Reflections and responses…

Laptop is back in hand.  Order has been restored and all is well.  Hurrah!

So, my last post on ajarn.com certainly roused some opinions in a few readers.  I was accused of possibly being ‘happy clappy’ and an ‘instant expert on education’.  I did get some positive comments too, which was nice.  In fact, that article was my most commented on so far, which goes to show that it is a topic that many people have their own opinions on.

I’ve been churning some of those more negative comments around in my head and wanting to get some of my feelings down on paper (or in this case, type them on a laptop).  So here are some of my thoughts in response to those comments and some of my own reflections.

Happy clappy teacher?

OK, so I didn’t actually identify my teaching style in the article, I just wrote that the school had said that they don’t want ‘TEFL style’ teaching.  And they weren’t directing this just at me, this was a general opinion being passed on to me because I tend to be the most outspoken.  (Side note: this is probably why this whole thing happened in the first place – I may have ruffled some feathers at this point and am now suffering for my sins…)

If I had to put myself into a teaching methods box, the one I would fit into would be the communicative approach.  I see no value in the memorisation of fixed dialogues of no real life use (which, incidentally is one of the favourite methods across Asia and especially in Thailand).  I would much rather enable my students to explore the language and understand the meaning of the language in contexts that will help them in real life situations.

I base my lessons around the basic concept that the teacher talking time (TTT) is gradually reduced as the lesson goes on, following the formula of presentation-practice-production (PPP) where I present the language and how we can use it, use activities to enable the students to practice using it and finally get to a point where the students are producing the language with minimum input from the teacher. But of course, this is life and so usually I have to magic up activities to fix situations as and when I need to.  Students get distracted and some lesson plans just don’t work!

I don’t walk in to a class of matthayom (high school) students and try to make them sing ‘Old Macdonald’.  I don’t even do the Hokey Kokey, a staple of many a TEFL training course.  There is a massive misconception of what TEFL style teaching is and I’m still not at the bottom of whether my school are under the impression that that is what I am doing in my classes.  Maybe if they had actually observed me and my colleagues in class they would have more of an idea.

In contrast to the happy-clappy ring around the roses impression that people get of TEFL teaching, my classes are usually a mix of vocabulary activities, small group work, class competitions, conversation activites, worksheets… it’s a mixed bag but it isn’t all pointless games.  I am also responsible for grading my students which I tend to do through 1:1 or small group speaking tests (NOT with pre-prepared dialogues – I am looking for natural, meanginful responses!) or having small groups presenting something to the class.  Plus checking and grading books, worksheets and participation levels in class.  You see?  It really isn’t just a hippy happy, lets all get in a circle and sing a song thing – although I have to say that having a silly time every once in a while doesn’t hurt…!

Instant expert on education

With regards to my being an ‘instant expert’ on education reform because I spent three weeks on a TEFL course – far from it!  I was merely using my blog space to vent my frustrations at the inability or refusal to address an issue that lies within a system, and more personally, an issue that I was having with my school.  That’s what a blog is for, right?  I didn’t make the figures up – Thailand really isn’t doing that great educationally – and maybe schools need to consider making changes or at least being more open to suggestions, not only from the teachers but other schools in other countries that are actually performing well.

My TEFL training was useful for preparing for working in the Thai classroom but I base most of my working approach on my six years experience working with children and young people as a youth worker in the UK.  As a youth worker I worked with some of the hardest to reach young people with a range of behavioural issues.  One of my roles was working with young people that had been excluded from mainstream education (for a range of reasons from behaviour to drug or alcohol abuse, family crisis or criminal behaviour).  During my time as a youth worker I developed a responsive, sensitive approach to working with some very unstable young people who had otherwise disengaged from all services.  I had to build up trust with those young people, being seen as just another face from the system alongside the teachers that rejected them, the social workers that judged their family, the policemen that charged them, the counsellor that made them talk… it wasn’t easy.  Every day and every individual brought with it a new challenge.  I learned to be flexible, to think outside of the box.  I gained an intuition and insight into how groups of hormone filled, anti-authority kids work – and it’s no different to how their minds work here in Thailand either.

I gained many, many transferable skills during my time as a youth worker and as part of my degree I studied group dynamics, psychology, sociology and learning styles – so no, I’m not basing my supposed ‘expertise’ (which I would never profess to have) on a measly three weeks on a TEFL.

OK, I’ve vented for 1000 words.  Time out.  Thanks if you made it this far.  Apologies for the general ‘ranty’ path this blog is travelling down – I promise you I am working at turning things around.  Just you wait!

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11 thoughts on “Reflections and responses…

  1. Kylie, I couldn ‘t agree more with your teaching style and approach in the classroom.

    Im waiting to receive my placement in Korea but I learned the same teaching philosophy in my TEFL course here in the States, or at least the approach I enjoyed the most and think students would learn from best.

    Stick with that approach as much as you can. You know it’s beneficial for the kids even if the school doesnt realize it yet.

    Dan

  2. Hey,

    I feel you on that. Teaching in Thailand was a lot of contradictions. Do this, but don’t do that. I’m now in Korea and still have the same problem but backwards. There, the English levels are so low that I was teaching alphabet to low elementary still! Now, I’m having political conversations with upper elementary. It’s a drastic change. Thailand was ‘keep the students happy’. Korea is ‘keep the parents happy’… which is funny to me because they don’t even bother coming in to watch a lesson or see why their child may not be doing too well in my class.
    However, I get paid double and have a happier lifestyle here than I did there (but i miss my $4 dinners). If you’re interested in Korea, let me know.

    1. I guess each country has its own special ways of going around things but sometimes it can be so frustrating can’t it?! Korea has been on the maybe list for a while… who knows!

  3. Julie you shouldn’t let the negative commenters get to you. What you say is totally right, but it seems Thailand doesn’t have the will to change. Schools recruit teachers for their looks, not their abilities. English programmes accept students because money talks. Old Thai hands know that the idealistic young try to change things, but realise this is just a pipe dream.

    Thailand is indeed a country where students just need to be kept happy, it is not about learning at all. Heaven forbid! The no fail policy is the best illustration of this: Thailand always ranks bottom in surveys, yet parents seem perfectly okay with turning a blind eye to their offspring’s ineptness. I suppose they grew up in a similar system, and we can’t change the system, can we! Especially not if these good ideas come from a foreigner as this might lead to a loss of face. Thai culture and education is a farce you need to try to live with, so bette great used to it 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment (I’m guessing the ‘Julie’ was an autocorrect?!!) and I completely agree with you. It’s so frustrating as I love living in Thailand but sometimes the working situation makes me want to tear my hair out!

      1. Damn you autocorrect 👹! Kylie seems to be missing from my dictionary.

        Be careful not to fall in the trap of starting to hate all things Thai and moaning like so many others do. It is really easy getting jaded. Just try to shrug off the unpleasantness and get on with the job. None of the students are brain surgeon material anyway, and always give the monkey what he wants! 😎

        Refine the art of wai-ing, that totally overestimated Thai greeting which can be easily used to kiss someone’s backside or ward off awkward situations. When in Rome, do as the Romans do! (No real need to drive like a lunatic, walk like a snail and lie and cheat the whole time, but you get my drift).

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