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
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.
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)
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)
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)?
Me: No, that’s this layer, closest to Space. What is the layer closest to Earth (point at giant Earth I’ve drawn)?
Me: Good! Now, what do we find in the troposphere?
Me: Sometimes, but they fly in the stratosphere, here, remember? What do we find in the troposphere? Look at your notes.
Me: Yes, very good Mue (draw a picture of a human on the board)! Now, what else?
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!
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**).
*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!
Drawing from personal experience, my students say some pretty outrageous things in Thai when I’m well within earshot. For some reason, they continue to assume I won’t understand them, when in fact, knowing only a hundred words or so of Thai, I tend to laser-focus on the words I do know when I hear them. And unfortunately that list now includes some truly inappropriate ones. I will say, working at an all-male Thai high school has taught me some true gems. And now I pass this wisdom to disapprove onto you. So watch out for these (more adult*) words and sayings:
- ‘Alai’wa?’ (ah-leh-whaa?): I love this expression! Hands down, this is the most common Thai phrase I hear at school. If you’ve ever taught teenaged males, you know this is the go-to response when you ask a question. Once again, the direct translation is subject to debate: some claim it translates to ‘what the fuck?’ but that seems too strong in my experience. ‘Huh?’ is probably closer to the true meaning, but either way it is very impolite and not something to be said to a teacher (in theory…I’m looking at you, students!)
- ‘Chuk-waa’ (chuck-wow): Would it be a high school without ‘masturbation’ being thrown around at least once a day in class? I learned this special word on my very first day of school. The male teachers warned me to watch out for it, and sure enough, I heard it when asking where a missing student was. Naturally, hilarity ensued when I looked with understanding at the kid who had said it (while the 13-year old inside me giggled). Wearing the disapproving teacher face can really be a challenge sometimes.
- ‘Ayeeyah’ (a-yee-uh): This one has been the subject of many debates amongst the foreigners at our school. Some claim it is slang for the c-word but it is used so frequently by my best-behaved students, I find that hard to believe. I think it translates more easily to a soft f-word.
- ‘Hoopbah’ (hoop-ah): Translates directly to ‘shut up’. No explanation necessary here.
- ‘Kwai’ (k-why): Literally translates to ‘buffalo’ and is an insult used to call someone stupid, slow or simple. Perhaps it would be helpful to know water buffalo are very prolific farm animals in Thailand used as beasts of burden (you get the comparison). Kwai is used often with hoopbah, as in ‘shut up, you buffalo!’
- ‘Dting-Dtong’ (ting-tong or ding-dong): This pronunciation is a bit tricky, with the dt sound like a soft t or aspirated d. From my understanding, it’s an affectionate way to call someone crazy or zany (or weird). As in, acting wild rather than literally insane. You would never use this word with someone you didn’t know well, though. It could be insulting to use with a stranger, so don’t go around calling people ‘ding dong’.
*disclaimer: I’ll just emphasize once again these are specific to my all-male Thai high school and may not reflect the general slang used in other Thai schools
Have any gems to add of your own? Have any funny experiences to share? Comment below!
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com