Before beginning the adventure of teaching English in Thailand, I never could have imagined the absolute joy and utter craziness that comes with the job. Thai students are unlike any other children you’ve experienced! The cultural differences and perplexing attitudes of my students has me learning and laughing every day. To get an inside look at what to expect, check out these 5 truths about Thai students.
This can be said for Thai people in general, but children especially seem to be constantly compelled to give you things and want nothing in return but your love. Teachers are highly respected in Thailand, and that respect prompts heartfelt generosity. I’ve had students interrupt my lesson to give me paper cranes, drawings, flowers, pretty pencils, and…. chocolate pudding cups. It’s hard to know how to react when a young girl insists you take and enjoy part of her lunch, but it all comes from such a genuine place and it’s impolite to refuse.
This was something that caught me off guard upon entering this country. Even though my school is in a suburb of Bangkok, in my village it seems like I am the only white female around. Students will pepper foreigners with questions about where they’re from and what it’s like there. If your skin tone differs from theirs, they will grab your arm and admire the comparison. The same goes for eye color, I’ve even had a student grab my face and ask me to open my eyes widely so they could stare into them! This experience is not uncommon amongst my teacher friends. Students will take photos with you and of you, constantly. Sometimes I feel like a celebrity simply for not being Thai, but it’s a strange feeling knowing that literally hundreds of pre-teens have selfies with me on their phones.
Children don’t need to speak fluent English to be funny. Thai students have a fantastic sense of humour and will always laugh and joke with you (…and at you). I’ve found that a lot of this humour comes from their brutally honest nature. My students don’t hide how they feel about ANYTHING, and are quick to poke fun at students who are being lazy or having a crazy hair day. They say funny things all the time without even meaning to, and you’ll inevitably catch yourself doing the same. Sometimes I purposely mispronounce Thai words to watch them explode with giggles! They hide and jump out to scare each other, they get into hyper moods and start playing “keep-away” with their friend’s belongings, and they will take any opportunity to see what their teachers look like with various Snapchat filters. Being able to laugh at yourself is an absolute must if you teach in this funny country.
Perhaps this goes hand in hand with their hilarity and shenanigans, but Thai children rarely seem to stop talking. School is their opportunity to catch up with friends and gossip, and this can lead to classes that are difficult to manage. Sometimes it’s entertaining; our school got an attractive male as a temporary replacement teacher for a week and the older girls would see him in the hallways and start SCREAMING with excitement, entirely unembarrassed. Other times it’s exhausting, and I lost my voice more than once in the first few weeks. The weather in Thailand can also be a factor in this. When it starts pouring rain my students will go nuts, yelling and loudly pushing their desks and chairs away from the open windows. Most of the time though, it’s just never-ending chit-chat. I’ve talked to Thai teachers that don’t seem phased by the endless chatter and claim that they were the same way in school. Still, it can be frustrating telling a class over and over again to “listen!” and still having to yell over the few misbehaving students. It helps a lot to find a silencing technique that works for your teaching style, whether it’s clapping a rhythm or giving them the death stare.
The number of times my students have slightly annoyed me is far outweighed by the number of times they’ve made me smile. The times their faces have lit up as they go out of their way to say good morning to me in the hallways. The times the younger ones have clung to my legs and arms like little monkeys. The “teacher, I love you!” that comes from a student you don’t even teach. The moments when they’re genuinely enraptured with the lesson being taught, and I can practically see the new knowledge building in their developing brains. These things happen often, and they are what will always make it worth it. They are the reason I wake up smiling and feel grateful every day to have a job that lets me be around such strange and fascinating young people.
5 things you should know about Thai students- Written by Emily Rowe (Thailand Internships program, Koh Samui April 2016)