There’s been no shortage of strange moments since I started teaching in 2011. Some of them were hilarious at the time, and others were the kind that I can only laugh at now that I’m looking back, but here are some for you to enjoy.
1. The First Class
Teaching your first class is scary. Mine was at a kindergarten, and my classroom management skills left a lot to be desired, so I had a lot of trouble keeping them under control. I managed to hold their attention for about two minutes before they went bananas and just started jumping around.
I’d given each of them a set of cards with a paper clip attached, and they started to get engaged, sit back in their seats and listen, so I could finally start the activity I’d prepared. Then, one of the kids came to the front of the class and handed her paper clip back to me. After that, all the kids thought they needed to do the same. I had an endless train of kids coming up and putting paper clips in my hand that refused to stop. Shortly after that, my time was up and the class was over. It was not a productive lesson.
2. The Homophobic Poster
I used to teach at an all-boys school. In one class there, I asked the students to make a poster with a classroom rule on it. One student handed in a ‘no gay in classroom‘ poster. It showed a boy with make up on and what appeared to be an erection, wearing a t-shirt that said ‘gay‘ on it. There was also an arrow pointing to him saying ‘he is a gay‘, just in case it wasn’t clear.
3. The Offensive Worksheets
I received lots more inappropriate worksheets during my time at that school. Once, when asking students to write one thing they liked and one thing they didn’t, I was handed a sheet that said ‘I don’t like hermaphrodites‘ on it. More than anything, I was impressed that he’d spelled it correctly. In another class, I was teaching prepositions of place and asked the students to listen and draw what I described. A chair next to a table, a man sitting on the chair, a pen under the table, etc. One boy decided that his man would be Hitler, and added a Nazi flag for good measure.
On another occasion, a student handed his worksheet back to me with his phone number on it, surrounded by hearts and ‘i love you‘s. Another, when asked to describe his hobbies, wrote ‘I watch erotic movie and fucking with my girlfriend‘.
The funny ones were always the ones that weren’t intentional, like the kid who tried to write that he liked playing the ukulele because it was fun, but instead wrote ‘I play a oukulala because I have a fanny‘.
4. The Teacher Who Took No Shit
In some classes, I would have a Thai teacher who would try to keep things under control when they got out of hand, which they often did. One was an old lady who was incredibly strict and walked around with a cane in her hand. She was kind of like Mrs. Trunchbull. When one student was using his phone, she silently took the phone out of his hand and smashed it down on the table. Then, she picked it back up and threw it to the back of the classroom, where it landed perfectly in the bin. That was the end of that kid’s phone.
In another class with her, one particularly unpleasant student felt that it was appropriate to spit on the floor. She hadn’t seen, so for his sake, I made him clean it up before she noticed. I didn’t want to know what she would have done otherwise.
5. The Lyric Bombs
All foreign teachers were required to do a weekly speech to the entire school during morning assembly. Speaking into a microphone at a school of 2,000 students who certainly couldn’t understand what I was saying was pretty pointless, so with one of the other teachers, I devised a way to make it entertaining. We each had to drop a random lyric bomb into our speech every week, the more obscure the better. I seem to remember my favourite being ‘fat-bottomed girls, you make the rockin’ world go round‘. I also told the students that they had to study ‘big Willie style‘ in one speech, and finished another with ‘hi, c ya, hold tight‘ a la Spice Girls.
6. The Wrong Language
One class had a small library of books at the back of the room, and I told them they could use it to research for the task I’d given them. It turns out that not all of them were English.
One student handed in an entire paragraph that he’d copied out of a German book. He had no idea that what he’d written wasn’t English, and didn’t seem alarmed that he hadn’t understood a single word that he’d copied. This class was in the ‘gifted’ English program, too. I previously wrote about this in another post, discussing the problems English teachers in Thailand face.
7. The Hitler Moustache
Yes, Hitler comes up more than once in this post.
I once mindlessly held the bottom of a pen up to my upper lip and rested it there for a moment, and when I brought it down, the students’ eyes widened. It became apparent that it had leaked on my face. Some of them lowered their heads and suppressed laughter, not wanting to tell me, while another laughed out loud and told me in no uncertain terms that I looked like Hitler. Great, I’d inadvertently drawn a Hitler moustache on my face.
I was well aware that I looked like an idiot, but I couldn’t show these kids that I was embarrassed. So, instead of running out to wash my face, I let them laugh for a moment before carrying on with the class as normal, still proudly sporting my moustache. Only when they’d gotten back to their work did I subtly wipe it off.
8. The Questionable Sex Education
A trip to the Science Museum with my teenage students involved my first taste of sex education in Thailand. It involved us all awkwardly watching a video of cartoon genitals singing together. At the time, I didn’t know enough Thai to understand what they were saying, which was probably for the best.
