Tag Archives: teaching English EFL ESL TEFL

Is it really worth it…?

 

Looking back at my first 4 months teaching English in Thailand: the struggles and the rewarding experiences I had:

I am tired.
That is because I am learning a new skill – teaching. When I think about it, most of what I do doesn’t really matter as the Intensive English class is not considered a core subject, so neither the school, nor the parents or the kids view it seriously. The level is very low and the bar for the lowest grade you can give is continually getting raised. So even if the kids are only able to look at you and breathe they still get 60%. When I was at school, you had to put in quite a bit of work to pass, but here they take it as a given.
Kids come to class 10 minutes late, it takes 20 minutes to calm them down and gather attention during the class (it’s a constant battle), which leaves you with approximately 20 minutes of teaching time at most.. Added to that, at least half of the kids won’t do anything without the adrenaline rush caused by the teacher standing behind their back.
The book that I teach from is designed for 5-6 hours of classes per week, and I only have three 50min lessons. Each lesson has at least 5 vocabulary items, a new complex grammar point, listening exercises, reading comprehension, several written exercises from the book and even more from the workbook. To top it up, we have to submit so many grades for every unit that we need to grade the girls almost every lesson. My kids are learning past perfect and reported speech, yet they can’t put a simple sentence together about what they did last weekend. It seems as if nobody cares if the kids actually learn anything…
But still, I put so much effort into it. During the first month I was surviving on just a few hours of sleep per night. I would take tons of work home, plan lessons right up to going to bed and start again first thing in the morning. I wanted to somehow make the material understandable and interesting for the girls. I changed the slides, added my own, created worksheets, and designed interactive lessons where the kids could get out of their desks for something other than “Teacher – toilet?”. I even brought in and did a full lesson with a teddy bear giving orders and requests, with the girls changing them to reported speech. I don’t know how many times I went round the class, taking the time to explain new grammar individually – even to the girls who showed no effort whatsoever.
Sometimes I wonder – is it really worth it…?

I taught these girls for a few months now and most classes became manageable. I can see my efforts paying off as a noticeably larger number of kids started to work. There are even a few who looked hopeless initially, but suddenly in the last month started to actually understand what they’re doing.
And it’s so rewarding when the smart ones ask me a question, and instead of answering I give them a question back – there’s a pause of thinking… Suddenly their little faces light up, and you can just see that ‘ah ha!’ moment in their eyes. And at that moment you know they understand. You should see the joy it gives them – priceless.

Ok, maybe what I do doesn’t really matter for this school. But for me it’s worth it. I try out different things and I get to see what works and what doesn’t work when teaching. If anything, it helps me to develop as a teacher and, more importantly, as a person. Whatever I decide to do in life, I put my 100% into it. I give it my best. I get to keep the knowledge, skills and experience I gain. The more effort I put in, the more I develop myself. The more I grow as a person.
Everyone has a blueprint, an idea of their own perfect self. But it’s not possible to get there in an instant. You take little steps, overcome hurdles along the way, go through different experiences – you grow as a person. With time, your blueprint changes. It becomes even better, something you couldn’t imagine was even possible. But if you don’t put your 100 % in on the way, you don’t grow and cannot reach your full potential.
If you could reach something without putting the effort in, you would miss out on this journey of self-development. When you grow, your goals grow with you, making you become your better self. But if you’re not willing to give it your 100%, is it really worth doing?
Birthday card

Visa run to Laos – Our detailed itinerary

**2016 update:

You can no longer apply for a double-entry visa at the embassy, you can only apply for a single-entry, or the new multiple-entry 6-month visa, (or use a visa exemption) more details here.

Once you use up all of your entries, extensions and you’re out of days in Thailand, you go to any country in the world that has a Thai embassy or a consulate and apply for another double entry visa. You can go back to your home country if you wish, but if you’re time-strapped, you need to make this process as quick as possible. Hence, most travellers go to Laos, as it only takes 2 working days. We both used the same company on different occasions and the service was efficient and reliable – just what we were looking for. If you haven’t done it before and want to know how it works, you may find this detailed itinerary useful. I will write about my own trip and include Auste’s experience from her trip the month before in brackets.

