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


Currently showing posts tagged Teaching

  • Teaching in Korea by Brittney Johnson 2011

    I taught at a private language school (hagwan) in South Korea from November 08-November 09. It was an “interesting” experience. I did a lot of research and filtering through to try to find the most fitting position. It was my first teaching job so I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I was job searching, I had an instant connection with my future co-worker. She answered all of my questions via email. It seemed like a pretty good deal, so I decided to take it.

    The thing with taking a job overseas before you actually get there is that there is a possibility for you to find that it isn’t quite what you thought it would be.

    I taught daily kindergarten and elementary students from 9-2pm, in which I would see them everyday. Then in the afternoon I would teach from 3-6pm kindergarten and elementary students.  The afternoon students would either come twice a week or 3 times a week. The class sizes were small, 10 kids max. We shared our classes with a Korean teacher, but they weren’t physically in the class with us. We rotated between the 2 of us. So the kids would spend 40 minutes with a foreign teacher and then 40 minutes with the Korean teacher.

    I worked from 9-6pm Monday-Friday. However, even if our classes finished at 4pm, we had to stay until 6pm. The most classes taught per day were 9. On average I taught 6-8 classes a day. Our base salary was 2.3 million won (currently converts to about $2,000 USD). My base salary was based on 25 hours per week, any classes over that was considered overtime. So, some months my paycheck was quite high, close to $3,000.

    The school paid for my round-trip airfare upon completion of my 1-year contract. My contract also included a pension fund, 1-month severance, multi-entry working visa, health insurance and private accommodation.

    We had quite a bit of paper work. We had to make detailed lesson plans for each class, everyday. We wrote in student’s green books everyday (communication with the parents). In addition, we had to write monthly report cards for each student. This involved marking and writing about each student’s progress for that month. The foreign teachers also had to perform monthly evaluations on our daily morning students. This involved asking the student a set of standard questions to see how much they had improved from the previous month. And we also had a longer 6-month evaluation for our daily morning students as well. Depending on how many classes I had, I would say on average I spent between 1-2 hours a day on paperwork. However, if it was the end of the month we would stay after for about 4 hours to do our evaluation and report cards. Everything was handwritten until the end of my contract. We finally started getting in to typed paper work, which made things faster. None of our paperwork was ever checked. It was all up to the teachers to make sure everything got done. Luckily, we were all teachers that had integrity and we cared about our students.

    We taught a variety of subjects to our daily morning students: grammar, science, physical education, math, art, reading, etc. The mother company of our school wrote and produced the core curriculum we followed. We followed a strict schedule for each class’s curriculum. There was a set of 10 books for the main classes. In addition, we had math books, art books, reading books, etc. Our curriculum was based on having fun and being able to experience the actual learning of English. We had to order a lot of materials and crafts (paid for by the school). So, for example, we would teach the word “dirty.” I would order fake mud 1 week prior to teaching the class, and then the students would put their hands in the mud and wipe their hands on paper to make a picture with their “dirty” hands.  The kids had so much fun and they learned the word by “experiencing” it. But, with that being said, we didn’t have to “create” our own lessons. Everything we taught was explained in our teacher’s manual. The teacher’s guide actually gave us instructions on how to teach the lesson. So, even though some of our lessons were “fun,” it involved no creativity from the teachers.

    We also took monthly field trips, which included going to the movies, sledding, picnic, library, park, etc. We had free printing at our school, so we would print worksheets and make photocopies in the teacher’s office.

    A Korean family owned my hagwan. The daughter was the director but she was not very accessible. Basically, the teachers had to figure out and coordinate everything ourselves. Toward the end of my contract we got a Korean supervisor. She helped to organize things, but communication was still lacking. I was head foreign teacher and we had a head Korean teacher. There were lots of inefficient and unproductive things that the teachers had to do. There were high expectations but with little or no feedback, support or follow up from the management. There was usually only communication if something was wrong (which could have been avoided entirely if there had been open communication in the first place).

    One thing that was good and bad was that there was no one hovering over the teachers. I never once had anyone observe me. It was nice because we had freedom to teach how we wanted to. But for new teachers, it would be beneficial to have some sort of positive criticism, but there was nothing.

    I learned a lot my first year teaching in Asia. Prior to teaching in Korea, I had little or no contact or interaction with kids. I had always felt awkward around them. Korea made me realize that I actually love being around kids. They are so resilient and loving. That’s why I came to Thailand! Teaching in Thailand is quite different than teaching in Korea. Korean kids are very disciplined. Some kids go to school from 9am-10pm. There is a lot of pressure put on them. I hope I was able to be a bit of fresh air to my students. I tried to mix in a bit of fun into their daily stressful lives.

    It’s definitely an adjustment being in Thailand, but I’m enjoying the challenge.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Super English Dress Code

    Dress Code Standards

    You are expected to dress professionally. The best idea is to ask yourself whether or not you would wear the same thing to work as a teacher in a Western school. If the answer is “no”, then you shouldn’t wear it to a Thai school either. Business casual is the best description. You must be clean, neat and presentable. You must look like you are working and not on holiday. Keep in mind that you want to be perceived as a teacher, not a tourist.

    Please remember that Thailand is a very appearance based society. Thai teachers dress up. Thai people do not expect us to wear silk jackets, but they do expect us to look professional, as well as not offend their culture, traditions, and values. Keep in mind that when one person fails in this area, it affects everyone. We are a team and one person reflects the standards and attitudes of everyone else.

    Dress Code for Women

    No shorts to any school.
    No farmer/fisherman/fold-over/drawstring pants
    No skirts that are above the knee.
    No tank tops. You must always have your shoulders and upper arms covered fully.
    No t-shirts
    No capris pants to any outside contracts.
    Necklines must be reasonable and professional

    To classes outside of Super English, women are expected to wear shoes that are professional. No flip flops. Women are not required to wear socks. Teachers may go barefoot.


    Hair color must be a natural color
    Hair length and style must be reasonable, presentable, and professional

    Dress Code for Men

    Men are required to wear collared shirts, either short sleeve (polo) shirts, short sleeve button down shirts, or long sleeve button down shirts. These shirts must be fully buttoned, with the exception of the top button. Men are not expected to wear neckties, but may do so if they wish. Men are required to wear dress trousers/pants to all classes. For classes outside of Super English, men must wear dress shoes and socks. At Super English, teachers may go barefoot.

    No farmer/fisherman/fold-over/drawstring pants
    No shorts
    No t-shirts
    No jeans
    No Hawaiian shirts


    Facial hair must be kept short, neat, trimmed and presentable at all times. Men are allowed sideburns to the earlobe, as well as goatees, and mustaches with goatees. Teachers must be prepared to shave off any facial hair if requested by the administration.

    No beards
    No mustaches
    Hair color must be a natural color
    Hair length and style must be reasonable, presentable, and professional

  • 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.