Dear Young Person: Why You Need To Be An English Teacher In Thailand (Adventures in TEFL Thailand #1)

In the Adventures in TEFL series, I will be recounting stories from my year in Thailand Teaching English As A Foreign Language (TEFL) to students age 11-16 in Attamit School.


This one is there to encourage young people to do something different and potentially make leaps and bounds because of it.

Older folks, I respect the wisdom your age brings, what do you think?


Hiding From Life

Growing up, I was told by my teachers that I need to come out of my shell. Things didn’t changed after college. I was told in my year end review by the CEO of the company that I (again) needed to come out of my shell. 

And you know what they’re right. Albert Einstein once said,

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

In order to live a high contrast life, being the same old same old won’t cut it. Time to stop being a cocoon and emerge as the butterfly I was went to be.

Earn Your Wings

The Beginning, older teachers teased me saying they’d put me in a school uniform and I would blend right in with these high school students (do I look like one of them?)
Bangkok, Thailand
June 2019

First step in that process was Thailand. I earned my wings there. Here’s why you should do the same. 

First reason is Public Speaking. I remember my college communications class. I was absolute crap in speaking with other people.

Don’t have much choice as an English teacher though. Or any teacher for that matter. Talking in front of others is one of the greatest fears (unfounded) that plagues humanity. 

The beauty is, once you get over that mental hurdle, or if you are proverbially pushed off the plane (with a parachute) like I was, that mountain turns into an anthill. 

Don’t be fooled, I have no idea what I’m doing. About to be eaten alive.

And with anything, if you do something long enough, you get half decent at it at the very least. One aspect of that is that you learn how to speak so that other people understand what you’re saying. Part of that is learning how to speak slowly and effectively. 

“Expand Your Horizons”

Most people in the world are not native English speakers, so there is a rewiring process to understand the words coming out of your mouth. Sometimes it reverts to using pigeon English among other methods to get your point across. Whatever the case, your ability to communicate with billions of people around the world greatly increases. 

Talking with people from a vastly different culture expands your perspective, which is a topic that deserves its own article. Another perspective you gain is of that of your teachers. Most people have been schooled throughout childhood. Being the teacher puts you on the other side of the court. 

It gives you a new sense of appreciation for a large section of people that have been in your life. As such, you are no longer the kid in the relationship, you are the adult which means you have to grow up. You experience a different reality you would not have known otherwise. From the parent teacher conferences, to controlling a classroom when the numbers are against you, to doing the right thing even when it’s not easy. In other words, you grow up when you got people to look after and realize it ain’t all about you.

With that said, the question may arise on why be a teacher when you are young. Why not later on in life when you are ready to retire or if you ever decide to switch careers. Think of it this way, pick any career: doctor, lawyer, police officer, you will start on the bottom. It’s a natural transition from being told what to do at school, to being told what to do at work. 

And it will be years before you gain any real leadership position. Essentially you’ll be on the same trajectory as everyone else. 

And true greatness comes from doing what few are willing. 

So take being a TEFL teacher in Thailand instead as an alternative. Immediately as a college grad in your early 20s, you are expected to lead a classroom of people whether you are ready or not. You become the big fish in a small pond which will prep you for larger ponds down the road. 

Building Confidence: About a semester in I more or less knew what I was doing.

The Time Are Changing, But People Ain’t

Arguments against this: these kids, teens are in a foreign country plus they’re not adults. 

People don’t change, the times, fashions, languages, culture are different, but not people. Our brains work the same. Is there a human psychology/sociology course for East Asia only and a separate one for the west? Nope. 

And whatever you learn there can be applied to whatever you pursue later in life. Because a classroom with randomly selected students is a microcosm of society and any group of people (work or pleasure) you encounter later in life will always have your cool kids, joker, brainiac, “predator” etc. Learning how to handle these social milieus now while you’re young means you will be light years ahead of your peers. 

Because you chose to do something different. 

Some may say you can get these benefits at a young age by being a school teacher in the States (or wherever your home country is). You can, the caveat is that being in your home country to teach means a lot more laws and statutes that limit your flexibility in what you can or cannot do, especially in developed countries. 

It restricts your ability to experiment with what works and what doesn’t (in terms of handling people). And if you bend the line where it breaks, being in a foreign country allows you to separate yourself from those you may have inadvertently offended by your experimental methods. (See it as an internship, mistakes will be made.) 

Do you really think you can hose kids down with a water gun in your home country? One of many social experiments. February 2020.

Why You Should Work With Teens: They’re Like Toddlers

And an important note. You want to be working with teens. Small children are irrational and dissimilar to adults in too many ways. Adults, from my own undergraduate experience, know how to behave themselves in a classroom setting. 

But teens though, think of them like toddlers. They have just begun to develop their own agency and sense of self and want to use it. Just as toddlers don’t stop running when they learn how to walk, teens use their newfound sense of self with limited inhibitions, without the barriers placed in the adult world to keep us from killing each other when we are living and working together at close proximity. 

Now it’s up to you to “chase toddlers” and when flashes of those toddlers emerge later in life with new people you encounter, you already know how to handle it.

9th Graders, oh dear they were a handful.

Think of all this as first steps in learning how to become a leader. When I guest lectured in Thai Unis as an example, I was still nervous speaking in front of fresh faces despite all the practice I already had under my belt. 

But I was much more prepared going into it then if I had not been a TEFL teacher. 

Applying TEFL skills I acquired in a guest lecture in Kasetsart University in Bangkok, Thailand.

And that’s the thing about any job in general, you can make as much or as little of it as you want. It’s up to you on how hard you want to try and hit those points listed above (plus anything else you had in mind) and to see if you are the parental type or not. That’s all on you. 

So invest in a skill set now while you are young so that it can be applied throughout your life.

End of the school year, made it to the other end in one piece.
True greatness comes from doing what few are willing. Kingston S. Lim

Young folks, after hearing all this, what do you think? Do you have the courage to make the jump?

Older folks, do you agree with the points made? If you could turn back time, would you make this leap of faith?

Express yourself down in the comments below.

14 thoughts on “Dear Young Person: Why You Need To Be An English Teacher In Thailand (Adventures in TEFL Thailand #1)

  1. Wonderful photos, Kingston, of you and your students. You obviously made a connection with them!

    I made a lot of risky choices in my career and in my life. I chose to teach in an inner-city DC school rather than in the affluent suburbs. Next, I taught in the “Hood” in Miami. My last job was was as a secular teacher in an Islamic school near Fort Lauderdale, FL. They were all very rewarding and challenging experiences. I don’t have any regrets!

    Cheryl Batavia

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kingston, after reading your comment, I stayed up all night drafting some anecdotes from my teaching career. It will take a while to get them in final form and ready to post on my website. I have always wanted to share these stories, and I think now the time is right.

    Your posts are inspiring, and your suggestion that I write about my teaching career is very much appreciated! Thank you so much!

    Cheryl Batavia

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you’re giving this a shot Cheryl, I personally find it very important to leave behind a record.
      And I remind myself that there is no such thing as perfect, it’s all a matter of acting now and correcting along the way

      Like

  3. Great post, Kingston! I have a few friends who taught English in Thailand and they all loved their experience. I kind of wish I took the opportunity when I had the chance. Seems like you broke out of your shell!

    Liked by 1 person

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