Paul has spent many years teaching English as a foreign language. He most recently taught in Thailand for seven years.
A Thailand High School
Teaching English at a Thailand Government High School
In November and December 2007, I taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at a government high school in Samut Prakarn Province, Thailand. This two-month experience introduced me to the Thai government education system and the role of foreign western teachers in it.
In this article, I first explain the motivation of a 63-year-old retiree to teach EFL. After relating how I got a teaching job, I vividly recall my school and transportation to and from it. I also remember my classes, teaching colleagues, and students.
Motivation to Teach EFL in Thailand
In 2007, I had just retired from federal employment in the United States. As a 63-year-old retiree, I felt too young to experience retired life in America.
Besides, I had a girlfriend in Thailand whom I missed very much.
Fulfilling the dream of teaching English in my early "retirement" was another driving force leading me to Thailand. I had taught English in Taiwan in the 1970s and missed it a lot while working for the federal government since 1980. Thailand, fortunately, in 2007, needed foreign English teachers for its schools.
With the safety net of a government pension, I made the big decision to relocate to Bangkok in October 2007.
How I Got a Teaching Job
I arrived in Bangkok during the last week of October 2007. After spending a few days in Udon Thani Province with my girlfriend's mother and relatives, Suai and I returned to Bangkok where we lived off of Lasalle (Sukhumvit 103) in the Bang Na district.
I had wanted to start teaching immediately but had no employment contacts. Fortunately, the boyfriend of Suai's girlfriend knew an agent who could place foreign English teachers in Thailand schools. David put me in contact with Miss Pim who indeed could secure my employment. I would work for Pim who would pay me 30,000 Thai baht per month. My salary would cover Thai public holidays but would not include personal or sick days or school breaks between terms. Pim in turn would sign a contract with a school and secure a teaching certificate and work permit needed for my employment.
Since I had never previously taught in Thailand, I was hesitant to find schools and apply myself. Even though I learned that my school was paying Pim 47,000 baht, I let her make 17,000 baht being my agent because I wanted immediate work.
My Government School
On a Monday in the first week of November, Miss Pim transported two other foreign western teachers and me to the school where we would be teaching. We met her on the outside of the Bang Na Mall at 8:00 a.m. Pim had her own car and drove us to a school in the Bang Pu District of Samut Prakarn Province about 25 kilometers away. As we traveled down Highway 3, we passed the Ancient City tourist attraction before arriving at a big government high school about 200 meters from the Gulf of Thailand.
Pim then led us into the school's administration office where we met with the school principal. During a short sit-down, Pim introduced us to the administrator who requested our self-introductions. He wasn't interested in our qualifications and just wanted to hear our spoken English.
Next, a school aide led us across the school campus and to the building where the English Department head had an office. It was on the third floor of a long four-floor building.
Inside her office, the English head gave us our class schedules and remarked we would only be concerned with listening and speaking activities. Most of our classes would be held in her building.
I remember the school having three or four four-floor buildings on a big campus. Foreign teachers could eat in the student cafeteria but had to pay for their lunch. We didn't have our own office. Instead, we were given a long table in the resource room on the third floor. There were no desktop computers for our use in preparing lesson plans.
After touring the third floor and finding the location of some of our classes, the department head told us to report for work at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, the next day. We then rejoined Miss Pim who took us back to the Bang Na Mall. We all had to find our own transportation to school the next day.
Transportation to and from My Government School
The high school at Bang Pu Mai was 27 kilometers from my residence off of Sukhumvit 103 or Soi LaSalle.
On my first teaching day, I took a taxi for 150 baht to the school because I didn't know where to catch the free school bus from Samut Prakarn to the school at Bang Pu Mai. Since I didn't have a personal vehicle, taking a taxi every day would be too expensive.
I quickly learned on that first day of school where to catch the free school bus in Samut Prakarn. It was at Sala Klang the parking lot for government offices in the town of Samut Prakarn off of Sukumvit Road. The bus departed at 6:00 a.m. so I had to get up before 5:00 to catch a bus near the intersection of Sukhumvit and LaSalle going to Samut Prakarn. After a 5-10 minute walk from my townhouse to the bus stop, I had a 25-30 minute ride to Sala Klang.
The next leg of my journey on the school bus from Sala Klang to Bang Pu Mai took 30-45 minutes. At 6:45 or 6:50, I finally arrived at my high school.
In the afternoon, I had free school bus transportation from Bang Pu to Sukhumvit Rd. in Samut Prakarn. The bus departed school at 3:10 and usually reached Samut Prakarn before 4:00. After getting off the school bus, I caught a city bus on Sukhumvit in Samut Prakarn that dropped me off just past the intersection of Sukhumvit and Lasalle. From there, it was another 5-10 minute walk to get home a short time before 5:00.
