What My First Semester of Teaching Has Taught Me

The date was October 16th, 2018 and I was fresh off the mini-bus from Chiang Mai to Lampang. Little did I know what was going to be in store for me when I arrived at my high school English Department office. But then again, isn’t that was life and travel is really about, expect the unexpected?!

I’m not going to sit here ramble on about how, “I’m a different person than I was six months ago” or “my life has changed so much in six months”, because in all reality, if these statements weren’t true, I didn’t do this whole live and work-abroad thing correctly. Isn’t it sort of a given fact that these statements hold true?!

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My Reality of Teaching English in Thailand

When I decided I was going to take a complete 180 from my career as a Speech Language Pathologist and move halfway around the world to teach English, I immediately began to scour the internet.

  • What clothes do I pack for Thailand?
  • What shoes do I bring?
  • Are there novelties from America I should bring with me?
  • Travel essentials for Thailand?
  • Where is better to live? North vs. South? City vs. country?

You get the idea.

However, one research topic that was challenging for me to search for was “teaching/teachers in Thailand.” Don’t get me wrong, I did find many posts, stories, and information about the Thailand School system, both positive and negative, but it was a hard topic actually to want to search.

Why???

Honestly, everyone’s experience is their own. It is this way with traveling too. Not everyone is going to love a particular location, not everyone is going to enjoy teaching English, and not everyone is going to like their school placement or the town they are placed into, and I just didn’t want to move to Thailand with any preconceived notion. I wanted to come in “sort of” blind, I guess you could say!

I dI did speak with a few people who’ve made this life-changing move and read one or two blog posts, but overall, I kept my research to a minimum.

When I first moved here to take the TESOL course in Chiang Mai, I wasn’t expecting to learn much. My job as a Speech Language Pathologist is focused heavily on teaching language and communication to children, usually as a first language, but occasionally students who are ELL. So, for me, the TESOL certificate was more or less a formality…TESOL certificate= more money.

Can I tell you I learned something new from the course… I guess I kind of did. I’ve never taught a full class of students, especially not a whole class of 40-50 students all with varying levels of English proficiencies, so the course helped me learn more about classroom management.

Many of the management techniques are ones I use on a regular basis, but it’s easier when you only have 1-4 students at a time, so it was helpful practicing during English camp before taking on an actual classroom.

What I have learned since I started teaching is that Thai students will talk NON-STOP in class and are ALWAYS on their phones. Even when I tell them I will take their phones and do, it doesn’t stop them. And honestly, most days it is not worth the fight between the 30-50 students in each class and me. The students also tend to do other classwork, NON-STOP during English class. This isn’t anything I take personally and have just accepted the fact that no matter how hard I try, there will be students completing homework. I mean I get it. These poor students have so many assignments and projects that need to be completed on a daily basis, that sometimes they just can’t get it all done.

Was I prepared for this factor? Absolutely not. There is not much I can do to stop the talking, the cell phone usage or the completing homework, and that has been something I’ve had to learn to adjust too. Now, my smaller classes and the classes with higher English proficiency are a little easier to manage, but the general rule of thumb, cell phones, talking and homework will happen during class, and I have begun to learn to accept it as best I can.

My secret weapon to try and minimize the chatter during class are two soft toy dice. These inexpensive, plush toys come to class with me every day and when they talk excessively, and after I repeatedly ask them to be quiet, I throw the dice to two students and make them talk to each other in Q & A format. It’s one of my greatest tools and very entertaining for me to watch the students plot who they will throw it too next. And by plot, I literally mean, plot! It’s the most enjoyable thing to watch them try and find someone who isn’t paying attention or plot to throw it to a boy and a girl, who are sometimes dating each other (or like each other, I’m assuming). There have been many times my students have hit each other in the head both purposefully and accidentally (the dices bounce).

In addition to management, it was helpful to learn how to teach “practical usage” of the English language, meaning focus more on conversational skills and functional purpose. Here in Thailand, many of the Thai English teachers focus heavily on grammar, while native English teachers usually focus on speaking English in a conversation style manner. However, let me emphasize, every school is VERY different in how they want their native English speakers to teach. Some schools have a strict style of teaching, including a curriculum, and as teachers, you must learn exactly what your school asks of you.

For me, I’ve been fortunate with a school, which gives me a lot of free reign in my classes and curriculum. I do have a general outline of what my Thai co-teachers are teaching, but I can generally teach what I want to teach and use whatever style works for me!

