TEFL Teachers Said, "My First English Teaching Lesson in Thailand"
(Reprinted by permission of the webmaster, Mr Philip Williams)
Ajarn editor's leadoff question: Do you remember the moment? The ink is still wet on your brand new teacher training certificate and you're suddenly faced with the prospect of standing in front of your first ever class and dishing up hearty portions of education and entertainment. We asked for your first lesson in Thailand memories. Were you as cool as a cucumber....or absolutely bricking it? (You will note that, except for Phil Williams, no one (?) responded with his or her real name – unless, that is, Mr Francis Bacon has really been raised from the dead!)
I remember my first lesson in Thailand very clearly. It was in the early 90’s and I had joined Berlitz to do purely a bit of part-time evening work. I’m guessing that it was about 6.15 in the evening and armed with all the knowledge that a two-hour training session on the Berlitz method can give you, I found myself standing up in front of four middle-aged Thai-Chinese brothers and sisters from a family textile business. Basically, I was teaching them the difference between uncountable and countable nouns by showing them a picture of empty glasses and bottles half-filled with water (a few glasses, a little water, etc, etc) Well, it seemed useful at the time. I do remember that they were very low level students. Berlitz also had a method of filling out the student cards with the purpose of learning English. In the case of these four guys, it was the irritatingly vague ‘for travel’. I pondered on the fact that when you’re standing in the middle of Belgrade railway station and wondering where the hell your platform is, then the ability to say ‘Mr Manzini has a few cigarettes’ struck me as missing the mark somewhat. Anyway, they complimented me on a ‘wonderful’ lesson and were never seen again.
My first ever class was teaching IELTS. No problem teaching Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening skills with no idea at all what the hell IELTS was. It was a three hour class when the most I had ever taught before on my celta was 40 minutes or an hour. Lucky I had had a few days to read through the textbook, but the students still knew more about the exam than I did. Got through the first hour and a half ok, scuttled off to graba coffee and extend the 15 minute break for as long as I could and wished I could extend the break to cover the rest of the class. Eventually I had to go back and all the students were already sitting back at their desks waiting for me. I went in played a game or 2 with them and somehow survived to the end of the class. Then the next day I had to go back and do it again.
The first time I was put in front of students with a whiteboard behind me could certainly not be classed as a lesson and the only thing learnt was by me- this gig sucks! I was terrified, sweating, couldn’t talk any slower than a race horse commentator and pretty much forgot the English language. A horrible experience that only good people could get me to repeat. I did and it was little better but slowly, and slowly, it got better. Now I grandstand in front of students and (most of the time) I love it!
M2 students in a gov’t school. Knocked on the door on Friday. Told to start the following Monday. At that stage I hadn’t even done my TESOL. Nervous as hell, and so were the kids. Taught the verb to be for about 20 minutes, then went to hangman. Here I was with my BA (Eng), never having taught in a school before, trying to occupy an hour. Don’t think I’ve ever studied as hard as I did for the next three weeks. BA in Eng! Nothing compared to trying to bluff my way through that first lesson.
On first coming to Thailand some 3.5 years ago, I arrived too late for the main hiring season so all the good jobs in Songkhla had already gone. I ended up at this private “polytechnic” who only got the students no-one else wanted and paid 200 baht per hour for a grand total of 12 hours per week. Confronted by 40 x 21 year old students with very little ability in English, I decided I wanted to learn their names, so I decided to use my newly-acquired digital camera to take pics of all the students. Each student had to come out to the front, write their name on a bit of paper and tell me their names, age, where they live, their favourite colour and their favourite food before I snapped them. The first student announced her name and said her favourite colour was “brue colour” and her favourite food was “noodle.” 10 students later, we hadn’t moved from blue or noodles. 10 students later we had an extra item on the menu “som tam” (hadn’t a clue what it was), and finally I clicked on at the total lack of imagination and banned repeated words. Wasn’t a disaster, but that one class taught me 50% of what I needed to know about Thai students. Also note from the pic below that asking students to write their names on pieces of paper for photographing is a silly idea, as they all wrote their name tiny, and the flash rendered the signs invisible...the next class I got them to write their names on the board.
