On the first day of school (which was actually our 20th first day of school), Jake and I leave our guest house by 8am and go to a nearby breakfast spot. I eat a huge breakfast of eggs, toast, sausage, and a fancy looking cappuccino —all for about 75 baht ($2.15). We would become regulars here over the next four weeks.
Photo courtesy of GooLoo Chiang Mai
We arrive at school at about 8:45 AM and find about 10 other trainees standing around outside of the building. All of us are nervous and don’t know what to expect, but we begin introducing ourselves around the circle we have for some reason formed. A few others trickle in until there are 19 of us in total. The TEFL courses at SEE are normally a fairly even mix of people from all over the world, but in our course the majority of the trainees are from the U.S. (1/3 of the group actually from the Boston area!), there are three from the UK, a father-son duo from Australia, and one each from Greece, the Philippines, Canada, and France. The majority of the class are just out of college (a few months to a year or two), and although Jake and I are on the older end of the spectrum, it’s not by much, and there are a handful of older students as well to balance it out. We awkwardly stand around and wait for 9AM and to be told what to do next.
Right at 9, John, the Director of SEE TEFL, comes out and brings us all inside. We head up to our main course room, Paris, where we would spend the majority of the next two weeks (all of the classrooms at SEE TEFL are named after cities where their trainees come from).
We start class promptly at 9 AM with introductions. John tells us his very interesting life story and how we ended up where he is today, the Director of a TEFL school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. John is originally from Woking. He was bored of his life in the UK and so he set off on a trip backpacking around the world. John has been to more countries than I could even begin to name here, and has even more adventure stories. He found out about TEFL and teaching as a way to keep traveling, enrolled in a 4 week course similar to the one we are enrolled in, and within a few weeks started teaching. John went back to Woking a few times, but always left again, before finally settling in his now permanent home, Chiang Mai. John tells his story here, and I strongly recommend you read it for yourself.
We begin introducing ourselves and although each story is different, they all have a similar tone–everyone wants to travel, see the world, experience new things, and have a new adventure in a country that is both beautiful and friendly. Many are planning on staying for just a year or so before starting or going back to other careers in their home country. Others are more open-ended about their travels, and still others are not planning on staying in Thailand after the course at all–but have plans to travel and work elsewhere in Asia. As different as we all are, we all have this one very important thing in common–and I think that is why we get along so well–age and nationality differences aside.
After introductions and logistics, we have a 15 minute coffee break before beginning our first grammar input. Grammar inputs are classes to relearn all of the grammar we forgot from elementary or middle school, or that we never really learned in the first place because many of us are native English speakers (NES). John gives us each a grammar book and tells us that if we ever have trouble sleeping, to open up Murphy’s (our book) and start reading. We should be asleep in minutes.
As boring as Murphy’s may be, grammar inputs are very important because we are learning grammar in the way in which we will teach it. Although hopefully we will teach grammar in a way that is as much fun as possible :-).
At noon, we take a break for lunch. Our group ventures down the road to one of the many nearby restaurants or food stands for a 30-50 baht meal (<$1-$1.50 or so) of one of the following: meat and rice, meat and noodles, meat on a stick, or meat in soup. Obviously there are many other options as well (including vegetarian and vegan), but these categories became a running joke as our new food groups.
Eating at restaurants and food stands in Thailand is an interesting experience in and of itself, and is probably best suited for another post. However, my one mention here is to say that Thai food is delicious, varied, and cheap.
After lunch we have our first teaching input. Teaching inputs are the classes where we learn how to teach. Over the next two weeks we would learn the 3 P’s of TEFL—Presentation, Practice, and Production; lesson planning; presenting material in a way that is interesting, and clear to second language learners; grading of language, or eliminating all extra words other than the target language; and other teaching tricks.
We also learned how to teach a handful of sample lessons covering everything from simple Pre-K and Kindergarten vocabulary (cow, dog, horse, pig), to more complex grammatical structures (short actions that interrupt a long continuous action in the past), and everything in between.
After another 15 minute afternoon coffee break, we begin our first Thai lesson with Ying, a very smart lady who is also John’s wife. Ying has a PhD in Education Curriculum and Instruction and she is the boss around EFL (SEE TEFL’s English language school), as well as the person to go to for connections to jobs anywhere in or around Chiang Mai (more on that here).
We have 10 hours of Thai language instruction as part of our course, but we also learn quite a bit about Thai culture and teaching in Thai schools throughout the four weeks, which I think makes this course stand out above and beyond others I researched. In just the very first week we have an entire day devoted to Thai culture, and we learn so much from all of the instructors and Thai staff about how to live and work in Thailand.
We end class at 4 PM and have the evening to ourselves for dinner, hanging out with classmates, working on assignments, or relaxing. Our homework on the first day is to meet up with our fellow trainees at a bar called John’s Place (no relation to the course Director) right near Tha Phae Gate in downtown Chiang Mai.
Almost every single person comes out for a beer, jet lagged and all.