is totally allowed in Thailand!), read, give make-up tests for absent students, chat with coworkers, help the Thai teachers with proofreading, or plan for upcoming lessons* later in the week.

*My lesson planning is more intensive than other teachers’ because I teach math and science to students with a really low level of English. This means I usually have to make up most of my worksheets and quizzes (unless we do activities in their textbooks). I don’t mind it though and I imagine someday, when I have actual useful resources at hand, teaching will seem so easy! Right…?

Bonus: Since I have to be at the school for about 8 hours a day and only spend 3.5 hours max actually teaching, I have a lot of unsupervised down time. That’s one of my favorite parts about this job – arranging my own free time.

Our office (foreigners are in here, the Thai teachers are in the bigger office connecting to this one). We each have our own desk and you can see the napping area behind the bookcase where the chairs (aka our bed) are poking out
Our office (foreigners are in here, the Thai teachers are in the bigger office connecting to this one). We each have our own desk and you can see the napping area behind the bookcase where the chairs (aka our bed) are poking out

3:30ish Leave school and head home (via moto).

3:30-10:30 Endless free time! Since there is so much downtime at work, I NEVER work at home (unless something comes up, like a forgotten test that needs to happen the next morning). This leaves time for working out, watching movies, reading, exploring the neighborhood, meeting up for drinks or dinner with friends, going out to restaurants, working on my blog, planning upcoming trips, seeing cheap movies at the cinema, etc. I also tutor for an hour and a half on Wedensday’s, but even that work doesn’t tire me out since it’s reading and writing practice.

View from my apartment roof
View from my apartment roof

So, here are what I think are the benefits of my typical work-day:

-No supervision, so I make my own free time.

-Very low stress level since I have plenty of down-time to plan my lessons.

-Most days, work is not tiring so I have plenty of energy for extra tutoring hours after school.

-Time between classes allows me to go to doctors, dentists, or visa appointments without missing anything important or ruffling anyone’s feathers.

-Plenty of time after work to do what I want and socialize.

-Short commutes make for minimal transportation time and costs (we spend 5$ a week putting gas in the moto)

Here are what I think are the cons of my work day:

-Believe it or not, on days when I only have 2 lessons, I can get pretty bored/lazy and it’s actually way more tiring than teaching all day because the day seems to drag on and on (yeah, I’m ridiculous, I know).

-Even if I finish classes by 10:10 (Fridays), I have to stay at school until at least 3:00.

 

What is your daily schedule like? Do you find you have a lot of free time? What do you think are the advantages/disadvantages to the teaching schedule in Thailand? How does this differ from teaching English in other countries? Let me know in the comments!

A Typical Science Lesson (English)

One of my M1 classes (12 year olds)

Each of my lessons at my all-male public high school are 50 minutes. Here is a general break down of how I do my science lessons:

Since there are no breaks built into the schedule between classes, I typically wait about 5 minutes before I get to class so the kids have time to mellow out – it’s really a waste of time for the teachers to show up on the dot because the kids need the transition time and they will have it whether you’re there or not. The Thai teachers show up anywhere from 5-15 minutes late, but I don’t like to push it past 4 or 5 minutes.

For the first 10 minutes or so, we usually review what we did the previous class (I see my students twice a week, so review is essential). My students haven’t quite mastered the meaning of ‘review’ and I often have to walk around and tell them not to copy the notes again in their notebooks. Most of the time though, review means ‘I don’t have to listen for the next 10 minutes’ so sometimes I call on the kids who aren’t listening as a way to say, yes, you’re supposed to be paying attention to this.

Then for the next 10-15 minutes I introduce a new topic on the board and have the students help me write the notes: have you seen this word before? What do you think it means? What’s the Thai word for it? Can you give me an example? Etc. I always make the students copy the notes because it’s a great way to get them focused and Thai school culture heavily emphasizes note-taking (though the students usually don’t ever bother to read the notes again)

The same class pictured above, working
The same class pictured above, working

For the last 25 minutes or so of class we usually do an activity to check for understanding. This can be a worksheet, an assignment in their workbook, a game, or my favorite, an episode of Bill Nye. (When my students see that I’ve brought in my laptop, they always desperately ask me if we’re watching Bill. If I say yes, they start chanting Bill! Bill! Bill! just like in the intro. Even my 14 year olds do this!)

