Teaching Thailand #1: My Past & Present

16 Years Teaching EVERYTHING!

Graduation from my TEFL course in Patong, Phuket, 2006-10-05
Wai Kru ceremony, Kajonkietsuksa, Phuket 2007-06-14

Queen’s Birthday ceremony, Saphan Hin, Phuket 2007-08-12
Christmas Show production, Kajonkietsuksa, Phuket 2008-12-24

I have been a Teacher of English as a Second Language in southern Thailand since April 2007. For the most part, it has been an enjoyable experience and one that has opened numerous opportunities for me along the way. I have also seen the worst of it and my colleagues have often asked that I write up some of my experiences. Although I am a prolific blogger, most of that content is about collecting stamps and I have only touched on bits and pieces of my primary occupation very occasionally such as in my “Sunday Summary” series.

P4/Green homeroom, Kajonkietsuksa, Phuket 2009-11-19
Field trip to the Phuket Zoo, Palai, Phuket 2011-12-07

Teaching Thai teachers English, Secondary Education Department, Phuket 2016-06-13
Mourning HM the King with Krungsri Bank Staff students, Central Festival, Phuket 2016-10-26

This series will cover some aspects of my years teaching English in Thailand and, most importantly, share some of the materials I have used in classrooms in the island province of Phuket (as well as neighboring Phang Nga and Krabi).

Student’s birthday party, Central Festival, Phuket 2016-10-27
Teacher’s birthday party, Central Festival, Phuket 2016-11-26

Bank Staff students, Central Festival, Phuket 2017-10-05
Bank Staff students, Central Festival, Phuket 2017-11-11

Before the pandemic I taught almost exclusively at the Upper Primary and High School levels in the Intensive English Program (IEP) as well as numerous Business English and test preparation (IELTS, TOEIC, and TOEFL) courses to adults. I also organized in-school activity days and weekend English camps, creating a huge amount of materials for games and classrooms.

Visiting the Funeral Pyre of HM the King with students, Royal Grand Palace, Bangkok 2017-11-17
Teacher’s birthday party, Love Center, Phuket 2017-12-03

On the balcony of my classroom at the Royal Thai Navy Third Area Command HQ, Phuket 2018-01-22
Royal Thai Navy students including an Admiral, Third Area Command HQ, Phuket 2018-02-19

During the virus, schools were shuttered much longer than they needed to be and are still struggling to recover. The post-COVID environment has been strange to say the least and I am now a full-time Kindergarten teacher, somewhat surprising to me but am finding it (almost) as fun as teaching a classroom full of female bank tellers! However, Thailand is a very ageist (and racist) country and as my age increases (I turned 57 last December) I am finding less and less job opportunities here.

English Camp in resort, Mai Kao Bay, Phuket 2018-06-06
English Camp in resort, Mai Kao Bay, Phuket 2018-06-08

H&M Staff class, Central Festival, Phuket 2018-08-30
Bank Staff class, Central Festival, Phuket 2018-11-03

That, coupled with the unusual business practices (such as employment contracts only lasting as long as a single school term) make it very difficult to plan ahead. At the moment, I am on Summer Break and — with just over one month until the start of the new school year — am unsure whether I will return to the school at which I worked last year, a school I enjoyed immensely and where everyone (students, parents, the Thai staff) would like me to come back. At some point (I hope very soon), the agencies that hire the teachers will bid for the contracts with the schools. If my school wins the bid, I will return. If not, I will be forced to go elsewhere.

I spent a month subbing at a perpetually misty school in the karst mountains of Phang Nga Town, Phang Nga 2018-11-07
Performing my “Santa Duties” at Plukpanya, Phuket 2018-12-24

In IEP high school, Plukpanya, Phuket 2018-12-24
In 2018, we took the “Santa Show” on the road and visited 10 schools between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Here we are at Rajabhat University, Phuket 2018-12-28

Nonetheless, I spent the final week of last term starting to prepare for the new school year and I have done a bit of work on it while on my holiday period. Given that this particular school’s curriculum is different than any other school I have worked at in Thailand, if I don’t return then I will have done a whole lot of work that I cannot use. But I can post the materials that I create to my blog so at least its around and can be used by others!

Post-Pandemic Kindergarten Teacher

My “star” students in IEP, Plukpanya, Phuket 2019-02-22
Graduation ceremony for a solo English Camp I did for Kindergarten students. Ironically, this was held at the school where I work now (albeit in their older — now abandoned — buildings). Karon Municipality, Phuket 2019-03-22

English Camp in a resort, Mai Kao Bay, Phuket 2019-09-15
With two of my favorite co-teachers, Muang Phuket Municipal School, Phuket 2019-05-15

I have not been teaching Kindergarten for very long. True, I spent many years doing substitute teaching in addition to my regular classes if I was available. There were a few Kindergarten gigs along the way, usually a class or two while the contracted teacher was out sick or on a visa run (travelling to a neighboring country to extend one’s stay prior to receiving a work permit). In the beginning, it always left me exhausted due to the energetic nature of the Tiny Tots. My Head Teacher recommended always having coloring sheets that I could give out during the final half of the often 50-minute or hour-long lessons. Those worked a charm as the kids colored intensely and were quiet while doing so.