OVERVIEW:

The company is called Sawasdee (SWD) and their website is thaivisaservice.com (check it out first!). They have grey vans in the Tesco Lotus car park next to On Nut BTS station, just under the big Tesco sign. Details and departure times are listed on their up-to-date website. You don’t need to book a seat as they ALWAYS have vans there, just make sure that you have the documents you need (the website has a list), 6 months passport validity, etc, as it’s all your responsibility. I saw one English guy getting off the bus at the Laos border just to be told to get back on and sent back to Thailand as he only had 4 or 5 months left on his passport. Also, remember to pack a jumper as once the air con is full on you might freeze in the van, and it gets quite chilly in the mornings up north so it’s best to be prepared.

DAY 1

19:30 Meeting at the Tesco car park, I saw one lady with a bunch of passports and a stack of forms, then gave one guy my passport and hung around the van with other travellers for about an hour. Make sure to put your bag in the van straight away to reserve the seat you prefer.

[I came a bit early, they took my passport which was followed by a long wait. It felt strange standing in a corner of a parking lot with a Thai guy who spoke no English holding a bunch of passports, surrounded by about 30 people of various nationalities. I felt like an illegal immigrant and I was wondering whether I will get my passport back or whether the guy will insist on keeping it until we reach the border]

20:15 The van filled up, we were all given our passports back and some visa application forms to complete. We were driving out of Bangkok, I was listening to 8.57 FM and the colourful traffic reminded me of driving out of London at night. Cute little random memories.

23:30 First stop at services, followed by another one at 1:50: 7-11, different eateries, toilets, etc. Plenty of time to stretch out. I nearly got onto a different van as they all look the same!

DAY 2

4.20 We reach the border, the driver gives everyone a colour-coded lanyard with the company’s name. Some get their passport photos done for 100 baht just outside. The border opens at 6am so there’s plenty of time to get a hot coffee, read a book, go to the toilet, etc.

[Not like some other passengers I did have 3 passport photos, the right size and everything. The guy just before me was told he’ll need to get the pictures in the morning as his were in a blue background. Mine were white, so I thought they should be ok. Nope. It turns out you need to wear a collared shirt in your passport photo as otherwise the officials won’t accept it (that’s something to bear in mind for girls – formal blouses are not suitable for passport photos, unless they have a collar.) I remembered seeing pictures on a Kodak place window that I laughed at – a white woman wearing a t-shirt in one photo, and a clearly photoshoped white collared shirt in another. Now suddenly that made sense. As if it’s not enough that they photoshop your face to look like a baby, they give you a photoshoped shirt as well! However, at 5am in the morning next to the Laotian border there was no such thing as photoshop. Instead, everyone who needed a photo had to put on some clothes they gave us – I got a man’s shirt of an indescribable colour and size. And the ‘photo booth’ was a plastic chair under a tree. When I got the printed photos I looked like someone had punched me in the face as there was a massive shadow covering one side of my nose – they only had the light on one side. Lovely.]

Laos, Vientiane visa run

5.50 Masses march the Thai border- there was no communication from the visa run company staff so I just followed the guys I met on the van  – already “experienced” in visa runs of this kind. We queue, the officials take your passport and departure card, put the exit stamps and give back your passport. You give your passport to the company staff again and, feeling like nothing else but a passport-less immigrant, go past the border and onto a bus. It’s cold, damp, and you’re an immigrant.

6.20 Many buses cross the Friendship Bridge carrying everyone to the Laos border. The Japanese and the Filipinos were asked to get on first, don’t ask me why.

[Once the photos were printed we had to pick up our bags and walk to the border where we spent another 20 min or so waiting behind a metal fence – yet another point where you get that feeling of being an immigrant. Around 6 am we got stamped out of Thailand, the visa run company collected our passports and we got rushed onto a bus to cross the Friendship Bridge. And even though I felt like a sardine cramped in a tin with someone’s elbow almost stuck between my ribs, the sunrise over the foggy shores looked pretty magical. ]

Laos, Vientiane visa run

6.30 Waiting for our passports at the Laos border, no communication from the company.

[At 7:00 we were still waiting for our Laos visas. I had long trousers and a thick jumper on, but it was still chilly. Did I get used to the high temperatures already..? Around 7:30 they started giving our passports back, but the visa run company staff said they’d hold onto our passports until we reach the embassy.]