 

Sample lesson plan: Weather (12 year old students)

The class featured in my example lesson plan
The class featured in my example lesson plan (Mue is on the far right, Ken has his hand in the air, Boom is right in front of Ken being strangled from behind)

5 minutes spent wrangling:

Me: Please get in your seats! Bank, please stop hitting Ken. Take out your notebooks, please. Not your textbooks, we don’t need those today, your notebooks.

Student: Teacher, notebooks?

Me: Yes, your notebooks.

10 minutes reviewing:

We have already done these notes together and did an assignment to check for understanding, so all the students have to do is pop open their notes and feed me the answers

Me: Ok, what is the first layer of the atmosphere called (with visual on the board)?

Ken: Exosphere!

Me: No, that’s this layer, closest to Space. What is the layer closest to Earth (point at giant Earth I’ve drawn)?

Mue: Troposphere

Me: Good! Now, what do we find in the troposphere?

Boom: Plane!

Me: Sometimes, but they fly in the stratosphere, here, remember? What do we find in the troposphere? Look at your notes.

Mue: Human!

Me: Yes, very good Mue (draw a picture of a human on the board)! Now, what else?

Boom: Cloud!

Me: Yes, weather, good job Boom….

15 minutes introducing new topic:

Weather: Here I rely heavily on visuals drawn on the board. What kinds of weather are there? I have students brainstorm the different aspects, like rain/snow (precipitation), wind (speed and direction), sunny or cloudy, etc. I introduce new vocabulary (precipitation, humidity, air pressure, etc. They may or may not have any idea what I’m talking about). Then we do pronunciation practice of all the words, and I make them watch me make the sounds and try to mimmic me, etc. Yeah, I make this stuff up as I go but it works!

This is why I have to confiscate cell phones...
This is why I have to confiscate cell phones…

20 minutes watching Bill Nye episode, ‘Atmosphere’ and Worksheet

For practice and something fun, I give the students an easy worksheet* about our Bill Nye episode (fill in the blacks, short answer, multiple choice, etc.). We look it over and then watch the episode. The students chant Bill! Bill! Bill! in the intro and laugh inexplicably throughout the entire thing. I frequently stop the video to point out key concepts and check for understanding, or to point out answers and replay the crucial parts (they follow almost none of the English, but luckily there are a lot of visual cues). I spend the rest of the video confiscating cell phones and uno cards in funny ways to get the students to laugh, since they crave entertainment after all, and sometimes Bill just doesn’t cut it (sorry, Bill). Then we go over the worksheets if we have time, or I collect them (there is usually desperate, frantic copying going on in the moments before I collect worksheets**).

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*Thai teachers really like to use worksheets and like for the foreign teachers to use them as well. The students are conditioned to do worksheets, so it’s often a more effective way to get them working with the material than to do writing assignments or abstract discussion-based activities.

**As I said in other posts, copying is always permitted by the Thai teachers at our school (and it seems sometimes, even encouraged). I had to reconcile my own opinions about copying with those of the ‘school culture’ and find a happy medium. Don’t judge me!

 

Do you have any tips for lessons with ESL students? Have you taught science in Thailand before? What are your experiences? Let me know in the comments!

 

7 Reasons why you should teach in Thailand

1. The students are wonderful

One of my favorite students (not that I have favorites...)
One of my favorite students (not that I have favorites…)

It’s a bit of a culture shock walking into a Thai school. Discipline can be non-existent and it’s tough getting over the fact that student success and learning is not prioritized. Once you get used to the way things work, though, it’s so much fun.

Even working at an all-male high school, my worst nightmare in the US, none of my students are malicious. They worry about me, make a little fun of me, but they never try to hurt my feelings. And we have a great time together, making jokes and playing with words. It’s extremely rewarding and the English level does improve over the year.

