Kae works with teachers in class
Kae works with teachers in class

The Regional English Training Centres (RETC) in Thailand aim to develop English levels and teaching methods and to improve the confidence of primary and secondary school teachers nationwide.  One of the key roles in the RETC is that of Master Trainer (TMT), a position filled by Thai teachers who will in future be able to deliver training to their fellow English teachers.  We spoke to TMTs Kae and Paeng about their experiences on the project.

Before becoming TMTs both Kae and Paeng worked as English teachers in government schools and were very involved with extra-curricular activities.  As well as teaching up to 25 classes a week Paeng told us that she “took care of the projects about academic improvement of students, open house, English Camp, ordinary national educational test preparation, smart class students, and student council.”  On top of teaching Kae and her students “worked together for our 1-year project, the bilingual (English – Thai) live talk show and English skit at the school’s morning assembly. I also won the Golden Medals of the National OBEC AWARDS in 2015 and 2016 for Classroom Management in English Teaching.”

They both attended the RETC pilot project, Boot Camp, in 2016 and were selected to be Master Trainers based on their aptitude and enthusiasm for training.  Paeng jumped at the chance to become a trainer: “I was so interested in this opportunity and I had a passion and also a commitment to start my development in this challenging field.”  

It is a challenging role, as Kae explains; “The objective of being a TMT is to set a good example for Thai teachers. TMTs represent the mastery of training and teaching English in Thai context. We act as a mediated facilitator/academic coordinator of the project.”  Collaboration is also a vital part of the role “Being a TMT involves mutual learning and sharing. TMTs learn training/ teaching techniques through the British Council curriculum and share the techniques with Thai teachers. Also, we jointly share our wisdom and insight and training ideas with British Council trainers and Thai teachers.”

A normal day as a TMT can be very varied including tasks such as observing training sessions, planning training, giving peer-feedback, cooperating with faculty staff in the host school, and dealing with any issues the participants may have.  TMTs also work very closely with British Council trainers and continue learning as they work.  According to Paeng “different trainers have different mentoring styles and techniques. However, the difference does not cause trouble but creates various interactions and development. I have learned from observing their sessions, discussing them before and after my own session, and being mentored.”

TMTs are in an ideal position to witness the changes in the teachers.  Kae noticed that they “change their teaching styles and teaching attitudes. It is noticeable in the microteaching lessons and feedback sessions that they have shared their positive thinking towards the RETC training... Many teachers share their reflections and experience through pictures and video clips of their class, showing the students’ engaged learning behaviours in a positive environment.”

Paeng tells us that “at the beginning, they tend to be afraid of being trained for 3 weeks, don’t realize how important this training is and feel insecure about microteaching. However, after their first microteaching, they gradually change their ideas and feelings. They said that they gain a lot of useful experience and it is quite different from the teacher training they have ever attended before”.

RETC is not only a development opportunity for the teachers but also for the TMTs. It has benefited Kae in many ways. “Flexibility is the most valuable thing I’ve learned since I started. Working with four different cultures in a cohort (the RETC host school, RETC office, BC trainers, and Thai participants) needs flexibility, compromise and open-mindedness. There may be challenges but flexibility will narrow the challenges down.” She has also “learnt a great deal of training techniques, and many more things related to teaching practice in my field that I can adapt in my future teaching contexts.”

While the project may be time-bound Paeng sees her role as a TMT as an integral part of her career going forward: “I am and I will be a TMT for my whole teacher life as long as I still develop myself and keep learning and sharing with the Professional Learning Community… Working as a teacher is dealing with learners to support them to achieve their goals. Now, my learners are changing from students to teachers but I still have the same objective.  This is a big career gamble, even in the short term, but it is definitely worth it. This motivates me and then I can motivate, encourage, or inspire other teachers.” 

Miss Nopparat Yukkasemwong (Paeng) is an English Teacher at Watraikhing Wittaya School, Sampran, Nakhon Pathom Province, Thailand. 
Saengkae Khonghuayrob (Kae) is an English teacher at the Anubanmuang Uthaithani School, Uthai Thani Province. 
Both Kae and Paeng are currently Thai Master Trainers at the RETC Training Centre at Chandrakasem Rajabhat University, Bangkok.  

TMT Paeng working with colleagues
TMT Paeng working with colleagues
Trainees practice an activity with a ball

Overview: Regional English Training Centres in Thailand

As the sun sets on another busy day of learning at Wattanothaipayap School in Chiangmai, northern Thailand, there’s a new sound in the early evening air. Not the rote learning of spelling chants that usually echo the sun-striped corridors of South-East Asian learning. But the sound of active, engaged learners, communicating with their teacher and with each other, spontaneously, in English, thanks to the Regional English Training Centres (RETC) which are being set-up all over the country.

The RETC Project is designed to develop English levels and teaching methods to improve the confidence of thousands of primary and secondary school language teachers throughout Thailand.  The three week intensive course, with a short follow-up session two months later, covers the basics of communicative language teaching and involves assessed micro-teaching sessions where teachers try out their new skills, as well as input sessions and reflective practice. 

More than 5,000 teachers will benefit from the training in the first year, which takes place in training centres in working schools. RETC began with a five week pilot in Pattaya, which led to the opening of four centres in September 2016. This was followed by an additional four centres in both February 2017 and June 2017, bringing the total number of centres to twelve. The Ministry plans to open six additional centres next year.

Each centre has three trainers, including a lead trainer.  With each centre training around 75 teachers per cohort, the estimated reach of the training is more than 1 million learners at both primary and secondary level in the first year alone.

The trainers use a mixture of British Council Teaching for Success materials and specially developed materials, designed to be relevant to the Thai context. Sessions invite teachers to look at their own course books to identify learning aims and consider how to put into practice what they’ve just been taught.

In addition to British Council trainers each centre has two or three Thai Master Trainers (TMTs), who are RETC course graduates who have been specially selected to undertake trainer training.   They are based at a centre and mentored by their British Council colleagues to prepare them for future teacher development duties. TMTs typically support the trainers in planning and delivery of the regular training sessions, but also have a training role, delivering some sessions each cohort. The aim is for them to become the teacher trainers and trainer trainers of the future.

Three weeks is not a long time for the teachers. However, as academic manager, Jeremy Hanshaw explains “it is the start of a journey for teachers, and if they have a good start, they can travel far and travel well. If at the end of three weeks, teachers are able to set-up an activity, monitor it effectively, and provide meaningful feedback to their students, all in English, that is an achievement, and one on which they can build. The use of English in itself marks a change.

The results of the training are already visible in the teachers themselves, who are observed at the start and end of the training, with 94% of teachers reporting an overall increase in confidence, 97% showing improvement in their overall teaching competence, and 92% improving in their use of classroom language. 

The teachers are also positive about the impact of the course. One primary teacher from Surat Thani, told us that “After the course, I go to school and I have more confidence. I try to use English with my students. I use games and songs and many activities for my students.

Maew, a secondary teacher from Khon Kaen said of her experience: “I changed myself and my way of teaching a lot. I now prepare more group work for my students I manage whole class activities and use more games and songs. So my students are more interested in and happy with my English class.

In the meantime, as the excited teachers leave their classrooms after a successful afternoon of micro-teaching, you get the feeling that they are getting a well-deserved boost to their careers, to their English teaching skills, and to their confidence, to the benefit of their very many students, now and in the future. 

All over Thailand, 900 other educators have been practising new skills in their micro-teaching lessons this afternoon. And despite the now fading light, as this group of teachers chat excitedly on the return to their hotel, you realise that the future of education in Thailand is very bright indeed.

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