Native English speaker… check, College graduate… check, TESOL certificate course in Chiang Mai (learn to be a teacher for 3 weeks before arriving at your school)… check – okay, looks like I’m ready to go! Sounds simple enough right? Teach English in Thailand and get paid, free travel, easy life? Well it’s not exactly as simple as it sounds. Being a teacher is HARD, and being a good teacher takes time, patience, care, and strength every day. Being a teacher gives you such a deeper understanding and appreciation for all of the teachers you have ever had. So despite all of the beautiful pictures I post of my weekend adventures, the true adventure has been learning to be a teacher. The majority of my time has been spent thinking about teaching, lesson planning, trying to come up with ways to simultaneously teach my students well while also keeping them interested and engaged.
Teaching in Thailand has been amazing in so many ways… it’s truly an unforgettable experience. But with anything truly amazing, it doesn’t always come easy. There’s so many positive aspects but it isn’t always positive. Believe me, I’ve had my share of both ups and downs. While learning to adjust to a strange new town with limited communication abilities, I was also learning to adjust to a new job and be a teacher for the first time.
Of course, you hear all these wonderful things about teaching abroad, about all of the incredible experiences you will have, and all the personal growth you will develop, and all the adorable wonderful students you will get to teach. And it’s all 100% true…
But they don’t tell you about those days when you have to use every last bit of energy you have left to hold back your tears, to stop yourself from crying in front of your students in that moment you lost all control. They don’t tell you about the days when you want so much to give up, but you know you can’t and you know you never will.
Because being a teacher isn’t just showing up at your classes, planning lessons, and grading tests, that’s the easy part. Being a teacher is learning how to get through to your students – learning how to be creative and attentive to their needs, learning to try new things. Accepting that 90% of the time lesson plans do not go exactly as planned. Learning to find ways to keep them interested and excited to learn. Learning how to manage a classroom. Learning how to have control over your class but also attend to individual students.
It’s been an incredible journey filled with ups and downs, but I’m forever grateful for every bit of it.
I’m teaching in the English Program at my school and am lucky enough to get to see my classes pretty consistently – my M1 (7th grade) students every day and my other classes twice a week. I have students from Matayom 1 through Matyom 6 (except M2) which is the equivalent of 7th through 12th grade. All of my classes are different subjects within English – I teach Reading and Writing to M1 and M5, Speaking and Listening to M3, and Core English to M1 and M4 – so we work on different skills in each class. I’m lucky to have many talented students who are eager to learn and improve their skills… and also many others who are not quite so eager to learn.
All in all, I think teaching English is really cool because you can teach so many things and in so many different ways as long as you are using English – it’s all good. So it’s given me a chance to be creative. Though I was provided with books for most of my classes, the challenge was to use these topics to create fun and interesting ways of learning and practicing. The trick is to find ways to make topics more exciting which involves thought and creativity on my part – using songs to teach grammar and listening, listening to real dialogues in movie clips and practicing different roles, acting out scenes, creating dialogues for real life scenarios, playing speaking games that secretly teach grammar, combining listening and drawing activities, creating stories, reviewing vocabulary through Charades and Pictionary and other games, etc, etc, etc. It’s fun because I’m constantly coming up with new ideas for ways to teach English in a more creative and fun way – and sometimes they work out as planned while other times not so much.
I have developed a fascination with the process of learning languages. I think it is truly an amazing thing once you reach the point where you start developing your skills and piecing it together. It’s something that is constantly being developed and strengthened. And teaching a language from a native speaker’s point of view directly to non-native speakers gives you a new perspective, so sometimes I need to take a step back and need to think twice about the things that come so naturally to me but do not for non-native English speakers. Anyways, I’ve loved having the chance to be a part of that process even if in a small way and hopefully making a small difference for these students.
It’s hard to believe that its my last week is my last week as “Teacha Laulen”. In just four short months, I’ve learned to become a teacher to so many amazing, energetic, crazy, adorable, and uniquely wonderful students. It wasn’t always easy for me. It’s something that has challenged me again and again as I knew it would. But it was a challenge that I strived to face and a challenge that I truly wanted to face every day.
That’s what being a teacher is.
It’s learning not to give up no matter how much you want to sometimes.
It’s learning to be strong in your weakest moments.
It’s learning to put the needs of your students above your own.
It’s learning that no matter how much time you spend planning and thinking and preparing, nothing ever goes as smoothly as that picture inside your head.
It’s learning how to improvise.
It’s learning to be decisive.
It’s learning to understand your students and their different needs.
It’s learning to multitask. To try and be aware of everything happening in the class while also trying to teach. To help students individually but also as a whole class.
It’s learning to appreciate the little moments.
It’s learning to slow down.
It’s learning to be creative.
It’s learning to experiment and try new things.
It’s learning to choose to laugh instead of cry.
It’s learning to love.
So for all the challenges that teaching has brought me, it has brought me so much happiness as well. And at the end of each day, I feel unbelievably thankful and blessed to be here. I definitely am not a perfect teacher, but I can say that these past four months I have given it my all every single day. Being a teacher is something that takes time for development and growth. And more importantly, it’s a job where you are constantly learning about yourself and learning about your students. It’s learning to be more understanding and finding that balance between your own interests and your students interests. It’s being ON all the time.
It’s funny how teaching makes you understand so much about all of the teachers you have had in your life. During this journey, I’ve remembered so many different things and understood why things went the way they did or the little things that you never thought of as a student, reasons why teachers did things a certain way and what not. It’s made me more understanding of all those teachers I’ve had and given me a new found respect for them.
Despite all of the times I wanted to give up, I never once did. Each new day, I found that resilience and a new energy to try something new. And it’s that moment you see the one student who was struggling at the beginning starting to really get it and truly succeed in class – and you know that somehow you have made a small difference in their lives. No matter how crazy they drive me, I can’t stay too mad when I see how happy and adorable they are. Despite the language barrier, I got to know my students and see all of their unique personalities. I’ll forever be grateful for these students. They will always be my first students, the students that taught me about myself and taught me how to be a teacher. The students that challenged me, that made me yell louder than I ever have, that made me cry. Yet those are the same students that made me feel proud and grateful, that made me smile and laugh endlessly, that made me fall in love.
Getting the chance to teach and learn what it means to be a teacher has been a beautiful and irreplaceable gift. I’m forever grateful that I challenged myself to this opportunity to teach on the opposite side of the world.
And the journey is just beginning.