2. Living and traveling in Thailand is inexpensive – really inexpensive.

Our apartment in Bangkok, Thailand
Our apartment in Bangkok, Thailand

Teacher wages are more than enough to live on comfortably. Apartments and condo rentals are extremely affordable. Food is less expensive than in Western countries, especially if you’re only eating Thai food (we’re talking 1$ meals here).

View from my bungalow at sunrise, Koh Chang, Thailand
View from my bungalow at sunrise, Koh Chang, Thailand

Travel is also super cheap, especially if you take trains and local transportation. Hotels and bungalows on a backpacker budget are easy to find and once again, food is very cheap throughout Thailand (being only slightly more expensive in major tourist areas).

3. The food is amazing

Vegetarian khao soi, my all-time favorite Thai dish
Vegetarian khao soi, my all-time favorite Thai dish

I assume this is obvious, but to someone who is not well acquainted with Thai food, you’re in for a treat. Thailand is renowned for having one of the best cuisines in the world. The food is very fresh, often bought that morning from a local market. The flavors are out of this world – sweet, sour, salty, spicy, everything you could ever want in a mouthful of deliciousness. The major ingredients used here are cilantro, spicy peppers, onions, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, tomatoes, papaya, and an assortment of spices and other meat and veggies.

4. The people are kind, funny and generous

A security guard getting in on the Songkran action in Chiang Mai (a festival involving a giant, city-wide waterfight)
A security guard participating in  Songkran in Chiang Mai (a festival involving a giant, city-wide water fight)

I don’t like to make cultural generalizations, but in this case, it’s a pretty solid one. Most Thais love to have fun and joke around, and they can be very open and generous to complete strangers (like me). Don’t get me wrong, some people are definitely put off by foreigners since they have a bit of a bad reputation in Thailand (thanks a lot, belligerent tourists). But I have had so many different experiences of people joking with me, being helpful, and generously offering meals and advice, that I have an overwhelming fondness and affection for the people here.

5. Getting a job is pretty easy

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Probably the most attractive thing about teaching in Thailand is how easy it is to get a job. See my post here about how to go about it. The requirements are very minimal and teaching experience is not required. If you want to see if teaching is for you or you want a fun and rewarding job to support travels and pay off students loans, teaching is a great way to do it.

THAT BEING SAID, please don’t abuse it. Don’t be one of those teachers that just uses teaching as a means to an end and can’t be bothered to put effort in at work. Seriously, it’s not fair to the students. Be responsible or don’t bother.

6. Thailand is well-connected to many other countries

Angor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Thailand is right smack in the middle of some pretty amazing places to visit. Angkor Wat, one of my all-time favorite sites, is less than a day’s journey from Bangkok. Southern Thailand, Malaysia, and the Laos border are all accessible by train (beware, the train to Malaysia takes 24 hours!) Also, Bangkok has a lot of great budget airlines passing through to popular destinations like Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Indonesia, Borneo, the Philippines, etc.

7. Awesome festivals nearly every month

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Our krathong (float) for the Loi Krathong ceremony

One of my favorite parts about living in Thailand is that there seems to be some cause for celebration nearly every month. Songkran itself often goes on for over a week! New Years is a multi-day affair. Loy Krathong in the North goes on for days as well. At my school, we seem to have at least a day or two off a month for some holiday or another, usually accompanied with fun activities and delicious food.

What do you think is the best reason to teach in Thailand? What’s your favorite Thai festival? Did I miss anything important? Let me know! Comment below or email me here.

So how do I get a job teaching English in Thailand?

Me, correcting a math assignment
Me, correcting a math assignment

Whether you’re already in Thailand, ready to buy your ticket, or just considering teaching, check out this guide to get you started:

Step 1: Research Teaching in Thailand

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Is this something you really want to do? Is this something you can afford? What’s it like? I highly recommend you check out other posts in this blog and do your own research to make sure teaching English in Thailand is the right thing for you.

