How to Teach, What to Wear, Teacher Tributes, and Teacher Journals

Super English
  • The End of the School Year by John Phelps 2010

    As I sat in an empty Prathom 3 classroom at the end of the day, I wondered at the soft sadness that unfolded over me like an old blanket. Sounds of children playing “paper, rock, scissors” slapped the concrete walls. Like any other day, I had sweated completely through my clothes and was gulping water by the liter. At the end of any school day, I can hardly think about more than a cold bucket shower and a nap. But today, the last day of class, was different. I kept thinking about the squishy hugs, origami hearts, and thumb wrestling matches of the last few hours. I realized I was going to miss all of this, even though I was only leaving for a few months.

    When I started other teachers had told me this would happen, but I didn't quite believe it. I had always been annoyed by school teacher friends in the US who said things like, “Oh, I just love my little guys.” I imagined they must have grown up dressing one too many stuffed animals and having tea parties. When I came to Thidamaepra School at the start of the second semester, I worried that I wouldn't measure up to the classes' previous teacher. My first day of class, when I split the class into teams, a few named their team after him. The kids had his name written all over their notebooks and pencil cases. I was sure a few had tattoos somewhere with his name in an arrow-pierced heart. I imagined myself as a bumbling substitute teacher saying things like, “Now, settle down class” like a pull-cord doll.

    The first few weeks of the term, I spent hours designing lesson plans with tactics perfectly-calculated to increase speaking ability, generate endless fun and create a perfect teacher-student relationship. Then, in class, a militia of 55 would outgun me and trample my expert plans. One of my classes was so loud that I could not hear a student speaking to me from less than four feet away. I felt like they thought I had come half-way through their year to ruin the party. I could pull various tricks to get them to be quiet, but after holding their attention for about two minutes, the roar would return. They were right to call the class “Intensive English Program,” I discovered.

    Some time in the first few weeks, I decided to adopt a new policy. I would up my level of generally ridiculous behavior in my class by 100 percent. I would become an inescapable spectacle in class. Also, I had noticed that some of the craziest kids were some of the brightest. Maybe they were acting out because they weren't being challenged. I began to think of ways to channel their energy. At the same time, I would lay down a tough few rules and enforce them as fiercely as the valiant defenders of 'No Liquids Over 8 Ounces on an Airplane.' I began to make games that involved a risk of a bouncy ball to the head for those not paying attention. There were some showdowns with a few of the most stubborn troublemakers, and some days I wanted to simply walk out of class and not come back. However, I began to fall into my style in the classroom as a pantomime- comedian-meets-drill-sergeant. It was around this time when I started hearing “Again, teacher,” after a game in class. Looking back, I realized I did not have to be someone else to be a good teacher. All I had to do was just be natural, and put on a strict face if something got in the way of that. I moved through the day with a quiet happiness, because I knew there would be more rewarding moments than unpleasant ones. The knot in my stomach before my toughest class of the day was gone, and I laughed myself almost to tears a few times with them.

    Then, stick-figures and cartoons featuring sometimes-accurate caricatures of me appeared in their notebooks. Sometimes I would leave the class with my chalky hands filled with candy, gifts from kids who I didn't even think cared I was there. As I rode my bike through town I got the occasional 'wai' from a student on a back of a motorbike. The last day of class, a girl who I had to almost pull out her chair to get her participation in games came up to me. I expected her to ask to see her grades or point out the chalk stains on my face. Instead, she timidly held out a bright pink “Hello, Kitty” memory book and asked me to sign. She would be leaving Thidamaepra to go on to high school, and she told me she would come to visit me next year. All the small struggles to get her to come out of her shell had been worth it. Scared to speak a word of English when I had first met her, there she was talking to me confidently. My heart was slowly melting in a microwave. So, after my last class of the term, I sat waiting for the joy of a two month vacation to set in. But, I began missing the 'little guys,' I mean — uh, the students — already.

  • A Tribute to Ms. Anneliese Charek by Jessica Gallant 2010

    This is not the greatest song in the world, this is just a tribute. To a beautiful ballerina named Anneliese Charek. I arrived in Surat Thani the day after Anneliese in October of 2010. It’s almost October of 2011, and I cannot imagine my year here without her. Before I get into the bromance stuff, however, let me talk about her first as the Queen of Productivity.

    I have only known a few people like her in my entire life. This woman can, and does, do everything. She works more than anyone else at Super English, and this is not abnormal for her. She’s the type of person who had three jobs at once in the United States, worked seven days a week, and put herself through college. Not only that, she was in a dance company that toured and she still had time to sew some awesome clothes. When she was working in Prague last year, she found time to go to film school. She doesn’t waste time talking about what she’s going to do—she just does it. I wish I could manage my time like she can. Even here she works seven days a week. She works at Thida, she used to do college classes five nights a week, she does a preschool class, and she teaches ballet to little monsters on the weekend. Whenever there’s work to be had, Anneliese takes it and does a killer job.

    In addition to being employee of the millennium, Anneliese is a really creative, unique person. She is so artistic and can find and make beauty in everything. It’s incredible. She’s one of those people who can effortlessly dress herself into a beautiful, classy lady, while girls like me can’t even figure out how to put on eyeliner. That’s okay though, because whenever an occasion warrants getting fancy, she jumps at the chance to make me and the other Super ladies beautiful. She dresses us and does our makeup. I wish she could be my personal stylist full time.

