Teach for change

Some of you may know Thunhavich “Sky” Thitiratsakul as the keyboardist from indie band New Mandarin, but you may not know that he’s also a teaching fellow for Teach for Thailand (TFT). The non-profit organisation aims to bridge the gap caused by education inequality so that all Thai kids can have an equal footing in life. TFT is an official member of Teach For All which operates in 39 countries. It recruits young graduates to join its leadership development programme so they’ll go on to teach and inspire hundreds of students for two years. We talked to Sky about what it’s like being a change-making teacher and TFT’s new online campaign “#10000dreams” which launched today.

Why did you decide to join TFT?

As I grew up, I was educated in Thai, bilingual and international programmes. Three years ago, as a fresh graduate (with an economics degree from Thammasat University and Linnaeus University), I got a job in marketing research. Working there for one year, there were enjoyable moments but I still felt something was missing. I wanted to do something more valuable and fulfilling. Not for corporations but for society. Also I was an exchange student in Sweden for one year. Sweden is well known for being a country with a high quality of life, including good education. I looked at Thailand and saw a lot of issues such as poverty, environmental and political problems. But education inequality was one thing we needed to fix urgently — and still do. Kids from families with money will go to better schools and have a better start in every aspect of their lives. This is unfair and needs to be changed so I decided to do something about it. Joining TFT came as quite a surprise to my family and some friends. Mostly, they were concerned about me accepting a much lower pay. That’s not a big deal for me. It’s a cost that I’m willing to pay for improving education. Some asked me, “Do you think you can really make a difference?” I said, “Yes, things can change, but not by me alone.” We need to help make this change happen together.

How did your perception of Thai teachers change since you joined TFT?

Many think that we have poor-quality teachers but I don’t think that’s always the case. The young teachers I met are so passionate about teaching and work hard. But there are many things that distract them from teaching. After years of administration work, training on weekends, lots of policies to follow, they are all burnt out. Their performances are also judged by academic scores, not what they do for the kids. I think even the best Finnish teacher wouldn’t last five years in this system.

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest problems in Thai education?

I can talk about this topic for two days and a half (laughs). The first thing that came to mind is how we teach students. Kids have their own interests, potentials and dreams. So why educate them with a system that works like a factory? Why do they need to study the same subjects — except basic subjects — and be judged by the same ruler? Do we want them to grow up and be the same? Wouldn’t it be better if we teach students as if we were making craft beer? Bring out their tastes, personalities and dreams, like brewing homemade brews. Every classroom needs to be student-centred and to encourage them to dream.

What’s your definition of a teacher?

Some say a teacher is a parent, a police, a maid and more — all rolled up in one. To me, a teacher is a leader — the one who understands, inspires and leads students towards the right way. Teach and encourage them to follow their dreams. Help them when they lose. Hope when they give up on themselves. And have faith in them when they fear.

What are some of the rewarding aspects about being a teacher for TFT?

Although it’s a very challenging job being responsible for more than 200 kids, it’s a great opportunity to be privy to the root causes of education problems, which has given me the broader picture of social problems. I’ve been able to lead, change, succeed, fail, enjoy, cry, challenge, forgive and much more in the one year and a half since I joined TFT. This is a place where I can contribute all my knowledge, skills and experiences to improving the lives of students from underprivileged backgrounds. So, if you would like to develop leadership skills and create social impact, this may be the right job for you.

Tell us about the new campaign “#10000dreams”.

#10000dreams is a fund-raising campaign for teacher’s salaries. Normally, teacher’s salaries are sponsored by a government agency. But this year, the budget has yet to be provided. This will affect 53 teachers working at 22 schools. They won’t be able to teach around 10,000 students in the upcoming semester. We hope that 10,000 dreams of these students won’t be left un-nurtured. Thus, we need support from anyone who believes that education can change lives. Please visit our website (www.teachforthailand.org) or Facebook (fb.com/TeachForThailand) to find out how you can help.