Teaching English in Phuket, Thailand

Teaching English in Phuket, Thailand

Beth Juanita Young has been very busy in her second year of teaching English in Phuket, Thailand. I had a chance to catch up with her after our first interview where she spoke about immersing yourself into Thai Culture. Since then, she went on a week-long classroom learning trip and her school hosted a competition for impromptu speeches, and her student won! This was Beth’s first time seeing her student win a competition like this as a visual arts teacher teaching English in Phuket. Her student moved on all the way to the regional championships. What an accomplishment!

At the Impromptu Speech Competition in Nakhorn Si Thammarat
At the Impromptu Speech Competition in Nakhorn Si Thammarat

 

Beth talked about the day-to-day challenges she faced in her second year teaching English in Phuket, Thailand and how she began to overcome them. She is feeling more comfortable as a teacher. Plus, being at the same school two years in a row has helped her adjust even more. Beth is still finding her rhythm as a teacher. As any teacher knows, it takes time to find a rhythm. She’s enjoyed learning how to use her time to plan projects and assist her students. Although Beth works for a government school, she listens to her students’ needs while delivering creative lesson plans set by the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC).

What is a typical day at your school like teaching English in Phuket, Thailand? 

“A typical day at school for me begins with heading to the convenience store across the street from my school. I grab a coffee and some breakfast to start my day. When I get into school, I head straight to the office that I share with 14 other foreign-subject teachers and a few Thai-subject teachers. It’s always nice to greet each other in the mornings and have a few minutes of calm before the busy day starts.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, my teaching day starts at 7:40 AM because I teach enrichment English classes on those days. Normally, we attend morning assembly at 8:00 AM, where the national anthem of Thailand is played by our school marching band, and a Buddhist prayer is observed. On a typical day, we have nine 50-minute teaching periods. I can teach anywhere from two to six classes a day. It just depends on the week and the semester.”

Flexibility Out of the Classroom

“If we are lucky enough to have our lunch hour match up, I eat lunch with my colleagues. If not, I spend my lunch period at my desk eating food I brought to school (new year health kick, haha!). What I do in my free time between classes really depends on what is happening in the semester at the time. Sometimes I spend it making props and costumes for our program’s Drama department. Other times I spend it grading and correcting students’ work. I often spend my free time helping students with their projects outside of class hours. It may all seem a little boring or mundane, but we do have events and celebrations which happen often throughout the year. There is always something to look forward to!

Snapshot from our Christmas celebrations at school
Snapshot from our Christmas celebrations at school

 

During December, my typical days were spent going between my classes and rehearsing for our Christmas Fair Performance. It was a very busy month, but we had such an amazing day full of Christmas celebrations it made all the hard work worth it. I started 2020 by being out of school for a few days. I accompanied one of my students to an impromptu speech competition in Nakhon Si Thammarat (another province in southern Thailand). The week after that, we headed 16 hours north to Samut Songkhram for our week-long annual Outside Classroom Learning trip. We spent the week learning about Thai culture, foods, and agriculture. Every month is something different, so my ‘typical’ day varies so much! It is never boring, that’s for sure!” 

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

A photo with a few students at our-homestay on the OCL trip
Students at our homestay on the OCL trip

“As I previously mentioned, I work alongside 14 other foreign teachers and a large group of Thai teachers and staff. We are a pretty diverse team, with nationalities from American, British, Filipino, Indian, Singaporean, South African, and Thai. I love the people I work with. I feel very fortunate to find such a lovely workplace to not only call my job but also to call my ‘home’. The people and students create that welcoming atmosphere. I work very closely with our Drama teacher, as I also have a history in acting and performing. We team up a lot for our school’s performances and anything in the creative arts department.

The amount of classes I teach depends on the semester. It can range from 16 in-class hours to 22 hours, depending on the workload. In Semester One, I teach Visual Arts to grades 7-10 (10 periods per week). I teach visual arts to the higher-level students in Semester Two.

Teaching English and Art in Thailand

I love teaching visual arts. Inspiring my students to explore the world of creative expression and seeing their faces light up when they achieve something new is the best reward. One of my favorite things to see is when a student discovers an artist, a style, or a technique they love. I also love seeing how accomplished they feel when they complete a piece of artwork. Art is my passion and I am so grateful that I get to teach it!

I also teach other subjects like Core English, Young Guide, Problem-Based-Learning, and English for Communication and Writing. Core English is typically six periods per week. In Core English we focus more on grammar and learning the building blocks of the English language. Young Guide is more of a vocational course, where we focus on tourism, hospitality, and using English for those industries. All our other English courses all have aims to broaden our students’ abilities as well as conversational and written language skills. I like this course best as we have a bit more freedom in our lesson planning and project making, although I like to be creative in all my subjects.

