Thoughts From a First Time English Teacher in Thailand

by Kirsty on September 20, 2011

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Teaching English as a foreign language is a very popular option for many travellers who can’t bare the thought of going home, just like us.

In March I started teaching English in Thailand and wanted to give you my two cents, is it as easy as everyone says? do nerves get the better of you? how will he children react? Here’s my thoughts:

Biggest Surprise?

I really love teaching.

I knew it could be a lot of fun, especially with the age of my students (3 -5) but I had no idea just how much I would actually enjoy it. Instead of just being a job it’s something I actually enjoy, which is strange considering in all honesty the only reason I started was simply because it was an easy way to make money.

I’ve never even considered or had any desire to be a teacher before but I’ve liked it so much I’m actually currently looking into becoming fully qualified.

What I didn’t expect

I had no idea Thai children could speak English so well at such a young age. By the age of three my children can describe colours, shapes, body parts, days of the week and classroom objects – and this is just in the first 18 weeks! One of my kids who is barely two can read most basic words and on the very first day pointed to a sticker I had just gave him and said “it’s apple” I may have just fallen in love with him there and then!

The children I teach blow me away everyday with how much they know and how quickly they take things in.  Watching them grow and improve and knowing that I have helped them along the way is very satisfying.

TEFL Class

Guess who’s under that costume?

What I had to learn quickly

To be flexible! In the first weeks of teaching I liked to have my lessons planned out and would get frustrated if things didn’t go as expected. I found that I would sometimes struggle to come with different activities if I had spare time or if the kids were bored I would just plough straight on. Now it is so much easier to just change things up depending on their reaction.

Also working with this age range – have a loud voice. Poi swears my voice gets louder and louder each week and he is forever reminding me that our apartment is not a classroom! I hate to imagine what the neighbours think!

As I said before I used to plan my lessons thoroughly in the beginning but now I am happy to walk into a classroom with whatever I need for the subject and just go with the flow. I dread to think what would have happened if I tried that in the first couple of weeks, most likely fired!

The other thing would be how much the children trust me, 18 weeks ago the class were unsure and pretty shy now they can’t wait to get involved and I always have someone running up to me trying to explain something or another. The flavour of the week with my K2’s (4 years old) is to tell me what they like as I enter the room so I get a barrage of “I like rabbits and cats” or “I am Ben 10” (I think he means like.. but maybe he is an alien)

Oh and I guess I have learnt A LOT about different kids programs and I have become a human jukebox of children’s songs now as well, which Poi loves!

The Best Bit?

Of course it’s the kids. All it takes on a bad day is a funny comment or a big hug and I remember why I love my job.  Now I’ve been around for a while I’ve developed a relationship with my classes and I get excited to see them and their smiles always cheer me up.

Just yesterday one of my kids came back from holiday and he ran straight up to me with a huge smile on his face for a big hug, how can that not make you feel amazing?

TEFL teacher

Enjoying a bit of colouring with the kids.

The Hardest Bit?

Without a doubt the toughest aspect of the job is the language barrier, there are so many times when one of them will run up to me so excited, breathing hard, desperate to tell me something but they can’t find the words in English and give in to speaking Thai. I never know what they are saying and just have to pretend!

I wish I could hear all their little anecdotes too. For example we were colouring in pandas for art which I told them should be black and white and one of my kids in Thai was complaining saying “but orange is a much cooler colour” This is the stuff I usually miss out on….

How will I feel in 6 Months time?

In 6 months time I have no idea where I will be, right now I love teaching and I am glad the first few months where I was unsure have passed and I can just enjoy working with the kids everyday. Will I teach again – I’d like to think so!

Are you thinking of teaching English at some point during your travels? What else would you like to know?

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Beverley - Pack Your Passport September 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Kirsty I want to know everything! Now that I’ve read about teaching in Thailand (from this post and past posts) I’m really interested in eventually doing it.

I’m just not sure what visa I’d need to how to go about getting a teaching job. I have a degree but no experience teaching.

Glad you’re enjoying it hun, great post 🙂

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Kirsty September 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm

All you need is a degree to get a visa. I have a non b immigrant visa which is valid for a year 🙂 Most schools do ask for experience but can be pretty flexible I would recommend getting a TEFL qualification it’s not mandatory but does really help at the beginning.