    Her artistic creativity greatly benefits her students. She makes the coolest games for her classes, and they always look so adorable and professional—which is a hard combination to pull off. She can draw, she can dance, she can make clothes, she can take beautiful photographs, and she can have beautiful photographs taken of her. She is so beautiful that Thai people often stop her and ask her if they can take a photo. This is such a regular occurrence that one day when a woman asked her, she didn’t think anything of it. Until she ended up on a huge billboard at the corner of Chalokratt and Amphur Roads. For real, the girl got a billboard.

    But anyway, that’s all surface beauty. She’s got it on the inside too, big time. I know this because she not only put up with me as a roommate for a year, but also on extensive vacations to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia. She’s an awesome person to travel with. I say this because she is the same kind of traveler I am. She plans, plans, plans before a trip. And once there, she wants to go to museums and cultural events. When we were in Vietnam we saw both the body of Ho Chi Minh and a traditional water puppet theater performance. In Cambodia we went to the National Museum of Art and saw a traditional Khmer Dance show. She was everything I could have hoped for in a travelling buddy.

    Maybe the coolest thing about her is that her journey of international domination does not end here in Thailand. She plans on living abroad for many years, teaching ESL, and seeing the world. She is the friend who I will be living vicariously through as I sit at my desk at work or in my apartment in the US. She was there for me when I was sad, she hugged me when I cried, and she listened when I needed her too. She is an excellent teacher, a beautiful woman, and a good friend. I feel lucky to have spent this year with her. I will miss her so much, and I know everyone else here in Surat will as well. Much love, Anneliese!

  • A Tribute to Johnet By Blake Schlaich 2011

    First, there was Bennifer. Then, there was Brangelina. But never in the history of name smashing has there ever been a power couple like Johnet. Brad Pitt, dreamy… John Phelps, dreamier. Angelina Jolie, humanitarian… Janet Phelps, humanitarian… er. I don’t know how they do it. Somehow John and Janet are the raddest people around… maybe even in the whole town.

    No lie. Right now, as I write this epic saga/ website article, John and Janet have just walked through the front door of my house. Did they knock? Nope. Were they even invited? Not by me. But it’s okay, because in usual Johnet fashion they stroll in with smiles on their faces, a radiant glow following them, and… wait for it… ROOT BEER MF’N FLOATS! What can I say? This is just what John and Janet do. Magical things. Side note: Did I mention that instead of motorbikes, they have matching purple unicorns?

    But seriously, they’re always thinking of other people, without ever expecting anything in return. For the Super English team, John and Janet are both are bosses and our friends. I don’t know how they balance the two so perfectly. Without the two of them, Super English would probably be more like a rusty old push bike than the well-oiled machine that it is. Somehow, through incredible time management and amazing organization, they pull of the strenuous tasks of helping Peter run Super English, managing all 12 Super teachers, teaching a full schedule themselves, and still having time to be the leaders of the pack when it comes to socializing in Surat.

    Be it for work related or for personal reasons, if I ever need anything I know that Johnet will always be there to talk to. Anytime I’m having problems with a class or need help planning a lesson Johnet has the answer. If I need to vent about all the Thai women blowing up my phone, Johnet has an ice cold Leo waiting for me on their porch.

    They do everything 100%. I’ve seen both of them teach and its incredible how much they put into it. The amount of energy and enthusiasm that they bring to every class is second only to the amount of hard work and care they put into their teaching. Watching them work, you can see that they really do want the students to have fun, but also to learn and succeed in language.

    On the flip side, they are two of my best friends here and whenever I’m looking for fun I know they are in. Whether it’s driving out to the waterfall for a jungle adventure (ask John about the leeches) or heading out to the clubs in Surat (don’t ask Janet for dance advice), Johnet will be always down for

    I honestly cannot imagine Surat Thani, or Thailand for that matter, without the Phelps. Oh Janet, your insistence for karaoke has created a soundtrack for so many fuzzy memories of mine. Your homemade tortillas remind me of the summer I spent as a farmhand in Baja California. Oh John, your constant Johnisms don’t get the respect they deserve. And of course those awesome banana and chocolate chip pancakes accompanied by French pressed coffee that saved me so many mornings. Finally… those damn cats (sneeze sneeze itch scratch gasp for air). It’s been an epic first year in Surat and thanks to Johnet; I know the next six months will only be better.

  • A Tribute to Mitch by Janet 2011

    From Janet's brain:

    It might seem mean, but I kind of decided not to be friends with Mitch when he first moved here. Mitch and his long-time girlfriend were in the midst of a messy break-up when they first moved to Surat Thani, so to avoid “compulsively making things worse” (which — No shit — my fortune cookie told me to stop doing), I decided to cement my blossoming friendship with Girl- who-no-longer-is-friend and leave mopey Mitch behind.

    But Mitch was just so damn sweet he won me over.

    It started with our trip to Cambodia together. “Together” meaning we ran into each other at the border and ended up sticking together for the entire time. He was so easy-going. He let John and Girl and me make the decisions about where to eat, where to go. He never complained or whined about anything. He was accommodating and kind.

    So in the end, when the chips fell and Girl left, I felt like we got stuck with the very lucky half of that pairing.

