Stickman's Guide to Bangkok
Teaching English in Bangkok
All of the material on this page, including the text and the photos, is original.
It is all copyright (c).
This lengthy article on teaching English in Thailand, with particular relevance to Bangkok, was written to provide an overview for those looking at pursuing a teaching job or career in the country. I have put together the sort of information that I wish had been available to me when I first moved to Thailand to teach. I've tried to answer all of the frequently asked questions and provide practical information.
As with other sections of the site, you will find no-nonsense, straight talking and no apologies are made for the forthright tone. As you read through, you may notice that I constantly remind the reader that many Westerners choose to teach in Thailand because it provides them with a work permit which in turn gets them a visa - meaning they are able to stay in the country.
I spent 9 years teaching in Bangkok. While I gave it my best, I do not profess to being either an expert teacher or an expert on the industry in Bangkok. Every effort is made to ensure that the information provided is up to date but please note that things can change and the odd thing might be out of date.
This article is neither a brochure nor an advertisement for the English language teaching industry in Bangkok but rather an honest opinion of the industry from a former teacher's perspective.
Before I moved to Thailand and started teaching English in the country, I had been reasonably successful in my professional life. I'd like to think that I am something of a purist, and I am somebody who likes do things properly, but at the same time it is important to me to enjoy what I do and also learn new things. I guess the Thai attitude of sanuk and that if something isn't fun then it isn't really worth doing resonated with me!
My experiences teaching in Thailand have been in various capacities. My first job was in a private language school but after a couple of years in what was a very well run, high-end language school I became somewhat disillusioned with the industry. In my time at there I also designed courses for corporate clients and went on to teach courses on the premises of various high profile companies, something I enjoyed very much.
I then spent some time away from the industry, funnily enough as a language student myself, studying Thai full-time for 7 months. I experienced what it is really like to be on the other side, to be a student of a foreign language, something which helped me as a teacher immensely. I was able to see things through the eyes of a language student and I think that really helped me as a teacher.
I returned to the industry and chose to work in a different sector - as a teacher at a high school. The high school had an international program and I taught in both the regular program and the international program.
While teaching at the high school, I was one of two foreign teachers on the staff who volunteered to teach English outside the school kids from poor backgrounds who had never had a chance to study with a native English speaker.
I never taught at a university. I did a little private tuition when I first arrived in Bangkok, but quickly realised that that was not for me.
Like so many things across Asia, the English language teaching industry in Bangkok is constantly changing, so information on this page could go out of date very quickly. I do my best to maintain it and keep it as up to date as best I can.
The bulk of this page is made up of questions and answers about teaching in Thailand. Towards the end I have written a few thousand words about my team in the industry in Bangkok, the different schools I taught at and some general thoughts. At the very end are some links to other sites and a few tips on getting a job.
Teaching English, A Profession
As Thailand attracts more international visitors, and as the country's exports grow, English has become more important to everyday Thais. In addition to the huge number of Thais working in tourism and other industries that require the use of English, there is also a large number of Thai students studying abroad, predominantly in the USA and the UK, and to a lesser extent in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. There is demand for native English speakers to teach in Thailand and as such, teaching has become a popular, perhaps even the most popular, choice of job for Westerners who wish to live in Thailand.
For foreigners who choose Thailand as their new home, English teaching provides the opportunity to get work. Becoming a teacher of English is one of the few jobs that most Westerners can do and actually carry out legally in Thailand. There are always loads of TEFL jobs in Thailand!
When I first moved to Thailand in the '90s, the English teaching industry was dominated by language schools and that is where most of the jobs were. Things have changed and now the openings are in regular Thai schools, primary schools and high schools. That is where the bulk of Western teachers would be employed today. Even in some of the farthest flung corners of the country, and in relatively quiet rural areas, you can find Westerners employed as a native speaking English teacher.
There are a number of language institutes in Bangkok and the market is dominated by a few big chains. Most of these chains are also represented in the provinces, in the larger towns at least. In addition to the big chains, there are also many smaller private language schools.
Other than regular schools and language institutes, there are international schools which use the curriculum of a foreign country, usually that of England or America. Then there are universities as well as institutes which offer language training to business. They design a course and place teachers in the premises of companies to teach English to the staff for a short period. Finally there are agencies which send foreign teachers into schools, and Thai companies.