🙂

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Sarah September 20, 2011 at 6:59 pm

All of this is SO true!

I taught for just over a year in South Korea and was pleasantly surprised when I found out that I actually really liked it. And I was even more excited to find out that the kids really like me too! (Or maybe they were just really good at pretending….)

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Kirsty September 20, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Yeah I think at that young age they do just generally enjoy learning. I love the fact that they are soo pleased to see me and it isn’t cool yet not to join in. Every single kid wants to be sat next to me and every single kid wants to shout out the answer……. even when it is wrong!! 🙂

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Julia September 20, 2011 at 8:41 pm

I was going to ask about the TEFL thing also – did you have one before you went? I have heard that you can get teaching jobs with a degree alone, which is probably all I would have.
Also, I would do it just to get to wear costumes like the one above and get paid for it 😛

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Kirsty September 20, 2011 at 8:46 pm

I got a TEFL to be on the safe side as I had absolutely no experience teaching kids but it isn’t necessary some schools look for it but most that do also say one years experience. My advice is apply to loads and loads and loads of schools, one will usually bite.

The costume is awesome – I even got paid over time and wondered the halls after school dressed as a monster…. I love kindergarten!

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Jessica September 21, 2011 at 3:03 am

I have a questions 🙂 How did you find the schools you wanted to apply to? Did most of them want you to interview in person?

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Kirsty September 22, 2011 at 10:08 pm

The best site for thailand is ajarn.com it has a very detailed job section and loads of help and advice.
Most want to interview in person, however some do set up skype interviews before the initial meeting – but usually they prefer you to meet in person.

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Michael September 21, 2011 at 3:50 am

Hi there Kirsty, I just wanted to ask you how you actually found the schools to apply for? Did you go to any specific website or was it a google search etc.
Also did you have anything lined up before you started travelling or was it more a spur of the moment due to the need for cash?

Cheers
Mike

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Kirsty September 22, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Mainly used ajarn.com – this lists all the sites in Thailand and you can filter it by province and city.

We didn’t have anything lined up before we set off, but it was always in the back of my mind that it would be something that I could do if we needed to earn some more pennies! It’s super easy to set yourself up here in Thailand – I love it!

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GotPassport September 21, 2011 at 8:54 am

It’s so wonderful to follow along and see how far you’ve come on this journey as a teacher. From talking about taking a TEFL course to your description of the lessons to finding a job in CM, then to BKK and now look at you. You’re loving it. Happy to see things are working out for you in Bkk. See you in CM very soon.

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Kirsty September 22, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Everythings moved so fast – I am really enojoying a lot more than I thought I would!! See you soon 🙂

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Angela September 22, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Lovely experience you are having, the children look gorgeous! I would love to have a teaching experience, I saw some volunteering opportunities, I’m seriously thinking about answering some of them.

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Kirsty September 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Volunteering is a great way to start out 🙂 I would highly recommend teaching in Thailand is almost set up for people to come over here get an apartment and everything.

🙂

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Alyssa September 22, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Hi Kristy! I’m currently teaching in Korea right now but starting to get very curious about Thailand. Are you on a year long contract?

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Kirsty September 22, 2011 at 10:16 pm

I am that’s the standard if you start working in May (the start of the school year) however if you came in October you would get a 6 months contract and so on – or that’s what happens at my school!

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Erik September 23, 2011 at 12:54 am

Great Post.

As a former teacher here in the US, I ‘m glad to see you are enjoying it. You get as much out of it as you put in, and it sounds like you are putting a lot in.

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Kirsty September 24, 2011 at 11:40 am

It’s really enjoyable and the kids are all lovely! I am enjoying it so much that I am actually looking to get fully qualified back in England!

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Aussie on the Road September 23, 2011 at 10:31 am

I found the same things when I first moved to South Korea. I had no idea whether I’d enjoy teaching and found that I really loved working with children. I wasn’t necessarily a fan of schedules and syllabuses, but the actual work was fun.

I’m currently looking at trying my hand in Thailand after my few years in Korea. How did you go about arranging it?

