Teaching Teenagers: Being a High School Teacher in Thailand

After teaching crowds of elbow-height, baby shark obsessed students in Vietnam, facing a class of towering teenagers in Thailand was nerve-racking, to say the least!

Being a high school teacher in Thailand, you’re no longer worrying about how to stop students from putting crayons up their noses, but instead, concerned about how you’ll be perceived. Will my students respect me? Will they think I’m cool enough? While teaching teenagers in Thailand comes has its obstacles, it has a range of benefits that makes high school one of the most rewarding age groups to teach.

Authentic Conversations and Cultural Exchange

Whether you’re teaching in one of Bangkok’s swish academies, or a high school nestled among the mountains, the first thing you’ll notice about your Thai students is their English proficiency.

From the time they learn to walk, children in Thailand are encouraged to speak English: a worthwhile pursuit in an economy based on tourism. As a result, by the time they reach high school level, your students will already be able to hold a conversation in English and will frequently ask if you know who Harry Styles is.

This higher level of English gives you the chance to build rapport with your students and communicate smoothly. While not everyone in your class will be able to chat away in English (which is where we TEFLers step in) there will always be someone to translate your instructions!

However, not everything will revolve around mock exams and grammatical variations (although there is a fair bit of that too!). Many lessons naturally turn into a cultural exchange when teaching high school, and you’ll often come home having learnt something new about contemporary Thai culture.

For example, in a lesson focusing on music vocabulary, my 16-year-old students jumped at the opportunity to show me their favourite Thai singers and even translated the lyrics for me (essentially an excuse to perform some karaoke, but as long as they’re speaking English, right?).

University Preparation

As a high school TEFL teacher in Thailand, it’s rare that you’ll be assigned just one Mathayom (grade) and will likely end up teaching 12-year-olds one hour and 18-year-olds the next. The older the students, the busier they’ll be preparing for university: where English degrees are among the most popular!

Before you know it, you’ll be transported back to the world of UCAS applications, personal statements, and frantic deadline preparation. While it may seem easier to sit at your desk, sip an iced tea and let them get on with it, this is your chance to make a difference and use your mother tongue to help your students prepare for higher education.

Assisting your students in writing their statements by correcting grammar and any vocab mistakes can really make a difference to the outcome of their application (no, I’m not saying write the whole thing from scratch!). You can also dedicate lessons to staging practice interviews and help them build their confidence in conversational English.


Debates, Drama, and Dance

Beyond Tik Tok dances and endless conversations about the members of K-pop band BTS, you’ll get to teach a modern and diverse curriculum. Thanks to high school students’ higher level of English, teaching topics are more advanced, and as a result, culturally relevant.

In a typical week at my Thai high school, I’d go from teaching “Climate Change and its Solutions” on a Monday, to “The Rise of E-Books” on a Tuesday. Naturally, this means you can plan some cool activities; some of my students’ favourites were staging debates on the best ways to reduce carbon emissions, and writing their film reviews before presenting to the class.

Moreover, due to the tech-savvy nature of teenagers, the quality of weekly English assignments is always of a shockingly high standard. Forget the comic-sans laden posters of our school days, marking your student’s homework at a Thai high school is like attending an art show! The first time I asked my classes to design a poster advertising a holiday destination, I expected to receive some modest drawings of the London Eye complete with some hotel descriptions. Instead, each tablet-wielding student emailed me impressive posters that could easily give top graphic designers a run for their money.

The Challenges of a Mai Pen Rai Classroom

If you’ve been to The Land of Smiles, you’ll likely have heard the phrase, Mai Pen Rai. Meaning “no worries” or “it doesn’t matter!”, this Thai phrase encompasses a chilled out, sometimes overly relaxed culture that often influences the classroom. In the world of TEFL, each age group comes with its own set of obstacles. For high-school teachers in Thailand, theirs is the combination of Mai Pen Rai attitudes and teenage laziness!

Students will often turn up to class late with an array of snacks, fall asleep during an activity, or have forgotten to bring basic equipment to class (it’s best to come to class armed with spare paper!). However, this isn’t meant to deliberately vex their English teacher, and any questions you ask about their lateness will just be met with a confused smile.

While it’s always a good idea to remind your students about classroom rules and etiquette, don’t take it personally when your students continue turning up late. It isn’t because they haven’t listened to you, it’s just a part of the unavoidably relaxed Thai culture, and is one that we westerners can probably learn a lot from!


Online Resources For Teaching Teens

Wherever you’re placed in Thailand’s endlessly diverse landscape, even the most rural high schools will rely heavily on technology. When it comes to teaching teenagers, who are particularly screen-orientated as I’ve previously mentioned, it’s essential to have some online resources up your sleeve!

Websites such as Kahoot tap into your classes’ competitive nature and provide game-centric learning. Students can join an educational quiz simply by imputing the code you supply into their phones: which means they’ll be using their phones for good rather than scrolling through insta!

Similar quiz-orientated websites that are free to join include Bamboozle: an online platform containing over 1 million games designed by fellow teachers. Unlike Kahoot, Bamboozle members have the bonus of being able to customise quizzes to their content or create their games from scratch.

While quizzes are a sure-fire way to engage high-school learners, there will inevitably come a time when you must revert to worksheets and plain old powerpoints. Enter islcollective: a website with endless teaching resources and a TEFLers dream. Free users can download the majority of teaching materials: including worksheets, lesson plans, and powerpoints, as well as access to the teacher’s forum, which is an invaluable online community.

Are You Interested in Teaching Teenagers in Thailand?

Teaching teenagers in Thailand is an incredibly rewarding venture and can be a perfect segway into the TEFL industry for those with less experience. While it comes with its challenges, language barriers, and cultural misunderstandings, so does every other type of TEFL job! If you’re ready to judge dance competitions, discuss Netflix shows, and of course, teach some more complex English, teaching high school in Thailand could be the perfect job for you!

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