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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Five for Friday; myths about TEFL teaching

This time last year I ws just starting my TEFL course on Koh Samui, diving head first into what would happily turn out to be something that I absolutely LOVE doing.  I had toyed with coming out to Thailand to teach for a while running up to actually doing it, so I had done my research (in fact, it got to the point where I had seen absolutely everything there was…) reading websites, books, speaking to people, following blogs…  doing all of this really helped to prepare me and I knew what to expect (at least, some of the time)…

Warning – this is ever so slightly RANT-y.  But it also has some simple nuggets of advice for anyone considering teaching abroad.

Here are my top five myths about TEFL teaching;

1.   You don’t really have to teach.

Put simply – you do.  Some teachers find that they can get away with doing anything they like, including simply playing games and watching movies, but in most cases those teachers are posted out in the sticks, are the only foreign teacher in the village and the schools are happy just to have a farang face to show off.  In reality if you want to teach abroad and live in a city (or at least somewhere with a bit of life in it), you are likely to end up in a big government school or private institution, both of which will expect you to submit lesson plans, to teach multiple subjects within ESL (communication, writing, reading, social studies, health…) and to write and grade midterm and final examinations to prove that the students are actually learning something.

My school is at the more ‘by the book’ end of the spectrum.  At the start of term we are required to submit lesson plans for the whole semester (sixteen teaching weeks).  The foreign teachers teach anything from 1 – 5 different subjects over 20-22 hours per week and need to write and grade exams every 8 weeks.  Exam grades, along with grades collected throughout the semester from written work and speaking tests must be input on a spreadsheet and external database (which is handily completely in Thai).  Some teachers have 500 students on their books – that is a lot of testing, grading and inputting!

 2.       You will live on a paradise island

Contrary to common belief, we don’t all live on the beach in bamboo bungalows, floating from the hammock to class in a bikini and flip flops.  In fact, I am particularly lucky to be based on the Gulf of Thailand so paradise islands are only a few hours away for me.  In Thailand the majority of TEFL jobs are in and around Bangkok or in the northeast of the country – where there are no beaches.  This doesn’t mean that they aren’t beautiful places, but please don’t assume that because we are teaching in a tropical climate that we spend all our time in these paradise settings.

 3.       TEFL teaching is one big holiday

Leading on from the last point, not only do we not live on paradise islands but we also don’t spend every weekend jet setting to them.  A lot of people begin TEFL teaching because they think that they will have to do a couple of hours ‘teaching’ here and there and then can spend the rest of the time travelling and generally being on one big vacation.  SHOCK HORROR but we have to work Monday – Friday!  In fact, at my school we have to work 7.45am – 4pm every weekday regardless of if we have lessons or not.  Luckily I am based in Thailand and so we get a lot of public holidays resulting in a good amount of three day weekends, but you still have to work for a while between each of those.

I have encountered TEFL teachers who have no shame in admitting that they are only teaching to get a visa so that they can travel around, hopping from job to job, and who despair at the thought of having to actually teach – don’t get me wrong, of course I chose to come and work abroad so that I could see some of the world too – but I also love teaching and get just as much enjoyment from my teaching experiences as I do from my travels.  As nice as it is living in a different country if you hate your job what kind of existence is that?

TEFL teaching is a job, not a holiday.

 4.       TEFL jobs are all expenses paid

Free flights!  Free accommodation!  Paid holidays!  In some cases, yes, your flights may be reimbursed on completion of a minimum contract term, and you may receive a basic accommodation budget (or worse be housed by the school, which usually means in the school, or in a tiny bedsit) but in most circumstances this is not the case.  I fell foul to this, as the teaching agency I was originally supposed to be placed with following my TEFL course boasted that they pay for your accommodation and pay you for all your holidays; only in my case that place fell through and I ended up with another agency who don’t give you a penny for accommodation and employ you on 11 month contracts so the long school holiday ends up unpaid.  Had I known that I would be paying my own rent and not receiving a salary every month I may have saved a little more before coming out here.  Lesson learned – things barely go to plan.

My advice would be to save as much as you comfortably can in the timescale that you have before coming out.  Over-save.  I thought I was going to be in the northeast, where things are probably the cheapest in the country.   I ended up in the south where things are more expensive, with an agency that wouldn’t be helping me with accommodation costs.   The initial cost of moving somewhere will include housing deposits, buying bedding (and potentially furniture), buying teaching clothes (because no matter what you prepare for each school has its own policy and expectations)… most of these costs will be going out of your account before and salary has been paid in.  Then there is the cost of arranging a visa and work permit which again can often be the responsibility of the teacher to fund.  Not all TEFL jobs will be paying for that kind of stuff so just bear it in mind; it’s not a free ride.

 5.       Any native English speaker can get a job as a TEFL teacher

Again, as in #1, I am sure if you are happy to live in the middle of nowhere, be the only foreigner in the village then yes, any native English speaker can get a TEFL job.  But if you want to live in a city and work in a real school environment as a real teacher, you are going to need some sort of TEFL certificate at minimum.  Even with a TEFL certificate and degree, a native English speaker can still come across barriers to finding work.

