I survived as English Teacher in Thailand 


It’s a cool morning but it will be hot later.

“But why do I have to go to school”?… ‘Because – you’re the teacher. That’s why’.

I’m up before sunrise – the raucous birds make sure of that – and I wander out onto the balcony of my 4th floor apartment to check out the early morning. It’s cool but it’ll warm up rapidly and more afternoon storms appear likely. It’s looking like another hot day as an English Teacher in a Thai High School.

A quick shower, dress in business attire, cereal and fruit for breakfast and I’m out the door as the sun comes up. I walk quietly through the foyer so I don’t wake the sleeping security guard (who is supposed to be patrolling the building) and out into the day.

Cows and 700 year old ruins in the city. An interesting combination

An early start every morning

Workers waiting for their bus

It’s a brisk 20-minute walk across town and already hundreds of factory workers in their blue or white uniforms are waiting in groups to be picked up by a fleet of buses and taken off the island to the nearby industrial estate.

Hundreds of workers buses leave the island every morning

Although they see me most mornings, they stare at me with frank curiosity but return my ‘good morning’ with big smiles. We’ve got something in common. We’re all off to work.

The morning market is already busy.

A shortcut through the market which is already busy and I leave some coins with the beggars who are on duty at their fixed locations. Some nod in thanks and briefly I wonder if I’m any closer to coming back as someone really important in my next life. Who knows.

Waiting to be taken out to the school.

I wait patiently outside the International Language Centre office to be collected by car and taken to Bang Pahan High School, my workplace. It’s not far but it will take about 30 minutes, weaving through the growing morning traffic. Thais are up and around early with lots of cars and scooters on the roads.

The city comes alive quickly

The drive off the island in air conditioned comfort is giving me a chance to review my lesson plans for the day and speculate on the likely challenges and pitfalls lying ahead.

Today I’m on time

On arrival at the school I thank my driver and walk through the gates, joining the chaos as students pour through with me.

Welcome to Bang Pahan High School. A 38-piece marching band, one of Central Thailand’s best school bands, strikes up a stirring tune as I walk past them with some of my students grinning at me over their musical instruments.

I join the Thai teachers seated in a line behind the 1800 students on the sports field to start the daily assembly routine commencing with the flag raising ceremony. This is accompanied by the band playing a stirring rendition of the National Anthem.

Raising the National, Provincial and School flags.

Prayers followed by …Tai Chi. I think.

The flags are up and it’s into the prayers. Not understanding what’s being said, my mind wanders and my thoughts return to the day’s classes ( the students ranging in age from 12 to 18 years old with 55 in each class) and which of my classes is the most likely to rampage. The younger students usually provide the biggest test of my composure.

Most students are praying

At first glance, looking at the lines of students on their colourful prayer mats, they appear to be praying devoutly but on closer inspection, some are chatting quietly, others not showing any interest and a few are dozing off – very similar to teenage behaviour found in the West.

Straight from prayers to Tai Chi.

Prayers finally over and it’s straight on to Tai Chi time (it took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t part of the prayers) and I join in enthusiastically, arms waving like windmills. This causes a few smiles from my fellow teachers. But I’m taking part.

Everyone performs Tai Chi well – except me. I’m hopeless.

It’s hard to beat a good speech

Next up (and the sun is starting to burn) and its speeches time. A 10-minute speech by a different teacher each day is followed by a  lecture on good behaviour, general school issues and upcoming activities. These are delivered by one of the Assistant Directors. In all it takes about 40 minutes.

Out of the sun finally and off to class.

Everyone is starting to squirm with discomfort in the heat as a bell rings loudly across the school and it’s a quick exit to the classrooms.

Although there’s no air conditioning and some ceiling fans don’t work, the wooden shutters are open and it’s cooler inside the rooms. It’ll warm up later.

A peaceful classroom. Not a common sight.

Time to be an English teacher

I make a dash to my first class. Fourth floor and no lifts. If I don’t get there quickly my first job will be to subdue the riot that will have started. A ghost drawing should work. I discovered  early on that if I start drawing the outline of a ghost on the blackboard the students would become quiet very quickly. Thai people have a fascination about ghosts generally and students are particularly captivated.

