What's It Like Teaching English in Thailand
My Sixth Grade English Students
Teaching English in Thailand 2007-2010
From August of 2007 through February of 2010, I taught English in government and private schools in Thailand. After retiring from federal civil service in the United States in April of 2007, I moved to Thailand in July. My first two teaching assignments, which lasted from August through December of 2007, were at government schools in Bangkok and Samut Prakarn Province. I then taught at a private Catholic School in Bangkok from January 2008 through February 2010.
In this article, I reflect on what it was like teaching English in Thailand. I relive my job assignments from an employment agency at government schools and my first two years teaching at Saint Joseph Bangna School.
Employment Agency Assignments: August-September; November-December, 2007
After I arrived in Thailand in July of 2007, my Thai fiancee's friend's boyfriend introduced an agent who secured a teaching assignment for me at a government school in Bangkok. The agent, Miss Pim, made all of the arrangments, took care of all of the paperwork, and paid me 30,000 Thai baht ($940) monthly for my teaching. At a school in Bangkok, I taught Prathom 4 (fourth grade) and Mathayom 1 (seventh grade) English classes. My job was to teach conversation and there was no need to evaluate the students with homework or tests. Trying to make the teaching enjoyable for the students, my classes had animated conversations, songs, and games. It was eye-opening when I learned that the agent was receiving 47,000 baht monthly from the school and giving me only 30,000.
After returning from a short trip to the U.S. in October, I went back to Miss Pim at the beginning of November and got a different teaching assignment at a Suan Kulab School in Samut Prakarn Province. This school was a long way from the Bangna District of Bangkok where I lived. Consequently, I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. and be out of the house by 5:15 so that I could catch a bus into Samut Prakarn City. There I boarded a Suan Kulab school bus which departed at 6:00. After a long ride, I arrived at school at around 6:45.
The school day ran from 8:00 until 3:00 p.m. I had 17 hours of classes plus one club period per week. Suan Kulab had Mathayom 1-6 (junior and senior high) students. I was one of three Western foreign teachers tasked with teaching English conversation. The schedule had me teaching 10 different classes of ninth-graders and seven different classes of twelfth-graders one hour per week.
When I tried approaching the teaching seriously by giving the students homework, I was instructed to fill my class periods with songs and games, making the classes entertaining for students. I now realized that I was hired to be a "white monkey."
After securing a job at the end of November with a Catholic School in the Bangna District closer to my home, I quit working for the agent after December 31. Never in my life was I so happy to leave a job. The last straw was when a Thai teacher sitting in one of my classes did nothing when she saw a student throw an eraser at me while I had my back turned writing on the blackboard.
Finding Employment at Saint Joseph Bangna Catholic School
If it weren't for the efforts of my fiancee Suai, I probably would have worked for agent Miss Pim longer than four months. After moving to the Bangna District in November, Suai became acquainted with our next-door neighbor. She happened to have a friend whose mother was a teacher at Saint Joseph Bangna (SJB) Catholic School. When Suai mentioned that I was an English teacher, the next-door neighbor said she would tell her friend. After the friend's mother found out, I was recommended by this teacher to apply for employment at SJB.
Toward the end of November, SJB scheduled me for a job interview with the school principal. The principal was greatly impressed with my resume, degree, and college transcript. When she found out that I had majored and received a degree in chemistry, the principal insisted that I be hired after January 1, 2008, to teach science classes at SJB. Even though I received my degree in 1966 and had been away from using chemistry since 1967, Sister insisted that I would be able to teach science classes. I accepted the job offer and started to be very concerned about relearning in five months all of the science I had forgotten and not used in 40 years.
