Becoming A Phys-Ed Teacher At The Lamai International School (LIS)
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
This is not a how-to guide on becoming a teacher overseas.
This is not an integrated advertisement for TEFL certifications.
This is a story about how one guy's cousin inspired him to leave his 9-5 job and move to the other side of the world. It's a story about fulfillment, family, and change. It's a story about a school in Thailand, it's students, its teachers, and its community...
And it starts with Teacher Krista:
Krista is the Head Deputy Teacher at the Lamai International School, glowing optimist, fearless traveler, eco-activist, ingenious educator, and my beloved cousin ❤️. Yeah... maybe the blood ties can make me a little mushy, but if you knew her you'd understand. I've known Krista my whole life. We grew up in separate cities within the Greater Toronto Region of Ontario, Canada. Our family is close and we share countless childhood memories. I have also had the pleasure of watching her career as an international school teacher from afar and up close in person. She inspires me every day.
After completing her teaching certification, Krista moved to Rayong, Thailand, where she began her teaching career. She started off teaching English with a specific focus on Phonics, to children of various ages. Krista made her way to LIS in May of 2016 and has since implemented the Jolly Phonics reading program and founded the LIS Green Team, which has begun transforming LIS into a sustainable and green environment for the students and staff. Krista’s passion and dedication to making the world a better place has a wonderful impact on everyone at LIS and the surrounding community.
My First Trip to Thailand and Lamai International School
In the summer of 2017, after completing my bachelor's degree, I was sitting on the couch with Krista and my brother, Ryan, during an Easter family gathering. We were discussing summer plans. My brother had plans to visit Krista in Koh Samui, Thailand just before the end of the school year and then continue backpacking to other locations in South East Asia like Bali and Vietnam. My summer plans? None. I was gonna sit on my butt and wait to go back to my job as a design consultant in September of that same year. That was until the two of them suggested I tag along for their backpacking trip. I was thrilled! Thailand would be farther from home than I'd ever been. In fact, Thailand would be about as far away from home as I could ever get. I had no idea what to expect and no intention of trying to figure that out before I got on the plane. It was a spontaneous and enthusiastic "YES!" moment that would change my life.
My brother and I flew from Toronto to Hong Kong to Koh Samui. The first time I ever visited LIS was a few days after we arrived on the island. My brother and I got a chance to meet the teachers, a few of which were soon to join us on a two-month backpacking adventure to Bali and Vietnam (Teacher Dana, T. Myles, T. Jess, and T. Justin). We sat with the parents and watched the Summer Holiday assembly, the last one of the year. It was adorable and so was the school grounds. After exploring the island, even just for a few days, and seeing what Krista does for a living, I was blown away. I was hooked on the island and the lifestyle.
The trip was incredible and Krista's friends (some of whom are now my colleagues) were equally inspiring and charismatic people. The trip deserves a whole post on its own. For now, all I'll say is that it opened my mind to completely new ways of life, new cultures, and was starting to make me think twice about returning to work as a corporate consultant...
Leaving my 9-5 and Returning to Koh Samui
I returned home and worked my corporate job for a year, all the while watching Krista's teaching career from afar and wondering if perhaps there was a better path for me, too. Not to mention I was now craving another Southeast Asian adventure. In August 2018 I decided to leave my job and travel again. There were many other factors that contributed to the decision. There was a death in the family, Krista and I's grandmother, which made me want to live every day like it's my last. I also felt a strong entrepreneurial drive. Most importantly though, my work lacked the feeling of fulfillment that I sensed in Krista and the teachers at LIS. So where was the first place I decided to go? Koh Samui, of course!
I have a great passion for health and have always kept myself in great shape, so after returning to Thailand and reconnecting with Krista and our friends, I headed off to India for my yoga teacher training. I also visited many other areas of Southeast Asia, always looking for the best wellness destinations as I went. I wasn't really sure what I was going to do for money, I just knew I wanted to be healthy and happy and help other people be healthy and happy as well. Months later I returned to Samui yet again with my yoga certification, my personal training certification, and a wealth of knowledge acquired from several yoga and meditation centers.
