Category Archives: ESL teaching

English and I and me

When I was considering taking the job at English and I, I googled but couldn’t find much. There are a few videos on youtube and one post from 2012 (back when it was still called Fun English) but little else. No black lists and nothing on the forums.

Now that I’ve been here for 4 months I’m happy to go into more detail for anyone else in a similar boat. I’ll do my best to keep it as neutral as I can, but full disclosure is that none of the foreign teachers are all that happy with the school these days. (Perhaps not the Thai teachers either, but I’m less familiar with their feelings.)

The Good

The school pays on time, always, and in full. In the ESL world, that’s not nothing.

The campus is pretty, well-manicured, and there is aircon in all the classrooms and teachers’ room.

There are tons of hammers and sticky balls and pre-made game supplies at our disposal.

The manager is a Westerner and an English speaker. He’s on the side of the teachers, which again is a real treat in the ESL world. When you get here, he gives you a tour of the city and even took me to Big C to shop for household options.

We get sick days, and can go home early if we’re not feeling well.

I haven’t ever eaten there, but lunches are free at the canteen.

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The Mediocre

Lopburi

There are some benefits to living in Lopburi. The cost of living is pretty low, which is probably the biggest. The ruins are nice. The surrounding area, nature and temples, is nice. It’s not far from Bangkok.

But still Lopburi isn’t probably a top 50 location in Thailand. It feels like a place with all the inconveniences of a big city without any of the benefits. There’s always lots of traffic and construction. Getting across the street can take forever and sidewalks are few and far between. Soi dogs are a real danger, especially after dark. I’ve seen multiple students with scars from dog bites. There’s not much to do here. It’s one of the hottest parts of Thailand too. There aren’t many foreigners here, and if you’re not into going to the bar it’s tough to make friends.

Banjongrat School

The pay isn’t bad for Thailand. It’s 32,000 Baht (about 975 usd) for the first two months and then 36,000 Baht (just under 1100 dollars) after that.  With (semi-mandatory) after-school classes, you can bring in close 1200 USD per month.

But the school has a lot of policies that affect us in strange ways. We have to wear different colour shirts on different days–red usually but yellow for king days and white for buddhist days and traditional thai for other times. The usual ESL pattern of last minute cancellations are here too, but to be honest are far better than most hagwons in South Korea.

We don’t have to wear ties (ironic in this country) but we do have to wear belts and “smart trousers” and dress shoes.

Thai teachers

I’ve never taught with another teacher in the room and I was a little leery of how it would go. But for the most part, the Thai teachers at English and I are pretty awesome. There will be personality conflicts (which is why I rank this neutral) but overall the Thai contingent is a real perk of the job.

Students

This is neutral on balance as well. Some of the students are very bright and hilarious.  I look forward to three or four classes a week because we have fun together. But in general they’re pretty naughty. Going into classrooms with no desks and funny foreigners and knowing they’re playing games, it’s hard to get them to listen.

They do have awesome names. Pees and Poos aplenty, sure, but there is Singha (named after the beer), Lookpeach, Titan, Love, Hi 5, Shogun, Bonus, Soda, Boeing and her sister Runway, Wipcream and her brother Cappucino, Brandname, Google, Air Force, Army, Cartoon, Atom, Meow, Guitar, Benz, Ball, Beer, Please, Thank You, Name (naturally) and a litany of others. Also names are usually gender free, so boys are named Jennifer or Chelsea and so on.

Classes are usually around 20-25 kids, but semi-regularly are doubled. 20 kids isn’t too bad, but anything over 30 and it becomes difficult to manage.

Structure

There is a very strict structure at English and I. Classes are subdivided into 9 or 10 sections. I have been chided for not saying “good morning” at the beginning of the class. One teacher is criticized for not singing the requisite number of songs. It’s one thing to have a structure. For new teachers, it is actually super useful. But it’s so rigid that it feels very oppressive.

Work Permits,etc

Now, I had (almost) no problems with this. My permit was acquired a week before my visa expired and it was no worries. I got help setting up a bank account too. What’s more, I didn’t have any cash on me and they loaned me 1000 baht (30 USD) to deposit. BUT….

…I and 2 others were sent home one day when the immigration officials came to investigate. I’m still not sure why, because we were told we were legal. One of the new teachers (now leaving in a month) still hasn’t got his work permit! So I don’t think it’s dodgy, it could just be a case of “Thailand being Thailand,” but it’s something to be aware of.

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The Bad

Kindy

This is no one’s fault and unlike the others on this list doesn’t really have a “solution.” But it’s worth mentioning that for everyone, Kindy days are the worst. The kids aren’t that badly behaved, for the most part, but tears and poop are part of the day most days. I know now that I’ll never take another job where kindergarten teaching is required. Your feelings may very well be different on the matter, but since we all dread it I think it’s worth listing in the Bad section.

