Sunday 1 December 2013

Teaching EFL in Thailand - Part 2

I am normally in the office before 7:30am. I set up my laptop, turn it on, then go to the main entrance and sign in. If I fail to sign in I get no pay for the day.
On one day of the week I am rostered for "gate duty". I need to be there by 7:20am and I watch the students walk in through the gate. There is one other English teacher also rostered on and 3 Thai's. I think that they are administrative staff rather than teachers. We get on fine. The Thai staff have a bit of gentle fun with the students, calling out to favourites and sharing a joke, sometimes they enforce the boys to pull their socks up (nothing has changed since my school days) or the wearing of identity badges.
The students give a Wai as they walk past. They have it a bit tough as they Wai to the 5 of us in turn and a religious object behind us. Some do each one in turn, some do a sort of continuous Wai some avert their eyes and hope to get away without doing it. Now that I am known and familiar a number of students call out "good morning teacher" to me as they pass.
Two days a week all of the English teachers also have to attend assembly. This starts at 8am and we stand to attention during the playing of the national anthem, flag raising, prayers and then the school song. This is all run by the students plus one Thai Teacher who lead the singing and prayers and raise the flag. I am constantly impressed at the self confidence that the students display when in front of over 2000 fellow students. After the formal part of the ceremonies we English teachers are allowed to leave.
The students stay and are talked to by the principal or various others. There seems to be an inordinately large number of announcements. Sometimes this is finished by 8:30 when first lesson starts, sometimes first lesson is considerably shorter than it should be.
Raising of the Flag during the National Anthem
There are 10 Foreign teachers in our School's English Program. Actually one is a French Teacher. But we like him anyway. Our School is a High School, Matiom, and has a formal English Program that is a little different from many schools. The parents pay extra to get their children onto the English Program. We teach Science, Maths and Computing in English plus various English classes such as Grammar, Fundamentals and Conversation. I have 19 Classes each week, 8 of which are Computing for Matiom 3 and 4 the rest are all English Conversation for Matioms 1 - 4.
Assembly from the far back.
I have no idea what other subjects the students get but I do know that there are Thai teachers who teach English and Computing in Thai. It would be wonderful if we could coordinate our efforts, but there is no scope or desire to do so. Even amongst the English teachers we rarely coordinate. I know that some of my students are also getting English Grammar lessons and it seems obvious to me that I should be structuring Conversation classes to complement their grammar lessons. It is not to be. Given time maybe I can make a change in that respect, but the English Program Administration do not seem to see that as a priority, even if they recognise the problem.

I have a busy schedule. Monday I have 4 lessons, Wednesday and Thursday 5 each, which makes Tuesday and Friday relatively easy days. All that spare time is spent on lesson planning, preparation, marking and some administrative chores. I generally work until 5pm then take work home and spend time on weekends doing catch up.
Lesson planning takes a long time. It will get easier as I build up a body of work that I can draw upon. I am easily doing 60 - 70 hours a week at the moment. I started in October and have not had a weekend off yet, but it is getting easier.
My class sizes vary. The smallest is 20 the largest is 45. Some students I only see for 1 class per week. I question how much I can teach in one 50 minute lesson with 40+ students in it. Besides it is never 50 minutes as some students arrive up to 10 minutes late. I put these students on the spot, in a gentle way, and make them recite the Alphabet or something like that before sitting down. Even at Matiom 4, (about 15 years old) many have trouble reciting the alphabet. They can sing it as a song but have little understanding of the letter order.
I have a number of double lessons. These are good. It does mean a lot of preparation to keep people engaged for 2 lessons, but overall it is easier than doing planning for 2 shorter lessons.
Lessons are often disrupted. Already this Semester we have spent 2 weeks on "special time". During this period each class is 5 minutes shorter so that there is extra time at the end of the day for the Thai Teachers and Administration to do "stuff". The first time was for teacher meetings. At the moment it is to schedule retesting for students who failed subjects in the first semester. I did not see one of my classes for 3 weeks for a number of reasons.
The classrooms I would rate as good. The English Program has air conditioned classrooms. It is part of our contract that we teach in air conditioning. The Thai students often find them too cold and wear jumpers, while I am still sweating. Each room has a PC connected to an overhead projector and a sound system. I prepare a lot of my lessons in PowerPoint and take them into the class on a memory stick. I can play videos and music, display Tutorials and information and use those resources to enhance learning. We also have white boards and a clever device that has a camera and will project things like hand written notes or book pages onto the overhead.
In the computing labs each student has a computer with a wide selection of software on it. The computers are ancient and regularly break down but there is some nifty stuff. Whenever the PC shuts down it reverts to an inbuilt image. This is virus free and wipes out anything that the student did. You cannot save work between lessons but you always know the configuration of the PC to start with. The Teacher's PC has some clever control software. You can control every computer in the room either individually or on mass. You can blank screens, prevent internet access, send files to the students and even interact 1 on 1.
The PCs always boot up in Thai and I have had to learn where the controls are that I need. I still cannot read Thai.
I should also mention that each classroom has a microphone attached to the Audio system. It prevents shouting and is a great attention getter. be continued........

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