My First Foray into TEFL

Back in 2009, having landed back in my beloved Thailand after three months at home, and spending a few silly drunken nights with a friend, I took a flight to Phnom Penh. I was spending the next two weeks in Cambodia’s capital city, as part of a month long TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).

My TEFL Course-Mates

My TEFL Course-Mates

I was told to meet the director of the course at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, so I went to the designated meeting point, and spent the next few hours feeling on edge, not really knowing what was going on. He wasn’t exactly the most talkative fellow I have ever come across, and he didn’t seem to want to engage in conversation. But I arrived in Phnom Penh later that afternoon and met the other people that were doing the same course. I was slightly perturbed at the seemingly lack of organisation, and basically being left on our own not really knowing what was going on until the tour of the city and welcome dinner the next day.

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

The people were nice and hailed mostly from America. There was Lucie, who I am still friends with, from Czechoslovakia, and Bradley from England. Maybe it was because we were both British but Bradley followed me around a lot, which I didn’t mind too much. I think he was just a bit nervous to meet new people, which we all can be in certain situations. But being the social butterfly that I am, I made him have lunch with everyone one day, just so he would mix with the others a bit more. I remember one afternoon I wanted to get out and just have time to myself, so I went to a nearby bar and not long after I heard rustling in the bushes, and before you knew it Bradley had appeared and was asking if it was ok if he joined me. I couldn’t say no, so we sat there discussing our common love of Thailand.

A Little Visitor

A Little Visitor

The accommodation was, in name, grander than it actually was. It was called a villa. What do you normally think off when you hear the word “villa?”- Luxurious? Private pool? It was sadly neither luxurious, nor did it have a private pool. Granted, it was big and had enough bedrooms for most of the group- the rest were in a smaller place down the road. The villa was a little dated to say the least, and it was located in an area of Phnom Penh where all the street lights were turned off after 8pm. Not exactly party central.

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

After two days of classes I found it was going OK but it was very tiring. Strangely, I kept wanting to burst into tears- part excitement at the prospect of working in Thailand, and part scared at how the hell I was going to be a teacher. So those first few days were a little up and down. We did activities together that were quite nerve wracking- we practised teaching exercises, and teaching classes using drama (I am no drama queen), but we were all in the same boat, so we just kind of got on with it and did what we had to do to pass the course.

Finally made it to the end of the first week. It was really tough going in parts but, after a long time off work, it was good to get my brain thinking again.

On one of our weekends off we went to Siem Reap. Lucie and I decided that we were going to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, so when we got to the hotel we went straight to bed and got up at 4am. We had arranged for a tuk-tuk to pick us up and, as you usually find in Asian countries, everyone is on a different time schedule that you. Eventually, he picked us up some thirty minutes later and off we went. When we arrived it was still pitch black. We had to stumble our way to the temple not knowing what was around us or indeed if we were going the right way. We just followed the crowd of people that had all had the same idea as us.

Slowly but surely the sun began to rise lightening the day with its rays. There are no words to describe just how amazing it was. Although, we didn’t have to get up quite as early as 4am, I was so glad I was able to experience this. The sun came up behind Angkor Wat and it was just stunning. We had a laugh at ourselves because we both, seemingly smart girls, had thought a giant yellow balloon in the distance was actually the sun.

Is that the Sun? er... NO!

Is that the Sun? er… NO!

We weren’t sure where the sun would appear and eventually we saw it……..

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Stunning Sun-Rise

Later on that day we went back again with the whole group and visited a few more temples. It is really nice to wander around the grounds seeing the different buildings. There are a few temples where the jungle has grown up and around it, and you can scramble over the ruined buildings exploring them to your heart’s content. One of the temples was called Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed. We finished the day sitting on top of a temple to watch the sun set. It was a very serene experience as long as you ignore the hundreds of other people doing the same thing. I really need to go back to Cambodia and visit these temples again and then do some proper research about them.

