I imagined my teaching job at a brand-new private international school in Bangkok would be in a ready-to-go building. Instead, I arrived at a building site.
In three weeks’ time, pupils were supposed to walk through the doors, ready to learn.
I knew when I accepted my job that I couldn’t expect things to be perfect, but I hadn’t expected this.
After six years of teaching primary in the UK, I was used to starting the school year planned and prepared, with my classroom displays up and last year’s schemes of work ready to go. But during those first weeks in Thailand, I had to create whole curriculums from scratch and didn’t have access to the library or classrooms until two days before the school opened.
It was a challenge, but also liberating. Having been used to key stage assessments and external moderations in the UK, I could now build schemes of work I wanted to teach. This has required a lot of flexibility. For example, I often have to rethink lessons at short notice when I realise that frameworks I have always taken for granted don’t exist yet, or the facility I need to use is still not fully built.
However, this rollercoaster has been extremely refreshing and exciting. I am aware of the unique opportunity I have in being a part of a founding team for a school and having a role in creating what the pupils learn and the environment they learn in. A blank canvas is something so rare to experience in the UK.
'Teachers are highly regarded'
Back home, I was in school for at least 10 hours a day, teaching back to-back lessons with only two hours a week non-contact time for preparation, assessment and subject leadership, which meant I would leave school with stacks of books to mark. In Bangkok, my day starts earlier, but my work-life balance has been restored.
I’m in school at around 6.30am to prepare for the day ahead. We have six 50-minute lessons during the day from 7.40am until 2.30pm, with an hour’s break for lunch.
Pupils learn with specialists from an early age, enabling me to have free periods throughout the day to focus on my planning, marking and preparation. Now, I can leave work at least an hour earlier than I used to, knowing I’ve done a good job and can enjoy what Bangkok, and beyond, has to offer.
Interestingly, the challenges our students face don’t stem from their backgrounds or even necessarily learning a curriculum in their second language – although this certainly takes hard work and resilience. A brand-new school inevitably means some very small, evolving class sizes. It is this that can pose very unique social challenges to pupils.
The thing I have most enjoyed about teaching in Thailand has been the opportunity to experience teaching within the Thai culture. Teaching and teachers are highly regarded in Thailand. The Thai ceremony Wai Kru, where pupils pay respect to their teachers, was a strange, but welcome and humbling surprise for me.
And this isn’t the only cultural difference. During my drives to work, I regularly encounter things you would be unlikely to come across in the UK, such as monks riding on the backs of motorbikes, wild goats and horses let loose on the road and – once – driving the wrong way up an expressway that was still under construction. These are small reminders that, while I might be teaching within a UK-style system, the reality outside is very different.
Hannah Kulin is a teacher of Years 5 and 6 at Brighton College International School in Bangkok, Thailand