by Craig Blackburn (May, 2005 – May, 2007)
I came to Thailand originally because I had never been to Asia and was interested specifically in the history and culture of Southeast Asia. I first came to Thailand because I had friends who had come and enjoyed it immensely. I was also familiar with the cuisine and ate Thai food regularly back at home. It seemed a logical first choice to visit. The first trip I took was only two weeks. Not enough time. As happens frequently, I fell in love with the climate, the people and the food. The pace of life agreed with me. I decided to come back and live here for a while.
When I was making plans to move to Thailand I spent some looking at available options as far as work goes. It seemed difficult to find jobs outside of education or diving. I was a bit leery of working in a school for several reasons. I did not want to be one of the unfortunate souls who “falls into” teaching. I’ve had some bad teachers in my time. I didn’t want to be one of them. In addition, I wasn’t really sure whether or not I liked children. That might sound strange but most of my experience with kids was via the restaurant industry where, by and large, children are nightmares. I ended up getting in touch with Peter through a mutual friend. I wanted to know about living in Thailand, work opportunities, etc.
Applying for a job at Super English was not something I had intended to do but after trading emails with Peter it was what I did. From the start, Peter came across as very enthusiastic and sincere. The information he sent me on the school was interesting. I didn’t really have much to compare it to at the time but now that I’ve been here I realize he was really trying to prepare for me what it would be like. There’s only so much of that you can do. The rest involves showing up and throwing yourself into it. But seeing pictures of teachers, pictures of the school and the students helped. It was also nice to show my family this information. I’m pretty happy to go into situations with little or no expectations but my family wanted a bit more info on what I would be doing aside from killing them by moving half-way around the world.
I was fortunate to have two weeks to travel before I began training. I arrived in Bangkok and almost immediately boarded a train for Khorat. I’m extremely glad I did. Traveling alone was a big help as far as acclimation was concerned. It was also nice to travel to Northeastern Thailand as it is the least toured area of the country and has excellent food. Not many people spoke English so I had to learn the basics of Thai quickly. By the time I had gotten down to Surat I’d seen some amazing things, met some great people. I was no longer waking up at 3 AM.
The training itself was not stressful at all. For a few hours a day myself and another teacher would come in to the school and Peter would go over either teaching basics or aspects of Thai culture in relation to education. Peter stressed that we were in charge of our classes. There would be no one looking over our shoulder. Having someone put this much trust in me when I had really no idea what I was doing was as reassuring as it was unsettling. Basically, Peter made it clear that he and the school were supportive of the teachers. Having been a teacher at other schools, he’s experienced some of the more annoying and tedious aspects of working as a teacher. Lesson plans in advance, rigid curriculums, other generally lame stuff. Our life would be relatively free of hassle and paperwork.
The classes themselves. At Super English, it was about what I had expected. Classes ranging in size from five to fifteen but usually with about ten students. Students of varying ages and skill levels. The first few classes were a bit rough as it took me a while to get the hang of time management and discipline. Throughout my time at Super English (1+ years), Peter has been fully supportive and extremely helpful. Any time I ask him a question or come to him with a concern about a student or class, he deals with it. When one of my classes needed straightening out, he taught it for me and got the kids on a routine and typed out a class procedure for me. He’s an amazing resource as he has much experience teaching. He also works hard to keep our office stocked with the best teaching aids around. A lot of books and materials he brings back from the US. The school really puts teachers and students first, the business aspect second. I can honestly say that its goal is to educate children. I’m extremely happy and fortunate to be working in a place where I can get to know my students and design classes that will enable them to learn.
At Thida: When I first started teaching, Thida was a complete fiasco for me. The classes were out of control and there was very little learning happening. Gradually, I got a handle on some of my classes. Again, Peter and the school were of great assistance. Due to the combined efforts of Peter and Pla (an administrator at Thida), we now have Thai teachers in our classes to handle the discipline. That frees us up to actually teach. The difference between Thida this year and last year is like night and day. What was once a dreaded necessity is now a lot of fun. I really like my students. I taught them last year in M1 and it’s nice to see them actually progressing. A note here about the Thai educations system: it is completely screwed. Not much learning goes on across the board. Things are changing, but slowly. It takes some patience to deal with the weird stuff they throw at you. The best thing to do is just smile and shrug and appreciate it for its oddness. Don’t worry about not having any teaching experience. I had zero experience myself before Super English. For me it was the perfect learning environment. No one told me what to do or how to do it. At the same time, if I had questions all I had to do was ask. The school does an excellent job of supporting the teaching staff with teaching resources and roundtable discussions of teaching aids and the like. It’s all very open. If you were to find that something you were doing was working very well then we would probably ask you to tell other teachers about it. And if you had a problem with a certain area then there’s always the chance that it will end up the topic for discussion. Peter has always been extremely supportive. I’ve mentioned things to him in passing and then had him come in the next day with suggestions and tips. For me, the school is a classic case of “what you put into it is what you get out of it.” If you care about your job, if you care about teaching the kids, you will be a good teacher because you will do what it takes to become a good teacher. There’s a learning curve, too. No joke. Every day I go into a classroom with kids I learn something new or tweak something I’ve learned before. It’s the nature of the beast.
Classes are large at Thida, to be sure. I’m actually looking forward to it for a couple of reasons. First, there will be a Thai teacher in the classroom with us. This will help matters of discipline immensely. There shouldn’t be any problems with kids acting up or creating distractions. Of course, some of the kids will zone out. That’s fine. Teach the kids that are paying attention. With a class that large it will be difficult (if not impossible) to involve everyone. In some ways that makes things much easier. We approach the Thida classes with an open mind and have fun with them. You’re going to be way more fun than the Thai teachers without even trying. Teaching is a lot like performing. You get in there, work the crowd, end on a high note. With larger classes you can also experiment with group activities and that sort of thing.
As far as living in Surat goes, I like it. The town has enough bars and restaurants that I don’t get bored. It is also inexpensive. If I want to go out every night, I can. If I want to sit in my house and read, I can do that too. The social scene, like the school itself, really hinges upon how much effort one puts into it. There are plenty of other farang teachers around town and they’re all usually open and inclusive. In addition, there are plenty of great Thais in Surat. I love going to restaurants or bars by myself and practicing Thai. It’s probably one of my favorite pastimes. Surat is close to a lot of tourist attractions in Southeastern Thailand. Phuket is just a couple of hours away. Samui and the other islands are close. Getting away for the weekend is easy and a fun way to break up the week or month.
Oh, yeah. Vacation. We get a lot of it. It’s excellent.