Discover the great story of teaching in Thailand with TEFL teacher Harriet, one of our amazing interns! She went to this breathtaking country to teach and discover a new culture abroad.

Tell us about yourself! We’d love to know about your background, what drew you to teaching in Thailand, and more. 

I graduated in July 2020 – COVID was at its peak and my long-term dreams of traveling after Uni went straight out the window. I ended up working an office job from home for about 18 months before I felt I could go traveling and have a normal non-COVID experience!

I tutored GCSE English 1-1 online whilst I was studying at Uni but I never considered working as a teacher. I decided to try teaching abroad simply as a way to travel and hopefully break even, or even save a little bit of money. I got so much more out of it than that…but long story short, teaching has become my career plan and Thailand has become my second home.

Tell us about your path to teaching abroad – Did you always know you’d end up teaching in Thailand?

Harriet - Camping in Sangkhom

Thailand was never the obvious choice for me, it wasn’t like I had my heart set on it. I looked into a few different destinations but nothing offered the flexibility of teaching for just one semester like Thailand did. Committing to a whole year before I’d even arrived was way too scary for me so this placement was perfect. As it turns out, I ended up renewing my contract for a second semester and staying for a year anyway!

There are actually loads of benefits to teaching in Thailand. For starters, so many people come here to teach, which means making friends is pretty much guaranteed. You also get placed in a rural area which means you get to experience *actual* Thailand. I found this a bit daunting at first, imagining myself in the middle of nowhere with literally nothing and no one. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all and whilst I’m definitely in rural Thailand, it is possible to set up a life here and keep busy and interested! I’ve lived here in Nong Khai for a year but have still managed to do trips to practically everywhere in the country as well as Laos. I also have plans to travel to Cambodia when the semester ends.

I think Thailand is a great first-teaching-job country. Everything here is very relaxed and the thing expected most from you is just to have fun with the kids and teach through games and activities

What does a busy day teaching in Thailand look like? 

The thing I love most about this job is that no two days are the same. It keeps things interesting and I’ve never been bored!

But a typical day…wake up at 7 am, sign in at school before 8. Then it’s breakfast and coffee(!), chatting with the other teachers, and getting my resources together for my lessons. I always teach two lessons before lunch – going into class gives me such a buzz and seeing my kids is the best part of the day. For lunch, we (me and the other foreign teachers) will go to the canteen and get noodle soup, Pad Thai or chicken rice for 30 baht (75p). I’ll teach my 3rd class and then spend the rest of the day preparing my lessons for the next day. There’s a coffee shop on the school campus so I’ll grab a coffee and mini donuts as an afternoon treat. Sometimes I’ll also just hang out with the students when they ask to play cards or Heads Up! School finishes at 4 pm and after some relaxing at home I go to a gym class and then out for dinner with my friends.

I teach on the English Program which means I have to plan my own lessons. It took a bit of getting used to at first, but I can bash one out in 30 minutes now! I teach 3 classes that I see every day, so that’s 15 hours of teaching a week. That means every day I plan 3 lessons for the following day.

Teaching in Thailand with TEFL Teacher Harriet - Harriet with her friends

Do you have any tips and tricks you can share about how to be a successful ESL Teacher?

Of course! Here are a few: 

  1. Relax and have fun with it. When I started, I tried to channel the energy of the teachers I’d had when I was at school (serious, strict, etc..) Then I realized the kids respond so much better to the lesson when you break down the wall a bit and are ready to laugh at yourself and have fun. I don’t regret being strict at first because the students know that they need to respect me but we also have a lot of fun.
  2. Keep it positive! At first, I spent so much time telling off the ones who were talking or messing about. I had a points system in class and I just kept taking points off the kids who were misbehaving and forgetting to give points to the ones that weren’t. Even the older kids want praise – they’re not too cool for it although they might act that way! Lots of praise and positivity change the energy of the classroom and make the kids excited for your lessons.
  3. Get the students up and moving. My classes have such short attention spans (even though they’re high school age!) so I don’t present for very long at all. Every lesson we do a game and as much as possible I will get them up and moving about. It’s just a simple way to immediately engage everyone – it could be as simple as doing a true and false quiz, and asking them to move to the right wall for true and left wall for false!