9. The Racist Show
While teaching at a language school for adults, I attended a staff show. This involved a performance that deeply offended some of the teachers. It depicted the story of a poor boy who changed his life by learning English. The problem was, the story started out with him dressed in nothing but shorts, a tribal necklace and an afro wig, with his body completely covered in black paint. His journey of learning English and becoming successful was represented by him entering a door and coming out the other side as a white man dressed in a nice suit. After that, he was able to marry a beautiful princess.
This was the first time I’d seen blackface in Thailand, but it certainly wasn’t the last.
10. The Inappropriate Questions
During my first week teaching adults, I was doing a ‘getting to know me’ class and invited the students to ask me three questions each. I was not prepared for what one man would ask me. His three, carefully thought out questions were:
- Do you want to be a man or a woman? (Based on the fact that I train Muay Thai)
- Do you like boys or girls?
- What’s your type?
11. The Biter
I taught nursey for a very short period of time. I had a class of 12 two-year-olds, one of whom was a nightmare. He was completely spoilt and out of control, would disrupt every single activity and was generally a menace.
The only way to control him was to threaten him with his kyrptonite, Hickory, Dickory Dock. I had no idea why he was so scared of this song, but if you played it, he would cover his hears, shout ‘no, no, no‘, cower under a table and cry. I only ever did this once, because it seemed cruel, but his behaviour really tested me. On my last day, he bit another child’s arm so hard that it left a deep, purple bruise and little red teeth marks. The victim’s grandfather came in and made a big scene, and made one of my teaching assistants cry. That wasn’t a fun day.
12. The Rape Threat
When I was teaching adults, one student mentioned to a member of staff, in front of both me and his girlfriend, that if I didn’t pass him, he would rape me. I wrote about this experience and what it meant in detail in my Rape Culture in Thailand post.
13. The Birthday Surprise
My birthday fell on pay day in the year that I was at the high school. It was also a Friday, and I was excited to get paid and have some fun on the weekend. During the school day, I received an email from my agency stating that they couldn’t pay me yet, citing no reason whatsoever. Not a meeting, a call or even a text. An email. They made no mention of when I would be getting paid, either. That would have put me in a particularly foul mood on any day, but I certainly wasn’t putting up with that on my birthday and letting them ruin my plans.
As soon as the school day finished, I went down to the office to find out what was going on. They clearly weren’t expecting it to be a problem and were shocked that I turned up, so without asking any questions, handed me my pay in cash to make me go away. Problem solved.
14. The Flood
I was working at my first school during the big flood of 2011. It completely shut down some parts of the city, and my school was closed for around five weeks.
While Bangkok was going through the worst flood it’d had in years, my bank account was experiencing a drought. Since there were no classes, my agency refused to pay me. When school eventually open again, I was told I’d have to work extra hours in the evenings and all through the weekends to make up for lost time, with no extra pay. I didn’t last long after that.
15. The Fancy Dress
I have been required to dress up in silly outfits more times than I can count. Some of my favourites have been Supergirl, Chun Li from Street Fighter, and a student (I was required to wear the girls’ uniform on one occasion, and the boys’ on another). I’ve also had to dress as a genie, a Thai ghost, and a goth. Some of these outfits resulted in some strange looks while I’ve been out on my lunch breaks.
16. The Team Building
Thai people love team building activities, or ‘organized fun’ as I call it, and every outing trip I’ve ever had with my coworkers has consisted of lots it. There’s been no end to the strange games I’ve taken part in with them, but one particular one involved transferring rubber bands via chopsticks that were placed in our mouths.
17. The Distraction
One middle-aged gentleman who wasn’t particularly fond of studying came to one of my classes. He had done zero preparation and wasn’t able to answer any of my questions, so I gave him some advice and told him that he needed to retake the class. He later complained that the reason he hadn’t passed was that I was wearing a v-neck top. To clarify, I wear a 32A bra and my neckline wasn’t low enough to put anything on display. Even if it was, I couldn’t achieve a cleavage if I tried.
He went into more detail, explaining that every time I adjusted my jacket, it drew his eyes to my boobs and he wasn’t able to take his eyes off them. It wasn’t that English sucked, just that I was distracting him with my breasts.
My coworkers assured me that what I’d wore was fine, but I bought some new shirts after that.
18. The Dance Parties
As it turns out, a lot of Thai students absolutely love dancing and take it very seriously. I first discovered this at an English camp talent show. The students had been preparing this all year, and it showed when a group of around 12 boys did a well-choreographed dance to a song by a K-pop group called Girls Generation. Another group did a particularly memorable routine to Lady Gaga’s ‘Judas’. There’s been lots more dancing at my job teaching adults as well, but I always manage to avoid getting involved. I’ll stick to spectating, thanks.