By Josh Butterworth , Teacher in Phetchabun, Thailand
The piercing sound of my alarm shocks me into life at 5.30am, but such an early start is a choice rather than a necessity. My girlfriend gets up a lot later and we leave for work at the same time without any issues. Mornings have just never been a challenge for me and I much prefer having time over extra sleep, avoiding the possibility of being in a rush. I also find it significantly easier to wake up early in Thailand compared to the UK, especially compared to those cold and dark winter mornings. With temperatures toppling 30° during the day, making the most of the cool and fresh mornings is a necessity for me. The sun is not yet fierce nor the air thick with heat. Once out of bed, I throw on some clothes and take our dog, BaoBao, out for a walk. Gentle exercise, daylight and fresh air wake me up better than caffeine ever could. Avoiding the loud but harmless street dogs, we usually get back at about 6am and I jump in the shower. With the temperature rapidly rising, I don’t put my work clothes on just yet. I slip on some comfortable shorts and a vest instead, then get on with whatever it is I need to do. Often that’s writing, responding to messages or emails, occasionally cleaning and once in a blue moon I’ll cook breakfast. I do lesson planning and marking even more rarely. I like to keep work at work where possible. My girlfriend wakes up around 7am, that’s my cue to get ready. I pack my bag, get dressed and we set off for school about 7.30am in the car. The only exception to this routine occurs once a fortnight, on Tuesdays, when we have to leave home at 6.50am for gate duty. Gate duty comprises of standing at the school gate, from 7am for an hour, to greet students and teachers as they arrive. It’s bearable once every couple of weeks but I’m very grateful we don’t have to do it every day.
At the entrance to our village is a small coffee stand, two iced lattes for under £1 isn’t to be ignored so we usually stop on route, providing we have time. Then, it’s a short drive down a long road to school. If the traffic lights are kind it takes about five minutes, if they are not, it can take double that. Arriving at school around 7.45am, it’s already teeming with students arriving on mopeds and on foot. Hordes climb off songtews, Thailand’s answer to the school bus. After finding a parking spot in the shade, we drop off our bags at the office then go to sign in by scanning our fingers. This must be done before 8am. Conveniently, the building where we sign in is right next to the dome, a large concrete playground covered by a very high roof, our next destination. Students of all ages stand in rows, organised by class, facing the flag at the front. A loud alarm at 8am signals the start of ‘Phleng Chat Thai’, the national anthem of Thailand. To show respect, everyone must face the flag as its raised. Walking is not permitted, you must stop where you are and stand still until it’s finished. Once it has, the Thai students and teachers bow towards the fluttering flag, they then turn to face the school pagoda. A prayer is read out, and again, students and teachers alike bow their heads. When the prayer is finished, students turn back to face the front and the school anthem begins, they’re supposed to be singing but it’s hard to tell with them all wearing masks. As foreign teachers, we are required to be present and display respect during this daily ceremony. Once the school anthem has finished at around 8.10am, the students sit down and we, the foreign teachers, head to the office.
In our office there are many Thai teachers, and six foreign teachers, all British and Filipino. The first thing we do on arrival is turn on the air conditioning, closing all the windows too. With first period beginning at 8.30am, there’s some time to chat, relax, squeeze in a bit of work or do whatever it is you may please. I usually spend the time doing some quick-fire lesson planning, thinking of games and getting my head around class content. I’d find it difficult going straight into class without this time, now I’m used to having it. I teach first period four days a week, whereas my girlfriend only does on two days. Each teacher’s schedule is different, each has pros and cons. If I’m teaching first thing then I head to class around 8.35am. Students filter in from the toilet or snack runs until around ten minutes after the lesson is officially due to start, so there’s no rush. As for the lesson, just like schedules, they’re all different. They usually start with the register followed by a quick review of the work we did last class, sometimes in the form of a game if I’m feeling fun, then I introduce new content and students practise it before we play a game to wrap things up, providing everyone is behaving well. I finish class between ten and five minutes before the official end time so that students have time for a break before their next lesson, as there are none scheduled into their timetables. If I have another class straight after then I make my way there, if not, I’ll head to the office. Below are pictures of mine and my girlfriend’s timetables for a clearer picture of what our weeks are like.
