Teaching English in Thailand

What to Remember

Generally, and I stress generally, in Thai schools…

  • Classes are lectures, with little to no interaction
  • Thai kids will love shouting obscene English phrases they’ve heard on TV
  • As far as the dress code is concerned, the shirts are color-coded for each day of the week:
    • Sunday = Red
    • Monday = Yellow
    • Tuesday = Pink
    • Wednesday = Green
    • Thursday = Orange
    • Friday = Blue
    • Saturday = Purple
  • Buddhism plays a major role in Thai education and society; many schools are adjacent to, if not attached to, a temple
  • I noticed a terrible discrepancy in the way students are sorted into classes; at some schools, English students were separated by skill level (very poor, poor, average, good, best)
  • Games requiring a lot of physical activity will go over big, but good luck putting the genie back in the bottle

Thai kids

Thai Mueang Volunteers

Originally posted at Matador Change
When I made the decision to leave Japan and start a new life in Thailand, I was a tad wary. I knew from the plethora of English-teaching opportunities in the land of the rising sun that one’s experience can vary greatly, and, more often than not, it’s best to get a sense of the people and the teaching environment before you sign your soul over to a contract.

Enter the NGOs. I wanted a way to learn about Thai culture, get away from touristy areas like Bangkok and the major cities, see how the kids behaved, and above all, experience Thailand without the pressure of paperwork or a huge time commitment if I found something to be amiss.

Thai Mueang Volunteers was founded by a Dane after he spent some time in Phang-nga Province helping with tsunami relief. Employed in a Thai primary school at the time, he noted the low English level of the students and the lack of preparation other volunteers exhibited, as if they were fresh off the bus from Bangkok.

And so a volunteer organization was born, setting up shop in the small town of Thai Mueang, two kilometers from the nearest beach and in a prime position to give aid to under-funded government schools in the area that would not otherwise see any native English speakers.

Volunteers are given support from staff for every aspect of their life in Thailand, most notably lesson preparation.

A month or a week. Six months or a year. The choice is yours. The organization is very flexible in terms of time commitment and starting date. However, no one should adopt a “come as you please” attitude to schools in Thai Mueang; if you want to volunteer, expect to spent at least four to five days a week teaching regular classes, all of which require lesson plans and your presence.

Volunteers are asked to donate 400 Euros for one month of service (discounts apply the longer you stay). In exchange, housing, food, transportation, and Thai language lessons are provided. Be warned: If you would prefer not to ride on the back of a motorcycle, you might have a difficult time making the commute to neighboring schools and towns (although a car will be arranged for your pickup from Phuket International Airport).

For a typical day in the life of a TM Volunteer, click here.

Ideal Volunteer Profile

“Open-minded people who are not afraid of coming out of the ordinary, the safety of their homes… who come wanting to do this, not just as a holiday.”

Voluntourists beware. There is fun to be had, but your focus should be on the needs of children… some are too poor to afford pencils and papers for class. People interested in getting trained for TEFL certification are most welcome, and your classes in Phuket will be accommodated.

Do you genuinely like teaching, and knowing you have something to offer that most of these kids have never seen before? Sign up!

Advice for TM Volunteers

Learn about the culture. Thailand is not just Phuket and Bangkok. This out-of-the-way corner is the perfect area to acclimate.

Let Thai students understand where English comes from. Remember you’re more than their teacher, you may be their first contact with American, British, or other English-speaking culture.

You’re living in the middle of a rubber tree forest, a short ride to an unspoiled beach area. Incidentally, a Filipino serves some great wood-burning stove pizza right on the sand.

My Experience

I was escorting a few students back to the school after morning services at Wat Patchatikaram. It’s hard to describe, but in those few minutes of travel, there was complete clarity between us. A young girl picked up a flower, presented it to me as a gift, and, although I couldn’t understand her words, my mind didn’t have to struggle to understand her message.

I could read her expression and the reaction of her friends as clearly as looking through crystal. No, I don’t have a girlfriend… yes, we give flowers as gifts too… yes, I think you’re pretty.

Even though they were my brightest and best-behaved class, I had failed to remember that although they were Thai students I could barely comprehend at times, they’re just kids. Young adults thinking the same thoughts, going through the same feelings as those anywhere else in the world.

I took the flower with me as a far as Kou Tao, where I left it in my bungalow. I kept the memory, though.

Recommended Reading

Experience Preferred… but not Required, Paul Murphy

Thailand Confidential, Jerry Hopkins
Hardly a book on education, but essential to making the most of your time in Thailand. Hopkins delves into major aspects of Thai culture.


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