Foreward: If you haven’t already, take a moment to read the first part of this blog, “Teaching in Thailand: Part 1”, which was written six months into me being a new ESL teacher. It highlights the things I learned about the role of the teacher, the ups and down of teaching, and the takeaway that I got from teaching in Thailand up until this point.
This post, “Teaching in Thailand: Part 2”, was written at the end of my contract, after a year of being an ESL teacher. Though many of the same thoughts I had during my first six months teaching still hold true, I’ve been able to reflect on my experience and come to a deeper realization about what teaching in Thailand has really taught me.
These are the lessons I learned.
Children are incredible creatures. (I call them creatures because they are literally these little things with an infinite amount of energy and imagination that no adult human being can foster). They love to talk, laugh, play, run around, get into things, and explore the world around them. This innocent curiosity is amusing when observing a child in their playful state, but it’s the same thing that brings up difficulties when trying to teach them.
My students loved to talk. It was fascinating watching them work to put sentences together in English to try and get their point across. They were always so excited to share new things with me and ask me questions. And while this was exactly what I wanted them to do (speak in English), their misunderstanding of the right times to speak had them always chatting to each other or interrupting me while I was teaching. Even after explaining to them that they “shouldn’t talk while Teacher Sierra is talking”, they were just too excited to follow direction.
Getting 3-5-year-olds to follow direction is hard. Disciplining them when they don’t is even harder.
These two things were the toughest parts of my teaching experience. I had to try multiple different strategies with each grade level (Pre-K, K1, K2, and K3). Sometimes I would find a technique that would work for a while, but would soon be ignored by the buzzing little bees.
There were plenty moments of frustration, loss of patience, and lack of control that overwhelmed me in the classroom. Although the ups and downs that I mentioned in Part 1 were still prevalent, the downs hit hard—and I often felt defeated by these curious little creatures.
In order for learning to happen there must be a 2-way street of reciprocity—the teacher must be willing to teach, and the student must be willing to learn. As I had mentioned before, a 3-5-year-olds mind is focused on discovering the world around them, but not necessarily in an educational way.
This is not to say that some students aren’t genuinely interested in learning, but most were more interested in coloring all over their worksheets or jumping on the classroom couch or talking to their buddies instead.
For the older students that I taught (I private tutored Japanese students in an afterschool program ranging from 3-13 years old), their lack of motivation made teaching extremely difficult. Most of them were being forced by their parents to take these English lessons (when they’d much rather be playing outside with their friends, or inside on their phones). Many of them also did not see the value in learning English and preferred to speak in their native language. I struggled to get these students excited about learning English and showing them how important it would be for their futures.
[To put this into perspective, I didn’t learn a second language (Spanish) until high school. My Thai students (3-5-year-olds) were learning Thai, English, and Chinese; and my Japanese students (3-13-year-olds) were learning Japanese and English. This was on top of all the other subjects they were learning in school. While introducing language to a child at a young age does improve their retention, it is still A LOT on these young kids who at the end of the day, just want to be kids.]
English is an interesting language. As a native English speaker, I never realized how hard (or confusing) the English language is. There are so many grammar rules, spelling rules, and speaking rules that really don’t have any explanation—they just are.
When teaching English to someone who doesn’t know it, you’ve really got to break it down to the most fundamental level. For my little Thai students, it was teaching them phonics (I sang the “A-Z Phonics Song” so many times I began dreaming about it). For my Japanese students, it was phonics as well as grammar (which can be really confusing for someone who responds, “How are you?” when you ask them “How are you?”). The lessons included a lot of singing, games, worksheets, and book work.
While this style of teaching may seem like a piece of cake, it takes a lot of energy, acting, and entertaining—”edu-tainment” as they call it. There were many days where I enjoyed goofing around, dancing and singing with the kids; but at the end of the day, teaching this content just didn’t spark my interest, which made it hard for me to spark theirs.
What I learned through teaching in Thailand is that teaching children and teaching English is not for me…but teaching is.
By teaching young children, I learned that I value reciprocation in teaching. (I also private tutored Japanese adult students where this reciprocation was apparent, and this polarity allowed me to realize that I need this exchange).
I learned that I don’t have the patience, energy, or disciplinary authority for little children (anyone who is a parent, I am giving you major props right now, because I now know a glimpse of what you have to deal with).
And by teaching English, I learned that I simply do not have a genuine passion for the subject manner (I have met plenty of ESL teachers who are truly interested in teaching English and I applaud their dedication to their roles).
While this all may seem rather negative—and was a hard pill for me to swallow—I wanted to share my truths because life isn’t always positive, and sometimes we find ourselves in careers that we don’t necessarily love.
In life, we don’t really figure out what we do and don’t like—what we are and aren’t good at—until we try it.
Through trying to teach English to children in Thailand, (and discovering that I didn’t love it), I discovered what I did love.
I love helping people. I love communicating and having conversations with people and sharing ideas. I love motivating people to better themselves, to push past their fears, and to be vulnerable with their struggles. I love writing, producing content, and sharing my experiences with you all. I love learning, and I love teaching people what I learn.
Accepting you don’t love something you thought you would is hard to do. I was not a bad teacher, I just didn’t love it, and that’s what ultimately brought me to the decision to stop teaching.
Am I grateful for the experience—hell yes! Am I grateful for what it has revealed to me, about my true passions—hell yes! And am I grateful that I can accept my weaknesses and recognize my strengths—abso-freaking-lutley!
I may have been the teacher in Thailand, but my students, this experience, and this country were the true teachers.
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