In regards to teaching style, the way the TESOL course taught seemed more directed towards younger children; present the vocabulary words with pictures, have Q & A sticks for practice, then play games for speaking. Since I am placed at the Mattayom level and teach 15 to 17-year-olds, I have had to slightly adjust the way I teach to support language growth and language function.

I still have a selected theme, a group of vocabulary words and try to incorporate questions and answers into each class; however, I give the students opportunities to guess the vocabulary words and or definition of each word to support memory recall and comprehension (very speech pathologist of me). I also try and get the students to figure out a full- sentence answer on their own. I tend to incorporate worksheets that follow a question-answer style vs. playing games. This allows them to have to speak to several students each time and practice conversation style English or at least I try to have them practice conversational English. In reality, the students copy each other in WHATEVER I have them do in class. It’s just my reality!

Why?!? They really, really, really don’t like getting things wrong, their English isn’t very proficient, and/or they just don’t understand what is going on in class, and all of that is okay. That is my reality as a native English speaking teacher. These things happen and I have to learn to adjust things based on each class, simplify the lesson, change the activity, change the vocabulary or terminology on the fly, and realize not every student is going to understand. Many students rely on what I have written on the board during the activities to “read” what they are supposed to say and that’s okay.

I do have the occasional 2-3 classes that finish everything I ask of them in 30-35 minutes, and I have to wing things because of a higher English proficiency, but in general, I have to keep things simple. And when in doubt…I throw the dice around the room (and I haven’t laughed harder or had more fun in my classes then the times the dice are out)!

Now don’t get me wrong, do try and incorporate games into class, but with older students and only 50 minutes (reality 45 minutes on a good day), the games don’t usually work out, and they don’t usually happen in English. Again, my reality!

It has been quite an adventure learning to teach English to high schoolers and vastly different from my job as a Speech Pathologist in St Thomas, where I was working primarily with preschool-3rd graders. I have learned how to have fun again with teaching language and less on the paperwork/legality aspect that my career holds. This has been the break I needed mentally, and my stress levels have reduced significantly. I can’t say I don’t miss my career, because, in all honesty, I genuinely do! I miss the little buggers I use to work with, I miss their smiles and their hugs, but my mental health needed this extended break, and I’m happy with where I am at and teaching English!

Experiencing Chiang Mai | Thailand

Can you believe that I’ve been in Chiang Mai, Thailand for an entire month already?!!!! It’s gone by so quickly that it’s hard to imagine in less than 6 days, I’ll be teaching Thai children/teenagers; just slightly terrifying. (this blog post was late so I’m technically a week into teaching- oops…blogger fail)

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One of the benefits of teaching abroad through Xplore Asia, is that before starting your TESOL course, you go through a week long orientation. This orientation provided myself and the other teachers informative lessons about Thai language, culture, government and politics. Michael, the owner and executive director of Xplore Asia, is so passionate about teaching new Foreigners making the transition to Thailand, about the new country they moved too.

I never thought this would be beneficial, especially with the internet, but it was so helpful hearing it first hand from someone who experienced the same thing. Plus, I’m a nerd, so I love learning about my new home. The Thai language lessons were extremely helpful as they started helping me think in a new language and provided me with basic conversation skills to be able to start engaging with the locals. Sawaddee Ka! Kapkunka!

Outside of the lessons, Xplore Asia sets up several excursions within the community to help us dive right into the culture! The excursions in Chiang Mai were perfect for the region; rice planting, Muy Thai, trips to the market, a visit with a monk to learn about meditation and a trip to the famous Doi Suthep Temple! It was quite a busy week between class and excursions, but these excursions grew my love for Thailand! These excursions showed me an introduction into the details of what makes this country so special!

In addition to those excursions, we had some free time to explore on our own. I was blessed that I was able to experience a few extra adventures during my month long stay.

One of the first things I did, along side many of my classmates, was journey to the famous Bua Tong Waterfall, a.k.a “Sticky” Waterfall. It’s honestly so hard to put into words how to describe this waterfall. It was nothing like I’ve ever seen or experienced. You literally climb this waterfall, barefooted. There are a few sections with ropes to help, but for the most part, you climb unassisted. AND IT’S EASY. It was so refreshing being back out into nature with the water and the plant life!

Another big excursion was my day trip to Chiang Rai with my roommate. When I first met Karen, one of the things we talked about was HAVING to go to Chiang Rai! We made it happen as were blown away. Chiang Rai is known for a few things. 1) The Golden Triangle; 2) history of being a high producer of opiums; and 3) The White Temple.  The White Temple, or Wat Rong Khun, was our main reason to venture the 3.5 hours northeast of Chiang Mai and it did not disappoint. The intrigue details of this temple and the sheer size took our breath away. And that wasn’t it.