Here is a great link to many questions people have about teaching in Thailand. It answers FAQ’s and debunks certain myths about ESL teaching. Check it out!

Step 2: Be Qualified to Teach

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1. Be a native speaker: You must be a native English speaker to teach in Thailand.If your English is iffy and you have no degree or TEFL background, you will have a hard time getting a job.

2. Have a Bachelor’s degree: technically the only requirement you need to teach English in Thailand

*I have known teachers that don’t have it and their agency more or less lies for them. However, not having a degree means you can’t legally get a work permit to teach English which you WILL want if you plan on staying in Thailand long-term (and supposedly immigration is cracking down on repeat tourist visas, so you’ll definitely want that work permit).

3. Have a TEFL certificate: Absolutely not necessary but will give you better options for teaching jobs and a leg up on the competition

*I know a lot of teachers who received teaching positions without a TEFL certificate but employers like to see it on a resume. It shows you have at least some training and experience. My TEFL course personally did not prepare me very well for teaching, but that’s not to say others wouldn’t be helpful.

4. Experience teaching: Definitely not necessary, but helpful. However, if you want to get a good paying job in Thailand, experience is the way to do it.

*Experience will also help you in the classroom as a teacher. Walking in on my first day was scary. All the students were going nuts, staring at us, yelling at us in English (remember, all-male high school). It was so overwhelming! I felt like I was going to get eaten alive. I didn’t, and I have a great time at school now, but experience would have been helpful. Now I feel like I could take on any class at any school.

Step 3: Apply for a Job

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Get to Thailand first! Don’t try to get a job outside of the country – most (if not all) schools prefer for you to live in Thailand when you apply. Also, getting a job with an agency beforehand can be very iffy-I wouldn’t recommend it unless you know the agency has a good reputation for placements.

Where to apply: My go-to recommendation sites are Ajarn.com and Craigslist.com.

Ajarn.com is great for finding jobs. It’s slightly more competitive because most people look for jobs there, but if you send out many applications (via your virtual CV that you create) odds are you’ll get some responses. The website also has a lot of useful information about teaching and living in Thailand.

Craigslist is awesome for finding agencies. Agencies are less competitive because a lot of them will take just about anyone – but this can be to your advantage! Have no TEFL? No experience? Then an agency might be a great way to get your foot in the door. But beware; some agencies also suck, so do a little research, on here for example, before committing.

*Craigslist is also a good way to find tutoring opportunities and short-term English camps.

You can also check out Bangkok Post for job listings. I haven’t personally applied there before, but there’s a lot of great listings.

You can go into a school in person as well to give them your CV and potentially be interviewed. A lot of people online recommend this, but honestly, if you’re just starting out, then walking into a school can be super intimidating. I would recommend applying online unless you have experience teaching in Thailand.

Step 4: Interview

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Interviewing is pretty much mandatory for any position. Be prepared for your interview with these steps

1. Look sharpprobably the most important. Sadly, a lot of Thais judge you immediately by your appearance. They can decide you’re not right for the job just because you look ‘messy’. Skirts and dresses for women with a collared top are the best bet, slacks and a collared button-up for men. Shoes should be close-toed and look nice, although it’s a bit more flexible for women. No it’s not necessary, but if you want to increase your chances, dress well.

2. Plan a mock lessonthis isn’t always a requirement but on many interviews I was asked to prepare a mock lesson. Sometimes they want to just look at it, but most want you to ‘deliver’ it. It’s very easy because you will give the lesson to English speakers. Better schools almost always require this. Also, one time they did not tell me beforehand and then threw me in a live class of preschoolers to see what I could do. Yeah, it was awful.

3. Have copies of your CV, degree, passport, etc. on handmaybe this should be obvious, but I foolishly walked into a couple of interviews empty-handed. They already had all of my documents, why would they need a second copy? Nope. A lot of my interviewers didn’t know anything about me, they just had my name on a list. Kind of ridiculous, yes, but it will be much easier for you to be prepared! And if you want to sign a contract right there and then, having all of your docs will make it easier.

