Shanice tells us what it's like teaching after the Samui TEFL course
"Since graduating from the course, life has been moving super fast; finding a place to stay, getting my own transportation, settling into the school, etc. It honestly has been a whirlwind of adventurous adulthood.
I teach in Phang-Nga in a small town called Khok Kloi (north of Phuket). There's really not much to do since it's a small town. Tourism there is small so, there aren't any shopping centers, big supermarkets, or much entertainment. I call it 'real' Thailand. You rarely see foreigners. If you do, they're teachers or one of few tourists visiting the bay or markets. It's nice, if you're looking for a quiet, laid back, small town vibe. If you're not, it may be challenging and a real culture shock. I don't mind it, but it's really hard to find a place there... like really. I mean, there are places but without fridge, kitchen, wifi, and sometimes no aircon (which they'll install for a fee). So, I had to find a place 30 minutes out, equipped with everything (which I do not mind). I would rather be comfortable than close.
The school is really nice. It just opened this term (May 2018). I like the Thai teachers in my classes (a lot people don't have good experiences with theirs). I teach K2 and K3 (3-5/6 year olds). I'm a homeroom math and English teacher. The students are pretty cool. They make me pull my hair out sometimes, especially the 5/6 year olds, but they're awesome. The course really prepared me mentally thanks to teacher pracs (TPs). Even the strategies that Kathryn and Chiara taught are essential to my everyday work life. I've already implemented so many games and 'tricks' to manage the class that has helped a lot. There are still some things you'll have to alter to the likes of your class.
We have accessible facilities at my school, which I didn't expect: printing access, laminating access, bits and pieces for arts and crafts, computer access, an on campus coffee shop, a pool (student use - still cool), a dance studio, the works. The school provides the materials/lessons they want us to teach and we teach it. I come up with the delivery. It's still tons of work, though. I catch myself bringing work home, at times. During the day, there's a lot of book checking and meetings so it's hard to plan or finish resources before the work day is over. My schedule is 7:45-4:30. It goes by quickly, when you have things planned and "10 organized", if not, good luck. Lol, I can honestly say it's not what I expected! It's really quite a bit of work. When you get the hang of it and get into the groove, it's actually really cool. I'm still adjusting.
The weekends mean everything to me. I hang out with my friends from the course who are in Phuket working at schools and online. It's nice to have someone here to relate to and just chill with after the week. There's quite a bit to do in Phuket, so we randomly find fun things to do and we'll travel to other islands. It's good fun.
As of right now, I'm not sure if I'll stay passed my 11 months. I'll decide later. There are other places I want to grace. I say if you love children and have incredible patience, go for it. And if you're not teaching children, patience, in general. Do it! You'll form endless attachments."
Samui TEFL Grad
Being a teacher is rewarding, but the pay can be less than optimal. The summer is a great time for teachers to earn a little extra money. With the right gig, you can even carry that work into the school year. Let’s find out how you can choose the right side hustle this summer.
Many teachers easily find summer-only jobs. According to U.S. News, some of the most ideal options include teaching summer school, becoming a camp counselor, or working at other seasonal attractions. What if you want a side job to last you all year? Here are some good ideas:
Jobs That Use Your Teaching Skills
The most obvious choice is a job that uses some skill you already have from your teaching career.
Jobs That Are Completely Different
This is a good option if you want a break from teaching at your side hustle.
Creating A Workspace
A job on the side does require you to be organized with your taxes, track your expenses, and detailed about your income. It’s a good idea to create a home office to handle the administration and/or work your side gig requires.
Be sure that your space allows you to have the time and space to get work done. You may want to set “office hours” to let your family know you need this time to get your for your gig.
It’s important to properly equip your office, too:
**Guest blog post by Joyce Wilson.**
Tatyana tells us how being a TEFL teacher has changed her life
After completing the course, Tatyana went on to teach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and has now headed back to Thailand to teach. This is what she had to say about her time on the course and how being a TEFL teacher has changed her, as well as her lifestyle.
Where to go after your TEFL course
So, you are holding a TEFL certificate, a magical key to many doors, a visa to most of the countries. Where to go? Too much choice spoils. Any new job posted in Facebook seems a better option than the one you’ve got. That island looks beautiful, this school offers attractive bonuses, that offer sounds tempting… Oh, if only I had waited a little longer! And then you change your job just to find out that any job is inevitably imperfect – either the cost of living is too high, or the classes are too numerous, or there’s too much work to do, or the city is too big/too small/too polluted/too boring/too noisy...