So many people come out relying on their nationality (and in Thailand, colour of skin also goes a long way), but find that without the right certification and the right frame of mind, good jobs don’t just come along.  Do your homework, gain the correct certification.  It’s up to you if you want to work for it or go and buy it on Khao San Road, but don’t assume that simply being an English speaker will guarantee you a great job.

I realise that this may come across as pretty negative but there are so many people who come out here with completely unrealistic expectations, having not done their research and making silly assumptions.  These people then spend their entire working time complaining about how their experience isn’t what they had expected, resulting in them either not having enough money, or being unprepared, or not landing an amazing yet easy job on the beach, and of course all that they can do is bitch and complain about it, bitter that they aren’t living the tropical island paradise life that they surely deserve for coming out here.

OK… rant over!

Teaching in Thailand is an amazing, enriching experience, but if you have ridiculous expectations and don’t prepare, you only have yourself to blame.  Stop moaning and go home!

Conversations… frustrations.

Conversation between myself and a Teacher I Barely Know (TIBK) this morning;

TIBK: Teacher Kylieeeeee. I waiting for you every day last week. After school finish.

Me (I wish): Where? Why? Who are you?

Me (the reality): Oh, why? I’m sorry (yes, apologising without knowing what I have allegedly done wrong).

TIBK: Over there (pointing to the building that I don’t teach in, have an office in or even walk through AT ALL throughout the week). For the training for the sa-pelling beeeee.

Me (I wish): OK, number 1: Me worky in this building. Me no go to that building. Number 2: Me training student already in this building, every morning and some afternoons, UNPAID. Already.

Me (the reality): Oh, the spelling bee. Well that’s alright then because I’ve been training with my student here instead. I didn’t know you were holding your own training you wanted me to help you with, sorry (again, apologising without being entirely sure if I have done anything wrong).

TIBK: But who you training?

I tell her the name of the student I have been meeting with every day. EVERY DAY for the past 2 weeks.

TIBK: Oh yes, you training her but she is not in the competition. You training other students with me also.

Me (I wish): WHY AM I TRAINING A GIRL WHO ISN’T EVEN IN THE COMPETITION? WHY? WHY?!!!!!!

Me (the reality): Oh! Well who am I supposed to be training?

TIBK: HAHAHA! (Evidently something is funny here) – I don’t know the names! But they are in Matthayom 3 OK? They are boys.

I don’t teach Matthayom 3 and the provision of only the gender of my trainees does little to shed light on who they are.

TIBK: (Grabbing my schedule from my desk and holding it one inch from her eye) – Ahh OK I can see you have a lot of free time today…

Me (I wish): Well, not really because actually on Wednesdays we are able to go home early UNLIKE EVERY OTHER DAY WHERE WE HAVE TO STAY REGARDLESS OF WHEN OUR LESSONS FINISH.

Me (the reality): Yes, a lot of free time…

TIBK: OK so I tell to them to come to see you. You waiting here (points at my desk) OK? Between 11.00 and end of day OK? No moving.

Me (I wish): Actually I need to EAT, PEE, HAVE A LIFE. Why don’t you tell me their names and I will track them down when it suits me?

Me (the reality): OK, yes I will wait here. Sorry (WHY AM I SO EFFING APOLOGETIC?).

 

Considering this conversation happened immediately after being informed that I will be working when everyone else is going to have the day off because I have to judge another effing competition, I can feel myself reaching towards my contract and inspecting it.  Don’t I work for an agency so I can avoid this bullshit?

We all know that is the me that I wish I could be.  In reality I’m just all like, “Let me bend over backwards while I act as a doormat for your precious feet.”  Damn my kind nature.

 

So let me just let rip here instead.  Apologies.

I’M APOLOGISING AGAIN!

Raaaaaah!

 

7lRoj

A quick thought (rant…) on negativity…

If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.
~ an excerpt from The Twits by Roald Dahl http://www.quotegarden.com/attitude.html

roald dahl 2(Image source: Google images)

Negativity breeds negativity.

Don’t accept a job abroad in a different culture of your own if you are going to be negative.

If you are looking for negativity; seek and ye shall find.  There are a zillion things that I could think of if I wanted to.  But that’s the key – I don’t want to.  I came here to try my hand at a potential new career path and to experience a completely different way of life.  I knew that things would be different from what my western mind is accustomed to.  I wanted that.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that when the geographical distance between this world and your own is half of the actual planet that the cultural differences are going to be vast.  And that sometimes, those differences don’t sit so well with what I am used to.

So the next time the cook gets your order slightly wrong,

or you have to take your shoes off to go into the local shop,

or you have to cover your shoulders,

or the food doesn’t ‘taste the same’,

or something just doesn’t make sense to you or ever-so-slightly inconveniences you…

REMEMBER; YOU chose to come here.  YOU chose to enter this culture.  You more than likely won’t be here forever.  Cherish the experience.  If you want to walk around with ugly thoughts all over your face then that is all you will see reflected back at you, and your experience will be an ugly one.

I’m much happier spreading sunbeams.

roald dahl quote(Image source: Google images)