Jenny Tolep

Somebody is always screaming, a dozen dirty diapers provides a less-than-refreshing aroma and “Ring Around The Rosie” has played so many times that I could pull my hair out. Welcome to my life teaching Pre-K abroad. When I decided to teach English in Thailand, I never thought I’d be caught dead teaching Pre-K.  In Thailand, teaching Pre-K means teaching 17 two year-olds for seven hours a day, five days a week.

It can be tough to manage such a young age group, but luckily I’m not alone. I’ve got a wonderful Thai co-teacher by my side and an assistant — sometimes two assistants. Teaching Pre-K is a challenge and takes a lot of patience and discipline in order to handle so many students. As a new teacher, I still make mistakes and am still learning how to manage the students. But I’ve learned a lot through my employment and have come up with a few tricks of the trade that have made me into a better teacher.

1. Build a Relationship Based on Trust and Respect

As I started teaching midway through the school year, my students already had a strong attachment to my co-teacher. Due to this attachment, the students didn’t treat me the same way they did towards my co-teacher. There was a significant lack of respect and frankly some students just didn’t like me.

The fact that I don’t speak Thai can also be tricky with young kids. One student in particular was very scared of me during the first two months because I spoke a different language. It was difficult to connect with her but I kept trying in hopes of improving our relationship. It took a long time and a lot of rejection but one day, it clicked. She said my name for the first time and slowly but surely began to trust me.

Once my students started to like me, trust me and see me as an authority figure, running the classroom became significantly easier. Making the students laugh and acting sweet and loving towards them helps form a bond between student and teacher. However, it is equally important to for the students to see their teacher as an authority figure.

2.Trial and Error

As a Pre-K teacher, I have tried, failed and tried again. I have made plenty of mistakes, such as making lessons too difficult or not managing my time effectively. It takes some trial and error when starting any new job. But it especially takes trial and error when dealing with young children who have very different personalities. Some students respond better than others to certain things. For example, one of my students will stop misbehaving if I give him the wrong look, while another student needs to go to time-out to stop misbehaving. It takes time to learn about each student and how he/she responds in all types of situations. It is important to pay attention to detail and learn what works and what doesn’t work in all aspects of the job.

3.Get Creative

Coming up with “lesson plans” for Pre-K can be challenging considering the short attention span and the age of the students. When I first started teaching, I had no idea what to do for classes like “phonics” or “educational games.” It took a while before I was able to make lesson plans and projects that met the ability of the students. Two years-olds love to stick things on paper, do simple puzzles, paint and use their imaginations. Simplifying lessons as much as possible, while still making them fun and creative is vital.

It’s also useful to utilize Internet sources and the basic knowledge of your students. Websites such as, “Pinterest” have great ideas for crafts, lesson plans and teaching methods.  In addition, creating lessons that appeal to the interest of your students works well. For an example, I’ve created puzzles that require students to put numbers “1-5” in order. When the student completed the puzzle, there was a picture of popular cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse or Hello Kitty. My students loved this activity and responded better it because it involved their favorite cartoon characters.

4.Maintain Order and Enforce Rules

A mistake I made was not establishing a sense of order from the beginning. It’s important to enforce order and rules at the very beginning of the school year so students begin to develop a daily routine. With a lot of students, it’s difficult to get anything done without a set routine that they understand. My students know that in the morning they wash their hands, sit at the table, go through attendance and sing a few songs. Maintaining the same routines means there is less instruction needed and things can get done quicker. In addition, it is vital to enforce rules and discipline your students. Students need to learn at an early age how to treat their peers (e.g. no hitting) and act appropriately at school and in daily life. I teach my students to be polite and do things on their own, such as throwing away their own garbage and changing by themselves.


The biggest piece of advice I can give to future Pre-K teachers is to stay relaxed because there will be chaos every single day. At age two, students are not babies anymore so they are learning to develop their own independence. I had several strong personalities in my class. This ranges from the student who insists on changing clothes five times a day to the student who bites others to the one who runs down the hall whenever he gets the chance. I remind myself on a daily basis to stay calm and do the best I can. *** As challenging as Pre-K is, it is also rewarding. My students changed and grew so much from the beginning of the term to the end. It has been incredible to watch my students go through so many changes and know that I was a part of that development. Next term, I’m moving to K-1 with my students. We will have a class of 25 kids. Along with new students, I am anticipating new challenges, as well as new rewards.

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