Interview with John Grogan, Thailand Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

My name is John Grogan, from Ireland and I’m 24 years old.

What is your education level and background?

I have a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and graduated in 2014.

Before coming to Thailand I was in the process of beginning my own corporate career on the bottom rung of my companies ladder. I was fully prepared to work hard and dedicate my life to a company that thought of me as a glorified assistant until I took a step back and realised that this kind of work and life wasn’t for me.

I used to be a firm believer in 'if the money’s good, you don’t need to enjoy your job'. I was wrong. I looked into getting my PGCE in England to teach Business Studies to A-Level students and that is something I still intend to do, but I needed classroom based experience to set myself apart from the thousands of applicants that apply for PGCE positions in England every year. That’s when I found TEFL Heaven and knew that I could get the experience I needed teaching in Thailand while having fun and being able to travel southeast Asia at the same time!

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

I enjoy travelling so try to at every opportunity. When I was younger I went on the typical 'Irish Family holidays' to Spain and Portugal and as I got older I developed an interest for travelling independently and with friends. I have visited most countries in Western Europe including France, Italy and The Netherlands. I have been to Poland, Bulgaria, Greece and have travelled to many states in the United States. Having the opportunity to travel in southeast Asia is incredible and I can’t wait to visit as many countries here as possible!  

What motivated you to teach abroad?

I have wanted to teach for a long time, but when I studied Business at school I was drawn in by the idea of the corporate business world. I put my dreams of being a teacher on hold and decided to try something different. That was a mistake on my part and I regret not taking this opportunity as soon as I graduated university in 2014.

What did you want to personally achieve from this experience, and have you succeeded?

Initially I only wanted the opportunity to travel and gain classroom based experience for my career path in the future and I have achieved that. However, I didn’t realise how fulfilled this experience has the potential to make you feel. It seems crazy to me when I look back on how I thought this experience would be to how I feel now. I never thought that I would get so much joy from helping kids and adults learn a new language.

Did you apply for the program with a friend or on your own?

I initially applied to the program with a friend and we came to Thailand together, however on our second day here he had to leave because a family member had taken ill. I was naturally nervous about continuing with the program myself but it wasn’t long before I made friends with everyone on the program and made close friends during this time also who I am always doing things with at the weekends after school. If you’re planning on doing this course by yourself (which is the case for most people) then you will have no problem making friends very quickly! Everyone is on the same page.   

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

I had never heard of anyone teaching English abroad before, but since starting the course and talking about it with friends I found that some people had taught English in South Korea and Japan before.

What were some of your concerns before you began teaching abroad?

Classroom management was a big concern of mine. I didn’t really have any reservations about travelling to another country as I have visited many before and some for extended periods of time, however the idea of teaching 50+ kids at a time in one classroom was daunting. The program prepares you somewhat for this process, but it’s really something that cannot be learned. You have to set your boundaries during the first week at your school with the kids and usually they listen. If not, there are Thai teachers in the room for many of your classes to help with managing the children.

For me personally, classroom management isn’t much of an issue. What you have to understand is that the kids are bored all day during their Thai lessons as they’re very written intensive so they’re excited when it comes to their English classes because they know it will be fun. It’s important to let them have fun, but not to let them get out of hand.

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

What made you decide to do a TEFL course and choose TEFL Heaven?

I looked at various other options, because there are a lot of companies that offer a similar experience, however while reading reviews online I thought that TEFL Heaven sounded the best. After coming here and meeting other teachers at my school and in Bangkok where I was fortunate enough to be placed, I have found that TEFL Heaven really was the best company I could have chosen. Hearing some of the horror stories from other teachers about similar companies, I am glad that I made the right decision.

What made you choose a face-to-face TEFL course over other options?

After researching online I found that a face-to-face TEFL course offers more in terms of employment opportunities for better jobs. There are many online courses out there, but what I found – and what you will also find – is that most employers will ask specifically for a 120 hour face-to-face qualification.

Which TEFL program did you do?

I chose the Thailand Internship program on the island of Koh Chang.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

I enjoyed the learning experience and the group of people that I connected with on the island. It also helped that we were placed on a paradise island location that was incredibly beautiful. After leaving the island I found that many Thai people prefer the island of Koh Chang because it’s not frequented by tens of thousands of foreigners a month like some of the more popular ‘party’ islands.