Tourism English Camp on Kata Beach, Phuket 2019-09-17
Two student birthdays at Central Festival, Phuket 2019-09-26
English Camp at Phuket Aquarium, Panwa, Phuket 2019-09-26
Bank Staff students, Central Festival, Phuket 2019-10-31

After the worst of the pandemic (and it seemed to linger longer in Thailand than many other places), school finally began reopening on a very limited basis. While I was still doing distance classes with older children, I was often called upon to do in-person lessons in Kindergartens. Most of these were only a day or two at a time but sometimes as much as a full week. I was never given a curriculum for these fill-in classes and was usually told to “teach what you want” whenever I asked. I watched a lot of YouTube videos (some of which I incorporated into lessons) and discovered plenty of tips on random blogs and websites devoted to teaching these younger children. Students seemed to love me as did the Thai teachers and the occasional parent I came into contact with.

Conversation role-play at Rajabhat University, Phuket 2019-12-11
Graduation, Rajabhat University, Phuket 2019-12-18

Last year, I taught an entire term in a Kindergarten for the first time and they had a CRAZY curriculum. I taught K1 and K2 (kids ranging in age from 3 to 4 or 5) while a friend whom I have known for quite some time had the K3 classes (5 and 6 year olds). Each classroom had two 60-minute lessons per week and we had to teach the EXACT SAME TOPIC to all of our lessons. The Thai teachers had the same curriculum, only they taught the kids this material in Thai. The week that I started there, the syllabus simply said “Pearl of the Andaman” which left both of us foreign teachers scratching our heads. My girlfriend said it sounded like the name of a Thai stripper! Asking around, we found it we were to teach classes about “Places in Phuket” — a topic which I had plenty of materials as it was usually part of the P5 or P6 IEP Tourism curriculum (the culmination of which was taking the students to the beach so they could practice interviewing foreign tourists). Trying to adapt that to Tiny Tots who did not yet have many (if any) English skills was fairly daunting. We had other crazy topics as well and that might be an article for the future.

Staff, Rajabhat University, Phuket 2019-12-19
Activity Day at Wat Kajornrangsen, Phuket 2020-01-07

Activity Day at Wat Suwan Khirikhet, Phuket 2020-01-31
Making merit at Wat Suwan Khirikhet, Phuket 2020-02-07

As things go in Thailand, our agency lost the contract during the short break between Term 1 and Term 2 (well, they were not even allowed to bid on it due to a clerical error!) and I found myself forced to start work for another agency. They offered me a choice between a Kindergarten that would begin classes in less than a week or a large school teaching Upper Primary IEP once again that would start in a month’s time. Both were quite some distance from my home in the center of the island but I chose the Kindergarten as I had really come to enjoy that age group. I had fun with them and was no longer exhausted to do it.

Different Schools, Different Rules

Agency Staff trip to the outer islands 2020-02-08
COVID-19 was now starting to show up in news reports. Plukpanya, Phuket 2020-02-11

The last in-school Activity Day for almost two years. Ban Arabor, Phuket 2020-02-28
First day of the mask mandate, last day that schools were allowed to open. Central Festival, Phuket 2020-02-29

I am a firm believer that Kindergarten should focus on the Basics: learning the different letters of the alphabet and using them to form simple words; learning the numbers up to ten; basic colors; and topical vocabulary such as fruits, vegetables, body parts, directions, farm animals, etc. This served me well during my substitute teaching days. I used songs during various parts of the lesson — always containing that day’s vocabulary. The children became very good at telling me what the picture was on any given flashcard and I was able to do plenty of games to reinforce their knowledge. The 60-minute lessons twice a week gave everyone time to learn and practice.

Our first lockdown lasted from 1 March until 5 July 2020; some schools reopened for in-person learning but most did not. Central Festival, Phuket 2020-07-06.
A mid-pandemic English Camp — a huge surprise that it occurred at all. By coincidence, this was at the school where I finally taught full-time starting in November 2022. Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2020-08-21

My current (hopefully) school is somewhat different. Most significantly, the lessons are only 30 minutes in length (and I have five in a row without a break on Mondays and Tuesdays) allowing limited time to focus on fun. In my long career teaching in Thailand, those Thai teachers have never really interfered in my teaching methods which tend to take something and expand and contract it, thereby enabling the students to learn something and recognize it in different contexts.

