Author: RichardBarrow

Respect For Thai Teachers Ceremony

Wai Khru Ceremony

The most important event to be held at Sriwittayapaknam School is the annual Wai Khru Ceremony (พิธีไหว้ครู). Like other schools around the country this always takes place towards the start of the new academic year and always on a Thursday. So, either late May or early June. The students pay respect to their teachers by presenting them with flowers and going down onto the floor to do a krab, which is the most respectful way to show respect. The students hope to gain merit and good fortune for the coming year.

Wai Khru Ceremony

Every student comes to school with a bunch of flowers for their teachers. The flowers used in the arrangement are symbolic. Dok Ma Khue (eggplant flower) stands for respect because when the tree is blooming its branches bend down in the same way a student pays respect to their teacher. Ya Praek (Bermuda grass) stands for patience or perseverance because, although the grass looks wilted, it is still very much alive. Khao Tok (popped rice) stands for discipline because the rice is placed in a pan together and heated up to become popped rice. The Dok Kem has the same name as the Thai word for needle. So it means the student will be sharp-witted and brainy.

Wai Khru Ceremony

We have had quite a few foreign educators visit our school over the years from many countries such as America, England and Australia and a few closer to home such as Singapore and Malaysia. All of them agree that Thai students are far better behaved than their counterparts in the West. They often commented that they were surprised how one teacher could control a class of 45 students. While I was taking them around the school, we sometimes came across a class where the teacher had popped out to do something. Again they were amazed how quiet and diligent the students were in the classroom even without their teacher.

Wai Khru Ceremony

Of course, this is not always the case, and in the years that I have been teaching in Thailand, I have sadly seen the discipline of the students getting closer to what it is like in the West. We are starting to see the students being more rowdy and talking back to the teacher. Traditionally in Thai schools, students were taught by the rote method which is ideal when you have such big classes. It is easier to maintain discipline when everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. However, a downside of this method of teaching, is that the students are being taught what to think instead of how to think.

Wai Khru Ceremony

Someone in government then had the bright idea that we should copy some teaching methods from the West. So, we then started to have “child-centered” lessons where everything revolves around the student. Sitting in rows and repeating after the teacher went out the window. In came group work and free thinking. Not so bad in the long run as the students will be more developed and be able to think outside the box. But, with the students doing different things at the same time it became harder for the teachers to maintain discipline. Couple this with the teacher no longer being able to hit their students, then you start to see cheeky students like you have in the West who are trying to stretch the boundaries to see how far they can go.

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I remember when I first started teaching here, I wasn’t too happy to see the students coming to my desk and having to kneel down. In Thai culture, the head of a child shouldn’t be higher than that of their elders. I kept telling them to stand up. I thought I should teach them some of my own culture at the same time as teaching English. But then, I later found out that the students were getting in trouble with some of their Thai teachers for not behaving properly. The students were trying to do the same for the other teachers as they did for me. I do miss the discipline that we had before, but that is a small price to pay to have students that can think for themselves. Instead of blindly following their elders, maybe in the future, we will have people who will make up their own minds on who to vote for in general elections. Then maybe we will then have real democracy in Thailand.

Thai School Rules And Regulations

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Here are some school rules and regulations. Other schools in Thailand will have similar rules.

School Regulations

•    Students must wear school uniform
•    Students must cut their hair according to the school’s regulation – namely, short and natural with no artificial methods.
•    Students must not wear cosmetics and other beauty accessories.
•    Students must not bring valuable items to the school. If this is violated, the teachers will keep such items, which will only be returned when his/her parents come and collect it/them.
•    Students must not keep textbooks and notebooks in the classroom or in the school.
•    Students will use the school’s communal areas with care.
•    Students will not use lifts unaccompanied by teachers, or without permission.