    He's kind of changed a lot this year— he's been through a lot of ups and downs —but he's always been kind and luxuriously generous with his time and energy. He's always willing to do you a favor, share a drink, take a trip, pick you up, take you around, go out, stay in, watch TV, share a book, drink coffee — or anything else —with you.

    When I lit into him with a stream of angry cursing after a housemate-related incident one time, he just looked at me all laid-back and said, “I'm sorry, man.” Just like that. Not defensive or anything. Just simple and real.

    And that's kind of how he is about everything. He never complains* about stuff, even when things suck really bad. Like, he never complains about the mess around the house or about how he always has to pick up the cat poop or anything.

    When John and I decided to move out of our SE housing and needed a housemate to share rent with, Mitch agreed. When we wanted to adopt a cat, Mitch got excited about it. When we needed our space, Mitch disappeared. When we needed a friend, he showed up! Like magic.

    And then there's the work stuff. I was living with Mitch when I took over as head teacher and had to train and orientate the first group of new teachers. As I made dinner for everyone, Mitch cleaned the house. And then, while I sat in the living room and talked about lesson plans, Mitch made coffee. And washed dishes. And then later he called those new teachers to make sure they were doing OK, and he showed them where to get drunk and get coffee. He never got any credit for it, but he was such a vital part of how well everyone did this semester. And all of that is really, really important when you've got a close-knit small group of teachers like we do. That's, like, what he does all the time.

    I love him. But more importantly, Juicebox** loves him. And that's what really counts.

    *He does whine a lot though when it comes to dancing. I've never known anyone as whiney about dancing as Mitch. That said, he's come with me enough times to Pool Bar to reach sainthood for someone who whines about it as much as he does.

    **Juicebox is a cat. Mitch named her. She's brought a new meaning to all of our lives. “Holla, JB.”

  • John Phelps Is Awesome by Mitch Burbick 2010

    Let’s be frank. Super English is full of awesome teachers. It’s part of what makes working here so great, everyone’s general level of awesomeness is off the charts. However, there is one man that stands alone, at the head of this crowded grouping of awesome, and his name is John Phelps. He is all at once the man, the machine, the legend. His teaching skills are the things of epic book length poems, and if this were the middle ages, bards would be singing his adventures
    across the plague ridden English country. He is almost everything all young boys want to be and more than everything mothers hope their daughters will one day have luck and looks enough to catch. John Phelps, this one’s for you.

    John is a great teacher. When I first got to Thailand and was training, I had the pleasure of watching him teach a few classes. I wasn’t experienced at that point and he made everything look so easy and full of energy. Little did I know that having a fun class that’s full of energy at the end of the semester is almost as hard as pulling a rabbit out of a hat. (A live rabbit.)

    John is a never ending source of inspiration for games and teaching gimmicks. The man is a machine in this regard. I’m convinced he goes to sleep not just because his body needs it, but just to recharge his lesson planning abilities. There have been plenty, and by plenty I mean countless, mornings where I’ve come out of the shower shivering and wondering how the heck I’m going to get across to my students what I need to get across to them. Almost without fail John has off the top of his head come up with not just one, but multiple ideas on how to blow my student’s brains wide open. I haven’t had the chance to watch him teach recently, but hearing his stories of limbo competitions, animal dance offs, and general unbelievably imaginative antics, I know his kids are enjoying one of the best teachers Super English has to offer.

    John’s teaching powers are so legendary that he’s been called in as back up muscle for a class that’s been known to chew up and spit out teachers over the past year. What’s been difficult for others hasn’t fazed the man. He’s come in, batted clean up, and stuck with it. Serious praise is deserved for this type of go-get-‘em attitude.

    As a housemate and friend, John has been incredible not just to me, but to everyone lucky enough to be on the Super team. John has always made himself a guy I could always talk to no matter what. Both his wife Janet and himself make themselves available, whenever the time. From welcoming new teachers with banana and chocolate chip pancakes and French press coffee to rallying everyone for a weekend motorbike ride to an out of town waterfall, he’s always thoughtful and inclusive.

    John really is the best that Super English has to offer. A hard working, genuine, adventurous, empathetic and generous person to the core. My time here in Thailand, along with everyone’s that has worked with him, has been greatly bettered by John’s presence. John Phelps, he’s the man.

  • A Tribute to Cool Hand Burbick from The Phelps' 2011

    From John's brain:

    If Steinbeck and Hemingway were read over the ambient beats of Mogwai, you would get the vibe of Mitchell Burbick. What's going on, Mitch? “Nothing” is usually the reply, but as we all know, sometimes “nothing” is a pretty cool hand. I have known Mitch for the entire time he has been here in Surat. We have even shared half-developed chicken fetus landmine eggs in Cambodia. Nothing freaks this guy out. He has a calm that that he carries unflinchingly.

    Traveling to Chiang Mai for Songkran with Mitch was awesome. We walked the streets and talked about his broken heart and post-rock by night. By day we posted up by the canal blasted people with buckets of dirty brown amoeba water. Just as the sun was going down one day, Mitch took a smashing bucket straight to the face and his tortoise shell deluxe vintage limited edition Ray-bans flew into the canal. Did old Cool Hand sit down and cry? Nope. He just jumped into the canal and fished around between the polio, chicken bones, and syphilis until he came up with glasses in hand! I don't even think his skin changed more than two or three tints.

