“Teaching Voiceless” (Adventures in TEFL #4)

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 11-16Applied philosophy is used to take these lessons for utilization outside the classroom.

“Yeah, We Need You To Leave The Country”

When your working abroad you need more then just a tourist visa, its a matter of staying in country for a longer period then a standard visa allows. This was the experience I had as an English Teacher in Thailand. It involved me needing to go to the obscure country of Lao in SE Asia.

This was an adventure/fiasco that goes beyond the scope of this article.

I actually did an interview where I talked about it in the second half of a radio show which you can find here.

Basically it involved me taking a 10 hour overnight bus ride, confusion and disorder both when crossing the border and getting to the embassy, a whole lot of walking under the blistering sun, stress, which culminated in blistered feet and sunburnt skin among other things.

History lesson in Vientiane, Lao. Holding a cluster bomb (defused) that was dropped by the US on Lao during the United States “Secret War” around the time of the Vietnam War. July 2019

Uppsy Daisy: No Sleep, No Problem*

When I got back to Bangkok, Thailand on another overnight bus, I arrived early in the morning around 5 AM and had about 2 hours to get back to my school to teach the next lesson. I felt dirty and tired. After a quick shower and nap, it was the start of another week.

Anyways I taught my classes per normal, as normal as can be anyways. After the first few lecture, I started fingering my throat, something didn’t feel right, by lunch, I still held one of my unofficial lunch study sessions but by then my throat didn’t feel right and I let them go early.

When afternoon classes rolled around, my students inquired on how I had gotten darker and my voice had changed. I didn’t comment and continued on with the lession best I could.

With all lessions completed that day, I was at my desk in the English department. The students had just had their first mid term. The boy that struggled with English, but has been working so much harder when I started tutoring him, I remember I wanted him to do well on the exam. So I asked another teacher how he did the few days I was gone.


The words caught in my throat. I tried harder.


Oh crap

Calm down Kingston,” one of the female teachers soothed. “You need to rest.

This was completely bizaar, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t utter a single word. This has never happened before.

As I was licking my wounds so to speak that evening with the sunburnt skin and loss of voice, my thoughts turned to how I was going to get through the week, lecturing without a voice.

Print em, Spray em, & Pray

After reading a bunch of articles on how to do this, I came to the conclusion that I would print out a bunch of handouts and pray. Not the best of plans but I couldn’t think of another solution. I couldn’t just play a movie as my school didn’t have that technology.

The next day at the beginning of each class, I gestured that I had lost my voice and handed out worksheets, flinging them out like they were candy. I concealed my fear best I could. I was expecting complete anarchy.

To my surprise, they were surprisingly subdued, even the worst elements. And the other teachers backed me up, advising me to take this time where I couldn’t teach effectively to give the students time to practice for their “singing competition” where all I had to monitor them. Additionally (from what I could tell) I suspected these more experienced teachers had stern talks with my students that they needed to behave because “Mr. Kingston” lost his voice.

You Cannot Always Be Strong & Stoic

At the time of this occurrence, I had already been teaching for a couple months, whether I was any good or not I’ll leave to the eyes of the beholder, what I will say is that I put in a good effort.

And the thing with human nature is yes, there are going to be followers that take advantage of you when you are weak, but when you have known people for a while and have been leading them competently, when you show a weakness, (not ineptitude) it humanizes you.

Showing that flash of vulnerability has a disarming effect that is difficult to explain.

Part of it has to do with reciprication (a tendency to give pack to one another) as in you’ve treated people following you right when you need them the most, they will likely be therefor you during your hour of need.

And another part is when people are taken aback by the novelty of a situation, they tend to be more complicit. That is, you catch them off guard (I can’t perform my duties right now) followed by an ask) followed by an ask (I need your help) yields a high compliance rate.

High enough were even those that don’t want to comply.

At least, that was my experience teaching voiceless.

Previous Posts:

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

“The Dangers of Unfairness” (Adventures in TEFL #2)

“Humble Service: You Need To Care First” (Adventures in TEFL #3)

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