General Rules

•    Students must not leave the school without the school permission. When leaving, students must give a permission card to the school staff.
•    When in school, students must not make a loud noise
•    Morning orientation will be given after morning assembly. Any advice must be taken and be done so seriously.
•    When changing classroom, students must line up and walk quietly.
•    When using special classrooms and/or rooms, e.g. computer room, library, infirmary and so on, students must obey each room’s regulations.
•    Students must behave appropriately to his/her teachers, staff, friends and other people.
•    Students must not visit forbidden places such as club, casino and other unsuitable places for student status.
•    Students must not behave in sexually related manners/ways.
•    Smoking, drinking and drug possession is strongly prohibited.
•    Students must not possess any kind of weapons when in school or in other places.

Arriving and leaving the school

•    Students must attend school regularly, as well as attend every subject according to his/her timetable.
•    When arriving, students shall pay respect to the Buddha image, as well as to teachers.
•    Students must arrive before morning assembly (8.00 a.m.)
•    Any student who arrives later than the above must contact the vice-principal (discipline) for permission to attend classes.
•    When leaving the school, students must present his/her ID cards to ‘duty teachers’.
•    Students must not stay in the school later than 17.30 p.m. unless he/she is allowed to do so.

Absence

•    Students must write a letter explaining his/her reasons for absence. Such a letter must have his/her parents’ signature as a confirmation.
•    If any student is absent more than three consecutive days, she/he must inform the school office and/or classroom teachers for a record. If sick, a letter from a doctor is required.
•    If the above is not carried out, the school assumes that such a student is unreasonably absent from class.

Eating Manners

•    Students must line up when buying food from the school snack shops
•    Students must sit and eat with a proper manner. Eating while walking is strongly forbidden.
•    When finished eating, students must return eating utensils to the school in the areas provided.
•    Students must not bring food to his/her classroom.
•    Students must keep the school tidy and clean.

Lost and found items

•    Students must inform his/her classroom teacher or duty teacher when his/her item is lost.
•    When an item is found, it should be given to the classroom or duty teacher to find the owner & return it.

How to Visit a Thai School

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Some people, while on holiday in Thailand, like to have an opportunity to visit a Thai school. Some of these people are teachers themselves while others are just tourists interested in a cultural experience. It is not always easy to arrange visits mainly due to a language problem. However, at Sriwittayapaknam School we have always welcomed visitors from overseas to our province and school. Over the years we have had literally hundreds of visitors. As well as tourists and families, we have schools visiting us every year from Malaysia and Singapore. As we are close to Bangkok, Sriwittayapaknam is the easiest school to visit. After you have visited our school, you might like to see some of the tourist attractions in our city. These include The Erawan Museum, Ancient Siam and the Crocodile Farm which has the largest captive crocodile in the world. Click here to send your request.

Sriwittayapaknam School is open Monday to Friday, though if you are interested to watch Scouting activities then you should come on a Thursday. The school has two semesters. First semester is mid-May to early October. The second semester is early November to mid-March. There is summer school in April for 4 weeks. Assembly starts at 7:30 a.m. with the raising of the Thai flag. The last lesson finishes at 3.30 p.m.

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WHAT TO WEAR: If you are planning on visiting our school, please dress smartly. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are not allowed to be worn inside the school.

WHAT TO BRING: It would be nice if you could bring some postcards and tourist brochures showing your local area. When you come to the school, we will show you around. During the tour, some classes might invite you in to speak to them.

IMPORTANT: You cannot just turn up at the school because of the security on the front gate. You will need to contact us first. We will then notify security of your name and intended time of arrival.

HOW TO FIND US: Samut Prakan is about 30 kms south of Bangkok. Many tourists come to our province on day trips from Bangkok to visit the Ancient Siam, Erawan Museum and the Crocodile Farm. Click here to find us on Google Maps.

EXPRESSWAY: If you are coming by car, take the expressway to Samrong-Samut Prakan and exit at the Samut Prakan intersection on to the Sukhumwit Road. This road passes through Samrong first before reaching Paknam, the old name for our city. Some landmarks along this road on the left include a giant three-headed elephant and a Naval Museum with a sea plane and submarine on the main lawn. Finally, you will see a big clock tower on your right and many buildings with red roofs – this is the City Hall. Go straight across the traffic lights, pass Phichai Songkram Temple and then very soon after turn left at the traffic lights. After about 100 metres you will see a blue and yellow striped building on your left. Turn left here down Tetsaban 4 Road (the road sign is in Thai) and you will see the school almost straight away on the left.

