Not all English teachers are English

Teacher Pontus has the class listening intently

Meet Pontus the English teacher from Sweden

Our teacher training group came together at Teflworld on Koh Samui from all over the English speaking world.

We spent a month learning how to deliver effective and engaging lessons to Thai students and to qualify to teach in Thai Government schools.

The training we undertook was as arduous as you wanted to make it and trainees approached the course in their own way.

Some didn’t take it too seriously and after graduating continued their travels or returned home without teaching whilst others embraced the lessons, worked hard and focussed on a positive outcome which for them was a teaching role.

Training included a mix of classroom and practical learning. All the trainees had English as their first language. Apart from Pontus.

And although his spoken and written English was flawless, he worked harder than most to be the best possible teacher that he could.

The class of 2007 celebrating the end of the training

Pontus’ reward for all his effort- to be an unpaid volunteer teacher in a remote school and live with a family in a small village in the rural heart of Isaan. The only European in the area.

Pontus led the positive group

He approached every day enthusiastically by throwing himself into the lessons, cheerfully encouraging the group and taking a leadership role in setting a strong work ethic.

On the last day we all sat an exam that for most of us (including Pontus) resulted in a TEFL teaching certificate which enabled us to stand in front of a class and teach English.

The following day we all went our own way, Pontus taking the 1200 km two day bus ride to Isaan whilst I headed for Ayutthaya. It would be several months before we caught up again.

Volunteer teachers are welcomed with open arms

Pontus was going to teach as a volunteer in a tiny village called Baan Arwut not far from the small of town Sikhoraphum in the Surin province close to the Cambodian border.

Although not often visited by foreigners, Sikhorhum has a 12th century temple in the Khmer style and the Surin Elephant festival is held each November.

A typical small village

Baan Arwut really is rural and the day that the tall, fair haired and smiling English teacher from Sweden arrived in the village would have been an exciting one for the villagers.

Regional Thai people are incredibly friendly and welcoming to everyone but they are also really inquisitive so for Pontus to step into their world would have been quite an event.

It’s winter. The temperature had dropped to 30c. The students wear warm clothing. The teacher is melting.

For the community and the school, an extremely proud moment.

For Pontus, I believe that his months in the village would have been probably the most challenging experience he had ever faced with the easiest part being the actual teaching day itself.

To live in a rural home without first world facilities, with a family that spoke little English and eating food that is not the usual western diet would be difficult.

Westerners are a novelty here

The intense scrutiny from the villagers who would have watched and discussed his every move adds a pressure that would require endless patience and good humour.

Going to school in the morning and just have to face the attention of the students and fellow teachers would be a relief.

Business attire is standard for teachers

For the students, to have this genial and big hearted teacher come in every day and cheerfully and skilfully teach them conversational English would have been significant.

Pontus not only improved their education but gave them positive memories and for some, the incentive to continue their English studies.

The task Pontus set himself would have been at times, daunting

The craving to eat western food, live in privacy and have a conversation with English ( or better- Swedish) speakers must have been overwhelming at times.

But Pontus stuck to the task until, much to the sorrow of the teachers and students, it was time to leave.

Students expect fun to be part of the school day

Pontus said goodbye to the school in style.

Ice cream is really popular in Thailand and every town has an ice cream man who pedals his push bike (with a huge tub of ice cream fixed to the front) through the streets and ringing his bell.

Pontus paid him to come to the school with a full tub and everybody – teachers and students- lined up and ate ice cream until it was all gone. The perfect farewell from Teacher Pontus.

The ice cream man kept coming back until everyone was full

Pontus will long be remembered in Baan Arwut.