But any job inevitably has some delights to offer, let it be beaches, a nice school, good management, friendly staff, high wages… After all, we do essentially the same job, enjoy the same small pleasures (mine, for example, are morning yoga on the roof and making lesson plans in a cozy café), travel around (so what that it’s mostly visa runs and border bouncing), learn new languages and make new friends absolutely everywhere.
I think it is natural to always have this feeling that there’s a better place and greener grass somewhere else. But since I love what I do and I live in comfort, it doesn’t matter where I got the last “arrived” stamp in my passport, does it?
How my TEFL job changed me
If tomorrow they tell me something like, “The human race is evacuated to Mars, your spaceship leaves tomorrow”, I’ll just put my poker face on and ask, “What’s the luggage allowance?” Seriously, I should mention “stress-resistance and adaptability” as my strengths at the next job interview, my only strengths, probably. A TEFL job leaves you no time to panic. I have covered classes (on a very, very short notice) for someone who suddenly left the job, fell sick or is late from a border run more frequently than I hit the gym (and just for the record, I used to be a fitness model). I spend more time preparing lesson plans (and resources) than actually teaching. I don’t waste time regretting my mistakes, but I rather look for a way to correct them.
This job has changed my way of life. Formal shirts compile 75% of my wardrobe. All my possessions fit into two suitcases of total weight no more than 30 kg (6 of them are books. Weird, considering that I have a Kindle, PaperWhite and Audible app). I can pack and unpack all my stuff in 15 minutes. I catch myself duplicating my words with gestures while talking to people. I learnt how to keep my voice low when all I want is to raise it. I can easily find my way without Google Maps after spending 3 days in a new place (to be frank, I lose my way only if I rely on the maps). One can learn geography of Southeast Asia by my passport. And, honestly, I’ve never felt better in my life.
Would I recommend Samui TEFL?
“What TEFL course would you recommend – online or in-class?” someone posts in Facebook every day. Seriously? You think you can learn how to teach well (WELL is the keyword here) purely theoretically? Let’s be conscious, please, teaching is a responsible job. I understand that not everyone has money for an in-class course. I understand that those who have money, don’t always want to invest it into something they aren’t going to do for the rest of their lives. I understand that someone just wants to volunteer, or to move to the another country following his/her partner.
But aren’t we who we are mostly thanks to what and how we’ve been taught? Don’t we enjoy what we do when we do it well? Aren’t we feeling satisfied at the end of the day when we know we’ve done a job to the best of our abilities?
The Samui TEFL course was one of the best experiences of my life, and it entailed a lot of other great experiences. It was absolutely worth every penny, second, and effort spent (and I’m not talking of the beaches). It gave me a profession that is in high demand, but even if I quit teaching tomorrow, the knowledge, skills and memories I acquired will remain with me. Thanks to the course I became more organized, more adaptive and flexible, I learnt how to make my explanation memorable, how to encourage my students, how to elicit the right answer from them, how to keep them interested and busy all the time and how to discipline them. I’ve learnt to anticipate possible problems and to do things fast. Thanks to the course I can do my job well, and that says it all.
You’ve completed your TEFL course and now have a few interviews lined up, either in person or via Skype. There’ll be others competing for the same job, so how do you ensure you are the one to be hired?
We spoke to Charlie Honisz from Teachers4Thailand, a reputable agency and one we love to work with as the teachers are always taken care of. This is what he has to say:
“Before the interview, we’ll look over your CV/resumé and ensure you have all the qualifications required: native English speaker, or non native speaker with a high TOEIC score, a bachelor’s degree (needed to get the work permit), and a TEFL certificate from a reputable TEFL/TESOL school, one which offers observed teacher pracs, and really prepares the trainees for the real world of teaching.
Your CV is your first chance to make an impression, and here, clear and simple is best. We want to see a photo of you. We want to see your qualifications and any work experience you have and we want to find out a little bit more about you. We will also scan it for any errors, so do check it before sending it out. Samui TEFL has a great template to use, and it’s easy for us to navigate.
Looks are important. By that we mean: do you look professional and presentable and are you dressed appropriately? Are you neat and tidy? Teaching is a highly respected profession, and you need to dress accordingly.
