Understand what you’re getting yourself into
Just because you’re teaching in paradise doesn’t mean it will be a breeze. The job will be hard, the expectations high and the students often uninterested. Teachers are well-respected in Thailand, and are expected to act and look professional — so you can forget about waltzing in off the beach in your shorts and a tank top. Just like in any other country, teaching requires passion, hard work and dedication, so if you’re not prepared to offer your all, the students might be better off without you.
Read the contract
This is an important one. Often, employers will try to get you to sign a contract that’s fully in Thai; if this happens, insist on an English copy. You’ll need to know the ins and outs of what’s expected of you. It’s not unheard of in the Thailand teaching world for teachers to be asked to work at an English camp unpaid all weekend, or to prepare students for competitions in your free time, and many other situations that teachers are unaware that they’re obligated to do because they didn’t or couldn’t read the contract. This isn’t a terms and conditions box on the Internet you can just click away; this is your life and livelihood, so pay attention to what you’re signing.
Avoid the agencies
Signing up for an English teaching agency might seem like a good idea in your first year — after all, you’ll be new to the country and need a hand with the paperwork — but, if you’re staying here for longer, you’d be better off going it alone. Whilst some agencies are undoubtedly good, the majority will only see you as a means to an end, and will offer little to no support when it comes to helping you actually do your job. Agencies also tend to pay teachers for only 10 months rather than 12, which can make life stressful for teachers struggling to make a paycheck last longer than a month. It might be harder work going into a school and signing a contract with them directly, but it’s well worth the extra effort.
Plan, plan, plan
You’re here to do a job — to educate students — which is something you can’t do well if you haven’t planned a lesson. Lesson planning might be the last thing you want to do on your weekend when you could be visiting Koh Phi Phi, but it’s vital for ensuring lessons go smoothly, that students understand and that you actually know what a modal verb is or what a future simple tense is.
Always have a back-up game
Sometimes students will finish the work faster than you anticipated, sometimes you’ll have to scrap a lesson completely because either you or the students weren’t ready for it. It happens, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it — but you should have something to fill in the time. Games are a great way of getting students to use English and have fun, and work at all levels; whether it’s hangman, Simon says, I spy or Jeopardy, make sure you have something in your back pocket for when you’ll inevitably need to use it.
Don’t stick to the textbook
When you were at school, did you enjoy using the textbook every lesson? No! And neither will your students! It’s okay to deviate, as long as you’re keeping it on topic. Let the students engage their creative sides by making posters or presenting, or anything that gets them to close their books and get out of their seats for a little bit. It might make your classroom look a little bit chaotic but, just like Thailand itself, at least it’ll be organised chaos.
Get to know your fellow teachers
Getting to know other teachers at the school is a great way to not only help your professional development, but also your personal development too. Be them Thai or farang, you’re all in it together, and both great working and social bonds can be formed by discussing your shared experiences. It’s a great way to learn new teaching techniques and to make friends, so don’t be shy in the staff room. Besides, having someone to talk or rant to is a great way to make the day go faster.
Teaching in Thailand can be a little disorganised, and it’s not uncommon for teachers to learn about days off or exam weeks literally the day before they happen. We take it for granted back home, but teachers in most schools aren’t given a calendar of holidays or exam periods at the start of the year, which makes things difficult to plan or prepare for it. If you overhear someone talking about something, or if you’ve seen talk of a holiday online, ask about it — because, the chances are, nobody would tell you otherwise.
Don’t be too hard on the students
Learning a foreign language is hard, and it’s even harder if you’ve had years of substandard teaching in the past, or Western teachers who’ll up and leave after a few months. Classes often feature extreme differences in terms of ability; where some may be able to read perfectly, others might not be able to read one word. Not all students should be judged to the same standards, so don’t forget to praise the kid who’s making progress in reading just as much as the one who aced the test.
Prepare for the tests
Unless you’re working for a well-known or international school, you might be shocked to learn that most schools don’t have any standardised tests, and that teachers are expected to make these for their students. Some schools are very specific in terms of how they want the points of the students weighted and spread throughout the year, so make sure you know exactly how many to give and when. With that in mind, you should keep on top of what’s to be expected from the curriculum to make it easier to produce tests and prepare your students for them, and you should keep on top of your students’ points throughout the year.
Teaching is a richly rewarding experience that offers new challenges and experiences every day, so don’t forget to enjoy it. You’ll have just as many bad days and good days, but it’s all worthwhile when you see the lightbulb go off in a student’s head and suddenly they get it. And, if you have a terrible day, don’t worry — you’re probably not too far away from a gorgeous beach where you can forget about it all.