    I once watched Mitch sit with sentinel-style poise as a motorbike crashed into his Suzuki from behind. He went down, but certainly maintaining a Steve McQueen grasp on all things nonplussed. Most people would take the opportunity to fly into an angry fit, but not Mitch. He was gracious about it, even though his body and 'Hello Kitty!' stickers had nearly been destroyed. (For those of you that don't know, this Kitty figure adorns Mitch as well as curry on chicken.)

    When he came over here, all dark and mysterious, I have to admit I had a little bit of a man crush. No, not a bro-mance. I didn't write him any sonnets or anything like that. I just figured we could do things like talk about engines, types of barbed wire, and guns... oh yeah, and sports and stuff. Since I am already married, I asked him if he would like to be our housemate. We had a few good months together, and then he fell hard for our huntress neighbor. He would go visit her for hours at night. He would come home smelling like her. Then, he even began to talk about her everywhere we went. Then he finally took her home. Her hair was everywhere, screaming infidelities. Then she shat on my floor. That feline is a home-wrecker!

    Even though Mitch may give you sarcastic crack and a wry smile sometimes, he has got the listening capacity of a dense forest of sequoia trees. There have been several times where I needed to talk to someone to get the junk out of my head. Mitch has offered his ears freely, without feeling that he had to fill up the conversational space with extra words. The words I leave with Mitch stay there, maybe getting soaked up by his roots and sent skyward to his leaves. This is a rare thing in people, and I enjoy this very much about him.

    My heart is heavy when I think about him leaving us for his next home in Japan. He is now an equipped teacher in addition to being a wise friend and man of solitude. He has cast a broad net in Surat Thani, and pulled many friends close. At the same time, he has kept his quiet life of reflection and poetry steeping and becoming ever stronger to the taste. He will be a gift to all those that receive him.

  • A tribute to beautiful Brittney By Chris Ansell 2010

    Roses are red, violets are…ah yes, tribute, tribute, tribute, sorry…let me start again…

    I would like you to envisage a wheel. A bicycle wheel if you will. A bicycle wheel made with the finest stainless steel spokes. Now the wheels strength is determined by the quality of these spokes and the quality of the person who built the wheel. Give a novice the finest steel spokes to build the finest steel wheel and the wheel would in all probability unlikely fit its very own definition. Similarly give the crème de la crème of wheel builders some rusty steel spokes and although the definition of a wheel will surely be achieved, it’s longevity will surely not.

    Peter is a fine wheel builder. One could even venture that he is indeed a man of steel. And in Brittney, Peter has at his disposal one of the finest of steel spokes. A spoke that will not rust. A spoke that, in wheel building terminology, helps the wheel stay true. A dependable spoke. The pressure put on wheels is great and ultimately if one spoke weakens or cracks the others are put under a far higher pressure than they are supposed to be. If I ever built a wheel, a wheel meant for the toughest of roads, cobblestones, potholes, you name it, Brittney would be a key spoke, one that I could count on to be strong even if others were weakening.

    Sometimes I wonder if Brittney is actually partly made of steel. She is mentally very strong and determined. But then I’ve seen some of the yoga moves she can do and there is no way steel can bend that much. Plus, steel is cold. And Brittney is not. She is a warm person. She wants to be cold sometimes, especially now that the sun seems to be scorching us with a sadistic severity. And anyway, steel has no personality. So I think that’s further evidence that she definitely isn’t steel. For more information on steel I would recommend visiting:

    For more information on Brittney I would recommend you keep reading. So what do I wish to pay homage to concerning her personality? Well she has always been exceptionally good at listening and giving a calculated and balanced opinion or piece of advice on an array of topics. In Amy she found not only a housemate but also a best friend whom she could rely on and vice versa. I remember that when Amy was experiencing relationship complications at the beginning of their Super days it was Brittney who helped her through it. These were early days in their relationship but a sure sign of a good and honest friend.

    Prior to it being acceptable for me to call her names like Honeydew, Tinkerbelle and Sweet-pea, I once spent a whole night (literally) drunkenly (genuinely) talking to her about everything under the sun. We were only friends but she refrained from just telling me I was drunk and to go to sleep. Instead, she
    listened, contributed, and when I eventually passed out, left for breakfast. She is also very kind to her whining cat called Fah (some may be more familiar with its other name; Mittens). The cat used to whine incessantly from the moment you walked into the house and at every moment there after that you weren’t stroking it. I wanted to throw it off the balcony. Or give it to Fido. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, I cared not. But Brittney persevered and instead of growing mad like me, showed him love. He is better now. I rarely want to feed him to Fido.

    I discovered how she shows the same care and affection to her students when I temporarily took over her Super class at the beginning of this semester. Although obviously excited that a tall, dark and strapping young man was to be their new teacher they did ask with genuine sadness in their eyes where Brittney
    was. She gave me a lot of useful advice as to what level the kids were at and what they enjoyed doing so that I felt comfortable walking into their classroom for the first time. Some of those kids were a teacher’s dream but there were also (obviously) some challenging individuals too. Brittney had showed me a video of her singing the infamous “One, two, three, four, five, I love you” song with them. She had managed to get even the shyest kids, to scream it at the top of their surprisingly sizeable lungs. The whole class was into it. She achieved what a good teacher does and that is to get the students speaking English without them even realizing it. I decided I wanted to hear it for myself. However, on the numerous occasions I began singing it I realized by the time I’d reached the “six, seven, eight, nine” part, that I was singing solo. I just couldn’t get them to do it. Something special about Brittney made them feel comfortable and confident enough to sing their hearts out.