Kid's Yoga Classes at LIS
When I returned to Samui, I was looking for opportunities to teach beginner yoga classes. That's when our friend Dana (current Head Mistress at LIS and former travel buddy) suggested I teach kid's classes at LIS as an extra-curricular activity. It was a great idea but it made me nervous. I didn't consider myself particularly great with kids at the time, nor had I ever worked with them. But I remembered my late grandmother and that I'm going to pass one day too. I decided, before that happens I'd like to try teaching kids yoga. "I'm in", I told Dana.
It was difficult to teach the kids but very enjoyable. Obviously, they were reluctant to follow along for a guided flow like adults do. I quickly realized how tough it can be to teach a bunch of toddlers and pre-teens how to move their bodies when they have such a short attention span (as we all do at that age). There are some advantages to teaching kids though; they are really creative and naturally flexible. Those traits I could work with. We played games that allowed them to express themselves with their body, occasionally we performed some sort of partner yoga, and if I actually wanted them to do a "proper" yoga flow; I'd call it "Copy Teacher Jared" and breathe really obnoxiously to get them to follow the breath too. I'd even incorporate animal noises like meow-ing and moo-ing during Cat/Cow (in fact I still use this in my PE classes today with the younger kids). Eventually, we began very short bouts of breath awareness and meditation. I only taught between 10 to 15 of these classes throughout the early months of 2019 but we learned a lot and enjoying ourselves. It gave me a glimpse of teaching life. The hook sank deeper...
We still teach yoga classes for the kids at LIS to this day, in fact, 3 of our teachers including myself are certified, yoga teachers. It fits very well with the mindfulness and social/emotional intelligence programs that have been built into the curriculum at LIS. I wish I was taught yoga in school!
While volunteering to teach these kids classes I had also started working part-time as a personal trainer at a gym down the road so I could make some money to continue staying in Thailand, but it wasn't enough. It came time to finish my travels and go home for a while. I could build myself an online business and when I was ready I could travel back to Thailand. I returned home to Toronto, Canada in late 2019... just before the first wave of COVID-19.
Returning Home, Just In Time
My 3-4 month-long trip home turned into an indefinite trip home. I got laid off from a job working in a very nice corporate gym. I was forced to put all my time and energy into building an online business (which was ultimately what I wanted anyway - the world works in strange ways).
By April 2021 I'd been stuck at home for over a year. Being lockdown in the middle of a cold Candian winter is challenging, especially while living with family (definitely still a first-world kind of challenge... "Just enjoy the solitude Jared... it could definitely be worse" I often reminded myself). My biggest concern was how to make enough money to get out of the house when the lockdowns lifted so I could travel again.
Then I got a call from Krista...
Krista told me LIS was looking for some new teachers to join the team. One of the positions available was as the school's Phys Ed teacher. Since the kids enjoyed the yoga classes so much, I was (almost) qualified for the position, and I was familiar with both the school and the island of Samui, it seemed I was a great fit. I took my time making the decision. I had my own business now which I really enjoyed. Ultimately though, I made my decision similarly to how I lots of life decisions; Remembering my late grandmother and that I'm going to die someday. Before that happens, I'd like to try becoming an international school teacher.
Making decisions this way seems to have become a habit - one that has been paying off. I've discovered that I only ever regret things I chose NOT to do... so I've adopted the policy that it's better to say yes to life, learn from the bad experiences, and make the most of the good ones.
I just needed one more thing to be qualified to teach internationally: a TEFL certification (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). I completed the certification throughout the summer of 2021, just in time to obtain my Work Visa and certificate of entry into Thailand. It was an incredibly arduous process getting back to the island. It's also become a completely different place post-pandemic. For more on those topics you can check out my previous post; Travel During the Pandemic.
That brings us to now. The LIS family is one month into the school year and learning lots, students and teachers alike. We all learn from each other, and it is an incredible family to learn from.
Meet the Teachers of LIS:
I can't explain how crazy this roller-coaster ride of a month has been... figuring out routines, planning lessons and schemes, managing the kid's behaviour, managing my own behaviour, tears of confusion, tears of joy, and tears of laughter. It's been emotional, stressful, challenging, and more rewarding than I could've imagined. It's inspired even deeper gratitude and respect for the teachers I had growing up. I am doing my best to emulate them while also staying true to myself.
