I’m still extremely behind on posts, but this is something I’ve been wanting to write just to give my friends and family a glimpse into my life as an English teacher in Thailand.
For starters, it’s almost unfair to compare Japan to Thailand. Japan is an incredibly pristine country with rigid structure whereas Thailand is a developing country with looser work hours (and a lot less pay to equate the cheap cost of living). To anyone who wants to know whether to teach in Japan versus Thailand, both countries are extremely different – but in all honesty, I do prefer Japan (the food, people, culture, transportation, cleanliness, and the fact that I’m Japanese and knew how to read/speak a tiny bit of the language, enough to get by). I’m really happy to be here in Thailand for now, though. It’s something I needed to do in order to appreciate other areas of my life.
Some of the perks of working here include:
- My schedule. I teach 17 hrs/week and prep for about 6 hrs/week spread across Saturday-Tuesday. That’s roughly 23 hrs/week, considered “full-time” in Thailand. Compared to Japan, which was 40+ hrs/week plus a few 6-day work weeks occasionally, this is a breeze. I work all day on the weekends but only in the late evenings on Monday and Tuesday, giving me adequate time to sleep in and do productive things (i.e. eat, eat, eat).
- 3 days off per week. As mentioned quite often, I accepted this job since I obtained a free TESOL certification and 3 consecutive days off every week. While I don’t get any vacation time, it’s okay – for now. It’s only a very short contract, after all.
- The freedom. I’m not constantly under a microscope here, as I felt like I was in Japan. I’ll always appreciate my time in Japan, but I’m not sure if it was the best fit for me in regards to work life, especially since I wreaked havoc on my health and personal well-being with the unnecessary stress I put myself in. Most Japanese people take their work more seriously than their personal lives, and I found myself burdened by that factor. Not the case here, thankfully.
- Appreciation for life. Ever since I left the Disneyland Resort two years ago, I took pretty big pay cuts in every job after that (with the exception of amazing Australia). Life is really not all about money. To an extent, it is, but when you travel frequently, you’re not phased by much. With this role, it’s the lowest monthly salary I’ve ever had, and I knew that coming here. I never thought I’d live in a developing country, but it’s taught me a lot – in a good way. When you’re living on really low funds and small paychecks, you begin to appreciate every little thing – every time a random stranger helps you out with directions, every time someone lets you have something for free, every time you see a stray dog on the street and feed him your leftovers. I don’t think I’d ever be the same person I am now if I had stayed in America, so I’m glad that living in Thailand has humbled me. And, as always, I appreciate how beautiful California is when I’m outside of it.
- Some of the adorable students. I definitely have two favorite girl students, both of whom are in my youngest (kindergarten) class – and I never thought I’d say that. I still never intend on having kids, but when your favorite student runs up to you and hugs you after class, it just makes me feel like I accomplished something by coming to Thailand.
- The ability to make a fool out of myself and not care. I really have let go. When I first started three weeks ago, I was petrified and sweating bullets. Surprisingly, I’ve realized that I’ve slipped into the silliest of voices, turned everything into songs (you kinda have to when you’re a kids teacher), danced around like an idiot, and spoken louder than I ever thought was possible for myself. I never quite did that in Japan with my kids classes – I was tense, rigid, and fake-happy, mostly since I was conforming with Japanese society. I don’t know how I loosened up and just stopped caring how I looked to these kids, but who cares! At the end of the day, as long as you’re having fun with your students and they’re learning, that’s all that should matter, right?
- My manager. I personally think she’s the best manager at our school, so I’m elated to have her. There’s nothing worse than having a terrible manager, after all – so I’m really lucky to have her. She’s British, a teaching veteran for 10 years, and speaks fluent Thai – and she tells me all the best Thai dishes to eat. What more can I ask for? Oh yeah, and she’s actually supporting me to grow as a teacher, whereas I felt like I was being hindered by management in Japan. A definite plus.
