After graduating from LanguageCorps and traipsing around Thailand, I settled in Bangkok and taught for a language center. Most of my lessons were one on one with Japanese businessmen. I had a few children and housewives as students as well but mostly middle aged Japanese men. The lessons were pre-designed and I rarely taught the same student twice. When I got off that plane in Phnom Penh, this teaching experience was as far out of my sights as my home town in NY was! I’d love to share some interesting lessons I learned while teaching private ESL lessons in Thailand.
1. Working for a Language Center means you wind up working with mostly Westerners.
My luck put me in a Language Center with mostly middle aged British men. To say the majority of them were quirky would be an understatement. Upon introducing myself to one named Michael he said, “Oh, Megan! Like M & M! My mom always signs her emails to me as M & M, Micheal’s Mother.” He was in his 50s. Oiy.
2. My job was really straightforward, each day we received a piece of paper with our lessons for the day.
Then we went to our file and !BEHOLD! there were the files of all of our students for the day. Within their files, there was information on what book and what lesson within that book they were on. I would spend 5-10 minutes refreshing myself with that lesson and the material covered so that I could sound like a knowledgeable little old English teacher. There was always some fun to be had when my student would pull out a different book or stare at me like I was speaking another language (HA!) and I would realize that I read that stupid doctor’s handwriting/chicken scratch/any-other-euphemism-associated-with-horribly-outrageous-handwriting completely wrong. I wasn’t supposed to be teaching prepositions, I was supposed to be teaching pronouns! Ugh.
Enter small talk 101.
3. Which brings me to my next point; 6 out of 10 lessons the students were sick of the actual material and would come in and just strike up a conversation instead.
At first, I dreaded these students. I’ve never really liked small talk in general, working at a restaurant definitely requires it so I can certainly say that I have advanced skills in the area but I never really enjoyed it. Now, after 3 months of constant small talk, I can small talk for an hour and a half and make my student feel just splendid about their English lesson afterwards.
4. Christmas morning doesn’t even compare in the happiness scale to opening a student file to find “N/S or CTL” (no show or cancel) scrolled across a high percentage of lesson notes. I got paid whether the student showed up or not, and I’d much prefer to read a juicy novel than talk about how to order in a restaurant.
5. I went to Thailand and wound up teaching private lessons at a Language Center. The majority of our clientele were Thai right? Wrong. Japanese! Japanese businessmen to be specific.
6. When you are living in Thailand, teaching Japanese men, finding relevant examples could prove to be rather daunting. Supermarket? Wegmans, easy. Wrong. Book store? Barnes and noble, even more wrong. Department store? Robinson’s in Thailand, Macy’s in NY, one of these have to be relevant in Japan, right? Wrong, and my student has only been in Thailand for 3 days.
Ha, this lesson will be interesting.
7. I now consider myself an expert in Pictionary, Taboo and Charades.
8. At times I got so busy I didn’t really even have a chance to look at the name on the file until the student sat down in front of me. Well, I had a series of questions I would ask students who I haven’t taught before. “How long have you been in Thailand?” was one of those questions. Well, then that student responds: “I’m Thai.
9. A handy little skill I now possess: the ability to read AND write upside down. If you have any occupations that this skill can be put to good use in, please let me know! Should it go on my resume?
10. Being a Speech Pathology major also comes with an innate ability to immediately recognize even the smallest sign of a speech impediment even in a non-native English speaker. Unfortunately, Japanese and Thai cultures are not keen on admitting that anything is wrong at all, especially with their children.
11. Students varied significantly. Some students came in and barely participated. Those were infuriating lessons. Some students loved learning the language and came in with their own topics or questions. And some students have, “Doesn’t like to be interrupted,” written on the outside of their file.
Don’t mess with that lady.
12. Going along with the theme of each student being very different; some students would say they are lonely in Thailand or that they want to take you out to dinner. Or they ask what ‘slut’ means. Life as a 1 to 1 English was always fun, you can’t deflect questions very easily when you’re stuck in a 5’ x 5’ room with just you and the student.
You can just pray for the next bell to ring.