As you can see from the timetables above, we do have a fair number of free periods. I see them as a fantastic opportunity to prepare for lessons and mark students work. Not utilising them would mean taking work home to do during my evenings and weekends. No thank you. The office can be noisy as the Thai teachers do like a giggle, but planning and marking doesn’t usually require too much focus. If I don’t have any school related work that needs to be done then I use my free periods to plan lessons for tutoring, write, chill or do whatever else I need to do. My girlfriend uses her free periods to practise Chinese and I know other foreign teachers that play chess, watch Netflix, do crosswords and plenty more that keeps them entertained. Most teachers stay in or close to school during free periods and lunch, but having an eight-month-old dog means either my girlfriend or I have to shoot home and check on him every day. If we have a few free periods and lunch together in a block then we head home and stay there until it’s time to go back to school, a lot of foreign teachers do the same. On Fridays, for example, I go home at 10.10am and don’t head back until 1.40pm. Free periods and lunches are ours to do with as we please.
The official school lunch time is from midday to 1pm, however, mine is scheduled slightly earlier from 11am to midday. This is because I teach the youngest students. There is a canteen within the school where meals cost 50p, some of the foreign teachers eat there alongside the students for a cheap bite, but I’m not a fan. Within a five-minute stroll from school there’s a 7/11 for snacks and drinks, plenty of restaurants you can eat at for under £1, without students, a few coffee shops and some very cheap but delicious street food stalls. It’s great having the option of leaving school, finding something to consume and clearing the head. Thai teachers rarely eat at the canteen or leave school for lunch. They get food delivered from FoodPanda, Thailand’s equivalent of UberEATS or Just Eat. Often they’re very busy and it’s a good option if you don’t have much time, or are feeling particularly lazy. For me, I usually go for a big bowl of £1 Tom Yum noodles, or if I’m at home, leftover dinner from the night before always goes down a treat.
With the exception of Tuesdays, my final lesson finishes at 2.30pm, but we can’t actually leave school until 3.45pm. All teachers and staff are required to scan their fingerprint, to sign in and out, before 8am and after 3.45pm every day. This leaves us with over an hour to kill. At first it felt like a drag, and it still does on Fridays, but that time is another opportunity to plan, mark or do whatever else takes my fancy. Usually, my first port of call is going to get an iced americano from a lovely lady at a coffee stand near 7/11. I’m back at my desk about an hour before sign out and sip my refreshing coffee whilst getting my head down with something productive. This means that when I go home, I can relax. Between free periods, the time before first lesson and the time before signing out, there’s so much opportunity to get on top of teaching work while also developing other skills and passions. Whether it’s writing, learning a language, drawing or anything else, the schedule at our school leaves a decent amount of time to nurture whatever it is you’re passionate about, providing it can be done sat at a desk. When 3.45pm rolls around, the foreign teachers in our office walk over to sign out together. My girlfriend and I then head to the car, usually roasting hot despite being in the shade all day, and set off home.
Getting home to a very excited dog at around 4pm, it’s nice to know I don’t have anything too pressing that needs seeing to. There are occasions when I have to bring work home with me, but that’s only rarely, during exam periods. I walk through the door and put on some clothes in which I won’t sweat to death, then I make a snack if we haven’t already picked one up on route home. An average evening consists of cooking, cleaning, walking the dog once the sun starts to set and watching some TV or a film. I occasionally do a bit of writing if I’m up to it, and I tutor a Chinese student online twice a week, Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings. A lot of foreign teachers at my school also tutor in their free time, it’s a great way to earn extra cash and is something I’m looking to do more of. I usually cook but we’ll order from FoodPanda or go out to eat if I’m feeling lazy. A lot of foreign teachers go out to eat regularly but I prefer cooking during the week, to keep healthy because it can be difficult to avoid meat as a vegetarian. We do meet up with the other teachers on occasion but usually save it for the weekend when we can afford to have a hangover the next day. Work is tiring so it’s nice to relax in the evenings, either doing something productive for myself or just chilling. I’m grateful for my free periods which make it possible for me to make the most from my time out of school. Around 9pm I start to wind down and get ready for sleep, turning the air conditioning on in the bedroom so it’s Baltic by the time we get into bed. Cuddle for the dog, kiss for Rach, lights out and ready for tomorrow.