Workload

The expectations are high. We teach 24 classes a week (50 minutes a class so more like 27 by the usual standard.) These classes are pretty tiring–no chairs and we’re on our feet the whole class. Then there are two after-school classes a week. These are somewhat mandatory; meaning you can say no but if not enough teachers sign up then they can make you do it anyway.

When teachers quit, those who remain pick up more classes. When teachers are sick, we combine their classes with ours, leaving us with classes of 40-50 students.

Lesson planning takes a long time, especially the first few months. Then there’s grading, where we have to mark and correct tests and worksheets for 300-500 students.
Finally there’s grading. At the end of term, we have to enter 15 weeks of grades, 3 series of tests, and write comments for each of our students. This is something like an extra 25-50 hours of work.

It’s more work than anyone can do during work hours. Some teachers have to lesson plan at home. If you can’t do it at work,then you’re expected to do it at home, for free. The fact that no one can do it all during work hours doesn’t seem to change the policy.

Teacher Retention

Everywhere you go, teachers like to complain about their jobs. We always want less work and we always think we’re being overworked. So take this, all of this, with a grain of salt. But of the 9 foreign teachers here this semester, two have quit halfway through. 5 of them are leaving at the end of this term.  By next month, only one foreign teacher will have been here for longer than 9 months. The 3 new teachers hired with me who started in May are all departing or departed. 2 couldn’t sleep because of stress dreams.

This is bad for their business but worst it’s bad for the kids. From what I’ve heard, the exact same thing happened last year, where at least a few teachers quit unexpectedly. The cycle keeps repeating and the problem is that the solution is locked behind high walls.

The Bosses

One reason I took this job was I really felt like I connected with two of the owners, Bob and Lee. I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t see much of them again. When I do see them, they are very personable and kind. When I almost left two months in, one of the bosses came up from Bangkok and met with me and addressed my concerns, which was great. When they observed my classes, they were very complimentary. So the interactions I’ve had with them have been great.

But also so few. They are not absentee owners. They are policy makers and enforcers. I might be wrong about this (they must have a different perspective) but to the teachers at English and I we feel like mere numbers in a spreadsheet. One teacher, a former croupier in Vegas, said he was literally referred to by number at the Casino and it still felt more humanizing.

Recently, with teachers quitting, we all picked up more classes and have been combining classes heavily. Everyone is sick and pushing themselves. A word from the bosses, a thank-you, would have gone a long way. But we don’t hear anything from them.

Both this semester and and (from what I’ve heard) last semester, the teachers have requested to have a chat with them. My feeling is that open lanes of communication lead to healthy relationships and a healthy workplace. But they have a policy of not really talking to the teachers, preferring to funnel everything through the manager. That makes sense, as a policy, but when teachers have quit and the manager is working 2-3 jobs, it feels more like an excuse not to open lines of communication (for whatever reason.) It feels disrespectful to me, but again I’m sure they have their perspective and all the interactions I’ve had with them have been good.

In Summary

English and I isn’t a bad school. They pay relatively well and on time. Your teaching is a lot of games and many of the kids are super funny. But considering that you could work fewer hours in Vietnam or South Korea or Japan and make double the money, or work half as much for the same money and be in Bangkok or Chiang Mai or at the beach, then it’s hard to justify coming/staying here.

If I could go back, I would almost certainly choose another school. (I had an offer in Bangkok for more money and less work but ironically chose English and I because things here seemed less likely to turn sour.) But if you don’t mind working all the time, taking work home, for less than neighboring countries pay, there are a lot of good reasons to come to English and I. Great teachers, a good manager, funny (albeit naughty) kids. Just know what you’re getting into. My philosophy is if I wanted to work weekends and be stressed at work, I could be working for a bank somewhere and have benefits and a retirement and make a lot more cash. But everyone has a different threshold for this.

If you’re considering English and I, hopefully this helped a bit. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

 

ESL Life: Expect the Unxpected (clothing edition)

 

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One of the rules of living in Asia, perhaps the first and most fundamental one, is to expect the unexpected. This is true in most areas of life but particularly of the ESL world. Classes are cancelled last minute, students are added or removed without any notice, Friday nights are claimed for work dinners with your boss, again with little notice.

This all becomes second nature after a couple of years. What’s new for me these days is how much the school cares about our clothing. To me, the idea that teachers even have to have specific outfits is completely baffling. Especially for those of us teaching primary and kindergarten students. Wearing ties and skirts and tight clothes is the opposite of practical or logical. That’s not just a Thailand thing, of course.

1532137115006But what maybe is a Thailand thing, or at least something I haven’t seen elsewhere, is that seem to delight in thinking of new clothes for us to wear. Mostly we wear red polos but on Buddhist days (once or twice a week) we have white tshirts to wear and because the King’s birthday is this month we have yellow shirts to wear once a week and now we have traditional clothes to wear once or twice a week too.

It’s not too much a bother, though it’s sometimes hard to remember the correct outfit required for that day. I have to wonder about who is getting paid to think up new outfits and my western brain feels like they could perhaps spend that time on something more productive.

But it’s all part of expecting the unexpected.