My Teaching Colleagues
I learned a lot from my teaching colleagues about the nature of foreign western teachers and their role in the Thai education system.
On our first day of teaching, Sean, John, and I were invited on to a stage at the outdoor morning assembly to address more than 3,000 high school students. I began with a modest introduction of my name and national background as an American. Next, Sean, a Canadian got the students going by shouting that our purpose is to have a lot of fun. Finally, John a Brit got the students excited by doing a jig and singing, "And that's the way I like it, a-ha, a-ha." I should have realized from this that my future role would be more of an entertainer than a teacher.
During the first week, I got to know Sean and John well. Sean was around 40 and had taught in government schools before. He was a fun-loving single man and joked about his girlfriend once washing his pants with his passport inside a pocket.
John was probably in his late 50s and also had experience teaching in government schools. He talked quite a bit about his girlfriend "Dtoi" who worked in a fitness center. John called her "Toy" because that is how she spelled her name. John only lasted a few days at the school because he insulted a Thai teacher in his anger.
Sean, John, and I were tasked with each teaching about 1,000 students. Sean taught the Mathayom 2 and 5 students (8th and 11th-graders;) John, Mathayom 1 and 4 (7th and 10th-graders;) and I had the Mathayom 3 and 6 (9th and 12th-graders.)
John was replaced by a younger American. One morning, he came to school hungover and after finding the school sick-room, slept on a cot there during his non-teaching hour.
On Tuesday morning after the school assembly, I began teaching English classes. I had 17 class hours per week plus one hour as a Chinese Club advisor. Ten of the classes were for Mathayom 3 English and seven for Mathayom 6.
I was surprised to have 17 different classes with each class meeting for one hour per week. This should have been another wake-up call that I had been hired to be an edutainer.
All of my classes were co-ed and had between 50 and 60 students packed into a small un-air-conditioned classroom. I scarcely had enough room to walk in front of the class between the blackboard and the first row of student seats. The blackboards were ancient and falling apart. Chalk would often break as I wrote on the board and the chalkdust from erasers soiled my clothes and irritated my lungs.
I introduced short situational dialogues in all of my Mathayom 3 classes. As I wrote a brief conversation about such topics as shopping, eating in a restaurant, or asking for directions, the students would copy it into their notebooks. Sometimes, to save time, I would prepare hand-outs for the students if I could arrange to have them copied by the school.
Unable to give hardly any individual attention, I divided the class into groups when practicing the dialogue. Generally, this teaching method seemed to work.
I was very disappointed in my Mathayom 6 classes. Although the classes were somewhat smaller, the students didn't like practicing dialogues. I thought a free discussion on different topics would interest the students. I prepared handouts introducing vocabulary but the kids didn't buy into this either.
By the end of November, 80% of my Mathayom 6 students were skipping classes. This upset me and I complained to the English Department head. She admonished me for making my classes so uninteresting that students would rather cut them. According to the boss, my teaching method for both Mathayom 3 and 6 students was wrong. I should instead be singing songs and playing games with the students. Now I finally understood that I had been hired to be a "white monkey" for the students.
I spent the whole month of December introducing and singing Christmas carols and New Year songs. In preparation for the school's Sports Day in the middle of the month, I also introduced cheerleading songs.
I found most of my students to be unfriendly, impolite, and lazy. They would very seldom greet or acknowledge me in the cafeteria or on campus.
Only five students come to mind after so many years.
Two were Thai-Chinese twin boys and members of my Chinese Club. They were very friendly and polite.
One young lady was in a Mathayom 3 English class. She tried to touch my hand on one occasion while sitting in the front row of the class.
The other two students were discipline cases. When I kicked a Mathayom 6 boy out of class for misbehaving, he wanted to fight with me. The other student was a Mathayom 3 boy who threw a ruler and hit me in the back while I was writing on the blackboard.
When I received an offer to teach in a private school in January, I quit the government school and stopped having an agent at the end of December.
An English Class in Thailand Today
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Paul Richard Kuehn
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on November 24, 2020:
Liz, I am happy you found my article interesting. I have already written 2 articles that are sequels about my time at private school. One article is titled Whats It Like Teaching English in Thailand. This covers the period Aug 2007-Feb 2010. The other article is Struggling to Keep my English Teaching Job in Thailand which covers the period Feb 2010-March 2014.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on November 22, 2020:
It was rewarding, Pamela, and the pay wasn't too bad when I worked at a private school. I am pleased you found this article interesting.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 22, 2020:
I found this articlee to be very interesting. Teaching English as a foreign language would be very rewarding.
Liz Westwood from UK on November 22, 2020:
This is an interesting account of your experience. Will you be writing a sequel about your time teaching in the private school?