During the interview we’ll be looking out for a positive attitude, this is very important. We want someone who is willing to listen to job offers, and open to all options – someone not totally closed off to not having things 100% their way. I do understand that people will have reasons for wanting certain places, and wanting to teach certain ages, but if you’re not even willing to hear someone out, it sends the wrong impression about being a team player. Schools can be chaotic, and prone to changes. So you need to be the type of person who is willing to adapt.
Also, be open to teaching different subjects. I’m not saying teaching maths, or science to high-level students (unless you’re qualified to do so), but homeroom teachers are a very large percentage of teachers in Thailand, meaning you’ll be teaching other subjects aside from English.
A lot of time is invested in hiring a new teacher, both by the agency and the school, so someone prepared to see out a full year contract will take preference.
As for tips:
And some additional advice from us at Samui TEFL:
You’ve made the decision to do your TEFL course, after much research into which course you’d like to attend. You’ve invested a lot of time and money, so it only makes sense to get the most you can out of your time on the course. A lot of information is packed into the 4-week course, so here are some suggestions to make the most of it, as well as the gorgeous location that is Samui.
Don’t be shy to ask questions.
The course is intense – from day one we get stuck in. If you haven’t studied for a while, you may find it overwhelming. However, you’ll be pleased to hear that all of the learning is done hands-on through games and interactive activities. You will never just be lectured to, but will always be involved in every lesson. The theory of the course is presented by the trainer using games, activities and strategies that you will then be able to use in your own teaching, allowing you to build your portfolio of activities and teaching tools from day one. This most certainly helps to prevent information overload, as many learning styles are taken into account, not just auditory. Our trainers are happy to answer questions if you are unsure of anything – however, in order for the lesson to flow, a question and answer session may be introduced at the end of the lesson. There is no such thing as a stupid question.
Ensure you get enough sleep.
You may start your course with jetlag. You’re in a new environment, and your mind won’t shut down at night trying to absorb all the new information. But you need a good night’s rest so you’re ready for the next day. Proper time management will ensure you don’t have to stay up past midnight planning lessons. While doing research and resourcing online, time can often get away from you with so much information available on the internet, and before you know it you’ve spent 3 hours looking for the perfect flashcard image online. An evening walk on the beach and no coffee at night will help to clear your mind.
Make the most of the constructive feedback given after each observed teacher prac.
Getting constructive feedback is the best opportunity for you to develop as a teacher. Sometimes it’s not easy to hear, but the feedback given during your pracs on the course is done so with the best intentions, allowing you to get the most out of the course. Avoid acting defensively, arguing with the observer and blaming the students. Instead, keep an open mind, ask for more details and note down the suggestions. Your trainers do know what they are talking about, and they want to help you to develop as a teacher to the best of your ability.
Do a self-analysis
After each lesson think back to what you did, and how you could have done it differently. Think about how you handled questions, unruly kids, etc and think about how you could improve. Keep a lesson journal, and take your own feedback to heart too. It’s important to act on the feedback given after a lesson. If you don’t incorporate the suggestions given by your observer in your next lesson, then the feedback was pointless. Make the most of the valuable feedback session given during your course. Do your self-analysis as soon as possible – while the lesson is still fresh in your mind.
Learn not only from your errors, but those of your peers too.
Ask your classmates if you can observe their lessons, and be willing to let them observe yours too. Be constructively critical of their lessons, and discuss with them afterwards what advice they were given by their observers, and what they would do differently next time.
Make friends with your classmates.
You’re all in the same boat so to speak. You’re all away from home, some of you for the first time. Support each other and be family to each other during the 4-week course. You’ll all need emotional support and you’ll all have strong days and days when you’ll need to lean on someone. The friends you make on the course are friends for life, and they can also be a valuable asset after the course, sharing resources with each other.
It’s okay to make mistakes.
We celebrate mistakes, as that is how we learn. We all make mistakes, especially when there’s a lot of information to absorb, or new information with which we are not familiar. The trick however, is to learn from these mistakes. Your trainers do not expect you to apply all the techniques taught perfectly in your first teacher pracs. What they do expect is for you to work on the mistakes made, and improve lesson-by-lesson based on the feedback given as well as self-analysis. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and we only grow when we are pushed past our comfort zone. Some trainees start out strong, for others it takes some time to ‘click’ on an idea or technique, but once they do, they don’t forget it, and it’s the end result that matters. Don’t be embarrassed in front of your peers – they are just as nervous as you are. We encourage a growth mindset, and we have created an environment to support each other and students' growth.
