When English (EFL) teachers first come to Thailand, most think it’s going to be a life of fun in the sun with very little stress – in fact, life in paradise. After a couple of months teaching children in a typical Thai school, many of them wonder what the heck they let themselves in for and why they ever came to Thailand to teach in the first place. In every Thai school, problems abound. In fact I haven’t heard of a teaching job in Thailand that doesn’t have problems. With literally hundreds of possible problems western teachers face teaching children in Thailand, make sure you’re prepared for these five common ones. As they say, forewarned is forearmed, so if you’re expecting them, these five common teaching problems in Thai schools might not be so difficult to deal with.
Classroom Size – One thing many new English (EFL) teachers in Thailand are surprised about is the classroom size, ie: the number of students in each Thai class. With most government schools having upwards of 50 kids in a class, controlling that many kids while actually teaching them something seems nigh on impossible. With government funding for schools on the low side though, and so many kids needing to be enrolled, Thai schools don’t have a choice. So be prepared. When you walk into your first Thai classroom, you’ll likely see 50-plus kids staring back at you. With that many kids, you can’t teach one-on-one and you can’t do much group work either (there’s just not enough room in the classroom to move the students into groups). Instead, you have to be creative. Do a lot of board work, get kids to come up individually to the board, or split the classroom into halves and play grammar and spelling games with one half of the classroom competing against the other half. It’s the only way to actually teach something to that many kids. That, and lots of work sheets.
Equipment Malfunctions – At every children’s school I’ve taught in Thailand, equipment just doesn’t work very well. The copy machine is always on the blink, the overhead projector stopped working last week and the computer you’re relying on to use for your lesson suddenly packs up and the IT guy can’t fix it. That’s why, when you teach anywhere in Thailand, you have to have a back up plan. Before any class, I would always make sure I had one or two other lesson plans in the back of my mind, so if the piece of equipment I absolutely had to have to teach that particular lesson was on the fritz, I could scrap the lesson for that day and teach something else instead. It’s the only way to save your sanity.
Salary Problems – Unfortunately, you will likely come across some problems with your teaching salary at some point in your teaching career in Thailand, as it’s a common problem just about every teacher I know in Thailand has faced. Whether it’s your salary is 3 days late, you didn’t get the bonus you were promised, or that 500 baht per hour they were going to give you to teach that extra class has suddenly gone down to 300 baht, we’ve all been there. How do you handle it? Don’t lose your temper. In Thailand, like in the rest of Asia, the one who loses their temper has ‘lost face’ and consequently has lost the battle. Calmly keep explaining why you think you should have the money promised and don’t stop talking until you get it. If that fails, quit. At my first school, I quit the job 11 times because of money issues and, once I’d quit, was immediately told “Let’s do it this way” and was then given the money I’d originally been promised. If you’re a good teacher, the school doesn’t want to lose you but it doesn’t mean they won’t try to keep some of your money while they’re at it.
Kids Being Bored in Class – Thais as a nationality like to have fun. If something isn’t fun, they don’t want to do it and that includes learning. You’ll even find, as a teacher in Thailand, one common problem is parents coming to you complaining their child is ‘bored’ in class (which is actually a valid reason for most Thai families when it comes to why their child’s grades are bad!). That’s why, to head this problem off at the pass, you have to play games in the classroom so the students ‘have fun’. I’ve never had complaints about my classes being boring, but that’s because I took the advice of a seasoned teacher in Thailand to heart and always made my classroom fun. It also paid off in spades as schools told me I would always have a job at the school because my classes were “so much fun”.
Having To Work Unscheduled and Last Minute Hours – As a teacher at a school in Thailand, another common problem is being asked on a Friday to work all day Saturday for a parent-teacher conference you knew nothing about, or being told two minutes before one class ends that you’ll be teaching the class following it because the normal teacher isn’t coming. Being relaxed and not worrying about it is the only way to deal with it. That, and asking for time off to compensate for the extra time you had to work or making sure the teacher you had to fill in for fills in for you one day. I did also work a few extra days as I felt it simply ‘in good faith’ and it did come back to benefit me when things like annual bonuses were given. The most important thing, again, you cannot refuse to work and you cannot get upset about it. It will only come back to bite you in the rear later.
These five common problems are experienced by just about every teacher teaching childen in Thailand, but if they’re going to upset you too much and make it difficult for you to enjoy your job then, honestly, you’re choosing the wrong career and the wrong country. People who are successful teaching kids in Thailand are those who follow the Thai way of “mai bpen lai” or “don’t worry”. If you can take everything with a grain of salt you’ll find, not only is your blood pressure lower, but the Thais will like you a lot more too, and that can only be a good thing.