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From Traveller to Teacher

Despite my father’s good advice to never become a teacher I found myself teaching for the first time in Thailand. His advice was not purposely unheeded. Growing up with a teacher I had seen first hand the numerous downfalls of this life in the British schooling system. I.e. the increasing stress, pressure and paperwork. However, this was a different country and to put it bluntly, I needed to earn some money.

My situation was typical of many travellers. I had bought a round the world ticket and visited destinations that most people only ever dream about, the Californian coast, the islands of Hawaii, exotic Fiji, the island paradise of Raratonga, New Zealand, Australia in its vastness, chaotic Indonesia, Malaysia, sterile Singapore and finally Thailand.

I had been away from home for 19 months and think me greedy but I did not feel ready to return back to the responsible life in England where I would have to think about getting a proper job and settling down. My dilemma was how to prolong my trip. I was very fortunate in that the solution came to me in a McDonalds in Penang. After a bout of severe food poisoning in Sumatra I had resorted to the Golden Arches and I am extremely grateful to that particular establishment.

While queuing I noticed another western woman in front of me. We smiled and as it was a thriving lunch time I asked if I could join her on for Formica table. Over a Big Mac meal we had the usual travellers' conversation - Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going? Etc………. I discovered that she was an English teacher employed by the ECC who was in Penang for a visa run.

We spent the rest of our fries on the subject and I told her that I would like to try teaching English. I explained that it had not been a life long ambition but I thought it could be a good course to follow to enable me to continue my travels and learn more about the culture, rather than just passing through as a tourist. This guardian angel with an Ozzie accent gave me her phone number in Bangkok and told me to call her when I arrived.

After a strenuous 3 months on the idyllic beaches of Thailand I eventually arrived in Bangkok, the main purpose being to say farewell to my travelling companions who flew home, one by one, to Heathrow airport. Feeling lonesome and lost, I searched for the crumpled piece of greasy paper in the depths of my rucksack. I dialled the number and my life as a teacher began.

The speed, ease and efficiency in which I landed on my feet was quite astounding and I found myself employed, living in the same apartment block as my new Australian friend complete with a new teacher's wardrobe within 2 days. I was based at the ECC Pinklao branch where I taught some evenings and weekend classes.

For the majority of my time I was placed in one of the many government schools. It was my experience here that made me decide that I wanted to make a career out of teaching. I found myself teaching children between 10 and 11 years old. There were 50 students to a class, no air conditioning and a chalk board on which to teach. Admittedly, it sounds like hell, but in these classrooms I discovered the joys of teaching that my father had felt in his earlier years.

When I told my parents that I loved teaching and that it seemed to come easily to me neither of them seemed surprised. My mother simply said it must be in your genes. The most difficult part of teaching was saying Goodbye. I had promised my family and friends that I would return to England for Christmas via Vietnam and Nepal.

The farewell at the school was almost heart breaking. Nearly every student bought in a gift for me ( I taught 7 classes of 50 students ). The little girls were crying as they sang the rehearsed farewell song. I gave each student a small photograph of myself at the school as a souvenir. I made a fatal mistake when I signed the back of one. What one child had the others wanted so I ended up signing 350 of them. Now I understand how a pop star feels. The same applied when I kissed one of the girls on the cheek. My lipstick left a mark and I had queues of students wanting their cheeks, foreheads and chins kissed. I used up a whole lipstick in that one day because of the constant re-applying. My last memory was departing the school gates in the PE teacher's car ( to help carry all of my gifts home ) with my students, all identified with lipstick kisses, waving goodbye.

When I finally returned home I decided to do the CELTA course. It seemed like a sensible decision if I was going to make teaching my chosen career. I completed the course in April 2000 but I did not leave England until the following year. The winter blues hit my boyfriend (who I met while travelling in Vietnam) and we were ready to travel overseas again to a more tropical climate.

After little deliberation we decided on Thailand, the land of smiles. Our first stop was to e-mail the ECC head office in Siam Square to find out about available positions. Tely from ECC (who we did not know if male or female) was totally reliable in responding back to us. Within weeks we had secured teaching positions and resigned from our jobs.

Before starting work in Bangkok, my partner and I decided to treat ourselves to a 2 month holiday in various parts of Indonesia. We arrived in Bangkok refreshed and ready to work. I had the opportunity to be placed in a government school but now that I was qualified I wanted to teach adults to improve my teaching skills and methods. Both of us were based at Siam Square where we completed an eight month contract.

My partner, who had never taught before, learnt many skills at ECC and completed some of the training courses offered by ECC to improve his teaching. We both developed a lot from working at ECC. There was plenty of support and guidance but also enough freedom to explore new and innovative teaching techniques.

We managed to live in a very nice apartment with a gym and swimming pool and had a very good quality of life. We even managed to save enough money to spend one month on Koh Phi Phi followed by 2 months touring Western Australia in a campervan. Both my partner and myself have returned to Bangkok to continue a life we thoroughly enjoy.

Teaching is not a career that suits everybody but you never know until you give it a try. It could be in your genes or you could be a natural. One thing for sure is that Thailand is renowned for its friendly people. Entering and leaving a classroom of smiling faces is a factor that most other jobs cannot guarantee. This, the warm climate, the delicious food and the interesting people you meet make getting out of bed in the morning just that little bit easier.

Becky Kent and Jes Mathews

For more information try the following links

  • Read more information about CELTA
  • Find out what it's like to live in Thailand
  • Learn about job opportunities at ECC or teaching in Thailand


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