    Brittney can be a very independent girl. She has spent time in the past living on her own and actually enjoys having time to herself. Don’t we all? But whenever she is in the company of others she is selfless to a higher degree than most. A large proportion of the Super team have enjoyed her generosity in inviting them to stay at the Hilton hotel (with VIP status baby!!!) on occasions, including her birthday and at Christmas. She wanted everyone who she invited to have the best time possible and so even suggested to a few of them that they were welcome to bring a friend if they wanted! This would obviously use up more of the valuable Hilton points she had at her disposal but to Brittney having a quality time far outweighs the quantity option!

    So Brittney…

    Roses are red
    Violets are blue
    We all want to say
    A Super thank you!

  • Tribute to Mrs. Janet Phelps by Brittney Johnson 2011

    I have had the great honor of knowing, working and traveling with, and being friends with Janet Phelps, Super English’s Manager. I’d like to take this time to highlight some experiences I have shared with Janet as well as point out some of her unique qualities that make her an outstanding manager and friend.

    First of all, Janet is one of the most upbeat, positive people I know. You will rarely find her sitting absolutely still. She always seems to be moving about doing something productive. I fortunately live three houses down from her, so I have the benefit of being able to see how Janet lives on a day to day basis, not just from a working point of view. Janet’s house always seems to be open to people. It is “the place” people go to; to meet up, eat a shared meal, watch a movie, plan things for school functions, eat weekend breakfasts, porch hang outs, drink a cup of coffee, have a beer, or just drop by to say hi. I truly admire that about Janet. Even after a long days work, she is still available to everyone at Super English. People feel comfortable to come to Janet, however small or big the issue is, whether its work related or a personal matter.

    It must be difficult to be a boss and friend at the same time. Janet does an amazing job of balancing the two. She is able to kick back and have fun with everyone. She is the one to usually plan a social event and to get people excited about it. But on the other hand, she is also able to get serious when it’s necessary. Even though she is a young boss, but that doesn’t stop her from being professional and everyone respects her for that. She does a brilliant job of stepping in when she is needed, but also giving teachers space to be creative and to figure certain things out on their own. She is a very approachable person. I’ve always felt comfortable going to Janet for advice about lesson plan ideas, traveling, teaching, housing, and personal issues.

    On a personal note, Janet is so much fun to be around! I’ve laughed with her more than anyone else in Surat Thani. She has a unique, witty, bubbly and cheerful personality. She always has a way of turning something that may be negative into something that is positive. She is truly encouraging and affirming. I would say she is an optimist. She always has a way of looking at things from a “glass is half full” perspective. And that is contagious. She can turn a sour atmosphere into a light-hearted, cheery environment. And that is so important in a foreign country. People that move to a foreign country to teach English are surrounded by all kinds of unfamiliar things. People can feel uncomfortable not only as first time teachers in the classroom, but also being around new people, not speaking the language, being in a new city, etc. Janet has done an amazing job of making new teachers feel at ease and comfortable in theirnew homes and in Surat Thani.

    I had the opportunity to travel with Janet to beaches, cities and islands with Thailand with Janet. I also went to Indonesia with her during the Christmas break. She is a wonderful travel partner! You get to see a different side of someone when traveling with them. I would travel with Janet again in a heartbeat! I’m thankful to have made some memories with her outside of Thailand.

    Janet is truly an inspiration to me in so many ways. I admire her ambition, thoughtfulness, selflessness, and honesty. If there were more Janet Phelps’ in the world, it would be a better place.

  • From Bro to Bro: A Tribute to Mike By Blake Schlaich 2011

    I have known Mike for almost two years now. I can honestly say that he’s a great co-worker, roommate, and friend. We have had some wild times since we first met and when the going got tough Mike was always there. Together we’ve hopped islands all over the south of Thailand, survived Songkran in Chiang Mai, floated through Laos on the Mekong and in to Vietnam where we traveled from Hanoi to Saigon over the course of a month. In about a month we’ll be leaving for one last adventure (trekking to the Mt. Everest base camp in Nepal) before he gets on a plane for Prague.

    As excited as I am for Mike and for myself, I’ll be sad to see the bromance come to an end. But even if I’m staying in Thailand for little while longer, I’m sure that our paths will cross again.

    Mike’s an interesting dude. He quit a high paying marketing job in Hollywood to move to the other side of the world to teach English. That’s what I respect about Mike; I think we share the same ideas about what’s important in life. It’s more important to be happy and take pleasure in your lifestyle than it is to be working a 65-hour workweek and making good money.

    Enjoying the moment is what life is about and Mike gets that. And don’t think that I’m talking about being lazy. Mike’s no stranger to sweat. He’s one of the hardest workers I know. He puts his all in to everything he does, whether it’s a lesson for his Prathom students or working out to stay in shape. Aside from teaching full time traveling this past year, he wrote a novel. He wrote a friggin’ book! That’s insane!

