After completing two weeks of an intensive two week TEFL course in Chiang Mai in Thailand my course provider placed me at a government primary school in Kamphaeng Phet (KPP). KPP is mid way between Chiang Mai and Bangkok; it takes about 5 or 6 hours to get to either city.
I was given the choice of teaching maths or science. I said science and wished I’d said maths – because I felt that maths would be easier to teach, surely you just tell them what page to turn to and then when they’ve answered the question they can find the answers in the back and mark it themselves. I also made the science decision without actually asking questions, like is there a lab and any equipment or chemicals, I soon found out that the answer to all of this was improvisation.
I actually ended up enjoying the teaching. My students were funny. I had a student say that he always thought that people from England were tall; so he was quite basically saying that I was short. Or when I asked my students to think of a predator and prey and draw them one student asked ‘How do you spell Godzilla?’ and he then drew Godzilla eating chicken drumsticks.
I didn’t like the textbooks that we had to use. These books were meant for Thai students but didn’t represent them. I also thought that they were very advanced for students who were having to learn in a second language.
My students were aged 5 to 11. The 5 year olds always made you feel wanted, they would all say how much they loved science and tests and seem really excited when you came into the classroom. We did do alot of drawings.
My home class were the grade 4s. They were the best class, obviously I didn’t have a favourite class. My home class was the smallest with only 22 students so far more manageable than the forms that had 30+ students.
The school had around 1500 students. There were two special programs in the school: the Mini English Program (MEP) and the Mini Science Program (MSP) and then the majority of the students were in the ‘ordinary’ Thai system. I worked in the MEP section and half of my students’ classes were in English and the rest of their classes were in Thai. The students in the MEP and MSP section of the school paid more for their education. The MEP is a national program in Thailand and the goal is to get the students fluent in English, a lot of my students wanted to be doctors or dentists so they would need to be fluent in English. Most of my students also had extra tuition outside of school, the ones that did not struggled and were left far behind.
One issue that did arise during my time teaching was safeguarding. I really was not comfortable with the behaviour of one of my teaching assistants and I did not know where to take this issue to discuss it. In all of my classes I had a teaching assistant who was there to help. I loved it when I would say something in English and then the teaching assistant would repeat it in English but with a Thai accent and the students would then get it. The teaching assistants were also there for discipline purposes too and the paranoid side of me would also say that they were there to ensure that I was doing my job proficiently.
During my time in KPP I went up to Chiang Rai and visited the white and blue temples.
We also had a school trip to Rayong and Chonburi; there were two schools just outside Bangkok which were in the top 3 schools in the whole of Thailand, it was interesting to see the facilities that they had, for example, they had labs. It was also funny because one of the teachers at the school was trying to persuade the foreign teachers to come and work at their school. The schools were very nice and the beach at Rayong was very beautiful and clean.
Every year the government schools in the north of Thailand have an ‘Open House’ competition. They compete in various subjects for example storytelling, singing, spelling, maths and of course science, so I had to come up with an idea for a science project with minimal equipment. I didn’t really know what I was doing and what was expected and I pretty much found out by chance as I went along. My students were really good. I was impressed because every lunch time they would come and do the experiment and practice their presentation.
At the time when we were doing the experiments and practising their presentation, I really wasn’t bothered about winning, but of course when the day came I really really wanted to win but was really worried that we’d come in last because I’d been so laid back about it. So I was so impressed that we got actually a gold medal for it. Yayyy!!!
There were so many things that I really liked about the school. I loved that the school bell was actually ‘Love me Tender, Love me True’. Once a week I had gate duty and and would have to say morning to the children as they arrived. Although some students were quite distressed at that time in the morning and were in floods of tears, which of course did make me smile, I know that’s not very nice. I had fun confiscating things, especially Rubik’s cube, because I then got a chance to mess about with them – but that only lasted about two weeks; my students started learnt not to play with their Rubik’s cube during science.
During my time in Kamphaeng Phet I went to Bangkok to catch up with five of the other people off my course. My five course mates were all based in Uthai Thani which was 100 miles south of me, so too far away for me to cycle to on a weekend and unfortunately the bus service between us wasn’t great, so it was easier for us all to catch up in Bangkok. It was so nice to see them again. They were somewhere far more isolated and much quieter than where I was.
I was lucky enough to get a visitor to stay. I met Brian about a year ago in Malaysia, he’s been cycle touring for the past three years, so he stopped by on his way to Bangkok.
Whilst I was in KPP I found out that I had been included in UK Cycling 100 women in cycling 2019 along with my two other cycling pals, Lindsey and Maryam. It was a pleasant surprise especially as really I’m on a tour with a bicycle.
Kamphaeng Phet was very green and pretty and most of my weekends were spent cycling around the area. It was flat, with the mountains in the distance and so it was beautiful. On most rides I of course got chased by at least one dog.
I also joined a gym, it was so nice to get back into weight training, although at first it was getting used to working out in temperatures of 36 degrees C and having to tell myself that just because I’m sweating buckets I’m not necessarily working out as hard as I think that I am.
KPP has a UNESCO heritage site with ancient temples in it, it was so peaceful and green.
But I was a thoroughly bored Billy no mates. I had embarked upon the teaching for several reasons, one was to meet people and find out about the local customs and traditions. After my experience of having taught in Tonga, my expectations were high and I had hoped and thought that I would meet and get to know people in the city, but unfortunately I didn’t. I did try to find out whether there were any evening classes, clubs or societies or cycling groups, but I was unsuccessful.
There was one foreign teacher at the school who I got on well with and who helped to make my time at the school enjoyable, this was Alex who was from Liverpool. He’s extremely chatty which was a breath of fresh air as I struggled to get much conversation out of the other foreign teachers at the school. All of the foreign teachers were quite introverted and so there wasn’t much interaction with them both in or outside of school. I loved the fact that Alex hated having his photo taken.
I did also meet a couple of guys from Cameroon. They were in Thailand teaching English because of the problems between the Anglophones and the Francophones in Cameroon, so they were in Thailand more due to necessity and so they weren’t particularly happy people. So, one of them in desperation did try to charm me, and then when that didn’t work – because to be honest I didn’t really like them – he did ask if I could marry him so that he could get British citizenship. In Thailand, it is difficult to get a permanent stay or residency, hence the chap’s request.
My original goal had been to stay a year at the school if I liked the teaching; I liked the teaching and all of the facilities that I had were great. I was just bored to tears.
So I decided to leave after one semester
and get back on my bicycle.
We’re going on an emotional 😭 pilgrimage around Taiwan, taking my bicycle back to her place of birth.
I love this drawing. It’s a rainforest but my student has got all creative and included a stealth bomber and SWAT car.
I got some cool leaving presents from my students.
My students and me on my last day. I’ve given them each a cactus and the idea is that they’ve got to update me on the progress of their plant. Although cacti 🌵 are easy to kill.