With only one month to go until the end of semester, I find myself reflecting on my first few weeks. Arriving in Bangkok, the orientation process, the journey to my new home in Prachin Buri, the first time seeing my apartment, the first time visiting my school: Prachinratsadorn Amroong, and I can’t believe how far I’ve come.
I wanted this to be a piece about how being a teacher for the first time in a completely new place has changed my life, but I think everyone who has experienced teaching in Thailand has read thought pieces a thousand times over. So rather than get emotional in the lead up to the end, I’ll aim this one at anyone wanting to teach abroad, or rather in Thailand. Trust me when I say you should send in that application, book that flight, and experience what we all have.
I never saw myself as a teacher, but when I embarked on a trip around south-east Asia almost six months ago I vowed to just say yes. Yes to new experiences, yes to new people and yes to being so out of my comfort zone. Media Kids did most of the heavy lifting for me, I just had to show up, take part in a 3-day orientation, sign some documents, and pretend I wasn’t absolutely terrified.
As a 25-year-old, I consider myself still relatively close to teenage years (I’m clinging on to this for at least another year), so when I was told I was teaching in a high school my mind was overrun with flashbacks. Me and my friends were a feral bunch of high school students and I couldn’t help but think the universe was about to throw me into a Thai version of my school experience for a laugh. How wrong was I. The one thing I’ll hold with me forever from this experience is the kindness, respect, and warmth the students show all teachers. There is a level of respect among students and teachers I’ve never seen with any other work relationship dynamic in my life. Forming bonds with your kids is the easy part, they embrace you wholly.
Don’t get me wrong, I have some classes that leave me desperately needing a big glass of wine, but even then you find your groove with dealing with the rebels. I initially started by separating the loud groups but that didn’t work. I then sat them boy, girl, boy, girl, and again that didn’t work. I found myself getting frustrated, but as my fellow teachers know saving face is key, which is in fact what helped me. Whenever my loud classes are feeling extra excitable on a Monday afternoon, I’ll put my feet up, sip my coffee and people watch out the window minding my own business. Luckily I realised early on that sometimes it’s just a laugh to get a reaction out of the teacher, and when there isn’t one it isn’t as fun anymore. When a few naughty classes are your biggest problem at work, you know you’ve made the right decision.
I had no prior teaching experience so I had no idea what my teaching style would be. This was probably the most challenging part, and still with one month to go I’m learning every day. The teachers I remember the most are the ones that connected with me on a personal level and took a genuine interest in my life, so this was the approach I took on day one and still continue to take. I think it has worked well for me, but every student and every school is different, you’ll figure out how best to form strong bonds with your kids.
There were so many reasons to say no to this experience and to just carry on with my travels, but I feel like I’ve incorporated backpacking into my life here. As a foreign teacher, you’re not alone. I have my little Prachin Buri family made up of Irish, Australian, South African, American and Filipino. Together we’ve explored national parks, bathed elephants, lazed on the beautiful islands, strolled through endless markets, met new people, experienced new foods, and we’ll all be friends for life connected through this experience
While I’m not sure teaching is my calling in life, being a teacher in Thailand is something I’ll treasure as a learning experience and a discovery of a new passion, and I can’t recommend it enough.