How prepared did you feel for your  teaching position?

I felt incredibly prepared for the job I was placed in. I had prepared lesson plans from the training experience that helped kick start my lesson planning for the school in a way that no other teachers placed in my school found. Their companies either didn’t inform them about lesson planning, or didn’t give them set opportunities to practice planning and teaching a lesson in front of their peers during the course.

How long have you been teaching in Thailand and how long do you plan to stay?

I am currently in my 3rd month of teaching in Thailand. I plan on finishing my current contract which is until March 2018, then staying in Thailand and finding a job at an International school which tend to pay more money but require teaching experience in Thailand before hiring. If that plan doesn’t work out, I will most likely travel to Europe and teach English there.

How did you secure your English teaching job?

I was guaranteed a placement with the program type that I chose.

What does a typical working week look like for you?

I normally get up at 07:00 every morning as I am fortunate enough to live right beside my school. School starts at 07:40 for assembly, prayer and meditation time. This usually runs until 08:30 then I teach around 4 to 5 hours of lessons a day, with free time in between to relax in my air conditioned classroom, or leave school for lunch at the many local restaurants in the area.

School ends at 03:30 and I always make sure I have something to do locally on the weekdays (it’s very cheap in my local area) whether that’s visiting the incredible temples in the area, having a drink at the local bars with the other teachers, or venturing into central Bangkok on a 15 minute bus. At the weekend I normally meet up with my friends from the program and have trips to various places in Thailand, like Pattaya, Kanchanaburi and Kao Yai.

What age group or range to you teach?

I teach M3 to M6 basic and advanced English. My advanced English classes are Economics, Mathematics and an Intensive Programme which encompasses many topics to get the students used to learning in English so they are able to attend one of the many English speaking universities in Thailand.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

The most enjoyable part of teaching my students is probably the look on their faces when they finally understand something! It can be difficult teaching English to kids who have no previous English speaking ability and sometimes it can even be frustrating as what you find to be easy, is not necessarily easy for them. But when you have been going over something for the past 45 minutes and no one seems to understand, then you suddenly think of a genius idea on how to explain it, the look on their faces and their cheers of excitement is incredible! They then finally understand everything you have been talking about. This doesn’t happen often, in fact it’s quite rare as I make use of translation apps when the kids are struggling to understand, but sometimes translation apps are horrible and the only way to help them understand is to power through the language barrier and spend as much time as you can and they will eventually understand!

How did you get your work visa?

I went to Laos to convert my tourist visa to a Non-B and then my agency took care of the work permit process for me. All in all, it has been relatively stress free, although the 8 hour bus journey to Laos and back wasn’t ideal.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like

My agency found my apartment for me and luckily paid my deposit upfront which was 15,000 baht. It’s a nice apartment with aircon which is essential for me and oddly enough, is not in very many apartments in this area. It’s small, but very clean and the landlord is very friendly and helpful. Don’t expect luxury apartments here, at least on your first teaching salary. If you eventually find a new job with a better salary, which is very possible, then you can start looking at the more expensive apartments which are amazing!

COUNTRY INSIGHT

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: 7,000 baht (including electricity and water usage)

Food: 2,000 baht

Other bills: 399 baht for mobile data

Social life: 2,500 baht

Transportation: 200 baht

Would you say you are able to live comfortably on your monthly salary?

Yes, I am able to live very comfortably on my current salary. At the moment I make 36,000 baht a month and I am paid every two weeks.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

What advice would you give someone thinking about teaching abroad, and would you recommend teaching English in Thailand?

My advice would be to do a lot of research before committing to a program. If you’re reading this interview then you're most likely in the midst of researching at the moment. Hopefully this interview is of use to you, but please research more about the benefits and drawbacks of teaching in any country you wish to visit.

I have found and continue to find my teaching experience in Thailand incredibly beneficial and extremely fun and I believe that was because I came through TEFL Heaven and didn’t do an online course. I researched independently and was prepared by the company and I am extremely thankful for that.

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