Be aware of local culture.
Part of travelling and living abroad is to embrace the local culture and accept that it may be different to your home culture. Doing a TEFL course means you are ‘weaned’ into the new culture, as your classmates will also be experiencing the changes alongside you. Don’t assume that because something is done differently to ‘back home’ that it’s inferior – it’s just different. Respect local customs, traditions, religions and ways of thinking. Our TEFL course also covers local culture right at the beginning of the course, so you’ll know what to expect when you are mixing with locals, and our island tour also incorporates aspects of the local culture.
Previous teaching experience isn't always an advantage.
Many qualified teachers choose to broaden their horizons and teach abroad. While their experience may give them an advantage with aspects such as classroom management, they may find other aspects much harder than a ‘newbie’ teacher, as teaching to students in their native language is very different to teaching non-native speakers, and certain bad habits will have to be ‘unlearnt’. Here, someone with no experience whatsoever will have an advantage, as they are starting fresh with the techniques learnt on the TEFL course.
Thinking you can ‘wing it’.
Even someone who has been teaching for years should have a well-prepared lesson plan, which can be adapted up or down, should the students not be at the anticipated level. Teachers who are arrogantly over-confident and think they can ‘wing it’ seldom pull it off. A well-structured and tested lesson plan will relieve the stress of executing a lesson.
Enjoy the change of scenery!
Koh Samui is a beautiful island, and is most likely very different to home. While the course is intense and you need to put in a lot of work and hours, proper time management will leave you with time to enjoy what the island has to offer too. Don’t be afraid to get lost! Soak in the sun, absorb the sights, but stay hydrated.
Most of all, keep an open mind, enjoy the challenges and the people you meet on this new adventure and journey of discovery.
Thailand is known for its beautiful beaches, and Ko Samui is no exception.
Being one of Thailand’s most popular tourist locations, Samui’s beaches may no longer be as secluded as those of the smaller islands. For some, this is not a negative; a beach with a party scene or more activity being preferable. Those still opting for isolation or authenticity need not worry, as this can still be found along the island’s southern shores, as well as a few hidden bays amid the busier north and east coast beaches.
What makes a good beach? To some it means soft white sand, clear and calm water, a coconut palm to offer shade and no distractions. To others the mental picture of the perfect beach involves plentiful deck chairs, entertainment in the way of music, a barman on call to top up that cocktail and a crowd to share this with. Still to others with young children this would imply a safe swimming beach, bathroom facilities, family friendly restaurants and no topless bathers. It is therefore not possible to list Samui’s beaches from best to worst, as this would be in the eye of the beholder. We have made a few suggestions, allowing one to choose the best spot to lay your towel, depending on your ideal memory-making beach.
Chaweng Beach lies on the island’s east coast, and is Samui’s longest and busiest beach. Should one arrive early morning, it is easy to see why this was the first beach area to develop in tourism. Private villas no longer grace Chaweng’s shores and every available space has been used for economic benefit in the way of resorts, restaurants and bars. Room rates along this beach are inflated, and there is no longer anything available in the backpacker or even flashpacker range. However, those wanting a social scene have made the right choice in Chaweng, as venues such as Ark Bar pump out music and fill every open patch of sand with sun beds. Do not expect peace and quiet – if the vendors don’t disturb you, the jetskis will. At night the party continues, and day beds are turned into chill platforms, while the serious deejays hit the deck.
Those enjoying water sports have several options with all the main beaches offering some form of equipment hire. Surfers will be let down however, as Samui has no waves – at all. SUP (stand up paddling) has become the latest trend on the island as no waves are needed, and boards and lessons are available in Chaweng, Lamai and Mae Nam. All the busier beaches, as well as many of the resorts will hire out kayaks at around 100 to 200 baht per hour, a great way to exercise the upper body, and see Samui from a different angle. Kite surfing is popular along Mae Nam beach, particularly at the point in front of the W Retreat, where Mae Nam beach meets Bophut beach, and the wind is at its best by Samui standards. Jetskis are controversial on the island, as they annoy anyone not on one. However, should you prefer engine power over muscle power, then they’re available for hire at Chaweng, Lamai, Choeng Mon and Bophut beaches. Be aware of bathers, as there don’t seem to be designated areas for the jetskis, and nasty accidents have happened.
