Anonymous 5m 1,217
The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
I have been a TEFL teacher for roughly 8 years now and I can safely say – it is one of the most rewarding jobs a person could do. I work in Thailand where the level of English is pretty poor and people like me are much needed commodities as well as trophies for schools to show off and parade before parents!
I would say that the children here are possibly the victim of western culture saturation because they are more obsessed with iPhones, iPads, Internet, and just about every other computer based toy from the west, than learning English. Because of this, teaching them English is an immense challenge if you aren’t someone who is interesting enough to divert their attention.
I like to think that I am interesting enough; for example, I can act silly like Jim Carrey which they love. I can dance and sing a little and speak their language in my disjointed way – which they love. Still, that just isn’t enough is it? At least that’s what I thought, in regards to my own array of attention-grabbing tactics.
There is a saying here, well I heard it once or twice, and it goes: “Getting them to love you is half the battle, getting them to learn is the other half”, and it’s true.
Quite often, as a new teacher here, you’ll start off with high expectations and waltz into school with carefully prepared lesson plans, a big smile, visions of students sitting straight-backed and wide-eyed as you happily teach them English. It really doesn’t occur to you that your hopes are drastically unrealistic until the end of your first week.
Then the truth has well and truly sunk in – you are going to earn your money here that’s for sure.
The reality is classrooms with wobbling ceiling fans that barely feel like a whisper on the cheek in the 38 degree heat of Bangkok and children or teenagers who expect you to sing and dance or play games – or else they’ll ignore you in favor of their technological toys! Not to mention the gigantic bees and insects that wobble their way through your classroom from time to time, so bloated they can barely turn without slamming into things – sometimes you!
The first week of the semester starts off – whether new at the school or not – with ordered and disciplined students paying attention and making an effort to mimic the language taught and you feel rather fulfilled and joyful. That all changes though … usually within around 2-3 days and by the end of the week your body, sweat soaked and aching feels like it has been through a military training regime. Your mind? Even worse.
Needless to say, next week the lesson plans are scrapped, tie removed (if allowed) and serious teacher face dropped in favor of a smiling happy superstar-like demeanor that seems to work – for a while.
That’s how it was for me for a few years. Now I freelance and only teach adults….
Once though, I did meet a couple of interesting characters from California, USA and they seemed to have it all worked out!
I had just started the semester at a school I previously worked at the year before, fresh from a break in the UK and met the newest additions to the team. Two of them were the aforementioned Californians and they seemed rather cool and chilled in that “yo waz up dude” kind of way and one of them was a little more extreme than the other. I remember seeing him on the back of his buddy’s motorcycle riding down the street after school shouting “White power!” and pumping his fist in the air, smiling manically.
I thought, “Okay….” But that wasn’t the worst because apparently that was how they would teach their students and as it turned out and was how they kept their attention focused on them.
So I just got on with things and all the while, kept hearing how popular these guys were from the Thai teachers and students. I was impressed – they must teach really well and be entertaining – they were the “cool” teachers – I thought.
That was backed up one day when we were discussing Thailand and Thai students in the Teachers’ room. These guys seemed really passionate about teaching English and as they complained to me about how limiting Thailand was in regards to English, and I began to agree with them. After all, Thailand in no way instills their students with the desire and need to learn English, rather, they send them to English class like parents send their children to a nursery – “have fun and play games.”
“I wish they would make more technology available like computers and English programs, ya know, dude?” This guy – Mike that was his name – said to me, his face scrunched up with frustration and I agreed – he was right.
Still, I had not seen them teach before but I began to notice some very worrying behavior with my kids. I would walk by the classrooms and they would stretch out a hand with the ‘V’ for peace sign yelling, “Yo waz up, dude?” at the top of their voice. Later I realized why – these two guys greeted their students that way and it was spreading like wildfire around the school.
Kids were even saying “How you doin’?” in that friends kind of way and I began to get a little worried.
There I was, teaching “Hi, how are you?” and other formal expressions and these guys were completely negating that with slang and ‘cool’ language.
I felt confused – Did the school like that? Was I doing it all wrong? Is that how a teacher should teach?
Not long after, those guys were fired and I never saw them again. When I asked why, I was shocked at what I was told.
For English lessons, they would stand on the desk of the teacher (a desk that belonged to the Thai teacher in charge of that room!) and sing and dance. That was their lesson! Not only that but they flirted with the teenage students AND they picked their teeth openly in the canteen – with their fingers while their feet were up on the table.
Still – those two teachers were incredibly popular and had found the way to teach Thai kids so they would actually listen and learn the lesson. The secret is – you DON’T teach by being a formal classroom teacher. You act, sing, dance, and entertain.
Do that and you will be MR. or Mrs. Popular, that is, until you are fired!
Just for the record, it is a BIG no no to show the soles of your feet here, pick your teeth openly, stand on desks or become overly friendly with the girls – seemingly all the things that make you look cool!
So the moral is – if you want to be popular as a TEFL Teacher in Thailand – don’t teach, entertain! If you want to be a Teacher – teach – but just be aware that you won’t be very popular and you’ll be forever competing with technology, soaring temperatures, huge insects and “dude” toting young Americans!
Perhaps the answer is a combination of doing it all?