    He’s also always been there if I’ve ever needed anything. Back in ‘Nam there were some times where Mike really saved the day. And by “back in ‘Nam” I’m not referring about the war, I’m talking about our epic motorcycle journey from Hanoi to Saigon (almost). The bikes we bought were constantly breaking down. One thing after another something went wrong. But no matter what happened Mike always kept cool and collected. Being the Renaissance Man that he is, he had experience with dirt bikes as a kid, and
    usually Mike was able to fix whatever the problem was. Sure, there were times when we had to go to a mechanic (ask Mike about “the motorcycle whisperer”) but more often than not, he had an idea about what to do.

    In the beginning of the term when I started work at Thida, I only had previous experience with Mathayom students. I wasn’t used to teaching P1-P3. I remember the first or second week I was freaking out because I couldn’t figure out a good activity to do with the little P2’s for their animal lesson. “Dude, that’s easy”, Mike said as he gave me the awesome idea to make the students different animals and then walk the remaining students around the class as if they were touring a zoo. It worked to perfection. I didn’t know little kids could have so much fun learning English!

    Anyway, Mike is a good dude and a great friend and I’m excited to see what happens next for him. If nothing else, he’s my excuse to go visit Prague and Eastern Europe! But first thing’s first… let’s tackle Everest!

  • A Tribute To Becky Kavoussi by Shelby Stroud 2011

    The Beckster and I were the only fresh meat to arrive in October. We had emailed a few times, but when I met her, she stampeded through the gate at the big house, threw down her bags, and said, “Oh my God, you’re Shelby. You look just like your pictures!” She swooped in for a hug. Moments later, we were in the car with Michael and Wen—headed to the oh so famous Big C, and I realized Becky was a wild force to be reckoned with when she shamelessly began belting Zombie with Wen.

    Becky is a spitfire, and somehow or another on zero sleep, little caffeine, and a bad day can still be full of positive energy. She’s never met a stranger, which I learned on night one with her at CN Blue. We instantly were handed drinks from the bottles of many locals as Becky made her rounds, speaking zero Thai but wearing a giant smile. Since then, she has made local friends that have taught her to play guitar, given her a few dreads, given her drinks while she chats with them at the 108, and even became a “regular” at a bar where they speak next to zero English but know her well.

    Another example of how positive Becky can be is that when her motorbike, so freshly purchased the bite of the cost hadn’t probably settled in, was stolen. I woke up to Becky and Brittany in a frenzy. They spent a long morning at the police station. I am sure a few frustrated tears were shed, but alas, Becky acknowledged it as being just an odd collaboration of events and that life goes on. After that, she pedaled around town on a bicycle with zero complaint in the bright, blazing, Thai sun.

    Beck-a-leck has a truly selfless heart. There are many times that she shows up to Super English or at The Big House with snacks, coffees, or whatever else that she shares with everyone passing through. Often times at work, I think to myself how I am hungry or need a caffeine buzz, and there she is with a tasty medley of coffee and snack. She never wants to take any Baht for it, but she is more than happy to share. If you are running low on cash at the bar or on a trip, she will be the first to spot you. I have even seen her go as far as to literally offer the shirt off of her back to Amber (okay, not literally, but you get the point), so that she would have a cover up.

    On that note, if you need a class covered, she is always willing and without a word of complaint. Becky has covered people’s classes at Thida, Suratpittiya, and has worked every camp or extra opportunity given to her. She is very mai pen rai about it, and forges her on path in the classroom with that boundless energy—there isn’t a shy bone in the girl’s body.

    She is also always down for anything. If you need someone to fearlessly sit on the back of your motorbike (riding with me is no joy ride) and listen to your mishaps of the day, she’s your girl. If you need someone to grab a drink, coffee, or snack at the night market with you, she’s your girl. Last minute trip? She’s down.

    I traveled some with Becky over the long break, and saw her warmness spread to others, like in Cambodia when she would give her last dollar or last bit of food to the beggars that can be found all over Cambodia. I never worry about knocking on her door and being a bother, and I truly appreciate how selfless, high spirited, and caring she is. Thanks for making it the year with me as the only other newbie!

    Girl—the world is at your feet, and I know you’ll take it.

  • Super Teacher Fashion By Chris Ansell

    Super Teacher Fashion
    By Chris Ansell

    Thailand is hot, very hot. True, I speak as an Englishman. Like many Englishmen back home, I would consider 20ºC / 70F to be a hot day; worthy of whipping the shirt off in the hope of catching a few of those rare rays! But ask any of our teachers, including those who have left warmer climates than mine, and they will readily agree that Thailand has its own distinct “heat”. What we choose to wear in Surat (both in and out of the classroom) is largely governed by this. Light and breathable fabrics such as cotton will make your day that much more pleasant than spending the day teaching in polyester for example (which another school in town actually have their teachers wear!). Laundry is cheap, which is fortunate as you will be using the service regularly. This is due to the following simple equation:

    Heat* + Teaching a lot of kids = Sweat

    *the “Heat” can be attributed both to the proximity of Surat Thani to the equator and the vast quantity of chili that the Thais seem to take a sadistic pleasure in adding to most of their dishes!