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Kirsty September 24, 2011 at 11:39 am

The main website I used is http://www.ajarn.com – it has all the job postings and if you are looking to make the change now (Oct) is the second best time to look for jobs as it is half term here.

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Aussie on the Road September 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Awesome! I’ll have to give October a miss (I need to be home for Christmas) but will definitely look into it for next year 🙂

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Kirsty September 25, 2011 at 8:31 am

Anytime is good, the best time to start looking is February/March ready for the new year which begins in May. 🙂

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Audrey September 24, 2011 at 4:29 am

Your students sound so cute!!! I’ve only ever taught ESL to adults but it looks like working with the little ones is a lot of fun too. 😀 Glad you’re enjoying it over there!

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Kirsty September 24, 2011 at 11:39 am

it’s awesome, nearly every single kid wants to please me and the hugs and smiles are awesome! 🙂

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Nomadic Samuel September 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm

That’s great to hear you enjoy teaching. I’ve taught for three years in South Korea and I’m back again for a fourth stint. I’m enjoying it now more than ever.

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Kirsty September 25, 2011 at 8:33 am

Yeah once I got over the initial month and settled in it has become so much more enjoyable! wow 4 years in South Korea – I’m already getting itchy feet to move on from Thailand and we’ve been here 6 months!

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wandering educators September 24, 2011 at 9:50 pm

love this – and such honest reflections. bravo!!

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Kirsty September 27, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Thanks 🙂

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Anthony September 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Glad to see you’re enjoying yourself teaching, Kirsty! Might have a dabble myself 🙂

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Kirsty September 27, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Go for it! but I’m not sure they would understand awwww right our pet!!!

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Shirlene from Idelish September 28, 2011 at 2:56 pm

We’ve considered teaching before but never know what kind of qualifications are required. We also have full time jobs so unless there are 1 week teaching opportunities, this might be out of our reach for at least the next year or two 🙂 But never say never – maybe in the future!

Thanks for sharing this post. Glad to hear you’re enjoying yourself and feel your pain when you can’t understand the kids. Maybe in a couple more months your Thai will get better and you’d understand them more? 🙂 Best of luck!

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Kirsty October 20, 2011 at 4:01 pm

You can do volunteer teaching placements for a week or work in a different setting.
Thai is very difficult for me as I am pretty much tone deaf! I understand a little bit, but get me to speak it and I could be saying something totally different to what i mean!!!

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Total Travel Bug September 30, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I have my TEFL qualification as I did it as part of my degree and now I’m devastated I didn’t use it. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to put it to good use in the future.

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Kirsty October 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm

You definitely should… it’s great 🙂

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Laura October 14, 2011 at 11:04 pm

I’ve been going back and forth on the idea of teaching English because I also never really wanted to be a teacher, but it’s one of the better jobs I could potentially get as a native English speaker in Mexico. It’s interesting to hear how much you’re enjoying it, maybe I will give it a try after all. Thanks! 😉

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Kirsty October 20, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Yeah, I never wanted to be a teacher either, and I am sure it is not for everyone! But I am very surprised at how much I am enjoying it, although I don’t think I could teach much older than 5/6 🙂

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Joel Tillman October 18, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Have you had any problems with discipline yet?

There is that fine line you have to walk between being friendly and being a teacher. I was never any good at walking that line but I wonder if others are?

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Kirsty October 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Not really, these kids are really young and they seem very well behaved, of course there are little things but nothing major!

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Joel Tillman October 20, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Oh there are always little things. But if you have a good co teacher (assuming you have a Thi one) then I can see why the discipline is not an issue.

Kids will be kids.

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Olivia June 10, 2013 at 12:29 am

Hi!

What TEFL program did you go through?
Also, is the competition for jobs high in Thailand?

Thank you!

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Kirsty June 11, 2013 at 9:38 pm

I went with I to I. I just did the online program which was enough. The competition is high, however in Bangkok there are plenty of jobs so as long as you apply for plenty of jobs you should get one!

Good luck

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Candice June 7, 2015 at 10:07 am

Do you usually apply for a teaching job before you arrive at a place/country, or have to find one whilst there?

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