In short, here are some of the adjustments to teaching here:
- Lack of resources. The most challenging part of working here is the fact that there are no resources – I’ve had to buy even the littlest things, like magnets, markers, paperclips, and even paper for students to use. The “resources” our school provides are pretty much as good as a needle in a haystack, since it’s impossible to find anything that relates to your topic at hand. I’m not a fan of having to use my tablet AND laptop in class just to play audio and videos to supplement lessons, but it has to be done, especially since almost all the other teachers do so as well. I miss how everything was provided in Japan – the iPads, supplies, books, everything.
- The smells. Our school smells, for lack of better word, like a sewage plant. It’s not just the bathroom (which obviously has no plumbing) – it’s the entire school. Thankfully, the classrooms I teach in are ventilated by the air con, but we smell rotting garbage everywhere else – and on the worst humid days, it sometimes makes me want to vomit. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but again, I’ve honestly never experienced living in this type of environment before – so it has been quite an adjustment.
- The bugs. I never dealt with gigantic (like the size of your palm) roaches crawling inside classrooms in Japan. After all, I think the Japanese would have a heart attack if an ant even crawled on a desk. Even after a month, I’m still not okay with the fact that bugs roam so freely in and out of our school – and the fact that we have to run around without shoes in the school is unnerving.
- Overall: The fact that I’m teaching in a developing country. I have to be really careful about how I say this, since I obviously chose this country and applied to this job specifically – it’s not like I came here without premeditated thought. However, it is extremely difficult to teach in a developing country after coming from such a beautiful country – one that was ten times nicer than my home country.
- Being the only weekend teacher. A) It means I’m still left by myself on my 3 days off, with no one to take trips with (there are literally 20+ teachers at our school and everyone teaches on weekdays), and B) kids must hate me the most since I’m the one teaching them on their days off. Kids in Thailand already go to school 5 days a week and their leisure time is spent studying, doing extracurricular activities, and studying English (which is where our school comes into play). I feel so bad for these kids, since I’m probably the Wicked Witch of the West in their eyes.
- The structure of the school. I don’t think it’s just Thailand – I think I was just spoiled rotten in Japan. I’m sure that in virtually every other country, especially public schools, you have to prepare all lessons on your own. It’s the part of the job I dread the most, since it feels like you always have work to do, even outside of teaching time. I never had to do anything in Japan except interview students, act as a salesperson, and teach pre-structured lesson plans off an iPad. Here, I’m distributing and grading tests constantly, always having to prepare worksheets (and actually check them), recording each student’s progress, and oh yeah, actual lesson prepping. Having to get in the classroom and teach without absolutely any structure is terrifying, since it’s literally just winging things as you go, hoping for the best (because let’s be real, lesson plans NEVER go as planned).
- Teacher Debbi – in general. “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher finish! Teacher look! Teacher, gameeeeee! Teacher go homeeeeee… Teacher teacher teacher teacher!” I’ve never been so overwhelmed in my life (teaching adults in Japan was about 100 times easier) – kids zap every ounce of energy in you. Japan was a stark contrast, where it was like pulling teeth to get kids and adults to speak. I preferred that type of teaching over going hoarse trying to control rambunctious kids (in Japanese, there’s a word for this: warubozu). I consider myself a really terrible teacher, and it’s mainly because I still haven’t mastered classroom management. I’ve tried everything from clapping, yelling, “OY!” counting down “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, QUIET MOUTHS,” and just resorting to the good old “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” TPR song (I swear I must do that about 10 times a day). Teaching children is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done – it makes me wonder why the hell people even want kids in the first place. I think you really have to love kids in order to be a kids teacher – especially since they can be such tornadoes of mass destruction 99% of the time. When I get out of these doors, I am OFF of teacher time.
- Thailand is making me fat. Even though I’m actually tired of Thai food now (post coming soon on that), my gosh, I still eat so much because food is so cheap here. I live 5 minutes away (walking) from my school and use my scooter for almost everything else. I better watch it, or else I’m going to turn into a blob come March…
The long and short of it: Sometimes I feel so rewarded from my kids, and other days, I’m so knackered that I just want to curl up in a ball and eat ice cream for dinner (won’t deny that I haven’t done that, either).
I’m hoping that by March, I’ll be such an absolute pro at coming up with games on the fly that I’ll be the creative hit at any party when anyone needs an icebreaker. Wishful thinking?