What was the most helpful portion of your TEFL Certificate experience? Do you feel like you draw from your course experiences regularly in the classroom?

Even though I’d tutored before, creating lesson plans with objectives and things was completely alien to me. I saved all my notes from the TEFL course and referred back to the sections on lesson planning A LOT when I started out.

There were also a lot of useful activity suggestions in the course that I use in the classroom. They’re a good starting point for incorporating games into your lessons. 

The course gave me a solid base understanding of being a TEFL teacher, but you will learn so much when you get into the classroom and start putting it all into practice. You’ll find out what works for you and your students and what doesn’t.

Teaching in Thailand with TEFL Teacher Harriet - Harriet with her students

What were three things about your experience in Thailand that you did not anticipate?

  1. The students not always being super eager to learn.
    This is one that comes up a lot when I talk to other foreign teachers here in Thailand. We didn’t think we’d need to do much classroom management at all…and that’s not quite true! Having said that, don’t panic! The way I look at it is that they respect the teacher, they don’t always respect the lesson. The students are very polite, but they are also very talkative and, like I said before, have short attention spans. This has been a huge learning curve for me, but I wouldn’t change it if I could because I’ve learned a lot. Keep everything positive, engage the students with games, and don’t be afraid to be firm with them when you need to be. My M3 class is the hardest to manage and yet the students are my favourite, go figure!
  2. Getting so much time off!
    I think I taught for about 2 days in the month of July. Thailand has loads of long weekends and holidays which is great for getting to explore new places!
  3. Making friends for life.
    I was expecting the worst before I left for Thailand and was worried I wouldn’t really make friends or have regular company (I’m an extrovert and need people!). It’s been the total opposite. I’ve made friends here that will be in my life forever. I even have plans to go traveling with one of them again later this year!

What has been your most rewarding experience as an English Teacher?

The connections I’ve made with the students and seeing them improve SO MUCH in the past year – in both ability and confidence. 

Perhaps my most rewarding experience was with one student in my M3 class. When I started, he was very unsure of English. He used to tell me “I’m stupid. I can’t do English.” I would tell him “No, you’re not stupid, you can do it.” He would struggle with the workbook exercises and doubt his own abilities. Now, one year later, he still tells me “Teacher, it is so hard.” but he is so much more confident and after showing him a couple of examples, he can do it really well. The highlight of my year was at Parents’ Day, when his mum thanked me for teaching him so well. It’s those moments that keep you going if you’re having a bad day.

I never feel like I’m going to work. I can’t wait to get into the classroom and chat to my students. I can’t bear the thought of leaving them in a couple of months. They’ve taught me so much about patience, compassion and letting loose!

Harriet on a boat in Thailand

What is your favorite age group to work with and why? Would you consider teaching other age groups?

When I applied, I asked to teach in an elementary school. When I was placed in a high school, I agreed but was a bit nervous. I teach M1, M2, and M3, the youngest three years at high school. Their ages are equivalent to Year 8, 9, and 10 in the UK, or Grades 7, 8, and 9 in the US. If I could go back and re-apply, I’d ask for high school! You can communicate with the students a lot more easily and I think they’re generally easier to manage.

What advice do you have for someone on the fence about whether to teach abroad or not? 

I’d say, I can’t imagine a scenario in which you’d end up regretting it.

Worst case scenario? You decide teaching isn’t for you. Not everyone will love teaching, and you won’t know until you try it. But at the end of the day, it’s an amazing experience in itself. I struggled with teaching at first, but I never wanted to leave. At the same time, there’s another foreign teacher at my school who isn’t loving the teaching but is loving the experience and doesn’t regret coming at all.

What’s guaranteed? You make meaningful connections, you push yourself outside your comfort zone, you make a difference to your students, you learn a lot, you make some money and you experience a new place, culture and language. 

Go for it!

Teaching in Thailand with TEFL Teacher Harriet - Harriet with the teacher team in Thailand


Discover here other amazing stories and experiences of our interns:

Imran’s story in Thailand

Madelyn in South Korea and the amazing video of her trip

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