Why is teaching English so important that a person should consider volunteering as an English teacher?
Our students range in age from 15 to their early 40s. All have disabilities. Some from birth, some from illness, some from accidents. Many with birth defects or childhood illnesses like polio have spent most of their time at home; some have little to no formal education even in Thai. Those who became disabled later in life may have had prior jobs that they can no longer perform. Many come from poor families and they often skipped school and work to help with subsistence farming. It is a high priority for our students to get a better job and have a real career primarily working on or with computers (the main training they receive). Being able to speak some English gives them a skill that often the other applicants will not have which means they are more likely to be hired even over a person without disabilities.
A joy for us is watching our students gain confidence while they are in school learning new skills. Once hired, students often return with pride. They not only have a more secure future, but they have become productive citizens better able to provide for themselves and live independently.
Every day we feel good about helping with students learn English. Teaching English isn’t a chore. Some may feel that teaching English is about knowing the specifics of grammar and developing complicated lessons. Many who speak English but do not have a teaching background can quickly learn how to introduce vocabulary to students and help them to learn to communicate. Learning a language through conversation is how most class time is spent.
We are at a real school and we have plans and students earn grades, but overall class time is spent in whatever way possible to help them to speak using English—and, thus, improving their English skills. What is most important is that students learn to not be afraid of trying to speak English; communicating takes practice more than it requires language rules.
Should we go back to working for a salary again?
We are thankful that we are spending our retirement in a worthwhile way—and yet are not caught up in long workdays and “homework” that our prior jobs required. Teaching in Nong Khai is our only real duty as volunteers.
Nong Khai is not a tourist town, which allows us to focus on teaching. We get to live in an exotic environment where we continue to grow and make a difference in others’ lives. We have made friends with local Thais. We often get to participate in the local culture with our students and/or friends without any tourist hype. What a joy it is to have a student light up when we respond with the affirmative to him saying, “Teacher, you want to learn to play the angkhaloon?” or when we join her making a krathong to float on the river.
Where a person chooses to volunteer is up to them. While we are content here, we also hope one day to find another place where we can volunteer and make a difference. But it will be hard to leave.