By Helena Baeyens, ESL High School Teacher in Kamphaeng Phet
How are your students?
For the most part the students are very nice. I do find the youngest students more enjoyable outside the classroom than inside the classroom. During classes only very few students pay attention, most of them are either playing on their phone, sleeping or having a chat. I have had multiple occasions where students just walk out of the classroom to take a phone call. It bothered me at first but I’ve come to accept that some students just don’t understand a word of what I’m saying and that they have no interest in learning English, so I just focus on the interested students instead. I think that this is just because my school is located on the countryside where education is not as evolved as in the cities.
How are your colleagues?
Everyone at my school is very nice. I have never had a problem with any of the teacher at my school, not even with the senior colleagues. Everyone is very understanding that I’m a foreigner and accepts any cultural mistakes I might make. I had an issue with dress code once but they told me very politely and they were even a bit scared that I might be oﬀended (which I was not) because they truly have my best interest at heart. Sometimes I go out for lunch or dinner with other English teacher, and have been invited to their homes. There’s one English teacher in particular, my mentor, and she is the nicest person, we spent a lot of time together outside of school as well.
Is it difficult to manage your workload?
It was diﬃcult in the first semester because there were only 2 foreign teachers so we had 23 teaching hours in a week. This semester there are 3 foreign teachers so I only have 19 hours and it’s a lot better, I even have free time now. My entire Friday afternoon is free. The school also doesn’t require us to grade so that saves me a lot of time. I only had to work Saturdays twice so far (parents day and school marathon) and have an English camp on Saturday in January but it doesn’t bother me that much.
Is classroom management an issue?
Yes, in general students aren’t very interested, so sometimes, I have to get the Thai teacher involved. But even for Thai teacher is diﬃcult to manage and motivate the students. It was very frustrating for me in the beginning but now I just let them be and teach the students who want to learn. With the youngest students (12) I almost exclusively started playing games because otherwise it’s impossible to teach them. I also teach the oldest students (18) and they’re generally more interested and less of a nuisance, but even some older students have trouble understanding basic English.
What is an average school day like?
I pick up another foreign teacher on my way to school. We sign in at around 7:50 except for Tuesdays because then we have gate duty and we have to be at school around 7:20-7:30. Gate duty just means standing at the school gate welcoming the students. On Monday and Wednesday we attend the morning ceremony, which usually lasts about 20 minutes. The students play the national anthem and raise the flag, afterwards the teacher makes some announcements which are all in Thai so I never understand them. The first period then starts at 8:30, each period lasts 55 minutes. Lunch-break is at 11:15 or 12:10, depending on the day. Finally schools ends at 16:00.
This semester I have about 4 classes a day, which is nice. Last semester I had about 5 classes a day which was a lot.
What is the most enjoyable thing about going to school?
I feel like the school is not very strict. I feel like many other schools, especially those in the cities would be a lot more controlling but here I have complete freedom. I’m expected to teach English speaking and listening, I don’t have to start explaining grammar or other complex material, so it makes teaching a lot easier. Thai teachers just let me teach on my own, they occasionally translate somethings. Some Thai teachers don’t even come to class anymore, only when I ask them. I asked if I could just play games with the youngest students and they had no problem with, I think actually even liked the idea. So it’s very easygoing, there’s no stress or pressure.
What is the least enjoyable thing about going to school?
Honestly I don’t really know haha. Maybe the very annoying young students who keep disturbing classes. The older students generally don’t disturb my classes, they just sleep if they are not interested. I will say I expected their English level to be higher. Some of the 16 year olds cannot understand basic English and some 18 year olds cannot read and write very well. Even the best class (M6/1) has a lower English level then I expected. They understand basic English but struggle with longer sentences or when I talk fast. This sometimes makes it diﬃcult to teach.
If you could change one thing about school, what would it be?
The infrastructure is pretty outdated. The classrooms don’t have air-condition but even worse, some classroom have really old, worn-out, almost-falling-apart desks. I don’t like my desk either. It’s okay, but definitely below western standards. Also not all of the students have books because the school can’t aﬀord it. The school could seriously use a make-over but it just doesn’t have the money for it.