The first day of teaching English at a Thai school is intimidating. With a 120-hour TESOL course behind me and no prior teaching experience, I dove in head-first. The only administrative guidance I had was a piece of paper with my class schedule and a “good luck!” by my department head. No curriculum, no lesson plan, no worries. Right?
For most ESL teachers, the first week of teaching English is just an introduction week. Since you’ll likely teach each class of students once per week, the same lesson plan is retaught all week. For the first meeting with each class, the school won’t expect you to jump right in to a strict lesson guideline. Your only job is to show up and keep each of your classes engaged and speaking English for 50 minutes. Sounds easy enough.
The hardest part about teaching English is getting the students to actually speak English. Thai students are just so darn shy. They have no problem talking to each other during class, but when you ask one of them a question in English, their eyes widen and they freeze up. That’s where improvisation comes into play. If one method isn’t working, you’ve got to change it – fast. Adaptability is key.
Thai students have hilarious nicknames
All Thai people have nicknames. Adults and kids alike have an alias that’s much shorter than their full name, partially for convenience. Many of their nicknames are short English words. If you opt to teach abroad, you’ll likely be given a roster with the student’s full names, and a space to write each of their nicknames next to it.
Here’s where it gets awesome. Most Thai nicknames are short and simple like Gap, Tom, Milk, Meow, etc. But sometimes, Thai student’s nicknames are out-of-this-world funny. Having a class roster provides ample opportunity to revel at loads of hilarious nicknames. Check out this class roster…
Looking at her roster for the first time, Ann, my colleague, asked a Thai teacher in our office, “Is this name a joke? Pooping?” The totally straight-faced Thai teacher responded “No. It’s Poo PING.” Emphasis on the Ping. Okay, that’s a little more bearable.
Improvisation is essential for teaching English
The best trait a teacher can have is the ability to improvise, especially on the first day. And especially if your school doesn’t provide a curriculum. Each class’ English language ability is going to vary widely. You’ll inevitably need to change it slightly for every class you teach. For your first day of class, it’s helpful to have a brief introduction lesson plan in your back pocket, then you can make adjustments on the fly.
“My name is Kevin. I am from America. My favorite hobbies are sports, reading books, and listening to music. My favorite sport is basketball. Once, I scored 25 points in one game. I’ll never forget that game! I try to play like Michael Jordan because I think he’s the best basketball player ever. I like Thai food, but my favorite food is steak. Dogs are my favorite animal. In America, I have a pet dog named Ozzie. I taught him two tricks: roll over & sit. Ozzie is a very good dog.”
You’d wanna punch me in the face if I read that story aloud to you. But when English isn’t your first language, that shit’s challenging! By day three, I must’ve read that story aloud a thousand times. But what ensued was pure awesomeness. The students in each of my classes viciously competed with each other to answer questions about specific details from the story.
The team with the most points at the end of class was the winner, and they made sure the whole school could hear. They mercilessly taunted the other, inferior teams with loud chants that, funny enough, were in English. All while getting high-fived by yours truly. I’d say that’s a pretty awesome winning prize.