Underwater world lovers may want to book a day snorkeling trip to Ko Tao, about 90 minutes by ferry from Samui, and known as one of the best snorkeling and dive locations in South East Asia. Should you not want to venture as far, then the best snorkeling option would be to either take a longboat trip, only a few hundred metres across to Ko Tan and Ko Matsum, two small islands off the southern harbour of Thong Krut. Here the snorkeling is even better than the Ang Thong Marine Park. Without leaving Samui, try the small bays of Coral Cove and Crystal Bay, between Chaweng and Lamai.
If the thought of a quiet beach, shared only with a few fishermen and perhaps a water buffalo appeals to you, then explore Samui’s south western coastline. Taling Ngam beach, is long and at parts is shared by a few resorts, but other parts are totally isolated as is neighbouring Phang Ka Bay. Don’t be afraid to travel down a dirt path and explore -- Samui is safe to do so, and there’re a few patches down south that are completely void of development. Samrong and Thongson Bays at the north eastern tip of Samui, although not undeveloped, have managed to escape mass tourism, as they are not on the main routes, and only those in the know, or guests of the resorts in these bays will share them with you.
Choeng Mon beach (where our TEFL centre is located) is popular with expat families, due to clean water and protected bay. You’ll find good restaurants as well as a few food vendors around when the hunger pangs arrive, but the bar scene is unobtrusive. Bang Rak beach is popular with Thai families, and here one will see children swimming early evening, while grandmothers dig with toes in the sand in search of clams for dinner.
The best backpacker spots can still be found nestled between high end resorts and villas along the much underrated Mae Nam beach as well as a few to the western end of Bophut beach.
Whether a cushioned sun lounger, attentive barman keeping the Mojitos rolling, and cool vibes blaring from nearby speakers -- or a patch to spread your towel under a palm, book in hand, to call your own for a few hours is your scene, Samui has it to offer. Time to explore.
Joe Moore completed his TEFL course in November 2011. Since then, he's taught in several locations in Thailand and China, and more recently, he's now teaching in Saudi Arabia. Here's an update from Joe on what it's like teaching in the Middle East.
It has now been six years and four countries later since I completed my Samui TEFL certification. Now, I find myself teaching college students ESL at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
So far the kingdom is nothing like I thought it was going to be. My students are attending a preparatory year to boost their knowledge of English and prepare them for medical school.
The Saudi people are kind, curious, and friendly. Saudi Arabia is the guardian of Mecca and Medina. It is also the heart of the Islamic religion and Arab culture. All around the city of Riyadh construction can be seen as the kingdom is modernising with skyscrapers, glitzy malls, and a new sky train system which will alleviate the traffic in Riyadh.
There are plenty of teaching positions here. Hiring takes place all year around, but the months of August and September hold the best promise for securing a position. In the ESL circuit the Middle East remains the top region in which to stack large amounts of money in a short amount of time. The universities, colleges, and poly-tech schools all hire large amounts of ESL teachers every year. Most employers are seeking someone with a few years of ESL teaching experience. Packages include salaries which begin around $3000 USD a month tax free, accommodation, 30 days paid vacation and round-trip airfare. With very little in the way of distractions and a low cost of living, a budget-minded ESL teacher can easily save $25,000+ USD in a single year of teaching.
Culturally, there are a few things that must be adhered to when teaching. These include avoiding certain subjects including politics, the King, civil rights, religion, and women not being able to drive (yet). All the schools are segregated. Outside of the classroom women are required to wear the abaya (a black gown from head to toe), from the moment you enter the kingdom. For non-Muslim women the (hijab) head scarf is unnecessary. Men are allowed to wear shorts, but must go below the knee. Prayers are held seven times a day. The prayers begin at approximately 4:30am and end at midnight. Muslims are required to pray five times a day. The call for the prayer can be heard in unison from anywhere in the city over loudspeakers. The times for prayers change slightly everyday. All shops close during these times, so it's important when going out to plan for them. There are a few other important rules to mention. Alcohol is forbidden. And fraternisation with the opposite sex is a serious crime.