8.00 The Laos border staff took our photos and the company kept our passports. Once everyone had taken a photo we walked through with the guide and onto a van. We were taken to the Thai embassy. We drove past natural shrubby landscapes which reminded me of Cambodia.

Laos, Vientiane visa run

 [8:15 after a long ride in a frozen mini van we reached the embassy. 8:30 they opened and the queue started moving inside. The good thing about being at the embassy this early was that the sun was not as incredibly hot as it usually is later in the day.]

8.45 We were dropped off at the embassy, where we queued on the street next to nice looking 40 baht baguettes, slowly moving towards the embassy’s beautiful front yard.

Laos, Vientiane visa run

9.10 The company staff gave back our groups’ passports with Laos visas in, and the Thai visa application forms.
9.30 I got a queue number and waited to be called.
10.00 I submitted my passport and the application to the Embassy staff and went back to the van, passportless again.

[I noticed the visa run company amended my occupation to “Tourist” on the application form. Ha, a dream job, right? If only such occupation existed… 1 hour to get the queue number, then one more hour wait for your number to be called. Once at the window – 2 seconds. The officer looked at my application, looked at my last Thai visa and I was free to go. One poor guy couldn’t submit his application though as first of all his school didn’t give him the right documents and also he didn’t have enough visa pages left in his passport. Apparently the last few pages in some passports don’t count as there’s no sign saying ‘Visas’ on them. That’s also something to look out for if your passport has these random pages!]

10.15 Van moved. Drivers in Vientiane seemed as if they didn’t have driving licenses, it was annoying as many cars couldn’t stay calmly in one lane, went against traffic, etc.
10.30 We arrived at the hotel for cold breakfast leftovers, then checked into the run-down rooms…

[We were then taken to our hotel which reminded me of Cambodia a lot. It seems like the time had stopped in these 2 countries probably a hundred years ago. All the furniture and decor that must have been really posh at some point, but now looked so shabby – with no attempt to modernise anything… We got breakfast on arrival though, which I didn’t expect. It was almost cold, but still – after this many hours in a van it was nice to eat something other than biscuits. Wi-Fi in the hotel worked for about 20 min in total during the 24 hours I was there. After dinner I got a tuk tuk into town and had a couple of glasses of house wine at a rooftop bar, the wine was surprisingly good! There were 2 random aerobics classes on the riverfront too, which were funny to watch…:)]

Laos, Vientiane visa run

I managed to explore Vientiane quite a bit in the 24 hours I had – check out this post for my experience which should give you some ideas of what you can do.

DAY 3

8.00 Breakfast with quite good range, including toast and scrambled eggs.
9.00 At this point I found out that you could use perfectly stable   Wi-Fi at the other end of the hotel.
10.00 Packing and down to lobby at 11.30.
12.00 Vans move to duty free.
12.30 to 2 pm everyone is doing their shopping/ chilling at duty free.

[Next morning we checked out at 12, around 1 pm we were taken to the border and spent an hour in duty free. There were a couple of places to eat at the back and a good choice of wine in the duty free section. Wine is MUCH cheaper than in Thailand. If only I was allowed to take more than 2 bottles…]

14.15 They gave us our passports back just opposite duty free (where you get on a bus upon crossing to Lao)
14.20 Everyone gets on the shuttle bus to be carried across the bridge.
14.25 Masses get off and straight away march towards the dark booths for stamps. The officer throws your passport back to you like a piece of gone-off meat. Then you go to a white building just opposite, no passport check, just a useless unattended ride through the scanner for your bag.
14.30 You’re in Thailand waiting for your new friends to finish the procedure.

[The agency picked the passports for us and we got them back after crossing the friendship bridge, already stamped out of Laos and we just needed to get arrival stamps on the Thai border.  By 3pm I was back in the Land of Smiles getting on a mini van for what turned out to be a nearly 11-hour journey back to BKK.]

15.00 We were all stocked on snacks at 7-11 and ready for the trip back. After unsuccessful negotiations with the driver about changing vans we started the move back home, in same vans, with same people.
16.45 A 30min stop at services, for a complementary coupon meal worth 30 baht.
19.30 Another pit stop, also about 30min, plenty of shops and toilets for everyone.

