International School Community Member Spotlight #32: David Walters (A director at an international school in Bangkok)
September 24, 2014
My name is David and I have been working abroad since 2005. I am originally from an area just South of London. I came to Thailand straight from University and never really looked back. I started my career teaching PE and then went on to teach Year 5, all at my first school in Bangkok. I then changed to my second school, also in Bangkok, where I worked for 5 years in Key stage 1 and 2 positions. Whilst working at my second school I opened a Kindergarten with a colleague, which has now been going for four years. I love both travelling and teaching, so teaching abroad couldn’t be more perfect for me.
How did you get started in the international teaching community?
A lot of luck was involved with my first job in, not only international teaching, but in teaching itself. I had just been rejected from what at the time, I thought, was my dream job . It was a fast track management position at a well known leisure centre chain in the London. I was just out of University and it was a dream opportunity. Having made it down to the last 8 candidates from 400 odd, I fell at the final hurdle. It was a time when jobs in the UK were hard to come by, so I sought experience abroad. I luckily landed a PE teaching job in Thailand. After about a month of teaching I fell in love with the kids, the culture, the freedom and the teaching. I still wasn’t a fully qualified teacher at that point and after two years I returned to study in the UK to become fully qualified and pursue a full time career as a Primary and Early Years teacher. I consider myself lucky on three counts:
1) not getting that first job
2) finding teaching
3) starting my career teaching in Thailand.
Which international schools have you worked at? Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.
Although I was lucky to get into the international school setting and teaching to start with, being that I wasn’t qualified, the school that I worked at didn’t exactly set high standards. The first school, Heathfield International School, was not very good at all and I didn’t spend long there. When I joined I didn’t have much experience an like I said I wasn’t qualified at the time, so it was at least a good stepping stone. The second school, Rasami International, was better but still had a lot of problems. The first two years that I worked there were fantastic, the third good but after that it was all downhill. To begin with I was surrounded by really good teachers and a very supportive Head but the school was badly run and the good teachers began to leave. When the Head left I knew it was time to go and at that point the school that I had opened myself was more or less established.
I set up my own school with a close colleague of mine. He was one of the teachers I met at Rasami. We decided to open a school because we both had dreams and ideas of how a school should be run. Both of us think alike and have always fostered ideas and teaching philosophies that break the norms of how we are taught to teach. I am somewhat of a rebel in this sense, often going against suggested practices for teaching. The freedom to teach the way I want to teach makes everyday amazing. What could be more fun than doing the job you love however you want to do it?
Even though I have had ups and downs in the schools where I have worked, I would definitely recommend working abroad to anyone. Even through the downs I have enjoyed every moment of my working life and not many people can say that. I never look at my job as work. I don’t think of that 6am alarm call as the start of a boring day but rather one of excitement and discovery. If I could, I would go back and do it all again, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The things I have seen, the people I have met, both good and bad, have made me a better, stronger, more rounded person. The fact that I could open the school of my dreams at such an early age, is a testament to the opportunities available when working abroad.
Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.
The list of cultural differences between Thais and Westerners is never-ending. With so many talking points, from floods through to coups, the ways in which we think is so much more different and this becomes apparent the longer that you stay here. We all think our culture has it right and that the others are doing something wrong, but given that they think that about us as well, one of us has to be wrong. Nevertheless you have to accept the differences and move on but even after living here for 9 years and being fluent in Thai, I still don’t understand a lot of what Thais do and every day I find my jaw dropping to new lows. Sometimes it’s frustrating (most of the time) but sometimes it can be the cause of laughter too.
In my first Year of teaching here I made a grave error that to my good fortune the Thai “victim” saw the funny side of. The Thai staff greet each other with what is called a “Wai”. To do this you put your hands together in prayer form and rest the fingers either below the chin, nose or on the forehead. The higher up the Wai, the more respectful it is. This is because Thais believe that the top of the body is the most revered part and the feet or bottom is the least. One day after changing for swimming an elder Thai teacher walked past and gave a Wai. At that exact moment I had a shoe in hand and being slightly startled I raised my shoe to my head and gave what was probably the first and last “Shoe Wai”. This is actually quite a big insult but the Thai teacher found my embarrassment more amusing than the insult of the action.
After being my own boss for some time now, it is very difficult to know what I would look for if I was to find a new school. It might happen one day and if everything went badly and I found myself having to look for jobs again I would definitely look at working in Japan or Taiwan. I have visited many places in Asia and several places from other parts of the world and these are the only two countries I really felt at home from the moment I arrived. It helps that Japanese food is my favourite.
I have obviously set up my school the way that I think a school should run and finding another one that matches my vision would be difficult, but I would hope that the way the world is changing it won’t be too long before schools around the world follow suit. I would definitely like to see a school bend the rules a little and put the focus back onto the children. Schools that give time to the teachers to develop new teaching ideas and games rather than pushing teachers to mark books or fill in paper work can achieve wonderful things with the children. I would also like to see a school caring about the environment. I love following scientific trends and it is important to me that a school looks after and is part of the community in which it is situated. Schools have a responsibility to teach children how to look after the world, how to recycle and how to keep fit and eat healthily. I would look for a school with a social conscious and a moral compass.
In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?
The opportunity of a lifetime.
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Want to work for an international school in the Thailand like David? Currently, we have 44 international schools listed in Bangkok on International School Community. Here are a few that have had comments and information submitted on their profiles:
• Bangkok Patana School (17 comments)
• KIS International School (Bangkok) (40 comments)
NIST International School (29 comments)
Thai-Chinese Int’l School Bangkok (16 comments)
Wells International School (Thailand) (18 comments)