1999. Introducing oneself (speaking). I had no idea that their English was THAT bad. I asked them to write something about themselves and I scratched my head when they would end some of their sentences with a tag phrase “yes or no?” (chai mai?) only for me to realize that what they meant was something like “...isn’t it?”
It was in 1995 at ECC Nontaburi. Had to teach present continuous tense to about 6 beautiful 18-year-old girls. I was terrified, as I didn’t know what the hell this tense was until the night before. I remember practising in my crumby guest house on KSR after half a dozen Changs, myself miming “driving a tuk tuk”, “eating somtam”, “singing” etc. It was a terrible lesson, but the girls had a good laugh and one of them started going out with my mate, a lucky child of questionable parentage!
More like a demo but my first real class in Thailand. It must have been the class of 50 M1 kids. I taught Sunday School to that age group for about ten years, had preached sermons, taught medical doctors and tax technicians, etc., so there wasn’t enough stage fright. I had a couple of ideas from TEFL school (was given no prep time, no real intro, just thrown in for a demo). They were okay. Then I was whisked to another classroom, given ten minutes prep time, and it was 51 M4 kids, some of whom were pretty sharp. The platform was multi-level with a low-hanging TV monitor and a lectern. They began taking bets as to when I’d fall off the platform or knock myself unconscious on the monitor. They all lost the bets, and I got the job, which I never should have taken.
Marmite The Dog.
All my teaching has been 1 on 1 apart from my practice teaching, so luckily, I never had to go through the 50 bored students sydrome (only 1 bored student!). My first lesson was with an 8 or 9 year old Korean kid called Dong Jae Park, using Let’s Go 2. It wasn’t too hard, but he got distracted easily and would wander off and get things to show me. I didn’t mind this as we were still using English (well, Konglish actually). Everyone seemed happy with me, but the motocy ride back along Rama 9 was a bit hairy at times. When I met my boss at the apartment block, my boss had another Korean women with her who told me how handsome I was, but I know that, because I’ve been told it many times on the soi near my home....
April ’99 in Ginza, Tokyo. Overlooking the bright lights and big city I did the whole ‘likes \ dislikes’ lesson that seems to be such a mainstay of the new teacher. I remember trying to elicit for favorite musicians and getting “Dreams Come True” and “Mr. Children” as a response. In fact the names of two Japanese pop outfits. I believed that either I’d happened onto some metaphysical dialogue or was dealing with a ‘special’ student. It took the intervention of the person I was co-teaching with to get over that hurdle.
My first lesson was in Khon Kaen. I’ll try to keep this brief. I arrived fresh from My TEFL course early on a Saturday, was taken to my room, took in a little shut-eye, and spent the rest of the weekend being shown some of the many local wonders by a tag-team of very cool teachers from the school at which I would be starting that Monday. A very nice start. Sometime before dawn on Monday my brand new phone woke me up so I could groggily hear my brother tell me our dad had just died. It took a good long while before I was awake enough for that to start to sink in, but I figured there was no need to rush to the airport, as the flights that would connect to those going to North America were just then taking off. So I put on my best black clothes and headed into school to say my hellos and goodbyes. The plan all along was to be introduced to several classes and guide the students through question and answer sessions, and I suggested we go ahead with that plan. We did, and what might well have been a hellish experience turned out to be anything but, and everyone, from the teachers and administrators to the students, was simply wonderful. Looking back, I was so lucky to have been in that place with those kind people, instead of the spoiled Bangkok brats I’m dealing with now - but that’s for another day.
