Natalie Chatwin - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Thailand
In June 2011 I finished school and after choosing to study English Language at Cardiff University starting in September of the next year, I decided I wanted to travel and volunteer teaching English in my gap year. I worked for six months to gather up money and then traveled to Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, before making my way back to Thailand to start my Projects Abroad Teaching placement.
This was my first time volunteering in another country and my first experience of any kind of teaching. I am naturally quite shy and I was a little terrified of being in front of a class of students who couldn’t even speak my language and having all those eyes staring at me. However, even before I left home, the Projects Abroad team in Thailand were very good at answering any questions I had, and in fact extremely accommodating in helping me sort out my multiple entry visa for Thailand, seeing as I was visiting the country many times before the placement even began.
First impressions of Thailand
As I was already traveling before the placement, I had not had access to the internet before departing for Krabi and was a little frightened there would be no one waiting for me in the airport, but, fortunately everything went to plan and there was Projects Abroad waiting for me at the gate. In the scorching heat I was given water and taken straight to my host family, on Koh Klang island, just a short, long tail boat’s ride from Krabi town.
As soon as I met my host family and the other volunteer living in my house I felt very relaxed and welcomed. I got to know the other volunteer and my host family very quickly and soon adjusted into everyday life on the island. I used to love coming home from school and having a beautifully cooked dinner on the table by 5:30pm every day, just as ‘Pa’ would come home and say his famous “Mama cooking number 1!!” phrase. From the host house to Krabi town, where the Projects Abroad Office is, there is a short walk to the pier, followed again by the short, long tail boat ride. I will never forget those short walks to the pier, very muddy in the rainy season, with cow frogs jumping and goats strolling freely around you!
In my first few days in Krabi, I was given a folder including important information about my host family and my placement school, an induction and map of Krabi town, as well as a teacher training course. After learning how to be a good teacher and being taught about the Thai schooling system, along with the age and ability of the children I was going to be teaching, I was shown how to make lesson plans and prepare teaching logs and at the end of the teacher training course, I was given a mini lesson of my own, where I had to follow a lesson plan I had just prepared and teach the Projects Abroad Staff. I was so nervous about doing this but it went very well and made me a lot more organized and excited for when my teaching at Nong Thaley began.
My Teaching Placement
I was so excited when the first day of teaching came around. As we pulled up at the school, about a hundred smiling faces greeted us with excited waves and “good morning” and “teacher, teacher!” We were warned they may be shy at first, but that was not the case at all! They were so excited to have us at their school and all desperate for our attention. The boys ran up for high fives and the girls waited for hugs. The director and teachers at Nong Thaley were just as enthusiastic and appreciative to have us at the school and over time they were happy to teach me and the other volunteers Thai phrases and greetings, as well as how to write our names in Thai.
I was teaching P.1 to P.6, which is ages 6-12, together with another volunteer. We taught each year group so we got to know all the students in the school. A typical day consisted of arriving at the school and helping the children tidy the school up or reviewing our lesson plans. Then there was a ceremony each morning whereby all the students and teachers gather on the school grass field and sang the Thai national anthem whilst hoisting up the Thai flag on a flagpole. Lessons began at 8:30am and volunteers have 2 lessons a day, which are an hour long, and one free lesson in which you make your lesson plans for the next lessons and complete the teaching log. We tried to do just 15 minutes of actual ‘on the board’ theory teaching each lesson, and spent the rest of the hour playing ‘learning games’ and activities, which the children loved participating in. The Thai way of teaching is mainly writing and repeating, so the children were thrilled with all these new and exciting ways of teaching we used. We also incorporated easy songs, which they loved such as ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ and ‘If you’re happy and you know it’. I found myself singing these songs constantly; either for teaching purposes, as a form of class control, or even just in my spare time!
After lessons it was lunchtime at the school cafeteria and then there was a little time to talk to or play with the students at break time before being picked up and taken back to Krabi town.
The afternoons and weekends were free to do whatever we wanted, so usually we would hang out in Krabi town for a few hours shopping or enjoying endless mango shakes. It was also nice to go back to the host family quite early, so that there was time to play with the children that live in the village or my little host sister, Soraida. But sometimes we would venture to the beaches of Ao Nang after school or travel to Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, or the Railay Beach at the weekends.
I will never forget seeing the absolute joy in the faces of the children as we arrived at school each day. I will never forget the encouragement I felt when, at the end of a lesson the students came up to you and said thank you, or they repeated phrases and words they had just learnt, with such confidence that shows they have fully understood and you know it was you who taught them, really are making a difference to their lives.
I will never forget my host mother’s amazing cooking and my host father’s really bad jokes and how my host sister, Soraida, used to cheat every time we played snakes and ladders! I will never forget how much family and community meant to them and how all the houses on Koh Klang were open and welcoming to their family members and neighbors.
I will never forget the friendships I made with the other volunteers and how much we bonded, both teaching and spending time together traveling at the weekends; partying on Koh Phi Phi and chilling out on the beach in Ao Nang.
Volunteering with Projects Abroad
Volunteering for Projects Abroad was one of the best things I have ever done. When people ask me about it I find it so hard to explain other than simply saying “it was amazing”. It is such a different world when you are out there, forgetting about stress and jobs and money and everyday problems. There is none of that there and you can just escape and focus on the days as they come and put all your effort into teaching and throwing yourself into Thai family life with your host family. Teaching at Nong Thaley actually got me thinking about my future career and I am now very interested in teaching abroad as a career after university. I would definitely like to volunteer with Projects Abroad again, either in Thailand or somewhere else in the future.