Teaching in Thailand is one of the most amazing things you’ll do. It’s fun, exotic, exciting and hectic. It is a proper job though, not just a paid holiday. Here are ten things Keith thinks it’s worth knowing about teaching in Thailand:
1. Your contract will be for 24 teaching hours a week. However, you'll work a full day. The time when you're not teaching is spent on extracurricular activities and the other endless work that surrounds teaching. A normal work day starts at 7:30, and ends at 4 pm. The first part of the morning may be spent at the gate, greeting your students as they arrive for the day. Then it's off to the flag ceremony, which marks the official start of the school day.
2. Learn as many Thai phrases as possible. We don’t want you to use Thai in the classroom but it's just not realistic to think you can live in a country and not make any effort to learn its language. The people will appreciate you for trying, and will be more than happy to help you learn as much as possible. Some of my favourite moments have been spent relaxing somewhere exchanging Thai and English words with a local. Very little conversation is happening, but we're two humans trying to understand each other and communicate. It makes it easier to eat what you want to eat too!
3. Yes, Thailand is the land of smiles and a smile will take you a long way. But it's best if you know that not every smile is a happy smile, and not every smile is given freely. Don't mistake someone's smile to mean that they like you. On the other hand, the more you smile at others the easier your life will be here.
4. The majority of the English teachers you're going to meet in the TEFL world aren't fully trained, qualified teachers. They're given this job by virtue of being native speakers of the most desired language in the world, having a university degree in some field and having the desire to teach.
5. That doesn't mean that you should take teaching any less seriously. Take the time it needs to be prepared for your lessons, follow the lesson plans and pay attention to your students. Keep in mind that in most situations, the parents of your students are scraping together their hard-earned money to put their child in your classroom. Take that as seriously as it is, and give those kids your best efforts.
6. Most of the Thai teachers and administrators are used to westerners coming to Thailand to teach, and then leaving soon after. So, it can take a long time for some of your colleagues to warm to you. Being a new person in a new country, the last thing you want is for the locals at your workplace to be cold and uninviting towards you, but that will happen. They want to see that you're going to stick around before they make an effort to get to know you. They’re also quite shy at first so the first efforts really need to come from you. You will never be alone in a Thai school though, you will have other Western colleagues on the Sine teaching team with you. If you’re teaching up-country, you’ll be amazed by how friendly the locals are.
7. You may come into contact with some western pensioners (often older white men) who have moved to Thailand for the other "perks" and are just teaching because i) It can be an easy job to get, and ii) It affords them a chance to stay in the country. Do your best not to adopt their viewpoint of Thailand and Thai people. That said, please don't cheat yourself out of meeting some cool people because you imagine that they're too old. Get to know these people, hear their stories, and learn from their experiences.
8. No matter how open-minded you think you are, open your mind even more. Believe me, this country will demand it of you.
9. Most of western culture promotes a type of comradery among workers, so "telling" on your colleagues is frowned upon at best. However, Thai teachers often report to the boss about someone else's bad behaviour (or what they deem to be bad behaviour), and it's seen as a good quality in a person. So, if you ever think about sneaking off for a break and imagine your Thai colleague will keep your secret, you've got another think coming.
10. Lastly, remember that you are here to work, not to take a long holiday. Don't treat your job like some summer vacation gig. This goes back to my earlier point about what most families are sacrificing to give their child an English education. But it's also just good policy for your fellow teachers and for the school where you work. If you don't show up to school because you don't feel like it, someone else will have to cover for your class. Take it seriously, and show up every day. Even if you hate the administration of your school (and believe me, I know how that feels), remember that your students are counting on you. Don't let them down. Other than all that, Thailand is an amazing place full of some of the most interesting people I've ever met. I was the most clueless typical tourist when I first got here, and the kindness of the Thai people around me is what has got me through a lot. It's a rich experience, and I hope you make the most of it.