The 10-person van was pretty comfy, too bad I found out that seats recline Even MORE only towards the end of the trip. There’s good leg room too, but other vans were more crammed (I think the Filipino ones, for whatever reason).

If you are thinking of arranging the visa run yourself, instead of using a visa run company this website and this blog have a pretty detailed description of the whole process. However, we found that using the visa run company is sooo easy and convenient (it saves you lots of hassle by not having to deal with grumpy officials as much as you would if you did everything on your own AND everything’s much quicker) and the price difference (when you add up all transport, accommodation and admin costs) is minimal. We both had to get back to work the next morning after coming back to BKK around 1am, so getting the least tiring option also played a part in our choices.

Before we started working though we did our first “visa run” to Cambodia. We spent several days in Siem Reap (read about our trip here and here) and explored the Angkor Wat and Co (more on this – here). At that time it didn’t feel like a visa run at all, we were just travelling…:) So if you’re not working and are not limited by the number of days you can get off work to do your visa run, this blog has plenty of great ideas how to make the most of your visa runs from Bangkok.

TOEIC test for non-native EFL teachers – our experience

As a non-native speaker of English, I find that there is very little TEFL information about it online. Being a fairly organized person I prefer knowing as much information in advance as possible, but it was tricky finding any personal experiences about TOEIC. Hence, I have decided to post this, since I have first-hand experience now, just in case there is someone in the same shoes out there.

In a nutshell – if you are a teacher in Thailand, whether qualified or not, and come from a country where the official language is NOT English, and want to work legally, you need to take the TOEIC test. Basically most institutions just want people from UK, US, Australia, NZ, Canada, South Africa, and sometimes Ireland. There’s some kind of issue with Ireland, and you can find a few funny stories on the internet.

My girlfriend and I have degrees from UK Universities, good UK work experience (non-teaching), and we did our CELTA’s in Thailand. Our English is pretty good, and sometimes we get compliments like “Oh, so you’re not English!?” – that always puts a smile on my face, especially when it comes from English people! We both found work through a relatively large agency. Two months in, we were asked to get our TOEIC scores, as it is a requirement to work here legally.

For all possible questions, answers, opinions, rumours, facts and so on about legal work requirements, you should firstly go through ajarn.com and ajarnforum.net to get an idea, and perhaps thai-visa.com – they’re all reliable and up-to-date. From what I read online foreign teachers only need to take the listening and reading parts of the test, so I didn’t bother investigating, and the foreign department at my agency confirmed that too.

How to book:
They run the Listening and Reading tests Monday to Saturday, however if you don’t have a Thai work permit you can only take it on Wednesdays at 1pm. We wanted to book our places before Christmas but they were closed right up to 5 January. So we rung up on the 6th and did the test on the 7th, which happened to be a Wednesday. You need to book a place by phone at least one day in advance, have your passport number handy and don’t be surprised if nobody picks up the phone. We tried calling at least 5 times on different days and times until we finally got to talk to someone. But maybe that’s just our luck.

How to find it:
The place is easy to find – walk for about 10min from Asok BTS / Sukhumvit MRT exit and you’ll see BB building on your right. The TOEIC offices are on the 19th floor, room 07. We got there just before 12 (they require you to come an hour early) and entered the registration room. It was tiny, but they have an incredibly organised queuing system. They have about 6 different queues and a few staff members co-ordinating the traffic between queues. They didn’t even ask if we had a reservation and directed us towards the first queue (even though the lady before us was asked that question). You register, get your photo taken, pay the 1500 baht fee and join the queue to your assigned testing room. And that’s where the fun begins. There is also a centre in Chiang Mai.

Security:
You can’t take anything into the testing room apart from what they describe as ‘money wallet’. The staff by the door could easily work at the airport: rubber gloves and metal detectors, scanning every single limb before they allow you to walk in. You can’t even take your home keys inside! All bags must be left on the shelves in the office and of course they ‘don’t accept any responsibility for items left unattended’ (as if you have a choice!). The only good thing is that they let all the examinees out at the same time, so I guess there’s less risk for anything going missing.