Benefits of Working at Saint Joseph Bangna Catholic School
Working directly with Saint Joseph Bangna (SJB) Catholic School and not for an agent at a government school had a number of advantages. For starters, my beginning salary was 35,000 Thai baht monthly with an increase to 40,000 baht after passing a three-month probationary period. Long-term employment at SJB was made possible since the school offered to assist me in securing a non-immigrant visa and a work permit. To do this, the veracity of my college degree had to be checked and I had to present the results of a criminal investigation check from my last state of residence in the United States.
With a long-term employment contract, I was entitled to annual increases in salary amounting to 5,000 baht per month. My benefits included all paid holidays and paid non-teaching intervals between school terms. I was also entitled to a limited number of sick days per school year and free drinking water and lunch on school days.
The Author Teaching at SJB in 2009
2008 - My First Year at Saint Joseph Bangna Catholic School
During the first week of January 2008, I reported for work at SJB. Because the second school term had already begun at the end of October, I was initially assigned to instructing SJB's Thai teachers in conversational English.
At the end of the school year around March 1, I was given two science classes to teach during a one-month summer session. One was a two-week ecology class for four high school students and the other a two-week meteorology class for junior high pupils.
During a two-three week vacation in April, I started in earnest to review basic general science, biology, and chemistry.
When I returned to school for teacher work days in preparation for the beginning of the 2008 school year, the principal had assigned me to teach 10-12 hours per week of general science and chemistry. As it turned out, SJB hired a science degree one day prior to the start of classes. I was now tasked to teach 10 hours of seventh and eighth-grade math and 11 hours of English per week.
All of my students were girls so there were fewer discipline problems in class than when I was teaching in government schools. My class sizes were also smaller. Students in the school's bilingual program averaged 25 per class. The other classes comprised of Thai program pupils averaged 40 per class.
I remember sharing a small office with three other male foreign teachers on the second floor of the building where I was teaching. One of the teachers was an Australian in his 60s who had high school English classes. A young man from the Cameroons was teaching science and a young Italian was an English teacher.
Toward the end of July, there were two personnel changes that affected me. The Italian English teacher did not pass his probationary period and was dismissed. SJB also hired a Filipina math teacher. As a result, I no longer had math classes and was given the Italian's English classes to teach.
Most of my classes now had eighth-grade girls from both the bilingual and Thai program. I also had one class of sixth-graders in the Thai program.
In August of 2008, SJB held an immersion camp for seventh and eighth-graders at a resort outside of Bangkok. For three days and two nights, about five or six foreign English teachers accompanied me and Thai teachers to be with the girls. We had small interesting classes during the day and special activities which included games, songs, and drama skits in the evening.
Other highlights of 2008 included getting my tourist visa changed to a non-immigrant visa in July and securing a work permit in September.
2009 - My Second Year at Saint Joseph Bangna Catholic School
Prior to the beginning of the 2009 school year, I moved from the small office to a bigger office in a special building for bilingual students which had just been constructed. How can I forget the Cameroon teacher helping me move my desk by balancing and carrying it on his head!
About a week before the start of classes, there was a big change in school administration. The Sister principal who had hired me was transferred to an SJB school in Rayong, Thailand, and replaced with another Sister principal from an SJB school in Bangkok. What was more significant is that the new principal brought along a Filipina nun who headed SJB's English Program and interacted with foreign teachers.
During the second year, I only had sixth-grade students in all English classes. Most of my classes had Thai Program students.
During the second week of classes in May, my chronic hemorrhoids flared up and I was forced to undergo surgery. Fortunately, I was able to convince the new head of the English Program to give me two weeks of paid sick leave. In return, I had to make up the teaching hours I had missed by teaching extra hours when I went back to school.
Nothing other special happened during the school year, however, there was a big turnover in foreign teachers at the end of the 2009 school year in March of 2010. At least 10 foreign teachers either resigned or were dismissed. This action definitely led to turbulence which occurred during the 2010 school year.
In a follow-on article, I begin with the turbulence of 2010 and then relate my struggle to keep teaching at SJB until leaving the school in March of 2014.
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© 2017 Paul Richard Kuehn