Play Around With Projects

For example, I love using role play and imagination in my students’ projects. I find it really allows them to gain confidence and be more excited about learning and using English. I currently have a project that my grade 7 students are working on. They have to create a video guide about surviving a disaster using modal verbs for rules and obligations, as well as modals for advice and suggestions. Some of the topics that groups have chosen to look at are very creative. Some examples are about surviving a zombie apocalypse, a plane crash, an alien invasion, and a volcano eruption. It makes me so proud when I see my students engaged and excited about a class.

I also teach Enrichment English classes. These are extra supplementary classes to help students with their progression. I have a homeroom class that I go to for our homeroom hour once a week. I also have a club I am responsible for on  Friday afternoons. If we have a competition coming up, a lot of my free time will be used with that. I typically train and practice with students to help them get ready for competing. Like I said earlier, what I do day-to-day depends on a lot of factors.” 

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

“As I said above, we are a very small team of teachers, so we all know each other well. I am happy to say that I have built a lot of strong working relationships with my coworkers. We all have a common goal to deliver the best possible education and experience for our students. Like with every job, there are people who I am closer to than others, but that comes naturally with life.

I have a brilliant relationship with my boss. She is such a wonderful lady and I am forever grateful for all her support and guidance. I am fortunate to say that I don’t just have working relationships with my coworkers. Some are true friends. You need that here, especially if you’re living on your own and have no friends or family outside of work. Loneliness can be a real issue when you move abroad. I feel like I hit the jackpot when I found my job.  really found a wonderful, supportive environment for my first teaching job. I’ll remember this school and these lovely people forever!” 

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

Visiting the Amphawa Floating Market
Visiting the Amphawa Floating Market

“I don’t think I can pinpoint one single part of the day, as everyday is different! I do have to say, I love my homeroom class time. This is when I get to work and interact with the students outside of our usual English or Art lessons. It’s important that teachers engage with their students and get to know them outside of their class-time. I’ve found that giving students an extra bit of care, an ear to listen to their problems, and a friendly, relaxed relationship helped to build a better bond and grounds for respect inside of the classroom.

Another thing I really enjoy is the end of the day. The last period of the day at school is usually free for most classes. Our office typically gets invaded by students. Students come in to see teachers to ask questions, submit work, and sometimes to sit and have some company. During this time of the day, I usually help some of my seventh-grade students with their homework. If I have a really fun and successful lesson, that automatically becomes my favorite part of the day. I leave feeling so inspired and uplifted afterwards. I try to enjoy the entire day, as that’s what I’m here for: the whole experience!”

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

“As I teach multiple different subjects, the method of teaching can change depending on the subject and the learning outcome of the lesson. Our program works with the Thai curriculum set by the Office of the Basic Education Commission, as it’s a government school. Each subject has been enhanced to meet an international standard while still meeting the OBEC requirements. For English Language, we use the Common European Framework of Reference indicators and those set by OBEC. For content, we use a book series to guide us for each CEFR level. As teachers, we are free to plan, create and make our own lessons and materials, as long as we ensure we are following the set indicators for each subject and semester. We make our own semester schedules as well. I enjoy having that freedom, especially when teaching visual arts.

Getting Creative With the Thai Curriculum

As for methods, I like to be very versatile and deliver content differently every few weeks. I like to keep my students engaged and excited about learning by using multiple different types of activities and exercises. I also use a lot of different media sources (powerpoints, interactive games using the computer, videos, video-based projects, etc.). In the English Language, I like to use games to help my students feel connected and confident about their abilities. Our students can be very competitive when it comes to team games, so they always put a lot of effort and brainpower into game-like activities. I like to elicit as much language from students as possible, limiting my talking time whilst guiding them to strengthen their abilities and build their confidence.

When teaching visual arts, I have found myself using a lot of techniques my own college tutors used to deliver content and teach technique. I love hands-on learning. It is my belief that students must physically engage with an activity, technique, or medium to be able to really learn and develop skills. I always want my students to discover a new technique or material by ‘doing,’ not by listening about it or only watching someone else do it. I want my students to think about art in a different way to what they may normally do. Art is for everyone and creative subjects are an integral part of learning.” 

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

A trip around the khlong-(river) in a longtail boat while Teaching English in Phuket, Thailand
A trip on the khlong (river) in a longtail boat

“I start to plan my semester by making a list of subjects and topics I know I need to deliver, then I brainstorm project ideas for each subject/course. I love planning art courses, as I really like to try new project ideas and building activities for the students. Admittedly, planning English lessons didn’t come so naturally to me. There has been some learning by trial and error when it comes to classroom activities. Nonetheless, I’ve been able to reflect and evaluate those situations in order to make myself a better educator.