Off and on throughout the second half of 2020, all of 2021, and about half of 2022, we taught online. The students were at home but the foreign teachers had to report to their respective schools and teach from there; a number did become ill with the virus over time. Here I am teaching from the air-conditioned library at Kathu 2 School, Phuket 2021-08-05.
Different schools used different online teaching platforms so you needed to be accustomed to using several if you subbed around town as I was often called up to do. ZOOM, of course, was the best. Google Meet was okay and kids would write on the screen if you had to use LINE. Here I am giving an online exam from the Teachers Room at Plukpanya, Phuket 2022-02-07.

As schools began reopening to in-person learning, I started putting together various extra courses such as this Conversation course for Rajabhat University, Phuket 2022-02-25.
Masks are still required at most local schools, the kids usually wear them when they arrive at school in the mornings and I have seen more and more Thai teachers abandon them as of March 2023. Here, I am doing a substitution for Kindergarten at Kok Kloy, Phang Nga 2022-06-27.

When I started teaching at this school, I was told by my agency that I was not to teach the alphabet apart from having the children sing the “ABC Song” during every lesson. The end result of this is that the students can sing the alphabet in order (including the ending: “Now I know my ABC’s. Next time, won’t you sing with me?”) but cannot identify any letters taken out of context other than the first three or four. If I show them “B”, for example, they will usually tell me “B” but if I show them “R” or “P”, they will invariably tell me “A”, “B” or “C” unless I tell them to sing the song and stop them when they get to the letter in question! I discovered all of this at the end of the term when I began giving their final (oral) exams.

Prathom 1 class, Plukpanya, Phuket 2022-08-25
ASEAN lesson in Kindergarten, Plukpanya, Phuket 2022-08-30

Kindergarten class in Kok Kloy, Phang Nga 2022-09-01
Kindergarten morning assembly, Plukpanya, Phuket 2022-09-13

I had been told that the Thai teachers would be teaching the kids the different letters of our alphabet as well as identifying the large and small letters, writing them out, etc. I only saw evidence of ONE Thai teacher trying to do this once; this was a fairly new and young teacher who was more in tune with how kids learn than many of her older and more experienced colleagues.

Gate Duty at Plukpanya, Phuket 2022-09-14

It seemed very odd to me to have to teach a Kindergarten curriculum in which the Native English Speaking teacher was NOT allowed to teach the individual letters of the alphabet (nor was I allowed to do writing of ANY KIND). I was told, by my agency, that I was to teach Conversation only. Well, you sort of need to know some of the language to be able to converse in it, even at the most basic level. I also feel that an important step in learning the alphabet is manipulating a pencil to make those actual shapes. It really makes a connection between the brain and the hand that is invaluable, I think, in really learning the letter. Most complicated alphabets require the letters to be executed in the proper order of strokes. This is very obvious if you have ever tried to copy Chinese or Thai words. English letters might look simpler than those alphabets but stroke order does improve handwriting in printing (and even in cursive).

The school director is introducing the Chinese teacher and me on the first day of school. Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2023-11-06
K3/3 class at Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2023-12-19

I did my best to follow the curriculum, although I made small changes along the way. One of these was that the syllabus called on me to focus on a single letter of the alphabet for up to three weeks at a time. I had to teach only vocabulary that began with that particular letter and they wanted between five and ten words each week. Try coming up with 15 to 30 Kindergarten-appropriate words of ANY letter much less ones such as “Q” and “X”! I combined the last four letters of the alphabet into one week which certainly helped at the end. Rather than just teach the word on the card and get them to repeat it by rote, I emphasized the pronunciation of each individual letter and then combining the sounds piece by piece.

No Fun? Ha, Ha, Ha!

Santa once again, Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2023-12-23
Christmas class photo for K3/2, Wat Kitti Sangharam, Phuket 2023-12-23

I was also told not to play learning games with the kids. The lessons at this school were just 30 minutes in length and playing games would “waste time”. I did find that several of the teachers wanted a calm and quiet classroom and if a kid showed any signs of audibly enjoying themselves, they were immediately made to regret it. How to teach in an enjoyable (i.e., learning) environment when the children are frightened to make noise? Mute Conversation, I called it.

Having lunch in K3/2, Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2023-12-29

As time went on, however, I found that most of the Thai teachers wanted some form of game from time to time. The Nursery (Pre-K) teachers loved the kids to get up and have some fun. I would take a selection of vocabulary cards with me and had four or five songs ready to play. I attempted a few games from time to time but the kids just liked to grab anything not nailed down so matching games and relays proved impossible to organize. We always had a lot of fun and I think more of those kids retained more of the material I taught for far longer because of the manner in which they learned it.