BUS: If you are coming by public transport, take ordinary bus No. 25 or air-conditioned bus No. 511 which runs between central Bangkok and Paknam (a.k.a. Samut Prakan). Air-conditioned bus No. 145 goes from the Weekend Market to Samut Prakan via Srinakarin Road. The bus shouldn’t cost more than 17 baht. The first stop inside the city is Pichai Songkram Temple. From here it is a 10 minute walk to the school, though it is probably best to finish your journey on a tuk tuk (about 30-40 baht) or a samlor (about 15-20 baht)

BTS: The Sky Train goes as far as Bearing station where you can catch a bus or take a taxi for the last 25 minutes of the journey. The train journey will cost you about 40 baht from central Bangkok and the taxi ride will cost about 80 Baht.

TAXI: Some people have come all the way from Bangkok by taxi. This is not really that expensive. It averages about 250 baht (plus 50 baht for the expressway) which is only US $10. However, please tell the driver to use the meter. This will start at 35 baht. Some people asked their hotel to organize a taxi which will probably cost you a lot more if they don’t use the meter. Even if you cannot find a taxi to come to Samut Prakan on the meter, there will be no problem finding one to go back.

Tips for Applying as a Teacher in a Thai School

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I have told you before that it is one of my jobs to look after the foreign teachers at our school. It is also my job to read any e-mails that might come in from people applying for a job as an English teacher. What I thought I would do today is give you some tips on how to make your application stand out from the crowd. I will also give some advice on not what to do!

* Always do some homework before you write your letter. Many schools have their own web sites or Facebook pages on the internet. Find out the names of some people and include them in your letter. Compliment the school on how beautiful it looks on the web site. Include any information that makes it look like you know their school already.

* If the school is asking for a native speaker then make sure you are a native speaker. Many schools are run like a business. They have to bow to consumer pressure. If parents insist that they want their children taught by teachers from the UK or America then the school has to provide these native speakers. It doesn’t really matter if a teacher from The Philippines or India is more qualified. (In my experience, teachers from The Philippines are often better qualified to teach.)

* Include all the relevant information in the opening paragraph. If they are asking for degree holders, TEFL certificate, native speaker, a woman etc. then make sure you make it clear you are fully qualified straight away. Then go into more details later. Not everyone will be fluent in English and might be put off by long letters. Also, don’t forget we receive many applications so we usually only read the first paragraph and skim the rest of the letter!

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* Don’t send a blank email with just attachments. We get that so often. Always take the time to introduce yourself. In fact, being friendly is key to getting a job. If you are turned down, make sure that you reply to thank them for taking the time to reply. You never know, they may change their mind if you can show how sincere you can be.

* If you don’t receive an answer from your letter after a week then follow it up with another. It is possible that your first e-mail went missing.

* Don’t worry if you don’t have a TEFL certificate. Most schools will prefer if you have had some real classroom experience. If you have already taught in your home country or inside Thailand then consider taking an online TEFL course instead. It is much cheaper. Most schools won’t know the difference. Anyway, some schools won’t even care you don’t have a TEFL.

* If they ask for a degree then make sure you have one. To work legally in Thailand you need a work permit. To get a work permit you need a degree in any field. Some schools might not ask for a degree but then they won’t be employing you legally.

* If you are just interested in making lots of money then you are coming to the wrong country. You would be better off visiting one of our more affluent neighbours. Thai teachers have a starting wage of only 8,000 baht per month. People with more experience get about 10,000 baht per month. I know some foreign teachers who only get 20,000-35,000 baht. However, if you work in Bangkok you can expect 35,000-90,000 baht per month.

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* Don’t send your letters as BCC – spam filters these days are very sensitive and will probably just put your application into the junk box. The chances are it won’t be seen. Also, try to avoid sending it by CC as well. We don’t really want to see that you are sending the exact same letter to other schools as well. We like to think that you have personally chosen our school and that we are the only people you are talking to!

