I find it very satisfying to be able to give back to my local community. I teach English to Thai students in a private school in Samut Prakan. But, these kids mainly come from rich families and they are used to seeing foreign teachers. What I sometimes find more rewarding is to volunteer to teach at a rural school in Thailand. I usually do this a couple times a year at small temple schools or ones where the students have never seen foreigners. Although Samut Prakan is so close to Bangkok and the international airport is on our doorstep, there are many students here who have never seen a foreigner close up, let alone been taught by one. We went to teach as volunteers at a couple of schools recently. As I know many people visiting this website like the idea of teaching in a school, I thought I would share with you some of my experiences.
The first school we went to was Ban Khun Samut Chin School in Samut Prakan. This is the school I go to every year and I have written about them before. You may remember me telling you that their playground is often flooded at high tide even though they have already moved further inland. Due to land erosion the sea is catching up with them again. I first visited this school while I was passing by on a Saturday morning a couple of years back. I saw some activity going on in the school grounds and went to take a closer look. The kids were there doing some art work with one of their teachers. They were happy to invite me in and let me take some pictures. After chatting with the teacher for a while I found myself volunteering to go and teach at the school. There are only 32 students in the whole school and only four teachers which includes the school director. But he is often away attending meetings. The kindergarten teacher doubles as the school cook. They don’t have any support staff so everyone has to help out.
As they only have three teachers they can only teach in three classrooms. If you volunteer to teach at a school like this, then you are really being thrown into the deep end. As before, we were left alone to teach with the students. At this school they don’t have any English teachers and the staff barely spoke any English themselves. When you go to a new school it is difficult to know what to teach as you don’t know their ability. So, you need to have quite a few ideas already planned with spare games and songs up your sleeve. When I first went to this school none of the students had seen a foreigner before due to its isolation along the coastline. There are no roads coming here and we had to rent a boat and then walk for 30 minutes in order to reach the school. We could only teach them the basics. But, it was good to see that they had remembered lessons from previous visits. The aim of our visits is not really to teach anything new, but to help them practice what they know already and to show them that language learning can not only be fun, but useful too. Hopefully the next time that they see a foreigner they can now have a basic conversation.
The second school we went to recently was Wat Bang Nampheung Nok School in Samut Prakan. Although this is near the famous Bang Nampheung Floating Market, these students also had very little contact with foreigners. They also didn’t have a qualified English teacher. This was the first time I had been to this school and I wasn’t sure what to expect when we turned up. We had basically been volunteered to come here by the director of the other school. Apparently they knew each other. This school had 67 students from Primary 1 to 6. They each had their own classroom though there were only five teachers. This was another poor school. The school director told me that 60% of the students came from broken homes. Many lived with grandparents or with other relations. Although schooling in Thailand is supposed to be free, there are many extras which parents have to pay for. These include books and uniforms. The teachers themselves don’t get paid much but they said that sometimes they had to use their own money to buy school supplies and pens and paper for the students.
As I had brought four foreign teachers here from my school I decided to split them up into two groups. One group first taught Primary 1 and 2 together and then Primary 3 and 4. The other group then taught Primary 5 first and then followed by Primary 6. There weren’t that many students in the younger grades, so it was easy to combine them but also give them plenty of opportunity to interact with us. We practised with them basic conversations (such as greetings and introductions) and then vocabulary such as colours, days of the weeks and parts of the body. Variety and having fun is very important here. So, each topic had songs as well as games to play. I think all of the students had fun. They certainly want us to go back again. We stayed there for just half a day. They gave us lunch and then walked us back to the pier for the ferry. They kept asking us to come again and spend longer with them. They said that if we come again they would show us around and that we could stay with one of the teachers. At the pier they bought us some fruit to eat on the way home. Thai people are always very hospitable.
I wrote about these visits on our school blog. We also added that if any other school in Samut Prakan would like us to visit then please let us know. Within a few days we received several invitations. It just shows you how desperate many schools are to have foreign teachers. They cannot really afford to pay for one. They don’t even have a budget to have a Thai English teacher. They just don’t know how to go about finding volunteers. I told the school director that there are organizations that help foreigners to volunteer at schools in Thailand. But, it isn’t free. From the schemes that I have seen advertised, you have to pay something like between 20,000 and 40,000 baht to volunteer to teach at a school for a month. The Thai teachers are of course shocked. They don’t understand why people would pay good money to actually teach for free. It does seem strange but these organizations actually make things a lot easier and maybe even cheaper for the volunteers. They not only find the schools and communicate with the teachers, but they also provide basic accommodation and meals for them too. This means that the school doesn’t have to do much and it doesn’t cost them anything to have teachers.
It is of course possible to volunteer at a Thai school without paying an agency. But, you have to do all the hard work. It also helps if you speak a little Thai. Schools in towns and cities are harder to just walk in. They might be suspicious of your intentions. However, the rural schools are more open and it is easier to walk in unannounced. However, it is best if you can get some kind of introduction. Maybe ask around town first about schools where you can go and visit. Someone is bound to know someone who works at the school or has a child there. It is probably best if you don’t say that you want to teach. Just say that you are interested to go and visit. The chances are then high that they will invite you to visit a class. If that works out well then they will most likely be keen for you to visit again. Even more so if you say you would like to teach for free. All of the schools we went to recently would be happy for us to visit every day. Though with small schools you might not have many lessons in a day!