Ross is originally from the UK, and has been teaching in Thailand for more than two years now. He now supervises a team of 15 teachers in a large private school in Chiang Mai, and has explored vast amounts of Asia in the process.
How did you decide to teach abroad?
I had been thinking about the prospect of teaching abroad for many years. I knew I wanted to give teaching a go, and I knew that I wanted to work abroad at some point. I finished university, and I had no job to ‘fall into’, so I put my two aspirations together and … the rest is history.
Can you tell us where you taught and how long you taught for?
I taught in a government school in Petchabun (Central Thailand) for 6 months, before moving to a private school in Chiang Mai. I have been working here for the last 20 months. Teaching at a government school was a very humbling job, and I am extremely grateful for my time there. It provided me with invaluable teaching experience for me to take into my current job.
Can you describe a typical day?
After completing my first year at my current school, I was chosen to be the next Matayom (Secondary) coordinator. This involves me directly supervising a team of 15 foreign teachers through their day to day tasks. A huge amount of my time in this role is dedicated to ensuring the smooth-running of the foreign teacher program. I attend a lot of meetings, observe teachers, assist teachers with any issues they are having, ensure all their admin is up to date and accurate, along with helping organize school events. Oh and I also teach 13 hours a week!
What are your favorite games and activities in the classroom?
There are a bunch of games and activities I rely on in order to teach effectively. After observing a lot of teachers throughout the last two years, it’s important to note that each teacher will have and follow their own style. I’m no exception. I’ve come to understand my style is heavily reliant upon humor and technology. My favorite activities are:
- Memory Games: I created a PowerPoint version which makes things easy, but this can be done with flashcards also. Cards for pictures, and cards for their vocabulary counterparts are placed face down in a square, teams in turn choose two tiles to turn over, in hope of matching a picture with the correct word. If unsuccessful, the cards are turned back over, and the next team goes. It’s incredibly simple, and extremely good for helping students retain vocabulary, and understand it visually.- Movie Segments: The blog moviesegmentstoassessgrammargoals.blogspot.com is by far my favourite ESL site, and links loads of grammar topics to movies for students to practice their language. For me, it’s vital to use movies, music, and social media in an ESL classroom for them to practice using, and understanding English in a plethora of ways.
- My other favourite simple game is called ‘risk’ (because ‘gambling’ is not legal in Thailand). Teams are given a set amount of points to start, the teacher asks a series of questions, and students assign all their points to answers (a, b, c, d or True/False). The points that are allocated to the correct answer are carried through to the next question; those on the wrong answer are lost.
For any new ESL teacher, creating a points or rewards system is vital, and can be a great way to motivate students in participating and behaving. If classroom management is an issue, the first thing you should look to is the engagement of the activities, and optimizing student output in a lesson.
What was the biggest challenge inside the classroom? How did you overcome it?
My first day teaching in Thailand … I arrived to my new town the previous day, and I was excited (and, of course, nervous) to get started. We weren’t given much time to prepare, and I was given my schedule to see that I was going to teach a Matayom 1 (12 years) class at 8:30am. It was at about 8:37am that I realized how vastly underprepared I was for that lesson, and the remaining 43 minutes were the slowest of my life. It was my first lesson of ESL, and by far the most difficult. It was a reality check in understanding how I needed to be a leader in the classroom, and that I needed to have activities that were both enjoyable and educational to students. Entering a class of 40-50 12 year olds with nothing but worksheets or grammar exercises is sure to fail. I immediately understood that this is ESL, and a different approach to teaching, and learning, was needed. All ESL teachers will have this ‘horror’ lesson, but I think they will all agree that it is both necessary and beneficial in the long-run.
What was the biggest challenge outside of the classroom? How did you overcome it?
Supervising a large team this year has meant I’ve had to deal with conflict within my teaching department, and hold numerous uncomfortable conversations with teachers who are older or more experienced that me. With regard to teaching, it’s safe to say the positive experiences overwhelmingly dominate the negatives.
Did you live comfortably with your salary while living abroad?
In my first job, I was paid 30,000 THB a month. For the area, this was very comfortable, and I was able to save around 50% of the wage to use at a later date. In my new job, with a more senior role, I live in a 2-bedroom house, don’t live too modestly, and still save 50% of my wage. I hope to travel to more countries at the end of the academic year, spending the money that has been saved.
What did you do in your spare time after school and on the weekends?
In Petchabun, me and other foreign teachers spent a lot of time together exploring the province, heading to national parks, eating at local restaurants, and visiting the local attractions. In Chiang Mai, we’re fortunate to have lots of surrounding cities to head to on weekends, very good motorcycle roads, and a very easy province for foreigners to live and work. I think it’s the freedom, and range of options that is the beauty for free time in Thailand, and specifically, Chiang Mai.
Why is it important to travel and experience new cultures? Is teaching abroad a great way to experience meaningful travel?
Schools are, in my opinion, a microcosm of a nation’s culture, and an excellent way of experiencing different traditions around the world. There are few other scenarios in which someone could understand a country better. I often hear people attest that others ‘need to travel’ and ‘should go out there’ – I strongly disagree. People are free to experience things for themselves, in the capacity that they see fit. For me, I knew it was something I needed to do in order to quench a thirst I’d had for years, for others, they may feel differently. Teaching abroad is undoubtedly a great way to experience different culture for those who are interested, and has been life-changing for me.
Can you tell us about one of your favorite travel experiences?
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit all of Thailand’s surrounding countries. It’s therefore ironic that most of my favorite travel experiences have come from within Thailand itself. Having a basic Thai-language ability has given me confidence to freely explore and be involved when traveling Thailand. Hitch-hiking in Sukhothai, temple running in Ayutthaya, showing my family Phetchabun, making Thai friends over a few beers in a dusty Northern town – it’s usually the small things that are my favorite, and usually the ones that don’t cost a single penny.
I talk to many teachers about their fear or doubt in trying something new or "putting themselves out there". What advice would you give to these teachers?
Becoming a teacher abroad is not a decision that should be taken lightly. In fact, I’d be worried if it was something that is not given much thought. I’ve worked with and employed around 60 different foreign teachers in just over 2 years, and I would be surprised if you found one that regretted their decision. I arrived in Thailand on a program with 19 others, and I’m the last one here. I guess what I’m trying to say is that people only regret the opportunities that they didn’t take.
I don’t know how much longer I will be teaching abroad. I said to my family it wouldn’t be more than a year (sorry). I’m extremely grateful to the wonderful students, colleagues, and friends that I’ve made throughout Thailand. I’m confident I will look back on these times as the best of my life.
About Journey to Teach Abroad:
Become a global citizen and discover life TEACHING ABROAD. Journey to Teach Abroad is a teacher training TEFL certification course in Los Angeles that GUARANTEES a teaching job abroad. They also offer Job Placements to amazing schools in Thailand and SouthEast Asia for those who are ready to go!
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