Step 4: Accept a Position

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If/when you are offered a job, make sure you take some time to think about it.

ALWAYS negotiate your pay. A lot of newbies are a bit naïve (like me) and don’t realize you should always ask for a little more. They offer you 32,000? Ask for 34,000. If the say no, then oh well, at least you tried!

Also, make sure these questions are answered, so you know what is expected of you:

1. Paid holidays? (public holidays at a government or private school absolutely SHOULD be paid, though summer and fall breaks may not be).

2. Teaching hours expected per week (this should never be more than 23-24)

3. Breaking contract – are there penalties? How much notice is necessary? This can get you out of sticky situations if you have an awful school and want to quit without being penalized

4. Sick days – how many? You should get at least 2 per semester. This means you can miss school with proper notification ahead of time and still be paid (in other words, don’t call an hour before school starts saying you won’t be there and expect to still get paid)

5. Is a work permit sponsored? Most places should pay for this and arrange it for you. However, in my experience, agencies really drag their feet, preferring you to pay for visa runs to stay ‘legal’ in Thailand (though illegally employed)

6. Hours per day that you are expected at school – obviously only relevant for government/private schools but definitely something that should be in your contract. 7:30-4:30 is pretty standard

7. Gate duty? A lot of schools want teachers to do gate duty, where you stand at the gate and watch the students come in. Not sure how standard this is, but it was in my contract (my school didn’t make me do it)

Chok dee, ka! (Good luck!)

Do you have a different experience with finding work in Thailand? Did I miss something important here? Are any of these way off base? Please let me know in the comments or in an e-mail here!

Why I’m Writing about Spain

My friends from the program and I in La Ronda, Spain
My friends from the program and I in La Ronda, Spain

In my junior year of college I decided to go to Spain on a whim. A serious whim (as in, no real planning went into this decision). I didn’t know anyone in the study abroad program, I knew nothing about the culture other than what I learned in class, and I was trying to finish up my minor degree in one semester. I was having some other life crises at the time as well, but that’s another story…

In my town, Cádiz, Spain
In my town, Cádiz, Spain

So, with the program, I moved to Cádiz in Southern Andalucía for four months (Andaluthia, if we’re being really accurate here). I had an amazing time. I made lifelong friends that I was able to travel with and see Europe for the first time. I tasted delicious food, wine, coffee, and pastries. I saw so many amazing pueblos and Spanish cities that looked untouched by time and modernization. I also had a warm and caring host mom who force-fed me tortilla and gazpacho on a regular basis, and I loved it!

La Ronda, Spain
La Ronda, Spain

However, I did have a few regrets at the end of the journey. I think I went for the wrong reasons and therefore did not fully appreciate being there. I was afraid to speak Spanish so I relied on English and didn’t immerse myself in the language. It was also my first time in Europe, so rather than using free weekends and trips to see the rest of Spain, I went to see other countries, like Ireland and Morocco. As I said before, I had a wonderful time! But by the end of my four months there, I was homesick and distracted and ready to move on.

Small town near Cádiz, Spain
Small town near Cádiz, Spain

Now, nearly 4 years later, I have an intense desire, dare I say need, to go back to that wonderful country and appreciate it in all its glory. I want to keep traveling, to keep teaching English, and most importantly, to use my Spanish! I miss the food, the people, the lifestyle, the small towns, the lisping S’s and rolling R’s. I want to do well by Spain this time, to be a true and caring lover (yeah, I’m using an affair metaphor here, that’s how serious we’re talking!).

La Ronda, Spain
La Ronda, Spain

So, I have applied to two English teaching programs in Spain that will allow me to legally live there for a year. So far in this blog, I am writing about my efforts to get into the programs and the torturous anticipation of the waiting process. In the meantime, I will regale you with my stories of European travel and weigh you down with my hopes and dreams for my future year abroad. Or, for something a little different, you can always check out the Thailand portion of this blog. Enjoy!