7 Tips for a First Time TEFL Teacher in Thailand
Am I really capable of this?
I've spent close to a year mentally preparing myself to pick up and move accross the world and teach in a classroom I've never stepped foot in. We spent 1 week learning how to be a teacher in orientation. I felt it and I'm sure everyone feels similar feelings of the rushing excitement and adrenaline of the new adventure but also the intense anxiety. Will I be a good teacher? Will my kids like me? What if I don't know how to manage my class? What if awful unexpected meteors plummet the classroom and I'm unable to protect my children from mass destruction? We've all been asking ourselves these questions and now having been in my Thai classroom for a few weeks, I want to extend some relieving information and advice for first time foreign teachers.
Tip #1: Believe in yourself!
*Cue the gif of Shia LeBeouf yelling "JUST DO IT"*
We are as ready as we'll ever be. Let's face the facts here, being a teacher in another country is not a path that everyone walks. People often talk about it in their dreams and aspirations category of their dating profile, but not many people actually take the leap of faith and do it. To teach abroad is to CHOOSE to be out of your comfort zone, and do really difficult things for a long time. But it is 200% rewarding. You can only grow when you leave your comfort zone. Yes, this is insanely cliche but cliches are such for a reason. No matter the time spent chewing our nails in agony hoping we will be a good teacher, it will not make us more ready than we are now. If you care enough to be worried if you'll be any good at teaching, you are already showing signs that you will be a WONDERFUL teacher.
Step one: Care about the job you are doing and the well being of those in your care. It's a tough decision to make to pick up and leave everything you know to go to a foreign country and basically start over. It's such a tough decision that sitting on the idea and stressing yourself out about it won't help. I took this the same way I took my bungee jumping experience: it's better to just jump and not think. To be completely honest with you, it's not nearly as scary or difficult as I thought! I was terrified to come here and teach high school aged children when I've only ever taught preschool but the kids are wonderful, respectful and most of them want to learn about you and English! I'm already so sad to leave them and I have 4 more months here.
Tip #2: Be present
This is also something I talk to my kids about when discussing the "rules" portion of the introduction class. Things are going to be very difficult. There will be moments of culture shock anger, sadness of missing loved ones and stress with just wishing things could be as easy as they are back home. The best advice I think I can give with this adventure is to honestly be present in all the things you do, even the very difficult and emotional ones. Recognize these difficult times are evidence of growth and learning about a new culture and country. Teaching in Thailand is a very whirlwind experience. In this, I mean that most the time, I am never cued in on any information what so ever.
On my very first day of teaching, I was brought to the school on the back of a motorcycle driven by my coordinator. Pretty rad, right? Well once I got there, they handed me a schedule in Thai, explained very generally what I would be teaching, and while I was asking questions and working to translate my schedule to English, I was told I had a class right then. I have never been to this school nor do I even know where the classroom is. Oh, yeah, I also had no idea what to teach or how much English the kids actually knew. But in this scenario, I just made sure to look at the positives and be mindful of my situation. They have entrusted me with 17 year olds kids and want me to teach them my language. There's just such a beautiful feeling in this. It's important to not only physically be in the situation and classroom, but mentally understand what this moment is. Teaching abroad is something we will look back on our entire life and each moment is a significant one, no matter how long you are teaching. It's so important to truly love and savor every moment, even the difficult ones.
Tip #3: Keep some lessons in your pocket
This was a very important plan especially in Thailand where they are on "Thai Time" and truthfully Thai schedules in regards to giving information to new teachers. It will also help you feel more confident if you have a few ice breakers or planned lesson topics that can be easily administered. Having a lesson that could take up an entire hour and only used a marker and the white board was the biggest life saver. I used a nice introduction method where I told the kids my name and then asked them to ask me "Get to know you" questions. This also gauges how much English they know (information I did not receive lol). They would ask "Where you from?" and this tells me they know some things but they aren't fluent. I also played some introduction games and if they are really advanced, I asked them to partner up and introduce their partner using at least 5 sentences.
Tip #4: Learn as much as you can about the culture
Learning about the culture you are going to live in will make your transition much easier especially if you research about the specific town/region where your school is. For Thailand specifically, they have a lot of respect for teachers and find it to be a noble position. That makes Thailand one of the better places to teach English, in my opinion.This also means that they expect teachers to be more professional (basically all the time) and you should try to respect their culture and conservative mindset. There is a hiearchy placed between teachers and students that is a little different than the US, so starting out a little more strict than you really want to be is not a bad plan. It's better to loosen up later than to have to figure out how to gain control of your classroom again. Learning the culture and some of the language is important as well for your daily life outside of the school.
Tip #5: Enjoy the independence!
Teaching abroad can be a lonely experience. Often times you eat alone, shop alone, and adventure alone. This streak of independence can be a really beautiful thing! I really recomend picking up a hobby to fill some of your time like yoga, muy thai or something more specialized to your region. This will also help connect you to the culture that you are living in. Remember your goals, and the person you are trying to be and become them. Nourish the person you are becoming and protect them at all costs. Teaching abroad is a perfect time to have new experiences and transform yourself.
Tip #6: Comparison is the thief of joy
The way to have the best teaching abroad experience is to go in with an open mind and have zero expections. Comparing your home here to your home back home will leave you thinking about the things you wish you had and not the beautiful new things you are gaining in your new home and school. Also, comparing your experience to other teacher's will taint your teaching abroad experience. Expect nothing from this and try to always seek the positives in your situation with being present in the adventure. Look at the big picture of your enriching experience.
Tip #7: Treat yourself with kindness
You are jumping head first into the unknown. Give yourself a little credit and treat yourself with kindness. Some days get really overwhelming and if you need to go home and just stay in the rest of the night, allow yourself to heal in that way. You are growing and trying a lot of new things every day. You are a super cool adventurer and you're doing the thing many people dream of and don't do. Things will be stressful and frustrating and sometimes you'll feel really stupid that you can't even order food at the restaurant. But you are growing and that is the most important thing. Celebrate all the small victories of your adventure.
Do the thing. Love the thing. The thing will be hard but it will be worth it.
Also I'm always throwing up new videos of my teaching abroad experience on youtube so feel free to check those out at www.youtube.com/c/KieryKat