Caught the Travel Bug? TEFL in Thailand

A lovely TEFL teacher who taught in Thailand (I imagine that is HARD to say after a few rums) by the name of John Peden, first contacted us via LinkedIn, giving us some glowing feedback about our classroom courses, so we asked if he wouldn’t mind having a quick Q&A with us on how he caught the travel bug. He didn’t mind, and here it is.

Why Did You Decide to Start Teaching English?

Back in 2009, my girlfriend and I wanted to travel round-the-World after graduating but after looking at where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do, we realised there was no way we’d be able to afford it; especially as she was getting itchy feet having graduated a year earlier than me.

Pretty quickly we realised that, although we wouldn’t be able to move around as much, TEFL teaching would provide us with a way of seeing the World and having an adventure without costing us too much.

Did You Do a TEFL Course Before You Started Teaching?

Yes. We decided that Thailand was the place we wanted to teach and a little reading online showed that while a TEFL qualification wasn’t essential, it certainly helped in terms of finding and obtaining work. We completed a 20-hour weekend course with i-to-i in Manchester. The course was pretty intensive but our teacher, Meryl, kept things enjoyable and I was actually amazed at how quickly the time passed. Although there is only so much you can squeeze into 20 hours of teaching, the course gave those of us who’d never been in front of a classroom a few basic concepts to make things much easier.

Where Are You Originally From?

Michelle and I are both originally from Manchester. She studied at Liverpool John Moores University and I studied at Sheffield University.

Where Are You Teaching Now?

Although we had originally planned to stay in Thailand from October 2009 – October 2010, we ended up staying until August 2011! We moved back to Europe with our dog (acquired in Thailand) with the intention of teaching in a bilingual school in Gran Canaria. Sadly, things haven’t worked out here in Gran Canaria, so we are heading back to the UK. Michelle is planning to qualify as a teacher and I’m now a self-employed web developer.

What Attracted You to TEFL?

It offered a nice middle-ground between staying at home and travelling. We didn’t want to stay at home and we couldn’t afford to travel. TEFL teaching allowed us the opportunity to live and work in Thailand, with Thai people and their children. It also allowed us to holiday cheaply in Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand itself. We spent 2 months backpacking during school holidays but in all honesty, I much preferred TEFL teaching and partying at the weekend instead of a continual slog of drinking and being hungover. Something to consider if you have to choose between TEFL and backpacking…

What Age Kids/Adults Are You Teaching?

In the Thai government school (Anuban Phang Nga) I worked in, I taught Prathom 3 and 4 which is the equivalent of Year 3 and Year 4. I was given 8 classes over two years, a textbook and more-or-less told to get started!

What Were They Like?

The Thai children are absolutely beautiful. Although they were quite polite and reserved at first, they became quite a handful within a matter of days. They are not naughty, rude or in any way bad children but they can get a little rowdy. This is purely because they spend so much of their time at school in a classroom that is way too small (45 children in a classroom meant for 25) and when school finishes, they are sent to after school tuition! They even eat their lunch in the classroom.

How Did You Find the Experience of Teaching?

During my time as a teacher, I found myself getting frustrated with the children when they didn’t listen or they copied each other (Thai children love to share…including their answers). Although I’m pretty easy going, teaching was very difficult at times but when it reached a particularly difficult day, I realised that there was no mileage in me getting angry. There was no learning-support for the children, no streams of high, mid or low-level abilities and the classes were full of children who were evidently dyslexic. For most of their school career, the children in Thai schools will have had a Thai teacher in English classes whose own level of English is usually quite poor (they would always leave interesting example phrases on the board after class). In an environment like that, the children are set up to do poorly in their English studies so there isn’t any point getting angry. Anyway, most schools will have a plan like mine did: “Set an exam for the children, but make sure none of them fail”.

Why did you enjoy teaching?

The first 6 months, we taught in a Thai school and everything was exotic and exciting to us. We then spent 2 months travelling round seeing Thailand, Vietnam and Laos…living like backpackers. When we got bored of that we settled down to jobs at a British International School on Koh Samui. We went SCUBA diving on our days off, had a lovely house near a swimming pool, walked our dog on the beach in the evening, ate great food from the market at night and always had money left over at the end of the month. Not once during my time in Thailand did I get the Sunday-night terror of going into work the next day and during the holidays we visited Bali, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta and went sailing round Phuket. A truly amazing lifestyle that we miss very much.

What Would Be Your Advice for Someone Thinking of TEFL?

Without sounding as though I’m endorsed by i-to-i, If you’ve caught the travel bug, I would highly recommend getting your TEFL qualification. Not only will it make your life a whole lot easier when you come to look for work in Thailand but also when you stand up in front of your class to teach. The TEFL course (at least the one I took) reinforced my knowledge and understanding of English grammar and brought clarity to a lot of things you just take for granted as a native English speaker.

John Peden spent 2 years living, working and travelling across Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. 


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