Clay activity at Wat Kitti Sangharam, Phuket 2023-01-13
Group photo for the K3 activity, Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2023-01-13

One of the best songs was simply called “The Move Song”. I first used it in a K2 lesson about Body Parts (yes, there were a few of these basic topic lessons). It was much more fun than “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” which I also used. “The Move Song” was such a hit that I eventually used it at least once in every classroom. There were a couple of classes in which it was specifically requested. One of the K1 teachers filmed one early “performance” and posted it on her Facebook page.

As you can see, the children might not have been in perfect sync (and the boys at the front were somewhat naughty on this occasion) but they were having a lot of fun doing this. I often did “The Move Song” as the last bit during the lesson, just prior to leaving.

I had already learned the advantage of music in Kindergarten lessons and have been using “The Hello Song” by the Singing Walrus as an intro for several years. Just after the New Year break this year, I switched to a much shorter “Hello” song but one that incorporated the phrase the kids do in response to “How are you today?” (“I’m Good, I’m Wonderful, I’m Great!” — a nice change from the “I’m fine, thank you. And you?” done in most other schools that I have taught in). I didn’t find “The Move Song” until sometime in January of this year, I believe. Since then, I have been on the lookout for similar action songs that incorporate vocabulary in a similar manner.

Assisting with K1 Science experiments, Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2023-01-13
K1 lesson on Transport, Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2023-02-03

Even the teachers that wanted the students to remain as quiet as mice began allowing me more freedom in doing activities. They saw that I could moderate the activities successfully so the children rarely became out of control. The songs were popular and the kids looked forward to them as they had my permission to get up and move. I encouraged them to sing along although there remained a couple of Thai teachers who continued to tell the kids to quieten down. In several K1, K2 and K3 classes, I was able to play games at least once a week. There was one teacher who regularly wanted me to show her new games she could do in her classes and would often join in with the kids during my lessons. That class achieved the highest overall scores on the final exams, proving that games do work!

Dance rehearsal, Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2023-02-28
K1 Oral Final Exam, Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2023-03-10

If you have been reading my (almost) weekly “Sunday Summary” blogs, you will have seen various other activities such as Christmas (I am ALWAYS Santa), Valentine’s Day, and the dance performances we had to do at the end of the school year. I have to admit that I suffered some trepidation the first time I was told I would be teaching kids how to dance. While I love music, I have never been able to (in my mind) sing or dance well. Teaching choreography for the first dance, I was way out of my league but when we had to do a second routine with a different group of kids I immediately picked a couple of disco songs as they are fun to move to. I found that I could dance just as well as the kids. It took me until the final day of rehearsal that I hit upon the best way to teach the routine was just counting. From that point forward, the kids got it.

A Working Holiday

Receiving a rose from graduating K3 student Nicha, Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2023-03-15
The last day of school for the students was an Open House for Parents, Wat Kitti Sangkharam, Phuket 2023-03-17

The best thing about teaching is that I constantly learn new things while doing it. Teaching Kindergarten to Thai kids has brought new experiences and skills to my repertoire. I love trying to find effective ways to present the material, helping the children to learn it while still following the rules and guidelines. I have always strived to give my best performance no matter what I do. While not always entirely successful, I know I tried my best and perhaps I just need to learn a bit more and try harder the next time to come out on top. As a teacher, I have always kept in mind the best teachers I had growing up — Miss Washington in Tennesse, Mrs. Barger in Kansas, and my Mom everywhere including In Spirit always. These role models have influenced my teaching and I am constantly learning new and useful things from numerous sources — blogs, YouTube, co-workers (Thai and foreign alike), as well as the students themselves.

Teaching staff of Wat Kitti Sangkharam and local government officials, Karon Municipality, Phuket 2023-03-28
Staff, Karon Mayor, and students at Karon Municipality, Phuket 2023-03-28

The point of all this is that I am still constantly inspired as a teacher. Teaching Kindergarten in Thailand has rejuvenated me in terms of motivation and energy. That is why I am spending part of this holiday period to work on materials for the upcoming school year, even though there is no confirmation yet that I will return to this particular school.

I plan to post some of this material to the blog under the “Teaching Thailand” banner.

Graduation Dance Team and parents, Karon Municipality, Phuket 2023-03-28
The Chinese teacher — Lily — and I pose with a few of the outgoing K3 students, Karon Municipality, Phuket 2023-03-28

I think that, now that the Thai teachers at this school know me (and trust me), I can probably focus more on the letters themselves than I felt I was able to last year. Doing more of a “ep dive” into the alphabet coupled with the vocabulary should take the pressure off from making so many flashcards each week. To that end, I have a few Alphabet Games lined up and that will be the focus of my next entry.

Please tune in. I promise future installments will not be as lengthy (by far!).

I hope to see all of you for the next school year — SY2023-23 — starting 15 May 2023!

One thought on “Teaching Thailand #1: My Past & Present

  1. Pingback: Teaching Thailand #2: Focusing on the Alphabet | Mark Joseph Jochim

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.