Chiang Rai had a new temple that was completed in 2016, called the Blue Temple or Wat Tong Suea Ten, and I only recently found out about this particular temple. Now, I love all things blue, so when I heard of this beautiful temple, I knew it was a must see! It did not disappoint. It was stunning inside and out. And that still wasn’t it.

We had a couple more hours to before our bus ride home, so Karen and I wandered the city and came across this hidden gem of a temple, that looked to be under renovations. It was so unexpected. It had elephants build around it, had colorful, shimmery plates all around it, and it was quiet. No one else was around so it was just us and the temple. Unfortunately, it was closed on the inside, but it didn’t matter. The exterior was magnificent.

My last big adventure in Chiang Mai came in the form of FOOD!!!! I was extremely blessed to be hosted by A Chef’s Tour on their Chiang Mai Northern Food Tour by Truck. This is a food tour focusing majority on the Thai cuisine from the Northern region. It is unique type of Thai cuisine that most Westerners haven’t likely heard of or eaten. My tour guide, Moui, was very knowledgeable and very helpful with explaining the variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, and pre-made foods, like curries, cooked fish, etc. This tour took me to several places, including two different markets. These markets had several similarities but were vastly different.

Some of the food I tasted included a century egg (delicacy in China), several types of curries, spicy minced pork, fermented pork, and Northern Thai sausage, sticky rice, stinky fern omelet, crickets and silk worms, 3 different Vegan Burmese influenced salads (pennywort, fermented tea leaf, and tamarind leaf), and several desserts. It was heaven and honestly, SO MUCH FOOD. I was so full but kept on eating. This tour is HIGHLY recommended if you ever go to Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai).

There is so much to see and do throughout the entire country of Thailand, but Northern Thailand has a unique unity between the various surrounding countries that make it so special. I highly recommend taking your own trip to Chiang Mai and experience all Northern Thailand has to offer!!

I can also tell you this…I’m not even close to being done exploring this region and the entirety of Thailand!

I Moved to Thailand?!!!!!

Have you ever had a moment where you knew you needed some type of a chance to get you out of a funk or bad habit?

This was me back in February.

After the hurricanes, life changed and almost everything on the island became a challenge. Work was harder: more children to see, more schools to drive to, and lack of internet to be able to access files (thankfully, we did have hard copies). Driving was life or death on every road due to little to no stop lights/stop signs. Even obtaining basic necessities could take a full day if not a couple days. So by February, my mind knew it needed a change…the challenge was the “Where and What” factor.

When I first started thinking, Arizona became the first thought. After all, it is where my family lives and it is where I spent majority of my life. I could…but when I truly started putting my heart and my head together, the pull to Arizona just wasn’t there. So it was back to the drawing board…

It took two days before an old roommate’s story came to mind. When our house in Seattle decided to each go out separate way, one of my roommates took the opportunity to move abroad to Thailand to teach English. I started doing my own research and reached out to her for more information. It didn’t take me any time before my heart and my head started lining up and I knew this was it. This was the change I needed.

The opportunity to travel, learn to speak a new language, put myself in difficult situations, and experience a new type of career, being a teacher…SOLD. My heart, soul, mind, everything lined up. This was it.

I immediately went online too apply for the position. I decided to use a recruitment type company called Greenheart Travel, a non-profit organization to run an extensive amount of programs for people of all ages. These programs include but not limited to homestays, exchanges, teach/work abroad, and volunteering.

Choosing to go through a teach abroad program vs. independently moving abroad and finding a job wasn’t a difficult decision for me. I liked the idea that I’d have endless amount of support in obtaining the necessary visas and work documents,  setting up accommodations, completing and obtaining the appropriate TESOL certification, setting up a bank account, setting up a phone number, AND even help find teaching jobs and placement into schools.

Don’t get me wrong, it probably is cheaper to find a job by simplying moving to Thailand, but I personally LOVED having someone assist me and knowing I had a guaranteed job as an English Teacher takes a LOT of the stress out of moving to a new country.

From the start of the application process in February, to interviewing in March, to paying off the program cost in June,  and purchasing the plane ticket in July, the adventurous spirit inside me slowly began growing again.

I was sad to be ending my time on St Thomas and leaving the children I truly adored and cared for and leaving behind an amazing group of lifelong friends, but a new adventure was waiting for me and I was ready to pack up my life and move to Thailand.

So here I am writing to you in Chiang Mai, Thailand about my “WHY” and my “HOW” I made the leap into moving to Thailand! It has only been 12 days and I’m in love.