Teaching English in Thailand, Traveling, Bone-Dry Humor, Other Stuff Too

Another Brick in the Wall



I lean back a little further in the chair, halfheartedly moving my face and head further from the pool of drool gathering in my student’s mouth, in case it finally drips out. There’s got to be a quarter-cup of drool on those lips. I’m surprised I don’t see little bugs hydroplaning across them, frantically recalling their driver’s ed. handbooks before it’s too late. The only one spacing out more than this guy is me. Just when I think it’s all going to come out of his open mouth, he wheezes and slurps it up just enough for it to stay on his face, staring bravely ahead all the while.

This is an outcome of individual testing with my students that I see more often than I’m proud to admit.

For this test, I show them five different gifs of weather on my laptop. For the first three I say, “How’s the weather?” and wait for the student to say “It is raining,” “It is windy,” etc. For the next two, I ask “How’s the temperature?” and the students have to choose one from the list of hot, warm, cool, cold, and freezing I taught them (or tried to teach them).

I have been teaching this for about two weeks now, and my students can easily handle these type of questions as a group. But when I began testing individually, the results were drastically different. Too often do I see cases like the above. Lugubrious little liquid-lipped lads and lasses losing at learning language. But I must be losing too.

What a classroom looks like after I teach

What a classroom looks like after I teach

Some of my students go through the whole test without uttering a single word. I try to goad them or give them little hints, or I tell them in Thai “Speak! Speak! No speak: zero!” A lot of them tell me, also in Thai, “I don’t know,” or a million other things that I just don’t understand.

About fifteen students out of the forty-six I have in every class (for this grade-level) are able to ace the whole thing in about 1 minute, and I know they didn’t know how to say these things before I had them, but its not satisfying enough for me. I’ve got almost exactly 500 students all in all, and like any other idealistic naive TEFL instructor, I want to salvage some kind of moral victory out of my efforts, and I want my students to learn some English.


Playing with empty plastic bags for days


The hallway where my office and most of my classes are

I’m realizing that a lot of my students don’t pay attention, even in the event that they’re not going berserk, even when they seem like they understand. I don’t expect them to be committed to learning English because they’re ten-year-olds at a public school, and they didn’t choose to learn English; the school chose for them. Foreign teachers are easy for them to tune out because they have a hard time sticking with us through our roundabout explanations. As I’ve said before, they understand almost nothing I say, and I’m equipped more or less with a chalkboard to break down the language barrier. They have to make almost as much effort to understand me as I do to convey new information. So most of them don’t, or they tune in for a few seconds and then give up again.



But when this is your job, when you’ve been watching 500 goofy rascals smile and yell “Hello, teacha!” every time they see you everyday for three months, when you see tiny hints of progress, when you’re greeted in the classroom by two kids jumping like flying squirrels and latching onto both of your legs as you walk around with them clinging on, when you see zombie classes taught by Thai teachers with microphones to overcome the drone of talking students, when you get over the student-teacher dynamic and take time to consider that you’re an advanced primate trying to share one little primate language with a another group of advanced primates, you find a way to do it and you keep trying.

DSCN0194 DSCN0202


Results are rare and hard to pinpoint, but so is this opportunity to create them. I was told I’d never make much progress or get through to many students no matter what I did, this coming from other teachers at nearby schools who’ve been here much longer than I am or will be. Truth be told, every time I hear something like that, I quietly think, challenge accepted. But it seems to be pretty much true, especially with my students’ age and  English level.

I alternate between telling myself: 1) There’re no expectations, and all I can do is show up and try to get the kids to practice some English, even if they don’t pay attention or don’t retain anything, and 2) That’s just me getting complacent; I’m supposed to teach these kids and I only have so many lessons to do it, screw the hurtles and lack of resources.

I think these are both viable points of view, the breezy and adequate teacher vs. the determined and frustrated teacher. It’s all about trying to be the third kind: breezy but determined.


Best freaking picture I ever took


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