    But heat is not the only factor that determines what people wear in Surat. The Thais are an incredibly nationalistic people. They love the King as one loves their father. There is even a shirt, aptly and ingeniously named the King shirt (a polo shirt with the King's emblem on it), which is extremely popular amongst the locals and quite acceptable to teach in. These shirts can be purchased on just about every other street in Surat, for roughly the same price as a cheeseburger. Each day of the week has its own colour and so these shirts are available in various colours too (except black). On Mondays, for example, the colour is yellow, whilst on Tuesdays you will see more people looking pretty in pink than any other colour. Wednesdays, like the sky, the sea, and part of the Thai flag, is blue. Thursdays, much like the weather I am used to waking up to back in Blighty, is grey. Fridays is a free choice. It is possible to wear one of these tops every working day of the week, in which case you wouldn't have to
    worry about packing your “school uniform” at all!

    Very importantly, in terms of clothing in the classroom, the more professional you appear the more respect you will get from both the students and the Thai teacher. This certainly helps discipline in the classroom, which is no bad thing. As far as no no's are concerned one could consider the little song that you will no doubt use at some stage to teach the kids body parts. You know the one...heads, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. Hats and caps are off limits, as is showing off shoulders, too much leg and tootsies. Jeans are not allowed and would be a rather unwise choice anyway given the heat in the day. You need not pack any teaching garments at all, for Surat can generally provide anything you will require, although the one item I would advise bringing is a pair of dress shoes for work. Thai people tend to have small feet and thus the shoes (as with much of the clothing) aren't manufactured with westerners in mind. If you have largish feet and do require shoes the best bet will be one of the large supermarkets in town. I managed to find some UK11's, but as far as women’s sizes are concerned, you will have to search high and low for anything above a number made in heaven...size 7. Hiking boots too would be useful to pack, as the beautiful Khao Sok national park is little more than a stones throw away and offers some great trails.

    Clothing and accessories in Surat tend to be cheap. I managed to find a great deal on a set of Ray Bans. The price of 100 Baht (about £2) was so good that I felt it unnecessary to even enter into a bartering battle. There are deals to be found on every street. For the same price as the next can of coke and snickers that you buy, you can pick up a Ralph Lauren polo shirt here in Surat. Further...a bottle of booze = Converse shoes. Oh yes, you can find cheap Armani in Surat Thani. There is a snag. Can you guess? No? Okay, I'll break it to you gently. They're all fakes. Don't despair, however, if you have a penchant for the real article. These can be found as well. There is a new department store on Talad Mai (Talad Mai is to Surat what Oxford Street is to London and 5th Avenue is to New York) where you can buy all the labels you desire, but at a price not too dissimilar from those found in the west.

    One of the cheapest places for clothing will be at the day and night markets. Here you can purchase an array of shirts, skirts and shorts for anywhere between 50 – 250 Baht (£1 - £5) and usually towards the lower end of this range. Much like Bangkok, the teens of Surat are a fashion conscious sort, and the designs on display reflect this. Their catwalk is the street. You will see flashes of bold colours and prints. If the wild colours and poorly (although very amusing!) translated tops don't appeal, then a wider selection of styles and sizes (for much of it has been donated by the farang of yesteryear) can be found at the many second hand stores scattered around.

    Cowboys are rare in Surat at present, but their old shirts (especially the ones with those neat pearl buttons) frequent these little establishments. Smart clothing, suitable for strolling into a room of up to 55 students, can also be discovered, again, at very agreeable prices. What's more your Thai numerical skills may be practiced and polished should you wish to barter a little. Finally, if it’s a fancy dress outfit you require (and you will require one at some stage!), you shouldn't have to search much further than these used clothing outlets (especially if the party happens to have a country western theme).

    One little pleasantry of the heat is the heightened pleasure that can be found in submerging oneself in the cool water of a swimming pool. Here it is acceptable to wear just a swimming costume, although the Thai people will usually wear a top as well, which is just not functional when you've got a tan to consider! For girls it would be advisable to be slightly more conservative at these pools than when at the beach for example, where sarongs, thongs and suchlike are de rigeur. While dress may be casual, this does not extend to undress: topless sunbathing, which, while it does occur, is frowned upon by Thais who are usually too polite to say anything.

    Many of the classroom rules I mentioned earlier should be extended to when visiting Buddhist monasteries or other religious sites. Here girls in particular should cover their shoulders and knees. Revealing shoulders is considered very risqué, more so than revealing cleavage in the West. Girls should be aware of this, especially ona night out or at least traveling home, having painted the town proverbially red. Some of our current teachers take a small, light shirt in their handbag to put on when leaving, which seems a sensible option. As one of only fifty or so white people in a city of two hundred and fifty thousand you will stick out where ever you are, whatever you are doing and whatever you are wearing. Around fellow farang there are no problems but, when it comes to what women wear some Thai men can be guilty of judging books by their covers. Revealing shoulders may be considered as an invitation of sorts so if you wish to remain more inconspicuous, it would be wise to cover up in
    certain environments.

    Size and shape depending, Surat can ultimately cater for all your clothing needs. A tidy-casual look is how I would describe most people’s choice of attire here. Regular teacher attire is clean, neat, and presentable. Think business casual wear for the summer. My advice would be not to try and pack as much of your current wardrobe into your suitcase/backpack as humanely possible but instead only select items you KNOW you will definitely wear and leave everything else. Bon Voyage!