Being an international city, Riyadh has a variety of foods from all over the world. Middle Eastern selections of grilled meats, bread, and rice, as well as all the Western fast food chains are available. Most living takes place at night due to the heat of the day. Malls dot the landscape and provide opportunity for exercise, shopping, dining, and socialising with families.
To sum up, Saudi Arabia is a great destination for an ESL teacher. There is much to explore in this region of the world that most people will never get to experience. Your TEFL certification truly is a ticket for freedom and a life of adventure. I know, I’m living it!!!
Samui TEFL Graduate November 2011
To read Joe's account of what it's like teaching in Thailand and China, read here
There are so many things to think about when you’re being observed, that it’s easy to forget the obvious. Here are some ways to make sure you ace your observed lessons.
Before the lesson
This applies to observed pracs during your course: Pay attention in class! Know the correct procedures and techniques, so you know what is expected of you.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Practice the steps and procedures (drilling, back-chaining etc) and practice your full lesson beforehand, on your own or with your partner. Get your classmates to act as students and let them point out any mistakes afterwards – all in good faith of course, and you do the same for them.
Ask for a copy of the observation form your observer will use and understand what they’re looking for. Make sure you’re clear on the standards before you deliver the lesson. For your teacher pracs at Samui TEFL, you’ll be told what is expected of you, but this will apply should you be doing a demo lesson for a job interview. When you are called in for a demo. Be sure to get all the facts beforehand, including the number and level of the students, how long the lesson will be, the topic, the facilities on site, etc.
Have a backup for everything!
Always have a spare board-marker – they have a nasty way of suddenly dying when you least need them to. Time wasted scrambling for another pen will affect your lesson time management, and the curveball will make you nervous, as well as have a knock-on effect. If you plan to show images on a projector, print the images too. If you’re giving students handouts, always have a few spares. Have a safety net for every aspect of the class.
Be prepared to upscale or ‘dumb-down’ the lesson in case the level of the students is not what you were expecting, so make sure activities can be adjusted accordingly.
Have a checklist.
Having an amazing board game or a fun worksheet is pointless if you leave it behind – we’ve seen this happen too many times – you can only be marked on what you actually do in class, not what you left at home. Attached to your lesson plan, have a checklist of what to bring, including a bottle of water and a sweat towel – there’s nothing worse than dripping sweat over the kids (yes, we’ve seen this happen too!)
Make sure you have all your materials required for the lesson.
If you look the part, you’ll feel the part and then you’ll act the part. If you’re not confident, fake it! Soon it will be real confidence. Find out beforehand what the dress code is at the school where you’ll be conducting the lessons. If this is for your teacher pracs during the course, you will be told this before hand, but if it’s for a demo lesson find out! Some schools for instance, insist that female teachers wear skirts, not trousers, and many schools want all tattoos covered up.
Don’t rush and don’t leave things to the last minute!
Do all your printing the day before – power outages happen and that could mean you can’t print your worksheets, lesson plan etc. make sure your computer is charged and is working. Don’t assume there will be WiFi if you need to show a YouTube clip – either download the video or make sure you can send a hotspot from your phone to the computer for internet access. On the day devote all your attention to delivering a great class, not worrying about last minute logistics.
During the lesson
It’s natural to be nervous when being observed. Many people speak too quickly when nervous – take a deep breath and SLOW DOWN, or your students will not understand you. Smile at your students. They will smile back and this will help you to relax.
Take note of your students
Plans should be followed… however, they should also be adapted if need be, according to your students’ levels. This is why it’s important to plan for your lesson to be adjusted both up and down, particularly for a class you have never taught before, and are not familiar with the level.
Involve all your students
When nervous, it’s natural to just focus on the students in the front, or those who are actively participating. Try your best to encourage all to participate.
Step back and read what you have written on the board. Often our brains are thinking ahead and we make silly spelling or other mistakes on the board. Take a step back and read what you have written.
After the lesson
Listen to the feedback, and take it to heart.
Getting constructive feedback is the best opportunity to you to develop as a teacher. Sometimes, it’s not easy to hear, but the feedback given during your pracs on the course, is done so with the best intentions, allowing you to get the most out of the course. Avoid acting defensively, arguing with the observer and blaming the students. Instead, keep an open mind, ask for more details and note down the suggestions.
Do a self-analysis
After each lesson, think back to what you did, and how you could have done it differently. Think about how you handled questions, unruly kids, etc and think about how you could improve. Keep a lesson journal, and take your own feedback to heart too.