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Angkor Sun-Set

 

Back in Siam Reap we went from culture to debauchery- we went out for pizza at a place called Ecstatic Pizza, where you can get “happy” pizza. Yup, your normal margherita or pepperoni sprinkled with a dash of marijuana. Just to point out I didn’t indulge, when I eat pizza I am as happy as I need to be, but in Cambodia you can get high whilst eating if that’s what floats your boat.

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Happy Pizza- Siem Reap

Afterwards we had a couple of drinks in a bar listening to a band, which were actually really good, and then….. My fun was coming to an end because the others wanted to go to a karaoke bar. At the time I was very much into my clubbing and we actually had to by-pass a club to get to the karaoke place. Thinking back I don’t know why I even went, I hate karaoke. Although, I have since been known to belt out Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” a few times, but that was in someone’s house, not out in public. Anyway, this karaoke bar… you get escorted to what looks like a padded cell, they provide you with drinks and snacks, and a microphone and choice of songs and away you go. I tried to get into the party spirit of things but you can imagine my face in that padded cell.

Karaoke Frustration

Karaoke Frustration

After two weeks in Cambodia I was back in Thailand to complete two weeks of teaching practise and Thai lessons. I had my first class proper teaching with a group of 25-50 year old men and women at the local church. The classes lasted for two hours a day and, at first, I wasn’t sure whether I would have enough material. I needed have worried though, we kept going off on tangents here and there, even going into maths for a while, so in the end I had plenty of stuff to teach them. My students were so nice and they made me feel very relaxed. They said “thank you teacher, see you tomorrow.” So I left that first day hoping that they had enjoyed it, and that they liked me. In fact, after two weeks I loved it so much I stayed on for an extra week.

My Very First Students

My Very First Students

My first experience of teaching made me realise just how generous and appreciative the Thais are. At the end of my third week teaching, my students gave me some gifts. I was overwhelmed. I had bought them all bracelets but that didn’t compare to what I received. I got a t shirt, bracelet, diary, home-made beer mats, a key ring, and necklaces. They also bought food and we had a little farewell party. I cried afterwards saying goodbye. I will always remember those lovely students. They made my first days of teaching in Thailand very enjoyable.

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Last Day with the Kids-Priceless

On the last day of teaching the kids I gave them all free time. Before in class they asked me for free time and I always said no- but this particular day I said “it’s my last day of teaching you today, so-you-have-free-time”, slowly enough so they knew exactly what I was saying. The reaction I got was priceless and I got the same reaction three times because I had three separate classes. They cheered, they screamed, they hugged me. It was awesome- and the kids, who seemed to dislike me, because I made them work hard, now appeared to love me. Kids- they are so fickle.

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In the first two classes they jumped around, played cards, played hide and seek- basically did whatever 9 and 10 years old do in their free time- and they did it very noisily. I didn’t care though, it was my last day. When it was time to say goodbye a few of them hugged me and said goodbye. I even got a bracelet from one of the girls. But that was nothing compared to my last class- grade 4/4- my favourite class.

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When I announced free time, yet again their reaction was priceless but what followed is the reason why these little ones really were my favourites- these were the ones I guess I connected with the most.

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They came to me throughout the lesson with various gifts- a phone holder, hand-made cards, bits of paper with “xoxoxo”, key-rings, pens, bits of pens (?), a purse and coins (because I told them it is good luck to put some money into the purse), they drew pictures of me on the board with “I love T. Gill,” they wrote all the students names- “Got, Tat, Kit, Kla, Kit, Kan, Patt, Non, Book, Pooh, Prince, Film, Thames, Pookao, Orm, Bai-Bua, Pai, Beam, Lookwhy, Cartoon, Am, Nu, Kaning, Chompoo, Namo, Nuna, Phing, Prim, Pern, Tonkhaow, Yam- 31 students-we will miss you, we love you.” I returned the sentiment by writing the same on the board.
One of my favourite boys, Film, saw some of the students give me gifts, so he proceeded to hand me the board wiper and say “ for you,” and then an empty packet of mints- “for you,” he giggled. “It’s empty,” I said laughing, much to his delight and he giggled some more.