  • Make ‘Em Laugh

    The best bit of advice I got from another teacher during my own training was “Your classes have to be fun.  If they’re fun, the students will keep coming.”  Very simple, very straightforward, and very true. Since then I have always tried to make my classes extremely entertaining.  As a result I have had kids and adults fall out of their seats laughing, fellow teachers look at me as though I was cuckoo, Thai teachers look at me like I was from another planet, and had minor pains in my cheeks from smiling and laughing so much.  

    If you want to be an ESL teacher, you have to be prepared for the fact that the students you are trying to teach don’t speak the same language as you.  That’s the point of the whole thing.  But humor and laughter is usually something you need good communication skills, on both sides, to get across.  There can be a lot of levels in humor.  So making students who don’t really understand you have a good time can be a challenge.  Here are a few suggestions to help cross this hurdle:

    1.        Don’t take yourself seriously.  At all.  Loosen up.  Relax.
    2.        Overact.   
    3.        Know your audience
    4.        You should have fun too.  Connect with your inner kid.
    5.        Remember what that age was like for you.  Remember what was fun, what you enjoyed, and what
               you   would have enjoyed.
    6.        When in doubt – dance!

    It takes time to achieve laughter in the classroom.  Don’t expect it to happen right away.  Tip number 3 is “Know your audience”.  You won’t know your students until you meet them and have worked with them for a while.  Once you know what makes them giggle, you’re ready to be entertaining.  Until then, here are a few tips to carry you through:

    1. Identify the class clown or the loudmouths.  Call them up to the front and let them act things out for you.  They want the attention so give it to them.  Many times they will make everyone laugh,  either at them or with them.  In either case, it benefits you.
    2. Activities and games can be fun.  In my classroom we don’t play that many games because we do a lot of fun activities.  Getting up and moving around can be fun.  For example, the target is “Where are you going?”  You make each corner of your classroom a different location (or, even better, have the students come up them).  Then, one at a time, the students get up and walk to a corner.  “Where are you going?  I am going to the zoo.”  Once they reach the zoo, they have to pretend they’re at the zoo.  If necessary, go to that corner and act it out with them.  “Look, a monkey!  Look, a tiger!  A snake, ahhhh!”
    3. Laughing is fun.  Don’t be afraid to laugh and smile in the classroom.  It will put everyone at ease, including you.  If you see something that is funny, go ahead and laugh.  Enjoy yourself and the students will have a good time too.

    The longer you teach the easier this becomes.  It can be difficult at first to overcome your own tendencies to be reserved and a bit nervous in front of the classroom.  Pretty soon, however, you’ll be dancing, acting like a monkey, making funny faces, and doing whatever you can to make the class a fun environment.  And that is the way it should be.

  • The Excellence of Execution

    You can train all you want, spend hours making highly detailed lesson plans, think you’ve got the best lesson ever and it still may not go well.  I’ve seen it happen many times.  

    Nearly everything in teaching is in the execution.  Yes, being prepared is also important but if you can’t execute properly what you have prepped then it won’t matter much.  

    The execution of a lesson means how you go about getting the material across to the students.  A good teacher will be able to look at a target, think about their class and start to visualize how they will teach.

    Will it be fast paced with lots of kids running around demonstrating the language or will it be slower and more methodical?  Either way is fine.  It all depends on the personality of the teacher, the personality of the kids, and the targets themselves.

    The most crucial element in executing a good lesson is knowing your students.  You have to know what will and will not work with them.  You have to know when they are getting bored and when they need more work on a particular target.  You have to know how they react to different tasks, such as reading, writing, etc., and know when to assign them.  You have to know how to explain things in a way that they will be able to understand them.  All of these things may sound fairly obvious but you would be surprised at how many people are oblivious to these things.  They become so involved with their own lesson that they are unable to respond empathetically to their students.  You have to be able to pick up the cues fro the students as to what is working, what isn’t working, when they need more work on something, and when it’s time to move on.

    It takes time to get to know your students.  But the more you get to know them the easier executing a good lesson should be.  Sadly, some people never really get there.  They are more caught up in planning the minutia of their lesson than giving thought to the class as a whole.  This often results in a well-thought out lesson that doesn’t fit at all with the actual class that is being taught.

    Obviously you can’t know your students in advance.  But kids are kids the world over and you have to be a kid person in order to work effectively with them.  Don’t worry, you can become a kid person. Everyone was a kid at some point and we can all remember what it was like if we give it a try.  You just have to relax a bit, venture out, and try to have some fun.  My suggestion would be to get some exposure to working with kids before teaching them fulltime.  Volunteer, coach, mentor, substitute teach, anything will be helpful.  Preferably work with groups.  The more time you spend with kids, the more you will understand the differences in pace and activities that are needed at the various times in order to ensure maximum efficiency.  

    A lot of teaching comes down to personality and practice.  Some people are natural teachers.  They get along with and understand kids quickly.  Others need some time to get comfortable and find the best way for them to interact with the kids.  Ultimately, you need to be able to not only teach kids but also understand them and be empathetic to their learning needs.  The best thing you can do is now to start to find your comfort zone through practice and exposure.  Once there, you’ll be more able to execute a good lesson.