* Don’t write to a normal Thai school looking for a job as a Geography or Math teacher. What makes you think you can teach Geography better than a local Thai teacher? Can you speak Thai fluently? Unless you have skills that a local person doesn’t have (i.e. you are a native English speaker) then you won’t get the job. If you insist on teaching something other than English, then apply for a job at an international school or somewhere that has a bilingual programme.

* Include a photograph of yourself. A smart appearance is very important. If you are a man, make sure you are clean shaven and don’t have a beard. If you are a woman, don’t wear a spaghetti strap top in the photo. Also don’t have any visible tattoos in the photo.

* Make sure your grammar is correct and that you haven’t made any spelling mistakes. It is surprising the number of letters we receive from people who make some clumsy spelling mistakes. Many word processors come with a spellchecker. Use it!

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 * Don’t start your letter with the phrase “it has always been my dream to teach in Thailand”. From experience, we know that 90% of the time you really are dreaming! We have wasted so much time writing back and forth to these people, even setting dates for their arrival, only to find they don’t turn up. These days, unless you can show you are sincere, we won’t take you seriously.

* A number of people suggest you shouldn’t visit the school unannounced. Personally I wouldn’t object. I would meet the person and give them advice of where to go if we couldn’t offer them a job. You never know, we might be looking for someone the very day you come knocking on the door. We would much prefer to give a job to someone we know that can speak English clearly than to someone who wrote a letter 1000 miles away.

* If you are going to visit a school, don’t turn up with your Thai girlfriend. Even more so if she looks like a “bar girl”. This may seem like common sense, but we have had several people do this. The school directors can be very conservative at times and won’t give you a second chance if it looks like you visit go-go bars.

* One of our main worries when we receive letters is whether that person can speak English clearly. If you are in Thailand, telephone the school. If the person that answers the phone doesn’t speak English then they will quickly transfer you to someone that does.

* If you have the skills, make a mini web site about yourself. If you have some pictures of you teaching children, then show them. It would also be cool if you could upload some video or sound clips so that we could hear you speak.

* If you are on holiday in Thailand and not ready to start teaching yet, then offer to teach at a school as a volunteer. If they like you, then they are more likely to invite you back in the future to teach fulltime. Certainly they would take you more seriously if you later write a letter saying you want to come back to teach in Thailand.

* Finally, if you are replying to a job advert, make sure that you read the qualifications section carefully. If they ask for a female native speaker, then don’t bother applying if you are a man from Nigeria. I know it sounds funny, but people do just that. It shows us straight away that they didn’t bother to read the advert properly. Or maybe they are not very good at English comprehension.

Anyway, good luck. Maybe one day we will be able to work together here in Thailand.

Do’s And Don’ts For Teachers

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One of my duties at the school is looking after the Foreign Teacher’s Department. This is actually quite an important job as I act as a kind of buffer between the foreign staff and the Thai administration. When the teachers first arrive at our school I give them an orientation and then we have weekly meetings. The following are some of my notes for the orientation meeting.

Do’s and Don’ts at School and in the Community

As a visitor to Thailand, you will probably make some cultural blunders without realizing it. Thai people are so forgiving that they probably wouldn’t even tell you but as representatives of your country, you should do your best not to act like “uncivilized people”. You should also remember that teachers hold a very respected place in the local community. We ask you to act and behave properly both in and outside of the school. This includes around the area where you live.

The following “do’s and don’ts” are guidelines for your stay at our school. Please don’t look at it like we are trying to control both your school and private life. These are only suggestions that will help you get along better with Thai people. Having said that, you may see some contradictions from time to time made by Thai teachers. You must understand that as one of only a few foreigners in the local community, anything you do and say will be given more notice and importance.

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1. The head is regarded as sacred by Thai people so don’t touch the students on the head or ruffle their hair.

2. The foot is regarded as “unclean” and shouldn’t be used to do tasks otherwise used by your hand (for example gesturing or switching on/off appliances). If sitting down, try to keep both feet on the ground. If you have to put one foot up on a knee, don’t point it at anyone or any sacred object such as a Buddha image or King’s portrait.

