Teaching English in Thailand is a uniquely rewarding way for native English speakers to make a living in Thailand. Here are five tips to help you enjoy your job even more and gain respect from your Thai peers and your students:
Understand Thai Culture
This is not just a tip from me, but a requirement by the Teacher’s Council of Thailand for anybody who wants to teach in a Thai school. Thai culture is quite different from Western culture. Knowing a thing or two about Thai culture will not only help you build rapport with your students and Thai colleagues, it will also help you minimize the risk of putting your foot in your mouth. Get informed about the monarchy, religion, customs, and general beliefs. There is a lot of information available online and the mandatory 20-hour Culture course will ensure that you have a basic understanding of Thai culture. My previous post “The Culture of Thailand” may serve as a starting point.
Plan Your Lessons Well
This one is especially important for people without much experience teaching in Thailand yet. It is recommended to print out a lesson plan, including a board layout for your planned topic, even if you are a seasoned teacher. Your Thai colleagues highly appreciate it because you appear well prepared and they can learn from your lessons at a different level. You also will make it easy for any teacher who may need to substitute for you, since they know exactly what you intended to teach your students. Your lesson plan doesn’t have to be a literary work; a few simple bullet points outlining the topic and aim of your lesson, the new vocabulary taught, and the exercises and games used to reinforce the material will do the trick.
In Thailand, people care a lot about looks and this is especially important for a teacher. Teachers are held in very high respect and not dressing appropriately will have a negative impact on that perception. I have seen teachers coming to work with old, torn pants, which were held together at the seams with safety pins. No kidding! I have seen female teachers entering a classroom in pink plastic flip-flops as if they were on a vacation. They didn’t look professional and guess what? They had more trouble managing the classroom as their peers who were dressed appropriately.
Have a look at my previous post “Dress Code for Teachers in Thailand“, which describes what is considered appropriate clothing for English teachers in Thailand.
Do Not Speak Thai in the Classroom
Some teachers keep insisting that they need to speak Thai in the classroom to explain some concepts as it would take too long trying to do it without the use of Thai. I respectfully disagree for several reasons:
- Students need to use different muscles in the brain to understand something without translation.
- If you are in the need of explaining something and can’t do it with pictures, drawings, and realia, you most likely are teaching something too complex and above the students’ comprehension level.
- Unless you’re speaking Thai perfectly, you will most likely make a fool of yourself with wrong pronunciation and perhaps even wrong usage of some words. Students will at the least laugh at you (even if just silently) and at worst will be confused about what exactly you are trying to explain to them.
If you struggle with the idea of not using any Thai in the classroom, imagine how you would teach a room full of mixed nationalities. There is no way you could speak all of the languages present and would have to find a way to convey the meaning of words without translation. It may require a bit more planning to prepare flash cards with images and drawings or to find real objects to bring to the classroom, but will be worth the effort. The end result will be a more interesting and entertaining lesson, which will lead to a higher retention of your taught material..
Make it FUN!
This one is a no-brainer. You will capture and keep the attention of your students when you make your lessons fun. It seems very easy to entertain students in a typical Thai classroom. They love the slapstick variety of humor and a few funny gestures and facial expressions will get you a long way. If you use flash cards, put one of them upside down in the stack. To you and me, this may not be all that funny, but watch the reaction of your students when you get to that flash cards. They will laugh, point, and shout at you, prompting you to take a look at your card. It’s all good though, because at that moment, you have the attention of your students and as a result, they usually learn the word on that flash card instantly.