The English language industry in Thailand has developed a lot over the last two decades and while it hasn't reached saturation, it is arguably as developed today as that in other countries in the region such as Japan or Korea. And things seem to be working because the standard of English spoken in Thailand today is much better than it was in the '90s! The English language teaching industry in Thailand is quite developed today, although still not as developed as what you find in Europe.
The industry used to be very relaxed and often language institutes or schools were desperate to get a foreign teacher. They would usually hire just about anyone, whether they were qualified teachers or not, experienced or inexperienced. The only criteria was that you had white skin and were a native speaker. This has changed somewhat.
The better schools, of which today there are many, now require qualified native English speakers with a bachelor's degree. Whereas in the past a degree was generally not needed, things have tightened up.
To secure a decent teaching contract in Thailand, you really need:
- to be a native English speaker.
- to have a bachelor's degree (or better).
- to be white-skinned (preference is given to whites over blacks or Asians, such as Filipinos).
- to be clean cut and well-presented.
It would be greatly advantageous to you if you:
- have a specific teaching qualification such as a degree in education and / or you are a certified teacher in your own country.
- have a specific TEFL qualification such as a CELTA.
- are relatively young or look young (probably an advantage to LOOK LIKE you're aged under 40).
- have teaching experience.
- have teaching experience *in Thailand*, especially if it was at a "big-name" school.
- are female. The majority of foreigners teaching in Thailand are male so female teachers are often in demand, especially for positions teaching younger kids.
- hold a Master's degree.
There used to be a lot of people teaching in Bangkok who had no teaching background or any formal teacher training whatsoever. There are still people here like that, but they tend to work in poorly paid positions. Some believe that just because they can speak the language, they can teach it. There is no correlation between speaking English and being able to teach it. Further, a lot of other skills such as being able to write or edit, or being a good public speaker don't mean you will be a good teacher! Many of these skills will be useful, but it should be noted that English teaching requires its own unique skill set! Understand that the ability to teach is far more important than the ability to simply speak the language well!
It used to be that the majority of English teachers in Bangkok were working in the city because they liked living here and enjoying the lifestyle that Bangkok offers. When I first came to Thailand I would guess that around 90% of the native speaking English teachers in Bangkok were male. It's widely known that Bangkok appeals to Western men and this was reflected in the industry. I don't know what the numbers are today, but I would guess that perhaps 75% of foreign English teachers in Thailand are male. As the industry has become more professional and as the authorities like the Ministry of Education and the Labour Department have tightened things up, teachers tend to be more professional these days.
Even today, as more and more Westerners move to Bangkok, it's very much about the lifestyle. Bangkok has developed into a vibrant international city with something for most everyone. For some, teaching may just be a job to finance leisure activities and travel in the country - and they may not take it that seriously. If this is you, try and spare a thought for the students. Many go to language institutes to learn English not only to be able to communicate more effectively with foreigners, but often to improve their vocational prospects. Some seek to improve their English before they go overseas to further their study. You owe it to your students to do the best that you can! For a Thai language student, learning English is invariably expensive when studying with a native speaker. Many Thais may only earn a very modest amount and may have to save for a long time to study with a native English speaker. It is horribly irresponsible to let them down.
Further to this, when teaching in Thailand, don't think that because you have not received any complaints that you're doing a good job. Thai students of all ages seldom say anything negative about their teacher - quite simply, the culture doesn't allow students to criticise a teacher! Teachers automatically get respect by right of their position and teachers are revered in Thai society. Please don't abuse this. If Thai students do complain about you, it means they are REALLY unhappy with you!
Thais are a playful bunch which makes them a lot of fun to teach. The flip side is that they can become bored very easily. Lessons should include a lot of language based activities and games. Grammar based lessons, although necessary, can put Thai students to sleep. Try and keep things snappy and moving to keep them interested.
Thais are a very consensual bunch and if you test students, they will be dying to see other students' grades and they don't like anyone to fail! In fact if a student fails it is often turned around and thought that they failed because the teacher did not teach them well!
There are many things that you need to consider before taking on a job in Bangkok. The rest of this lengthy page is in FAQ format, with commonly asked questions, and answers, which I hope will help you to better understand what it is like to be a teacher in Thailand.