3. Thai people take their monarchy and religion very seriously. Please refrain from making any criticism against these institutions. Also, any portraits or images should be treated with the utmost of respect. A newspaper with the king’s picture on it or a Buddha image shouldn’t, for example, be used to line the bottom of a drawer or to wipe the dirt from the floor.

4. A word you will pick up quickly is “sanook”. This means “to have fun”. This is an important concept for Thai people. Work must be “sanook” otherwise they won’t do it. Although we ask you to act professionally, we also ask you not to take life so seriously while working at the school. DO have fun!

5. In the West, bosses expect their employees to make suggestions to improve productivity. However, in Thailand, any suggestions will be seen as criticism and are not generally welcome. Even constructive criticism is frowned upon. If you need to suggest or criticize something, please approach your liaison officer first.

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6. Do try and learn some Thai and use it in the local community. You will find Thai people to be very enthusiastic and helpful if they know you are learning some Thai. However, please do your best to refrain from using Thai during your English lessons.

7. Make sure you offer and receive objects with your right hand even though you might be left-handed. To offer and receive things properly, your left hand should support your right hand.

8. Although times are changing in Bangkok, signs of affection are generally frowned upon. This includes holding hands with your partner in public and certainly kissing.

9. You need to be aware of the level of your head at all times. You will probably notice students dip their head as they walk past you. This rule includes adults too. You should dip your head as you pass in front of and behind someone superior to you. Be careful during shows at the school. You might have to walk past some parents sitting down on chairs. Although we are not suggesting you dip your head lower than theirs, it is showing respect to them if you at least dip your head a little as you walk in front of someone.

10. Also be careful where you sit. Please refrain from sitting on the ground and especially in corridors/steps as this will make it awkward for people trying to walk past you. Decorum insists that they dip their head lower than yours. If your legs are stretched out then it will make the situation worse. It is bad manners to climb over someone sitting on the floor.

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11. The Thai greeting is a “wai”. If any adult wais you first you should wai them back straight away. The exception is if that person is a student. For them you just smile and nod. To wai, you raise your hands in a prayer like gesture to just above chest level and then bow your head down to meet your hands. As a rough rule, your thumb tips should meet your nose. All teachers at the school wai each other in the morning and also at the end of the day. You are expected to do the same.

12. If you are a male teacher, be careful of being alone with a female teacher or student. You will notice that older women will be nervous about being alone with you – they might stand by the door and if they come in they will make sure the door stays open. In Thai culture it is not correct for a male and female to be alone in a room. Students won’t understand that so much, so you have to set a good example.

13. Thai people tend to laugh to cover embarrassment or avoid loss of face. They are not laughing at you so don’t take it personally.

14. There are a lot of rules the students have to obey and as a teacher you have to set a good example. One rule you should be aware of is don’t eat and walk! Then there are things like, take off your shoes before entering a room, walk on the right on the stairs, have neat and tidy hair, etc.

14. You will be expected to dress smartly and behave correctly while at school and on your journeys to and from school. Everyone in the local community will know that you are a teacher from our school and anything “undesirable” you may do (even unintentional) will reflect badly on the school.

15. Teachers cannot wear piercings other than small ear-rings for female teachers. Any forms of body art (i.e. tattoos) also have to be covered up. Beards are also frowned upon. Your clothes must be smart at all times and for women not too revealing. Personal hygiene is very important. Shower often and wear fresh clothes every day.

16. By law, smoking is not allowed in the school grounds. If you need to smoke during the day, we ask you to smoke outside the school grounds and also to be discreet.