Examples of Student Projects

My seventh-grade students are working on the survival guide for a disaster that I previously mentioned. My ninth-grade students are busy finishing their class magazine that we will have professionally printed. The aim of the magazine is for them to produce a collective piece of work that shows the writing skills they have developed throughout the semester. The eleventh graders are finishing up their visual journals and group mural paintings as we are coming to the end of our school year. Although I feel confident in my lesson planning skills, I always aim to improve for the next school year.

I get ready for a lesson by making sure I know my lesson plan and content well. I make sure I have all the equipment and documents I may need for the lesson. Sometimes, things don’t go to plan. Activities get extended, exercises take a little bit longer to complete and that’s okay! I try not to be too hard on myself if that does happen, I just make sure I deliver all required content to all of my students, even if it means having an extra class one day (which happens often because of the many events we have at school).”

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or through all classes? Can you describe it? 

“The school I work at is a government school, but we have a private International Program within the school itself. Most subjects in our program are taught only in English. A select few courses are taught in Thai. Those courses are Thai History and Culture, Thai Traditional Dance, Music, Athletics, and Higher-level Math). The courses which are taught in English are English, Sciences, Mathematics, Visual Arts, Drama, Media Studies, Social Studies, Occupational Technology, Computer Science, and Health. Our students all have different levels of English ability, so we do have to account for students who are at an elementary level as well as students who are pre-intermediate and intermediate.

It can be difficult to keep students who are on opposite ends of the skill levels engaged and excited about class. We have to make sure that those students who have advanced abilities don’t get bored in lessons and are still challenged, while ensuring that students who are in the elementary stages of learning the language are still striving and showing progress in their abilities and confidence. Our classes aren’t split by skill level because we have such a small cohort of students in the entire program. We have two classes per grade. One class is learning an English-Math curriculum and the other is learning a Science-Math curriculum. The E-M students have more dramatic studies and vocational subjects using English. The S-M students study additional sciences and math subjects.  This is why we hold enrichment classes for students who need a bit more help and time to develop their skills.” 

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

“When it comes to grades, we use the Thai grading system. We are free to create projects, tests, and exams ourselves. We are trusted to ensure we are keeping to the course description and delivering the content in accordance with our set indicators. Our students must reach a certain percentage in each project and exam in order to be able to pass, and if their grade for the entire semester fails to meet a certain percentage, they must retake the course the following semester.

We use goals and learning outcomes closely tied to the set indicators. We need to ensure we provide students with the correct content so we have regular assessments at the end of each module or topic. Each teacher is fairly free and trusted to create their own assessment schedule, as long as we keep in accordance with the Thai system. Students receive a certificate for each completed school year from the Thai education authority.”

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself since in the classroom this year?

Beautiful flowers on our our school's campus
Beautiful flowers on our school’s campus.

“I struggled to find an answer for this question because I really don’t know what to say. I think I could say that I’ve started to realize what my own teaching style is more than I knew at the beginning of the school year. Although I still think I have a long way to go to feel completely comfortable in my skills, I’m trying not to be over critical of myself. I think that a lot of teachers struggle with that, especially in the first few years of settling into the career. I’ve learned more of what works and what doesn’t work for me, in all areas from lesson planning and class activities to behavior management and personal lesson delivery skills.

I’ve also learned to say no. A lot of things can be asked of us art teachers. As the only one in our program, I struggled with finding my voice at first. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to help where and when I can, but some requests and expectations do weigh heavy. I can’t allow ‘extras’ to affect my everyday classes and ability to be the best teacher. While I love to collaborate with others and use my creative skills, I know my boundaries and when to voice my concerns.

Keep Striving

I also learned that it’s okay not to be perfect, and that really, every educator has had to make mistakes and have messy lessons in order to learn and improve themselves. So if I have one piece of advice to everyone, don’t be too tough on yourself! We’re all learning and striving to do our best, we shouldn’t allow our own doubts to stop us from reaching our own goals and fulfilling our full potentials.

I look forward to the next school year and discovering a lot more about myself, as well as developing my skills as an educator. I hope I can stick around with the rest of the Teach Abroad and Dreams Abroad team, too!”

Wrap Up of Teaching English in Phuket, Thailand

Beth had an incredible second year teaching English in Phuket. She has a supportive boss and team of teachers, some of whom have become her true friends. She’s encouraging her students “to do” and think for themselves while learning English. Her strategies are apparently working seeing as her students are competing in competitions and winning. Congratulations, Beth! 

Beth’s school break will be from April to mid-May 2020. She will spend the month of March preparing for the next year and wrapping up this last school year. We will check in with Beth in March to see what she has planned before her next school year starts back up in May 2020.

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