Length of the test:
If you think you’ll start the test as soon as you walk into the room, you’re wrong. There’s about 40min of completing the background questionnaire and listening to a recording with the description of the test parts before the test starts. But when it does, you don’t have much time to relax, and just go from one question to another. After about 20 minutes of listening questions your brain starts falling asleep, but if you start nodding off for just a moment you’ll miss an answer from the recording. Consequently, if you start thinking for a second, you miss the next question, as they are only read once.

The test:
It is split up into two parts – listening and reading, and these are again divided into smaller chunks with different exercises. On the CPA website it is clearly outlined what the test is like so give this a read http://cpathailand.co.th/?article=36 . It was pretty straightforward and if you had English at school or had an IELTS test, you should know what to expect. We haven’t prepared for the test at all, just read the handbook before the test. However, many people attend special TOEIC preparation classes, buy practice books, etc, you may not need any practice at all – it all depends on your level. A few questions in the reading section required more time as you had more complex exercises. From two given office emails, or an advert and a response to it, you had to figure out who were the people, what their jobs were, and so on – something you naturally deal with in an English speaking country. We’ve scored well, but it wasn’t the full score, as some questions had answers that were vague and were tricky to choose from. For example there was a photo of some boats on the shore, and available answers were ‘children diving in the ocean’, ‘boats being dragged somewhere’, and some other answers which were difficult to match to the photo. Some answers made us laugh – you hear a question “do you want to go for a drink?” and have to choose between answers “No, it is not spring”, “Food is not allowed”, “I’d love to”. But generally the test was quite logical and simple.

After the test you just go back to the reception room and collect your belongings. You can collect your results the next day or get them delivered at a charge of 50 baht. So to sum up, you come in at 12:00 and leave just after 16:00. It was fun to attend a test ourselves and get back into students’ shoes. Good luck!

My CELTA interview nightmare…

After having completed the CELTA course I can reflect on the most awkward interview I have ever had. You may want to grab some popcorn for this.

I had my skype interview on Wednesday morning mid-June (for September’s intake), just after Auste’s interview. Hers went just great, but mine went like this…

The trainer was not the one I was told it was going to be, but he sounded nice and we exchanged our hellos. He asked me why I wanted to be a teacher and why I chose CELTA and some other questions of similar nature. I had prepared three pages of answers divided into four detailed sections: CELTA, Thailand, Teaching, Chiang Mai. So my answer should have been very organized and professional, right? Basically, in a trembling voice I babbled something like: “All my friends told me it’s very difficult but worth it in the end, and I am looking for a change in career”. What a guy…

Then we went straight into possible teaching scenarios. THREE to be more precise. I expected an easy one, not three. The first one was how I would teach an expression of [something I can’t remember] to a class of lower level students. This one went OK.

The second one was how I would explain the difference between ‘I stopped to smoke’ and ‘I stopped smoking’. This is where it got funny. I explained both of them, but I got the ‘I stopped to smoke’ wrong as I thought it meant: I stopped to smoke [for a second as I saw a big brick falling on one lady’s head across the street]. Yep. That’s me. The trainer was so keen on eliciting the right answer, and luckily Auste started acting out stuff in the room and I realised that I’m an idiot and then I explained it OK.

The final question was how I would teach new ‘appearance’ vocabulary to a class of intermediate students or something. Basically I was shitting my pants by that point and had a complete black out and I started saying things unconsciously, like: “I would try to act something out or ask a student to come in front of the class to do something and I would write the words on the board”, or something as intelligent as that. The guy was really confused as to what I was actually saying as neither me nor Auste understood what I had said! She kind of suggested some things on paper and I started talking again (after taking an uncomfortably long pause).

I mentioned something about using magazines and describing celebrities, but I didn’t make any sense so the interviewer kindly changed the task to how I would get the students talking. By that point my mouth was probably as dry as Sahara desert itself, my palms were sweating like a fat kid on a treadmill and my pen had run out of ink, including that I had broken the lid of it. I kind of blacked-out again thinking about failing the interview, cancelling all my plans, having being dumped all at the same time, and then suddenly heard: “I believe you are a good candidate for this course and your English is very good [and so on…] and we’re looking forward to seeing you on the course.” Basically I just said thank you and all that, hung up, and collapsed on the sofa for a good 20 minutes.

Given the appalling interview, my performance on the course was surprisingly good – I passed all teaching practices, and only had to resubmit the first written assignment (as most of the others had too!)