What It’s Like Teaching Kindergarten in Thailand - My Personal Story
Having spent more than 20 years as a marketing consultant, I decided to change career, to become an English language teacher. Hence, I took up the 120-hour TEFL course with ITTT, along with a specialised course in teaching young learners and another one in teaching business English. Even before I finished my TEFL course, I was offered a teaching job with a private school in Bangkok, Thailand. I have since been teaching kindergarten kids for about 8 months.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Albert P.
My Typical School Day
Teaching kindergarten kids is definitely a lot more fun and less stressful than working for corporate clients in my previous job. I start work at 8:00 a.m. and finish at 4:30 p.m. Apart from teaching an average of 4.5 hours a day, the rest of the day is for preparation work and lunch. I work a 5-day week with optional Saturday classes which are paid extra. My daily teaching hours are divided into 4-6 blocks of 50 minutes each. There could be a mixture of English lessons on reading and writing the alphabet and numbers, story time, play time (e.g. Lego) and craft.
Also read: 11 Fun ESL Activities for Young Learners
As soon as I enter the classroom, the local teachers will have assembled the kids to sit in a circle on the floor, in preparation for ‘circle time’, to warm them up before the actual lesson starts. After greeting me with the typical Thai gesture called ‘Wai’, where they put their hands together as if for prayer, I return the same greeting while sitting with them in a circle. Like all the kids and local teachers, my shoes are left outside the classroom. Circle time is meant to engage the kids and to give them opportunities to speak up. In my early days as their English teacher, I would sing “bee, bee, bumble bee, can you say your name for me”. It took me about 2 weeks to remember all their English nicknames; such as Sun, Data and Pun.
The kids are taught to talk about things like how they are feeling, the weather, day and month, etc. They are constantly reminded to answer in full sentences. To aid their memory, songs and body movements are often used for topics such as ‘Days of the Week’ and ‘Months of the Year’. Circle time often ends with more singing and dancing; to include favorites like Baby Shark, Wheels on the Bus, Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.
Also read: 8 Reasons to Teach English in Thailand
Planning and Preparation
While the school provides the curriculum, there is a lot of flexibility for me to plan my daily syllabus, as long as the kids complete the stipulated Letters Book, Numbers Book and Homework Book at the end of each term. In addition, I need to prepare worksheets to reinforce the lesson point for each day. Planning and preparing craft is perhaps the most time consuming activity of the week. Depending on the teaching theme for a term (e.g. healthy eating), the teacher needs to gather materials and prepare a finished sample of the craft for the students to follow, e.g. a paper ‘fruit basket'.
Lessons I Have Learned Since Starting My New Job
Classroom management is probably the biggest challenge for any new teacher. From my experience, this is mainly about managing disruptive behavior of kids who tend to be hyperactive and disobedient. Such kids often cannot sit still and crawl under the desks, lie on the floor, or take other students’ things. I have learned to isolate these kids, and not let them disrupt my lesson or the other students from doing their work. During circle time, these kids are seated on chairs at the back of the classroom, and face me. During independent work time, they may play Lego instead.
Another lesson that I have learned is about mixing the talkative students with the quiet ones, and to arrange the inattentive students to sit near me. The usual way to engage the unresponsive students is to call their names to answer questions. However, if they give the wrong answers, I do not say the word ‘no’, but use neutral words or phrases, such as ‘almost’, or ‘try again’.
Cultural sensitivity in a foreign country is also critical for a smooth transition to a happy and harmonious working relationship with students and co-workers. In Thailand, there are certain things that teachers should refrain from doing. Touching a student’s head is frowned upon as the head is the most spiritual part of the body. In contrast, the feet are considered ‘dirty’ and should not point towards anybody.
Finally, I have found that a lesson plan is needed for a substitute teacher if I am going to be absent from class. It is essential that the lesson plan be very detailed for a teacher who may not have taught kindergarten kids before; to include instructions for the teacher, specific questions to ask the students, and materials (e.g. flashcards and worksheets) for each stage of the lesson.
My Plans for the Future
My experience as an English teacher in Bangkok has been very interesting and rewarding. I have fun as well as challenges teaching kindergarten kids. Although I enjoy teaching them, I would like to experience teaching primary students as well. I am also keen to teach and travel in other countries. In order to become a more effective teacher, I need to prepare a classroom management plan and enforce it. I need to be consistent, calm and decisive in implementing my classroom rules.
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