22 Years in a Thai School

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It has now been 22 years since I started teaching at Sriwittayapaknam School in Samut Prakan, Thailand. In my wildest dreams, I never thought that I would still be at the same school twenty two years later. In fact, I didn’t think at the time that I would be staying longer than one week. It was never my plan to teach nor even to stay in Thailand so long. I left England back in mid 1993 to go backpacking across Asia on a round the world tour. This was my second big trip. In 1991, I spent one year in Australia. I had bought a station wagon and drove the complete circumference of Australia. On my return to the UK, I had enjoyed my time on the road so much that I found it difficult settling down and commuting to work in London every day. The only thing that kept me going was planning another trip. This time, overland to Australia. I had liked Australia so much that I was toying with the idea of emigrating there. I liked the “no worries” attitude.

I still remember very well the day that I left. British Rail was on strike, so at the last minute my parents had to give me a lift down to the port at Dover. I then took a ferry across the English Channel where I then continued overland by rail to Moscow. I spent a couple of days here before boarding the Trans Siberian Express. Seven days later the train arrived in Beijing. I spent several months in China going to places where I rarely saw any other foreigners. I traveled to the far Western border and then down into Pakistan via the Karakorum Mountains. These have some of the highest roads in the world with public transport. A memorable sidetrip here was a visit to the lawless town of Peshawar where, for a few dollars, you could fire kalashnikov machine guns or buy a James Bond gun disguised as a fountain pen. I also continued up to the Khyber Pass with an armed escort to look down into Afghanistan.

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 A month later I crossed into India and caught a train up to New Delhi where I met up with my sister and her husband who were in India with their baby daughter. I travelled with them for a while before setting off on my own again. I really enjoyed the culture of India and the food of the Southern region. I ended up in Calcutta where I caught a small prop plane to Bangkok in Thailand. I arrived in early February 1994. Up to that point I had spent several months in each of the countries. I never really had a set schedule for my trip or road plan, though there were places where I wanted to visit. My only rush at the start was to get over the Karakorum Pass before the snows came in and closed off the road.

At that time, Thailand didn’t really have a good reputation. All I knew was that it was referred to as the “sex capital of the world” and had a serious drug problem. When I was in Australia, I had seen the Nicole Kidman TV movie “Bangkok Hilton”. This had made me paranoid that the police in Thailand would plant drugs on me and that I would end up at Bang Kwang Prison. When I flew home from Australia on the first trip, the plane stopped in Bangkok to refuel. I had the option to do a short stopover here. But, I declined and stayed on the plane. It was just as well. A few days later, there were tanks on the streets as Thailand was having yet another coup. So, this time round, my rough plan was to only stay in Thailand for one week before heading south to Malaysia and Indonesia.

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Before I left England, I already had a contact to visit in Thailand. My mother used to run Scout Commissioner courses at Gillwell Park in London. One year, two of the participants on her course were two ladies from Bangkok who ran a school there. Apparently, in Thailand all students were Scouts. After the course had finished, they kept in touch. Before I left home for my around the world trip, my mother wrote to them to say that I would be passing through. They invited me to visit. I was in two minds to do this. But, when I reached India I sent them confirmation to say that I was on my way. They replied that they would pick me up at the airport.

I really had no idea what to expect. The world saw Thailand as a “third world” country and I thought that there would be poverty wherever I looked. However, the drive from the airport to the school certainly changed my mind. All of the cars on the expressway looked expensive and brand new. I remember commenting in a letter home that there didn’t seem to be any old cars. We passed big shopping malls and the billboards were advertising designer brands. There was no sign of poverty here. This continued when I arrived at the school. I had imagined I would be sleeping in a wooden hut on a thin mat on the floor. But, they took me to their school where the living quarters was nothing short of luxurious. I had my own place to stay and as it turned out, I had a servant who cleaned my bedroom and washed my clothes every day. I also had people who prepared and cooked my every meal. This was all such a shock to the system after being on the road for so long and living on an average of $5 per day.

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The next day they invited me to visit some of the English classes. Fortunately for me, the school owners spoke English which made it a lot easier. However, they never had a foreign English teacher before. They had Thai English teachers but they could hardly speak any English. They gave me a text book, pointed me to a classroom and said, “Go and teach”. It was literally like being thrown into the deep end. I had no idea of what to teach or even the ability of the students. It was a classic example of people thinking that just because you are a native speaker that you can teach English. Luckily for me, teaching is in my blood. Not only my mother, but my two sisters and various aunts and uncles were all teachers. I managed to survive and even enjoyed myself. But, I was still only planning to spend a week before heading south down to the Malaysian border.

