Every UOW teacher education student goes on professional placement at a variety of schools throughout their degree to gain invaluable practical experience and further develop their professional knowledge and teaching practice. Some students choose to be placed in schools close to home while others, like Luke and Emily, choose a school in a totally different country.
Here is what they gained from their international school placement in Thailand.
Bachelor of Physical and Health Education
Two-week placement at Prasarnmit Demonstration School, Bangkok, Thailand
The first day
I remember being overwhelmed by a rollercoaster of emotions as I entered the gates of the school. However my emotions soon settled and I felt at ease by the end of my first day. It is easy to overcome anxiety and culture shock when everyone is so welcoming. Students and teachers alike were fascinated with us foreigners. They took every opportunity to get to know us and they weren't shy when it came to taking photos!
The language barrier
I think I knew how to say about four words in Thai: stop, look, listen, and thankyou. As I progressed through my two weeks I realised there really was not much point in trying to explain activities in English as the students would simply be hearing sounds that have absolutely no meaning to them. So I basically taught an entire lesson using non-verbals and it turns out this one class was studying English as their major. In other words, they spoke fluent English!
Same, but different
Their school day was very much the same as here in Australia. One difference was that the classes were generally bigger, with some classes holding up to 50 students. In these classes some teachers would use microphones.
Here in Australia I think some of us take education for granted. Often we might find ourselves disengaged in class or even questioning if school is for us. Over in Thailand, not one student seems to think that way. For many of them, education is their only way to a better life. I found that the Thai culture was built on the foundations of respect. It was a quality that was not lacked by anyone in the school.
It was rewarding to hear the sincerity of the harmonious 'thankyou teacher' that the students would voice at the end of each lesson.
What teaching taught me
Teaching overseas taught me that although the classroom is full of diversity, all students have the same underlying needs: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. It is important to nurture these needs in the classroom, regardless of diversity. Teaching in Thailand not only made me want to be a teacher more, it also opened up my eyes to the very realistic prospect of teaching abroad in the future. I was struck by the realisation that we have a profound impact on our students, especially in these countries.
Outside the classroom
One of the major highlights about my trip was the food and how cheap it was! I think Pad Thai was about four Australian dollars, if that. Another highlight was the people I met along the way. I went over with students from my own cohort in physical and health education and also with students studying primary teaching. We all got along so well and became one big family by the end of the trip. We ate together, chilled by the pool after school together and shared some of the most unforgettable memories together. I will never forget my Thailand experience or those who I was lucky enough to share it with.
Bachelor of Primary Education
Two-week placement at Waditshongsaram School, Bangkok, Thailand.
Taking up the challenge
I felt an array of emotions on the first day ranging from excited to being overwhelmingly nervous. I soon realised their English abilities were lower than I had expected. The first day was the hardest day as I struggled to communicate lesson requirements. I was totally out of my comfort zone but I took this opportunity as a challenge! I believe it is these moments that shape you as a teacher, and where the best professional development occurs.
Controlling the room
The most challenging part was behaviour management, which I believe was closely tied to the communication barrier. Throughout my teaching experiences I have learnt it is important to be flexible, never give up and apply a variety of strategies until you find one that works! Every day I became better at managing the class. I learnt that my non-verbal communication was essential in managing behaviour and students understanding content.
Resources were minimal, but you don't need an interactive whiteboard or a range of support materials to engage students in a learning game or activity. I learnt to work with what I had, which most of the time was just paper and pencils! A lot of our resources we made ourselves such as, flashcards or posters to support the students.
Confidence was key
The most beneficial aspect was developing confidence. The times I was confident was when I produced the best lessons, where students were engaged, achieved learning outcomes, and I was able to think on my feet. The next time I step into an Australian classroom I'll have confidence in my ability to deal with challenges in the classroom.
Lighting the spark
This experience reiterated my passion and desire to help children become effective and lifelong learners. Observing students in a different environment made me realise similarities between children in Australia. I could see their spark to learn and understand even if we couldn't understand each other! This experience taught me that it is not necessarily what resources you have but what you bring personally as a teacher that matters.
More than just teaching
Overseas Professional Experience is such a valuable experience as you are immersed in their culture throughout the trip. We got to visit a traditional Thai temple and learnt about their strong spiritual beliefs and we visited the floating markets where you shopped while on a canal boat. We also experienced a huge range of Thai cuisine at different restaurants almost every night!
An unforgettable experience
The most memorable moment would be anytime I engaged the students in singing! It was one of the main ways I engaged them in learning English. They enjoyed being able to get out of their seats, doing actions and learn in an interactive way. I would even hear them singing the songs throughout the hallways of the school and during lunch. I cannot recommend this experience enough for improving teaching skills, opening your eyes to teaching practises beyond Australia and experiencing the amazing culture of Thailand.
If you're interested to see where a teaching career can take you, check out the range of UOW education degrees that QILT ranks as the best in Australia for teacher education.