January 8, 2011
More than likely, it's a good that that I've taken a couple of years to write something about my two years at Super English and how they influenced the next two years I spent in Thailand as well as more recent events back in the US. I taught at Super English from May of 2005 to April of 2007, first as teacher then as Head Teacher. I left Super English nearly four years ago, which doesn't quite seem possible, and I think the passage of time has allowed for more perspective.
Super English provided me with the opportunity to develop professionally and personally, something for which I will be eternally grateful. I came to Thailand with no teaching experience and no clue what I wanted to do with my life, to be quite honest. Of the four years, roughly, that I spent in Thailand, the two that I spent at SE were the most important and fulfilling. I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, particularly with regard to leadership. I continue to draw upon the lessons I learned from Peter and other Super English teachers and the experiences I had.
At Thida and other schools in town, I taught every age from Anuban to Mathayom 2, and a variety of skill levels at Super English. Under Peter's guidance, I was able to develop a system that worked for me and my students. When I left Super English, I taught at a large government school in Trang. I taught M5 and M6, and was able to utilize that basic framework that I had developed at SE. Likewise, when I left Trang to work at a hospital in Phuket and teach adults, I was able to do the same thing. Basically, the training I got from SE, and the freedom to develop naturally into the kind of teacher I needed to be, gave me the confidence later to walk into any kind of classroom, whether it had 50+ students, or
only 5, air-con, fan or nothing at all.
Working outside of Super English also gave me a different perspective on just how much Peter and the school go to bat for the teachers. Sadly, this is not always the case in Thailand. Peter and Jeab work hard to develop a familial atmosphere in the office and among the teachers. There were always interesting activities and excursions. In addition, I cannot stress enough the importance of the resources that Super English has accumulated over the years. Having worked at other schools, I can really appreciate the fact that we had so many unique materials at our disposal. Finally, the fact that Peter cares about the school
means that he puts considerable effort into choosing good teachers. This assures you that you are going to be working with interesting and fun people upon whom you can rely. I have worked in places where expectations were low and management didn't care. It was not fun, and the situations were made all the more aggravating because I knew what I had left behind in Surat. So it goes.
I do believe that there's an opportunity cost associated with teaching English in Thailand. Instead of teaching English, you could be continuing your studies or starting a career. However, I firmly believe that teaching English in Thailand (or going anywhere outside your home country for a year or two) is a good idea. First of all, with regard to continuing your education, what do you bring to a school if you've only just graduated from college? Go out and live. Figure out who you are and what you want to do. Even if you already know that stuff, you have the rest of your life to climb the corporate ladder or apply to law school. Go exploring. Working at Super English gave me tangible and translatable skills that far
outweigh the opportunity cost of the two years that I spent in Surat. Super English gave me not only international experience, but management experience. These were key factors in both my decision to attend graduate school to study international relations, and, I believe, key factors in my admittance. Having the opportunity to manage people from different backgrounds in a foreign setting is exactly the sort of experience schools are looking for. Though it is not necessarily common for people to switch from teaching to IR, it can be done. What matters are the skills that I was able to take from my experience at SE, and how I was able to work the years I spent in Thailand into a compelling personal narrative.
Finally, a note about Surat Thani itself. Once you get here, you'll realize the guidebooks got it all wrong. I did, and I was annoyed. Later, however, I was quite happy. While a great many foreigners pass through Surat, the vast majority of them see only the bus or train station, and maybe the night market if they're feeling adventurous. This ensures that Surat Thani, for the most part, remains a relatively "normal" city. Take the boat across to Samui, or the bus to Phuket, and see the difference. It's nice to be near those places, but trust me, Surat is a better place to live. If you need your farang fix, it's only a couple of hours away. Surat and its people are beautiful, friendly, and open. It's an easy city to navigate on foot, by bicycle, or by motorbike. Having now lived in several places in Thailand, I can honestly say that Surat is my favorite. It has, for me, the perfect mixture of elements. The cost of living is low, and the quality of life is high. I made lasting friendships in Surat, with both Thais and foreigners alike, and it is a place that I will always return to when in Thailand.