Before I knew it, one week became two and then soon it was the summer holidays. I did a few side trips to places like Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, Kanchanaburi and Koh Chang. Then they invited me to teach during summer school in March-April. They said it was an opportunity for me to earn some money. It wasn’t a lot but as I was staying at the school I was able to save most of it. I knew this would be useful pocket money for the road ahead. I ended up staying at the school for nearly three months. I was having such a great time that I was having difficulty in leaving. However, I was keen to get to Australia before Christmas. I have relations there and I wanted to spend that period with them.

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 I finally left Thailand in late May 1994. I crossed into Malaysia and then from Penang I caught a boat across to Samatra in Indonesia. I then island hopped as far as Bali. From there I flew into Australia, about a year after I had originally left home. After spending Christmas here, I was planning to then fly to New Zealand and from there to South America, North America and then back home. However, while I was staying with my relations, I received a phone call from the school principal. She invited me to come back to Thailand to teach there for one year. I didn’t have to give it much thought. I immediately said “yes”. As we all know now, one year became two, and then three. Before I knew it, twenty two years had passed and I am still here at the same school.

It is actually rare for foreign teachers to stay so long at the same school. They usually move around. But, I guess for me it was different. I was originally invited as a family friend and still today they regard me as one of the family. Thai people are very much like that. I could have moved to a school in Bangkok and easily tripled my salary. But, I decided to stay with this school. Money was never so important for me. As long as I was comfortable, and had a job that was enjoyable and never really felt like work, then I knew I would be happy. People have often asked me why I chose Thailand. I think really, Thailand chose me. I love the culture, the people and the Buddhist way of life. This feels like my home now and I have no plans to return to the UK.

Kids And Guns On Children’s Day

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Every year, on the second Saturday in January, Thailand holds their National Children’s Day. It’s an opportunity for the youth of the country to be pampered and to enjoy themselves at various events throughout the country. Museums, zoos and some tourist attractions allow them to enter for free. In Bangkok, the BTS skytrain and the MRT underground allow them to ride for free. In Samut Prakan, quite a few activities were held at the Provincial Hall. There were various games for the children to play but there was also plenty of free things like toys and food handed out to them. There is no doubt that all Thai children look forward to Children’s Day.

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As well as the government and private sector, the Thai Armed Forces also opened their barracks for the day for the children to enter. I took these pictures at the Royal Thai Naval Academy in Samut Prakan this morning. They had a lot of activities arranged for the children. Everything from star-gazing to marine life. However, what many of the Thai boys were interested in were the guns. There seems to be a fascination with guns in Thailand that I am starting to find alarming. Did you know that 79% of all homicides in Thailand are committed with a gun? Not only that, but in a UN survey on crime trends, Thailand was rated as having the highest number of  homicides with firearms.

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In Thailand, all policemen carry a firearm. Even the traffic cops. They also apparently carry their guns while off duty. One thing is for sure, don’t get into an argument with a drunk at a restaurant. You just don’t know whether he is carrying a gun. There is even a recorded case of a foreign tourist being shot by an off-duty policeman. Technical students are also carrying guns now. Even though these are mainly pen guns, they still kill as we found out recently when a schoolgirl got killed by a stray bullet. Even when they are not angry, people seem to like to play with their guns. During the recent new year holiday, a number of people fired their guns into the air. But, what goes up also comes down. At least one young girl was killed while sleeping in her bed and another badly injured.

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This morning I posted a picture on my Facebook of two young Thai kids being shown by soldiers how to hold sniper rifles. I commented that I didn’t think that it was a good idea to arrange such an activity on Children’s Day. Although a few said there was no harm in letting the children have some fun by handling the guns, most people agreed that guns are not toys and we shouldn’t be confusing kids by saying it is alright to play with guns. One person on my Facebook page said that she disagrees with the saying “guns don’t kill, people do”. I agree with her. There is only one reason that guns were invented and that is to kill. Just look at the statistics. An average of 41.4 people are killed with guns in Thailand per 100,000 of the population.

