This week marks week six of High Heels & a Backpack’s TEFL interview series which features the experiences of wanderlusting women who are teaching English in various exotic locations across the globe. If you didn’t know, High Heels & a Backpack taught English in South Korea before she became a full time writer and she personally thinks that teaching English is one of the best ways to get paid to travel the world. This week, I spoke to Amy from Toothbrush Travels who spent nine months teaching in Thailand.
What it’s Like Teaching English in… Thailand!
Where were you teaching English?
I spent my time in Bangkok teaching across both sides of the Chao Phraya River with the majority of my time spent between Ladprao and Pinklao. I taught for a language school with multiple branches which meant that I whilst I had my regular classes in certain locations, I pretty much just taught wherever I was needed!
How long were you teaching there for?
I spent around 9 months or so teaching before leaving and going full time as a freelance writer.
How did you discover your teaching position?
Basically my partner and I moved to Bangkok and his boss mentioned that he had a friend who ran a language school and put me in touch with the owner. One interview and two trial classes later and I was officially a teacher!
Did you have any teaching experience or qualifications prior to making the move?
Not in teaching English, however I used to work in Childcare and as a result have completed an array of qualifications and courses in Childcare and Learning Development, which gave me confidence in managing and communicating with large amounts of young learners at once!
What was your working environment like?
Challenging at times. As a native English speaker it’s easy to take the complexities of this language for granted and forget that whilst you may know sentence structures and grammar rules, trying to explain them can be increasingly difficult.
Teaching in Thailand was completely different to any work environment I’ve been in! I taught an array of different classes which varied from mum and baby classes to children and young adults and so each environment varied. It was fun though – especially as I was teaching in a language school as it meant that 99% of the students actually wanted to be there. (Except 1% – who just wanted to be asleep!)
What was daily life like in your host country?
Daily life was varied as I worked a mixture of full and part time. During the school holidays I would work full days whereas outside of this I would work sporadic hours. Most days I would wake up and cook breakfast before grabbing a Cha Nom Yen and walking over to the motorbike taxi stand for a lift to the MRT station or pier ready to start my day. Most of my explorations revolved around food however there were a couple of visits to local temples in addition to other local attractions such as the Siriraj Medical Museum!. Looking back I’d say that motorbike taxis probably weren’t the safest mode of transport to start my day with… But, they were quick – which in Bangkok traffic is a must!
Did you experience any culture shock?
Yes, but surprisingly it was worse when I moved back to England and experienced reverse culture shock, than it was when I moved to Thailand in the first place!
What was your greatest experience whilst teaching in Thailand?
One of my greatest and scariest teaching moments teaching in Thailand was when I taught a class which was located in a completely rural part of Thailand. I couldn’t even tell you the name of the place but all I know is that the minibus ride took 2 and a half hours and the final half an hour of that journey has us barely seeing another vehicle on the road. It was part of my final TEFL sign off courses and we were teaching English to a class of 20 children, most of whom had never heard the English language yet alone attempted to speak it. Our teacher warned us that it’s common for new language learners to copy everything you say and it can create and endless loop of repetition but I didn’t think that it would happen to me… But of course it did!
I was attempting to teach the children about pirates and boats (as that was the given theme) and I began by differentiating between the different objects using hand drawn pictures of a boat, a sword, treasure, a pirate, a parrot etc. I thought it was going well until I realised that fifteen minutes in and they were just getting confused and repeating me instead of identifying the different pictures.
After profusely sweating for a short while I managed to turn it into a game where I went through the pictures with the children copying me, using one word descriptions and then picked a picture (for example a boat) and emphasised the word “Boat?” as a question before mixing them all up. Eventually the children began to learn to differentiate the objects and so I built on this by putting the pictures around the room and getting the children to run to the picture of the name I called out.
Eventually they learnt the differences and answered with such confidence which was such a huge deal for me because it was my first time flying solo in a class room without any other form of support or to intervene if I got stuck which was an incredibly nerve-wracking experience. It was a moment which sounds ridiculous when said out loud but it was my first solo teaching experience where I managed to teach the children both words (which I’m sure they’ll never really use again) and understanding.
After that lesson they wouldn’t leave me alone and there was a little play park where we spent the rest of the afternoon playing on the swings and monkey bars before all of the teachers enjoyed a massive pizza together. It was one of my most baffling moments, but definitely one of my fondest!
What piece of advice would you give to those considering teaching in Thailand that you wish that you had been told?
Think thoroughly about the teaching qualification or TEFL course that you are going to do and ensure that it offers sufficient material and support for teaching in the specific country that you intend to move to. I did a TEFL in Bangkok which was costly but spanned the course of just over a month and gave me classroom knowledge in the day and classroom experience in the evening where I was able to teach lessons before I was let loose in my own classroom!
The in-depth guidance and knowledge I received from my TEFL course was incredible and whilst I have no interest in teaching again – I know that I’d have the confidence to do so if I were to choose to do so. I’ve noticed that many people think that they’ll fall into a job the minute they move abroad, but the realities are that it can be incredibly difficult to find a job (especially in big cities) and whilst teaching in theory isn’t difficult, the realities are completely different and that face-to-face experience is so, so necessary because it can be incredibly overwhelming for the first few lessons!
What opportunities did living in Thailand give you to travel?
So many! My other half and I spent every weekend and every available week exploring a new part of Thailand which saw us take trips everywhere from Koh Lipe to Chiang Rai and an array of places in between. To be honest I should have done more trips around Asia whilst I was there and taken full advantage of my location, but let’s face it teacher salaries aren’t always the best and I was besotted with Thailand – there’s so many incredibly beautiful places to explore!
What do you love most about Thailand?
So many things. It’s a country that can be incredibly baffling at times and health and safety just doesn’t exist compared to places such as England (where there’s a safety guidebook for EVERYTHING!) but the mixture of gorgeous weather (both the sun and the epic thunderstorms) the food and the culture make it one of my favourites. Plus the expat community there is hella sarcastic and supportive which made moving abroad 1000x easier. Sure there’s things which could be better in the country, but hey, is there a country that you can’t say that about?
Any parting advice for working as a TEFL teacher overseas?
Don’t do it just because you want to live abroad, do it because you want to help people learn a new language. I’ve seen so many teachers half-arse it which can be confusing for their students because they’re more interested in the country, than their job role and it isn’t fair to the students who are there, and often pay money, to learn. But apart from that – enjoy! It wasn’t a job I’d do again, but that’s a personal reflection and not one that formed because of where I worked. But despite it not being a job I’d repeat the 9 months of teaching that I stuck it out for have some pretty epic memories attached to them!
Amy is a British Writer with an incurable wanderlust who is always on the hunt for her next adventure. If you have any questions about expat life and travel in Thailand, you can reach out to Amy through her blog Toothbrush Travels. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram.
Get TEFL Certified!
World leading TEFL provider ITTT are kindly giving High Heels & a Backpack readers 20% off their TEFL courses. This really is the best deal that you can find. Once you submit your application, you will see the discounted price appear on ITTT’s “thank you” page. To enrol on a course and start your exciting overseas teaching adventure, click here. For further information on the courses available, click here.
From Tokyo to rural France and from China to Mexico, you can browse the other interviews in the High Heels & a Backpack TEFL interview series here.
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Are you teaching English in an interesting location somewhere around the world and would like to be a part of the #TeflTuesday series? If you would like to share your story, please email me at: Melissa@highheelsandabackpack.com