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I had a notebook that I use for learning Thai and during the class the students took it from me and each of them wrote a little farewell message. We took photos and I got lots of hugs and lots of “thank you teacher” and “good luck teacher” and “are you coming back teacher?” They were all so, so sweet. I had to fight the tears back, which was quite unexpected. It was quite hard to leave them as they continued to hug me and say their goodbyes. One girl, Pern- another of my favourites and who I think had taken me to be like a big sister to her- disappeared in the throng of kids- earlier I had noticed her wiping tears away. So I went to get her and gave her a big hug and a kiss and we walked hand in hand to the stairs for a final goodbye.

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For someone who is not maternal I couldn’t help but fall for these kids. There were just so sweet and made me laugh every day. I am so happy that I got to share their lives, albeit for a few months, and I hope I helped them along their way even if just a little bit.
When I got home I unpacked all the gifts and opened the phone holder only to find the empty packet of mints from Film. That made me laugh so much. I certainly won’t be forgetting them anytime soon.

Bangkok Beckons

I have been teaching in Bangsaen since May. After only two days I felt a little overwhelmed. I had good days and bad days, where the lessons went ok or they didn’t. The kids are so noisy and there are 32 9 and 10 year olds- so it was very difficult to keep them engaged.


I was talking to my friend about this and he said that 32 is far too many kids to give them all the much needed attention that they deserve. Believe me, 32 in a class is low for Thailand, some schools have 50 + students. Imagine! But, he said, it is also up to the teacher to try and engage them- a 50 minute class is a long time to keep them all interested, but I needed to find ways to get them learning without them getting bored. A difficult task at hand.


Two weeks later I wasn’t feeling much better. I always looked forward to the weekend, when I could just forget about work for two days. Not that I wanted to wish my life away, but I was thinking that I couldn’t do more than a year at this school. I mean teaching was great, and the kids are cute-very noisy and some of them have proper attitudes- but they are cute, and their little characters were just starting to emerge- so some of them made me laugh every day.

Nearly two months in and, dare I say it, it was going well. I was halfway to enjoying the teaching, but I realised I prefer teaching older students. The younger ones are so noisy, and a little harder to control, and this is not helped by the co-worker who talks in Thai to them when I am trying to teach them. (This has got a little better after having a few kindly words in his ear). When the classes went well, it really is a pleasure to teach the students, but the bad classes leave me feeling like I cannot teach-it’s a little soul destroying. But I decided I was sticking with it, although I was always on the look-out for another job.

So I knew I had to get out but I didn’t know which way to turn- go back to Surin, go to Sri Lanka or last resort go home? Yes, Sri Lanka is on my mind a lot at the moment. Maybe it is time for me to experience a new country, but that’s a story for another day.
It’s the atmosphere in the office that I have never liked. There is some sort of daily drama every day, and I don’t like friction, whether I am involved or not. It really sets me on edge and it doesn’t make for a pleasant working environment.

After talking to my friend, Chris, over a few civilized beers, he told me not to go anywhere yet but to apply to his company in Bangkok who were looking for female teachers. Chris is always full of guidance and advice, and he gave me the answer I was looking for.

I applied and I got the job, so am moving to Bangkok next month.

This has made me very happy- the last three months I have not been myself. Working somewhere I don’t want to and wondering whether I would even get a new job. I was planning on handing my notice in anyway at the end of the current term and exercising my plan B- move back to UK, at least until March. But at the back of my mind I never wanted to do that.

Everything about this new job sounds great- I will be teaching older students, a week off every six weeks, plus time off in December and April, so I will have time for writing and more travel. It will be a bit of a lifestyle change working evenings and weekends but it will be worth it.

I will be living in Sri Nakarin, near Bang Na. It’s a good area, outside of central Bangkok; close to a park where I can run, and cheapish condos which I am still yet to find. I have friends there already so I have a ready-made social life. And I can start to explore the parts of Bangkok that I don’t know about more easily.

I will miss teaching the kids- they really are a lot of fun but I have got to do what is right for me. So all in all a very good move for me and I cannot wait.

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