Teaching English to kids at summer camps in Thailand was one of the most rewarding and inspiring experiences. I completed an online TEFL certificate prior to this which definitely prepared me well. I learnt many things about the culture while teaching and had one of the best times of my life. However teaching brought about challenges, some of which were expected and others that were unexpected.
1) Not speaking Thai
Teaching children to say words and phrases by asking them to repeat them is relatively easy. However teaching the children to understand the conversational responses can often be difficult, especially if you are teaching the group on your own. Of course completing a TEFL certificate helped a lot, however not being able to explain the task in Thai is the most challenging thing (I could speak only the very basics of Thai, eg. hello, how are you, thankyou etc). Often the children I taught spoke very little English. Teaching the children conversational skills often at first resulted in them having conversations with themselves! Lots of hard work, enthusiasm and fun later, it was very rewarding to h, ar the children speaking their newly learnt phrases to each other (although it was with a slight geordie accent!!).
2) Facilities in Thai schools are limited
Teaching in public, private and non-government funded schools gave me a real insight into the differences in facilities available to the children. Private schools obviously had the most facilities but even so very few accessible to the English teachers. I learnt to be very resourceful. Often the only materials I was able to use to teach where a few sheets of paper, a small whiteboard and a few pens which resulted in me needing to be very organised. Classrooms in Thailand are equipped with chalkboards and desks, not once did I see a computer. Rarely did they have air-con and the toilets were usually ‘squatters’.
3) Misbehaving children
The children are very respectful of teachers in Thailand and very willing to learn. Being a teacher in Thailand is one of the most respected professions in the country, although it is not one of the highest paid.The children are really grateful of the opportunity to learn English from English people and we wanted to make learning English fun. Teachers are very strict in Thailand and games etc are not often played in the classrooms. When English teachers visit we try to have fun with the children, a few take it as an opportunity to ‘act out’. Trying to break up fights between boys is very difficult when you don’t speak Thai and no Thai teachers are supervising. (This happened a lot; muay thai has a lot to answer for!)
4) Large classes
Classes in Thailand are often very large (between 30-50 children) therefore it was a challenge to keep all children engaged at the same time. Sometimes, we would have 4/5 teachers per class however other times it was only 1/2 teachers. Splitting into smaller groups worked well to keep children engaged. Although his was sometimes difficult also as we needed to share resources (we only had 1 small whiteboard to use between the class) and often did not have much space to use. In order to keep children engaged, we would play games, sing songs and try to allocate teachers to a smaller group of students to keep the children focused.
5) Shy and apprehensive children
Many schools we visited were very rural and had not met many English people before. Some of the children were (understandably) very apprehensive of us and extremely shy at first, mainly the very young children. As well as learning English, the aim of the summer camps was for the children to have fun. Once we had been introduced to the children by the teachers, we started to play games and sing songs. Once the children became familiar with us, they all wanted to learn from us! It was a very surreal experience signing children’s notepads, we were being treat like celebrities! The children were all wanting high 5s, handshakes and photos.. they would even run after the tuk tuk when we were driving away!!