On-the-Job: Teaching English Classes in Thailand

The alarm wakes me at 7am as the sun streams though my window and cocks are crowing in the distance.

I go downstairs for a cup of coffee and a quick shower. My bathroom has two water basins: one for taking a shower by dipping a bowl into the water and then splashing it over my head, and one for flushing the squat toilet. The water feels great on my skin, as it is already getting hot.

Next I do a quick washing and rinsing of yesterday’s clothes in another basin. I could take it to my neighbor to do, but I find it relaxing . After coffee and the BBC world news on short-wave, I head out on my moped to catch a quick breakfast on the way to class.

In the medium-sized city where I work, there are many places open for breakfast. I may order eggs over easy, jok (rice porridge), or I may go to a small bakery for a sweet cake. Lunch and dinner are also easy to get because there are places on campus that sell all kinds of food, and our city has a night market where people go to eat a simple supper.

As I go into the English Department at the college where I teach, I smile and greet my coworkers. I haven’t seen the department head for a week, so I greet her with a wai, a gesture with hands together and palms raised. We talk for a while, then head to class. I teach three classes per day, and see private students when I can work them in. As I walk in the door, all thirty of my students say “Goose morning.” I will make sure they pronounce it right soon! As we go through the lesson I concentrate on having the students actively use English, because the Thai system promotes passive, rote learning; for instance, my students can do all the questions in the book, but don’t know how to hold a conversation. I also try to have fun with the students with jokes, games, and songs. Thais love fun – they call it sanuk.

After my classes are finished I usually go into town to meet some Thai or ex-pat friends at one of the air-conditioned coffee houses or Western restaurants. On other days my students ask me to have dinner at their homes. Their families are very gracious, and I have been served the best Thai food ever during these visits.

In the evening I listen to Voice of America on the radio and write letters to the folks at home. I could go out to the bars and discos, but I am a private person. I usually stay on the porch of my small concrete house until sunset, when the mosquitoes chase me inside, to where there are screens on the windows, a high-powered fan, and my cat, who spends her evening running after the geckos on the walls.

Thailand has a much slower pace than the United States. People here are more relaxed; life runs on “Thai time,” where time limits and schedules are not always important (except at school). An occasional trip to Bangkok cures me of missing the foods and frenetic pace of Western culture, but I wouldn’t want to stay there too long for fear of falling back into a static comfort zone. I came to Thailand on a quest of sorts: I needed to experience the joys and frustrations of life outside my native culture, and I needed to define a new perspective for myself. In my time here, Thailand has taught me (the teacher!) so many lessons that could never be learned in a classroom – and I don’t regret a single one.

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