Think about what you could have done to teach a better class, not about how someone else is at fault for what went wrong in your lesson. Many people get defensive when given feedback. Blame it on naughty kids? Rather take responsibility for poor classroom management, and research classroom management techniques. Note enough time? Look at your time management skills, and how much wasted time there was in the class.
It’s important to act on the feedback given after a lesson. If you don’t incorporate the suggestions given by your observer in your next lesson, then the feedback was pointless. Make the most of the valuable feedback session given during your course. After a demo lesson for a job interview, ask for feedback too. Your potential employer will value the fact that you are keen to improve and every good teacher knows that the best teachers never stop learning.
As a traveller around Southeast Asia, you should be aware and sensitive to the different religions and customs.
No matter the religion, food plays an integral part in the beliefs as well as ceremonies and rituals.
Since Eve handed Adam the apple and doomed the human race for eternity, food has played a strong role in religious beliefs. Some of us are more religious than others – some follow strict orthodox practices determined by their religion, and others loosely observe the ‘rules’ dictated by the religion that they were born in to. For many, dietary habits are derived from religious laws, and all over the world many people choose to eat or avoid certain foods according to their religious beliefs. When a country’s people are predominantly from one religion, it can be difficult to eat a food frowned upon by that following – for example, it might not be so easy to get a big juicy beef steak in India, where the main religion is Hinduism, and the cow is considered sacred. Likewise, a bacon sandwich in Jerusalem might not be so easy to find…
Most religions involve practices of both fasting and feasting – with fasting showing restraint and feasting being a time of celebration, thanksgiving and coming together as a community. While some practices involving food may seem obscure to those not of the faith (such as consuming wine and communion wafers representing the blood and body of Jesus), with a little research, you’ll find a reason for the practice, often going back millennia. Food choice is due to different reasons, with religion being one of the strongest principles on which diets are based. Sacred places such as altars and shrines and sacred times such as feast and fasting days, as well as symbolism and myth (what foods represent or the stories they recall) are all part of religious rituals linked to food.
So let’s look at the basic principles involving food and the most common religions, starting with Buddhism, the prevailing religion of Thailand. Many believe that all Buddhists are vegetarian, but strictly speaking, that’s not true – just think of all the pork consumed here in Thailand! Buddha was not a vegetarian, and he didn’t prohibit eating meat. Roughly speaking amongst the two major Buddhist traditions, the Mahayanists are vegetarian and the Theravadins (the form practiced here in Thailand) are not. Buddhism considers living beings to be sacred; a belief that has translated into widely practiced vegetarianism and veganism.
Violence towards animals is considered to translate into human aggression; hence most Buddhists will keep to the principle of ahimsa (non-violence or harmlessness) and avoid all foods related to processes where harm was done. Hence, some Buddhists avoid meat and dairy products while others avoid only meat. Monks of this religion fast in the afternoon and rely on ‘alms’ or donations of food as they, along with Buddhist nuns, are not allowed to cultivate, store or cook their own food. The birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha are the three most commonly recognised festivals for feasting, resting from work, or fasting. Buddhist monks fast completely on certain days of the moon, and they routinely avoid eating any solid foods after the noon hour.
You’ll see spirit houses throughout Thailand, and strictly speaking, they have nothing to do with Buddhism. Animism, or spirit worship, is probably the oldest form of religion in the world, and when Buddhism arrived in South East Asia, it developed alongside the ancient spirit worship. Today many of the beliefs are knitted with Buddhism and form part of everyday life for Thai people, and you’ll often see locals keeping the spirits happy with food offerings placed at the spirit houses. Fresh fruit, rice, chicken or duck, beer, water and cold drink, keep the spirits' hunger and thirst at bay.
Christianity is the religion predominant in Western cultures, and food regulations differ from one Christian denomination or group to another, with some groups not observing any restrictions at all. Catholics and orthodox Christians fast on certain religious days such as Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday) or during Lent (the 40 days before Jesus arose from the dead). In earlier centuries, meat and dairy products were avoided during a substantial portion of the year, but today it often just means eating fish instead of meat on a Friday. The ritual of consuming bread and wine (Holy Communion or the Eucharist) is regularly celebrated but its symbolic or actual meaning in relation to the body and blood of Jesus Christ depends on the denomination. While most Western children happily enjoy their chocolate Easter eggs, few realise that the egg represents new lift – symbolic of Jesus rising from the dead and allowing Christians to be born again, free of their sins.