What do you think about all of this? Is it just harmless fun or are we creating a bigger problem for ourselves in the future?

Source of statistics: nationmaster.com and wikipedia

First Look At The Free Tablets For Primary 1 Students

It has been a long time coming, but the One Tablet Per Child (OTPC) election promise of the Thai government is finally coming together. Primary 1 students in some districts of Thailand have already started to receive their free tablets. In total 800,000 of the Chinese made tablets are expected to be distributed to schools around Thailand in the coming months. This will be done province by province in alphabetical order. In Samut Prakan Province, Primary 1 teachers have already attended a 3-day seminar to familiarize themselves with the device. Yesterday was the turn of school computer technicians and I was lucky enough to go along to have my first look.

What we have here is a 7 inch touchscreen device. For the techies, I can reveal that it weighs only 350g and has a 1.2Ghz ARM Cortex A8 processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. The device runs on  Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” and comes pre-loaded with educational software. Teachers can also install more software by using a micro card or downloading from the Internet using WiFi. If a student loses a device, it would cost parents 2,640 Baht ($84) to replace it. There has been some negative newspaper reports about battery life, but with any touchscreen tablet, this will vary depending on your usage. So far, the average seems to be 3-5 hours which will be enough for a student to use during the day. After all, they are not using the tablets for every single lesson.

On the first screen you have the choice between Lessons, Books, Multimedia and Applications. If you choose “Lessons” you then get a second choice of “offline” or “online”. The latter means that you can get the most up-to-date lessons straight from the Internet. But, with “offline” there is already plenty to read that will take the students most of the year to go through. On the next screen you are given the choice of the 5 core subjects of Thai, Math, Social Studies, Science and English. What you get is a Flash application which is basically a talking book with animation. I read through the Social Studies subject and had chapters such as My School, My Family, Nature etc. It was all very well presented and I am sure that the students will find it interesting.

With the English subject there are two different Flash applications. The first one is produced by Genki English and seems to have all of their CDs which are for sale on their popular website. Hopefully the Thai government actually paid for the use of these CDs on the device otherwise they will get a large copyright infringement bill. But it is very good as it both teaches and tests the kids. The second application is made in Thailand. Like the other subjects, I am not sure how easy it will be for the teacher to use these in the classroom. It is more suited to self-study. I think the students will benefit greatly if they can take them home and learn by themselves.

As well as the pre-loaded applications, there is a desktop where you can load other software that can run on Android devices. There are also programs such as Instagram and GMail. As you can see from this screenshot, Angry Birds also works. However, the teacher doesn’t need to worry about the students installing their own programs as there is a password lock for installing which can be changed by the teacher. Overall I am very impressed with the tablet. The touchscreen was far more responsive than I thought it would be. The speed was also good. I am not sold yet on the benefits of using it in the classroom. But time will tell. The tablets should be arriving at the end of this month and I will be doing some follow up blogs here on using Tablets in a Thai classroom.

Schools Told To Speak English On Mondays

The Thai government has designated 2012 as “English Speaking Year”. Students, teachers and officials at participating schools have been told to speak English every Monday. The project is to prepare Thai people for the ASEAN Community in 2015. English will be the major language spoken among ASEAN nations. From this time there will be a free flow of professionals and skilled workers in the region. Thai people will be able to more easily look for work abroad, but at the same time, English speakers from Singapore and the Philippines will be competing for job positions at multinational organizations in Bangkok. In order to prepare for this, the government want students to converse in English at least once a week. A top academic criticized the present method of teaching where there is an emphasis on grammar. He said that at an early age the students should be taught more how to use English in every day situations. Listening and speaking skills should be taught rather than grammar.

New Year Party at School

At the end of the year, the school always holds a party for the students. They come to school in their normal clothes and enjoy dancing shows and fairground type games. The party is to celebrate the new year as well as National Children’s Day which is on the second Saturday in January.