Mine was a catholic girls’ school in Bangkok about 2.5 years ago. The first lesson was with a class of P5 students and although I was as nervous as hell to begin with it actually went quite well. What helped is that I was given detailed lesson plans for the P5 and P6 classes I taught. Pretty good plans, too, I thought. The real baptisom of fire was the next day when I had my first Mattayom class. These were double periods with no lesson plans or materials provided. Well, I had 1 hour 40 minutes to fill and about an hour into the class I’d got to the end of my plan and then paced round the class gibbering like a fool. One of the girls whispered to me, “Teacher, do you want me to help you think of something?” Bless her! After that I went home and planned a ton of stuff for the other M1 - M3 classes that week. The other bad thing that week was when I made a student cry when I said something about boyfriends - she’d obviously just been dumped. On the whole though I really enjoyed that school. The fact it was all girls made things easier - I’ve always found them much easier to teach than the boys. Their standard of English wasn’t too bad either as I realised when I later taught at other schools. One other thing that really helped was that I spent a day at a similar school the week before observing another teacher. That was a great help for getting through that first lesson.
I taught my first lesson two days after arriving in Bangkok. I obtained a job at a Rajabhat university and was told that orientation would take place on 2 November 2003. I show up to the assigned room at 8.00 in the morning and a Thai teacher basically told me, “Good luck!” For the next 45 minutes, I played the waiting game . . . waiting to see what would happen next. Starting at 8.45, students started coming into the room. By 9.30, 78 students had entered the room, all waiting to see what the lastest ajarn farang would teach them. Heck, I had no idea what the class was about! I ask the students, “What class is this?” “Conversation!” they yell out. “Do you have a textbook?” “Yes!” “Did you bring it?” “NO!” “Why not?” “Mai roo!” For the next two hours, I played the name game, trying to learn who and what my students were. I learned that all my students were English majors, two students were blind (and they actually had the textbook!), all were third-year students, I was their third teacher this year, they liked playing hangman, sleeping is their favorite hobby, and that almost none of them could string together five or more words to make a sentence. In short, a conversational class nightmare. The funniest incident in the class was final exam day. I gave the students a 20 question exam that I reviewed for four weeks. Each class session, I would put the exam questions on the board and had the students recite the correct answers. I told them that this was the exam, memorize these answers, and everyone would pass. When exam day came, I caught 17 students cheating! AND I STILL HAD TO PASS THEM! Unbelievable! I stuck with the job till the end of the term and managed to slightly improve the conversational skills of some students. But I did learn the limits of my teaching skills, as 78 students were too much for me to effectively manage. There were some high points, but overall, it was an “interesting” and eye-opening experience to the Thai educational system.
Just Another BOF.
My first lesson was at a small school in Silom called BritAm Academy. I remember it was something about introductions using my own stuff as the school had no books. But the thing I remember most was one of the students asking me if information was an uncountable noun and me thinking to myself what the ‘kinell is an uncountable noun? I knew I was cut out for teaching when I said “That’s an interesting question, we’ll deal with it in the next lesson.”
1987 - Universal Language Centre in Banglumpoo. Remember going in there with a huge pile of handouts. Giving one out every five minutes. Receiving confused looks from the students. Confusing them even more trying to explain. Firing off yet more handouts to fend them off. Getting covered in chalk, and leaving the class thinking ‘never again’.
My first class I’ll never forget. I worked for a very dodgy “language school” (run by a rich woman from her townhouse living room). The lessons were from 7am-9am in a graphic art firm. My employer said, “you don’t need a book—just talk to them.” Needless to say I did get a hold of a text book, xeroxed several pages, etc. I remember sitting at a big table with 15 very sleepy 24 year olds wondering what the frog to do. It went ok, but I was so nervous I couldn’t sleep the night before. After a month of doing this I asked, “When will the class end?” Reply: ”It just keeps going...” Huh?? I finally resigned, but not before drawing a chimney and smoke on the whiteboard in permanent ink (it was part of the lesson). It resembled an enormous phallus.
Yes, yes, I remember it well. The class was uneventful as I memorised it in fear.. I remember looking round at the students at one point and thinking “I can do this”. It finished without spectacle, then I had to return a tape ‘upstairs’. It was the famous old name for Thailand language school, and as I entered the ‘upstairs’ office the slink I was supposed to return the tape to was performing fellatio on a fake male organ stuck onto the screen of his computer ..well I thought shall I interrupt his viewing? and of course being naive I did. Handing him back his tape I said, “What you doing .....?” He never looked at me in the same way after that, and we had to share an office for a year too. Ah, the old name for Thailand.
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