Hinduism is one of the most ancient religions in the world and, although meat was not originally prohibited, many Hindus today regard vegetarianism as a way to maintain the respect observed for life. Hinduism is characterised by the avoidance of the killing of any animal, the cleansing of those involved in food preparation, which is a reflection on previously existing caste-restricted practices, and the symbolism of certain foods. The cow is sacred to Hindus, and therefore no beef is consumed. Other products from the cow, however, such as milk, yoghurt, and butter are considered innately pure and are thought to promote purity of the mind, spirit, and body. Many devout Hindus fast on the eighteen major Hindu holidays, as well as on numerous personal days, such as birthdays, and anniversaries of deaths and marriages. They also fast on Sundays and on days associated with various positions of the moon and the planets.
Islam is the faith practiced by some of Thailand’s neighbouring countries, including Malaysia, so you’ll find small Muslim communities within Thailand. The main food practices in Islam involve specific ritual slaughtering procedures for animals of consumption (haram practices), fasting during the month of Ramadan, the avoidance of pork and of intoxicating liquor. Foods are categorised as halal (those than may be eaten) and haram (those that should be avoided), as are other aspects of life. Most foods are halal while the list of haram foods includes pork, alcohol and any products that may contain emulsifiers made from animal fats (such as gelatines and margarines). Bread and bread products fermented by yeast may contain traces of alcohol and in some cases may be considered haram. Moderation in all things, including eating and dietary habits, are an integral part of Islam. Fasting on these religious occasions includes abstaining from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset. In Turkey and other predominantly-Muslim countries, iftar – the nightly meal that breaks the Ramadan fast – has gone from being a humble affair based around dates, soup and some freshly baked bread to something much more elaborate (at least for those who can afford it).
Another of the more well known faiths is Judaism, and in this religion foods are divided into kosher (allowed) or trefa (forbidden). Characteristics of kosher foods include animals that have a completely split hoof and chew cud (such as cows, goats and sheep), while kosher fish must have fins and scales. In general, all plant foods are considered kosher, and a specific slaughtering process must be followed for meat to be considered kosher. Animals such as pigs and rabbits as well as creatures of the sea, such as lobster, shrimp, and clams, may not be eaten. Meat and dairy products must not be prepared, stored or eaten together and certain fasting days are observed (especially Yom Kippur). During the celebration of Passover, food helps to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
There seems to be a growing Rastafarian movement on the island – some just following for the great Reggae music, and others taking the religious aspect into practice too. Most Rastafarians are vegetarian or vegan. Foods that may be consumed by people practicing this religion are called ital, with these foods being characterised by having no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, so are considered pure or natural. Rastafarians also avoid the consumption of alcohol and in some cases also tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks as it’s considered that these foods confuse the soul.
On an island with a diverse community of locals and expats, it’s good to know the basic principles regarding religions and their food rules, so as not to offend at a social gathering. And there’s no harm in joining in with religious feasts of friends of other religions, such as at Christmas time, or the breaking of the Ramadan fast, when food is plentiful. And we’ll forgive you for tucking into that delicious Easter egg – even if you don’t celebrate Easter.
The Life of a Teacher in Thailand and China
Written by Sarah Ezdani
I’ve been fortunate enough to live and work in Thailand where I started off my ESL career. Thailand is my absolute favourite country in the world, and the feeling I get once I walk out the airport is that of feeling my most comfortable and balanced self. I lived in Thailand for less than two years and travelled all over this country and marvelled at its beauty. Undoubtedly, my zest for exploration and new places fuelled this lust, but the ease of life for foreigners in Thailand too encouraged my excursions. I lived way up North in an idyllic and pretty town called Phayao, and 7 hours later in a bus, I could be in Bangkok, the energetic hub of this country.
I now live in China (a year and a half now) and I’m keen on reporting the veritable differences in these two countries. I’ve made my fondness for Thailand known, but the truth is, I also willing left it and moved here to China with my husband. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” might be a telling expression, but we thought differently. We were so deeply content and blissful in our little bubble among the rice fields and open skies of the North, that we decided to test the waters in a different part of the world, a challenging part of the world we knew very little about.
Based on my personal experience, here’s my take on Life in Thailand and China:
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