Kids seem to bring every aspect of our personality to the surface. There's no hiding our insecurities, our emotions become amplified and we quickly realize how many inter and intra-personal skills we need to develop for ourselves in order to teach the kids how to get along with each other, their teachers, their families, and in the world. They make our mistakes obvious, our weaknesses apparent, and also our strengths. What and how we teach them is immediately reflected back upon us.
I've also discovered that working with kids makes me feel young again. I sometimes catch myself acting in ways I haven't since I was a pre-teen. I get so focused on the activity I'm doing with the kids that I forget I'm actually their teacher and an adult. With the kindergarteners, you'll find me crawling around on the ground, making "Ooh-Ooh-Aah-Aah" ape noises while mimicking a monkey, or blowing bubbles and pretending to be a pirate collecting treasuring in the pool. We have two outstanding assistants for these classes: Pi-Goy and Pi-Om. I will look up and catch their eyes mid-game, suddenly realizing just how ridiculous I must look. We have broken into ecstatic laughter on several occasions. But it's not just about being silly... I am starting to see with a beginner's mind much more often than usual. To children, everything is so much more new. Things that adults see as mundane are opportunities to create, explore, and learn from in the eyes of a child. I hope the kids continue to help me revive my beginner's mindset. They are teaching me as much as I am teaching them.
The days go fast. It seems as though there's rarely a moment to pause and breathe because the second we try we hear "TEACHER! TEACHER! TEACHER!". Then there are moments when you see a student behaving a little differently, or learning something new, or trying something you encouraged them to do, and in those moments it's all so worth the ups and downs. In fact, it's beyond worth it. The feeling I've been looking for since I quit my 9-5 job feels fulfilled in those moments... the feeling that we are making a difference.
Wai Khru Day
Wai Khru roughly translates to "teacher appreciation". It was only the 3rd week of school and the kids were already showing us how much they appreciated us. This is a Thai tradition that I think my teachers back in Canada deserved to experience when I was a student. We held an assembly during which the kids shared their ideas about how to show the teachers respect and care. They gave us flowers and we gave them stickers shaped like hearts. Some kids finished the assembly with dozens of these hearts all over their shirts and faces. I still have a couple stuck to the shirt I wore that day (which the kids stuck to me when I wasn't looking). I still don't want to take them off.
I felt as though it was too soon for the students to do this. We had barely even started the school year, what had I done to earn their respect? Though, it was a very warm welcome and an indicator of a fantastic year ahead. It made me feel connected to the students, to my colleagues, and to the whole school. I'm so happy this happened early in the year. It brought me peace of mind and the ability to weather the storms of craziness in class.
The kids and classes are one story... the other, more daunting story, is the impact that COVID-19 has had on our school and all the schools on the island of Koh Samui (as well as the rest of the world too, of course). Lamai International School went virtual last year. Many parents pulled their kids out because virtual learning is obviously very difficult for kids, especially those who have difficulties focusing. We've always been a small school, which is great for kids and parents because they get much more attention and the lesson plans can be a little more personalized. However, losing just a handful of kids can have a big impact on the school as a business. Thailand just witnessed the peak of its 3rd wave of COVID-19... the effects have continued to drain our school of funds. The whole island is struggling as tourism has plummeted. But I have faith that we will all find a way to sustain ourselves in the short term and thrive in the long term.
It's time for action. Our team has been discussing ideas for after-school programs to kickstart our school back to where it was (and beyond) pre-COVID times. We've got a team of well-educated, passionate, and hard-working teachers with some great ideas. More on this to come... We will pull through this as a community, as a team, as a family; smarter, stronger, more resilient, and better than ever.
I want to thank every teacher and staff member of the LIS family, especially our management team; Teacher, Krista, Teacher Myles, Teacher Dana, Khru Noi, and Khru Ball. Without your leadership and guidance, we would not have been able to manage the start of the year with confidence. A warm Wai Khru day welcome helped a lot as well. Your consistent support and hard work has not gone unnoticed.
It's remarkable to think about how little time has passed since the school year began. I have grown personally and professionally. I have created countless memories that I believe will stick with me more a lifetime, and I have made some great new friendships that I know will only deepen as the year progresses.
Stay tuned... LIS is growing, expanding, and evolving. An incredible year lies ahead.
Thanks for reading. Wishing you well,