Typical classroom scene

I go through the ‘Good Morning Teacher’ ritual and get straight into my lesson plan. Rule Number 1. Engage the students immediately or they lose interest.

Today it’s all about transport. I split the class into 4 football teams – Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City. They love football so that gets everyone interested and I explain the simple rules. The team that can list the most transport modes on the blackboard wins. It’s kick off time and away we go.

The Students laugh at most things- including me.

For the next 50 minutes, it’s game on as (almost) everybody tries hard for the honour of their team.

Time up and the awards ceremony begins. Today Team Liverpool are the winners. They’re the only team to include a UFO on their list (I’m really impressed). Much applause, high fives and laughter.

The bell rings and I hurry to the next class and another lesson on transport. Show time again. Same four teams – different students. Same enthusiasm.

Thank goodness for lunchtime

After three hours and three classes it’s time for lunch and I join the line of students and teachers to select our food. There’s lots to choose from and the servers enthusiastically add tasty (and sometimes really spicy) dishes to my tray.

Lining up for an excellent lunch

i used to ask the students in line with me to point out the food with less chili but invariably I’d bite into a really spicy dish and look up through tears to see a row of grinning students including the one who had set me up. I quickly stopped doing that.

Food eaten and the bill paid (about 40c) and it’s time to demonstrate my skills on the table tennis table. The table is quite different from what I’m used to. This one is made of several rough-hewn slabs with a wobbly makeshift net across the middle. The bats have seen better days.

I haven’t played in years so my only hope is my lethal serve but (sadly) it frequently deserts me and leaves me floundering against my much younger and more athletic opposition. Great fun and lots of laughter – mostly aimed at me. Maybe tomorrow I’ll beat them.

It’s a hot afternoon for everyone

Another bell, lunch is over and it’s back to classes again. By now I’m really hot. The table tennis hasn’t helped. Perspiration is running down the inside of my shirt. I stand close to the open windows in the hope of catching a faint breeze.

The school had really talented students in traditional music and dance

Some of the students doze off and I sympathise with them as they may have worked in their family business or in the fields before school. I don’t wake them.

The classroom is quieter and it takes more effort and ingenuity to keep the students engaged. The word has got around that a UFO is a legitimate form of transport according to the English Teacher so it figures prominently in the afternoon classes – up there with buses and trains. And submarines.

Wednesday – military day.

By the final bell of the day and after 5 one hour classes we’re all schooled out. Students and teachers.

Finally. It’s home time

Today there’s no after school teachers meeting so I join the departing students and make my way through the temple grounds, warily walking quickly past the malevolent eyes of the stray dogs.

I hurry on through the market and  the unpleasant smells of meat deteriorating in the heat to the bus stop where I wait patiently for the little grey bus that will take me back to Ayutthaya and home.

Plenty of fresh air once we’re moving.

The bus doesn’t seem to follow a timetable but eventually it arrives and I join the locals on board. It’s a much slower trip home and if the driver decides to stop for a bowl of noodles or to add more fuel (which he does occasionally), it takes even longer. Grrrrrrrr. Another great opportunity to exercise patience.

During the journey the ticket collector suddenly appears on the side of the road, leaps aboard as the bus slows, collects the 7 baht from the passengers and jumps off to chase the bus heading in the opposite direction. He’s only on board for about 30 seconds. The busiest man in Thailand.

The bus is old but the lack of doors and windows makes the trip cooler. It doesn’t have a top gear so it’s a noisy slow trip home. At least we’re moving.

It’s late afternoon when the bus wheezes back into Ayutthaya, slowing enough for me to jump off. I’m keeping an eye on a late afternoon storm rolling in during my 20-minute walk before I’m home.

Sunset and the heat starts to drop.

Well deserved relaxation

Time to freshen up, plan the next day’s lessons and head out for dinner.

There are several restaurants near my apartment and they’re all good and as a regular I’m greeted warmly by staff and diners wherever I decide to eat. The food is fresh, tastes delicious and at about 25-30 baht, the meals are really good value.

Dinner is over and I head back home, stopping at the 7 Eleven to buy a can of Red Bull for the overnight night security guard in the (faint) hope that he’ll keep me safe whilst I’m asleep.