Thailand - Richard Downs
House Master and Economics teacher Richard Downs discusses life at Harrow International School Bangkok
Richard Downs is from Norwich, UK. He recently moved to Thailand with his wife and two children where he is a House Master and Economics teacher at Harrow International School in Bangkok. Here Richard talks about his experiences of teaching and living in Thailand:
Teaching is a great profession. But teaching in the UK didn't enable my family to lead the kind of lifestyle I wanted us to lead. I felt the UK education system was beginning to go down a path I disagreed with, with a momentum that could not be stopped. I came to the conclusion that private education was the best option for my own children, but knew I couldn't afford this in the UK. I started looking around for reputable schools overseas which would be both suitable for my children to attend, but also located in a place where we could enjoy new experiences, and have great holidays...And that's how we ended up in Bangkok!
Adapting to teaching in Bangkok
In England, I'd moved between state and private schools and found that, on the whole, the students were largely the same. The majority of the children in my classes in the UK were local, or from a European background, and the learning culture was shared. It's very different in Asia. Here at Harrow, the majority of children in my classes are from the ASEAN community. I knew it was going to be a change but I underestimated just how much of a cultural learning shock was going to occur! The curriculum differences were minimal (and were actually very enjoyable to adjust to). The biggest change was the focus of the students.
Within weeks of starting at Harrow, I realised that the students in my classes needed reassurance that they could pass exams. I had to provide past paper questions for most lessons, and their learning was targeted around these questions; the very approach I tried to minimise early in the academic year at my previous school in the UK! In England, I had to use a great deal of energy to motivate students in class, but here I had to use the same amount of energy to reassure the students about their learning. Students were doing past papers without me setting them within the first two weeks of learning the material, and were worried if they weren't able to get an A immediately!
As a result of teaching at Harrow Bangkok, my style has changed and adapted and my teaching toolbox has grown. I spent a lot of time during the first two weeks asking for advice, and for student feedback. My attempt to instil a love of learning in pupils hasn't changed, but my understanding of how to get there has grown a great deal. I'm now spending a considerable amount of time trying to educate students about study skills. I've moved from teaching students who struggled with a motivation to learn, to those who have a completely different mix of issues such as self-induced pressure, stress and intense tutoring schedules. Teaching both of these types of students is equally challenging and rewarding, and I know I am a better teacher for having been immersed in educational environments with both types. Being adaptable is one of the fundamental traits of successful teaching and learning and I now have experience of delivering similar course material to vastly different audiences. I will certainly take this into future teaching jobs.
Life with my family in Thailand
Thailand is vastly different from the UK in most aspects; from the weather to the food. This has been interesting, enjoyable and sometimes frustrating, all at the same time! I've enjoyed the change in weather the most. To live in sunshine 80% of the time is something which now would be hard to give up. We also have world class holiday resorts just 'down the road', and money to be able to enjoy them. I have a family of four and I have been on more holidays and mini-breaks in the last ten months than I had in ten years in the UK.
Thailand has an endless supply of great places to relax, sights to see, and culture to experience. We have explored a different part of the country each half-term and holiday, and still have at least another two years’ worth of exploring to do. This leaves the surrounding countries completely unvisited; at least a decade's worth there!
I have thoroughly enjoyed trying new things. Thailand offers a completely different way of life and style of living. Values are sometimes different, but when living in the 'land of smiles', I can't help but smile more!
I would definitely recommend teaching overseas to other teachers. I am giving my family opportunities and a lifestyle that I do not believe they could get back in the UK. My children go to a world class school, we live in superb accommodation, eat good food, have fantastic holidays, are financially comfortable and have made good friends from a large variety of backgrounds and cultures. The UK offered some of these things but not all. I intend on teaching overseas for the next ten years. This plan is flexible but my first years' experience has made me want to have at least another nine more. Life is the UK was good. Life out here is great!
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