TEFL in Thailand- Rants and Realities

 

We are approaching finals week, where each student is to take 3 English exams and 3 Thai exams. I’ve never taught in the States, so I don’t really have anything to compare this to, but my five and six year-old students are taking three 90 point exams which will count toward 50% of their grade. If they do not pass my kindergarten class, they will be taken from the English Program and placed in lower level English classes that aren’t as rigorous. It’s highly frowned upon to fail students in any grade here in Thailand because of the obsession with losing face. I basically have to guarantee that they pass, but then give my recommendation if I think they should be placed in a lower class. If they are doing well in their Thai classes, my recommendation will become void, and they continue along in the English program.

In the school, we have 60 students in KG 1 (for ages 4 & 5), 60 students in KG 2 (ages 5 & 6), and about 120 students in grade 1.  Today I went into the school on a Saturday to help proctor a test for potential new 1st graders. The students were sat down to take a 50 point exam that had questions pulled from our KG 1 & 2 students’ tests. They had to score 50% or above to be considered for the English program. Out of 64 students, 15 scored more than 50%. The whole time I was giving the exam, Thai teachers were poking their heads in to help the kids translate the test. After all was said and done, the director of the English company who runs the program at our school said, “Well, we have room for 50 more students in the English Program, so we will just have to lower the admission standard to 20%.”

All of this makes my head spin.

I could rant and rave about this all day. The truth is, I don’t know much about how this education system works (or any, for that matter), but now I know why the grade 1 teachers are so frustrated. My KG2 students who go into that class can tell me full sentences about how their weekend went. The new students looked at me with a blank stare when I asked them their name. Mixing those students in a classroom and expecting them all to perform up to the standard of the class curriculum is absolutely insane. After I was finished proctoring the test today, my boss told me that the test scores go out the window if a parent makes a generous monetary donation to the school. Working for this school is frustrating as hell.

The school is a government school. The English teachers make almost triple the salary of the Thai teachers, yet we do not have any say in who advances and who stays.We don’t really have a say in anything, actually. I’m quickly realizing that it all comes down to money.

Last month, I posted about a trip to Trang with some students to showcase their English abilities for prospective parents at a school that the English company (the ones in charge of English teachers’ contracts)  was in the process of building. If you haven’t read the post, I basically explain how the company and the principal of my school decided to open a school together, and how it was a huge crock to see the immaculate displays of how wonderful the new school would be, meanwhile my school “can’t afford” soap for the bathrooms. I promise you that all of the run-on sentences are a direct result of my frustration with this system.

I have recently come across an article about the English Proficiency Index  (EPI) in Asia. To sum it up, Thailand’s EPI is ranked 14th out of 18 countries. The country spends 31.3% of its GDP on education, which is well over Asia’s average of 14%. There is a ton of pressure to increase the EPI because tourism funds about 20% of Thailand’s GDP. Here is the full article.

Schools with English programs get a huge increase in their cut of the budget. When the school’s budget goes up, so does the principal’s. The English company in charge of hiring teachers get paid a monthly percentage of the wages of the teachers they contract. And on of it all- English teachers in Thailand are paid well. Extremely well.

I’ll admit, I am guilty of losing sight of what’s going on.   I am paid a salary of $1,100 USD per month in a country whose annual GDP per capita in 2014 was $5,778. I came in with no background of education and I’m making more than 2x the GDP. I don’t even have a work permit yet. Could you imagine if a 25 year old with no experience moved to the United States and started teaching kindergarten for $121,000 per year?

How do you say “white privilege” in Thai?

Yes, I am a native English speaker with a certification to teach English as a foreign language. I love my students, and I want nothing more than for them to have a quality understanding of the English language. The problem is, can I feel okay accepting a salary that high? Can I really be bitching about hand soap when the government’s resources are being poured into paying me the big bucks?

It just doesn’t feel right.

The school year is wrapping up for the kids, and I’ve done some long, hard thinking about the new school year starting up in May. I’ve come to the conclusion that when I envisioned myself living in Thailand, I didn’t picture this. The money here is good, but I didn’t come here to make money.  I like to travel for prolonged periods of time because I love to fully immerse in new cultures. I just don’t have that here.  I’ve gotten sucked into living the lavish lifestyle of the farang (foreigner) in Thailand.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s such an ideal situation to be able to go on an island getaway every weekend.  I have made some wonderful friends from all over the world. I’ve written countless blog posts about how cheap everything is, and how it’s so easy to live here. I’ve seen the stunning geography of Thailand, but I’ve hardly scratched the surface of real Thai culture.  I have been here for nearly 6 months, and I don’t know Thailand.  I’ve completely lost sight of my true passion for travel. The truth is, this situation is just not nourishing my soul.

I have given my notice at the school. My KG2 students are moving up to 1st grade, and a new batch of students will be ready for the new teacher at the start of the school year in May. My students’ last day of school is March 11th. I am going to help teach a 3 week orientation for the incoming KG1 students, and then I’m leaving.

Sheesh. This post has gotten deep. Oops.

Anyhow… I can’t leave SE Asia having only visited Malaysia and Thailand, so I’ll be doing a little country-hopping before I leave. I’ll be reducing my belonging to all that can fit into a 40L backpack, and I’m going to do a little 5 week tour.

The plan is:

Phuket > Bangkok > Siem Reap > Bangkok * > Ho Chi Minh City > Hanoi > Bali >Kuala Lumpur > U. S. of A.

*I got a sweet deal on flights, but it meant a 3 day stopover in Bangkok. Without even realizing it, I will be in Bangkok from April 12th-15th. April 13th is the national holiday Songkran, which is celebrated with nation-wide water fights. I wasn’t even thinking about it, but I am so happy it panned out the way it did!

I will be heading back to the States on May 6th.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for tolerating my  rants and realizations. I can’t promise any exciting blog posts in the next few weeks, but I will try my best. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “TEFL in Thailand- Rants and Realities

  1. Laura says:

    I’m so proud of you! I admire your candidness and maturity. You will continue to add “been there, done that moments” you your list! Enjoy your travel and we will hopefully see you soon!

    Liked by 1 person

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