What are the different types of schools where foreign English teachers work and how are each of them different?
Private Language Institutes
Private language institutes tend to be small language schools with anything from a handful to a few dozen classrooms where English language instruction is provided by native English speaking teachers. The students are paying customers who usually have a specific reason for improving their English skills, be it vocational, intention to study abroad, or perhaps the student has a foreign partner who is keen to see them improve their level of English.
Language institutes used to be the biggest sector of the English teaching industry in terms of the number of native English speakers employed but it would now be a distant second to regular Thai schools - by which I mean primary schools and high schools. While there would be hundreds of private language institutes (many with a network of branches nationwide), there must be thousands of regular schools employing foreign teachers today. Private language institutes can be found all over the country with the highest concentration in Bangkok.
There are hundreds of language schools and branches in the capital alone. There are big chains like ECC, AUA, Inlingua and Siam Computer as well as a number of smaller schools which may have just a single branch. Language institutes are not the easiest business to make a commercial success of so they can come and go. If you apply for work at a private institute, particularly if it is a full-time contract, make a point of asking them how long they have been in business.
Language schools offer various courses, from general English to test preparation courses like IELTS and TOEFL. There might also be academic English courses offered as well as niche courses like English for a specific purpose.
Language institutes open throughout the year. They usually close for a few days over the Songkran holiday period (April 12 14) and may also close for a few days at Chinese New Year (February). In the cases of smaller, single branch schools, especially those with Western owners, they may close over Christmas and New Year too. The rest of the year they tend to be open 7 days a week. Note: Christmas is NOT a national holiday in Thailand and is just like any other day for most people in Thailand. It is not a day off unless you work for a Christian school or in a foreign-owned or run school.
Language institutes are open 7 days a week and with the weekends often the busiest time with classes scheduled from early morning through until late afternoon, teachers are usually required to work both Saturday and Sunday.
During week days, classes in language institutes may start as early as 8:00 or 8:30 AM, with the final class finishing as late as 9:00 PM. As such, the hours of work at language institutes may not be conducive to an active social life, at least if the people you like to socialise with work a regular Monday to Friday, or as is often the case in Thailand, a Monday to Saturday week. If your school is not careful with its scheduling, language institute teachers might find that they have split shifts some days, meaning they have to teach the first class of the day in the morning and the last class of the day, which may finish at8:30 or 9:00 PM. This shouldn't happen, but often it does. During the school holiday periods of mid-March to mid-May as well as all of the month of October, language institutes may run courses targeting school-aged kids.
Contracts at language schools usually specify a maximum number of contact hours per week with 24 or 25 being typical. This is not always the maximum however and you may be encouraged to teach more hours which are paid at a higher, or overtime, rate. Generally speaking you won't be asked to teach more than 25 hours per week although there is the odd employer which may specify a maximum number of 36 contact hours per week - which is way, way too much!
Contracts at the better language schools require teachers to work five days per week. If they request a 6 day week, I would simply suggest they are not one of the better schools. With the demand for teachers in Thailand being so great, I simply would not accept a position where you are asked to teach 6 days per week. It is just too much. Teaching can be quite draining and you give a lot in the classroom and it can really take it out of you. Arriving home after a day in the classroom you can feel quite drained and as such, six days is just too much, in my opinion. Don't accept it.
Language schools typically offer a couple of weeks paid holiday a year on top of the holiday periods already mentioned. This is paid holiday. If you want to teach in Thailand for a year or two and have maximum time off to do some travelling and see the country and the region, then you're probably better off teaching in a Thai elementary or high school where there is much more time off although with that said, in those schools you are often required to do camp and extra work during the holiday periods. It should be noted that according to Thai labour laws, employees are only entitled to 6 paid days off per year over and above the many public holidays.
A foreign teacher's duties in a language institute are straightforward. You are required to prepare lessons and teach them. That's usually about it. There might be some extra duties such as interviewing prospective students and placing them at the appropriate level. In test preparation courses there might be some testing involved, carrying out pre-course test and post-course tests to measure the improvement students should have made. But generally speaking, your duties are fairly straightforward. 25 hours contact per week in a language school is doable, because when you're not teaching there is not a great deal of pressure on you, especially once you're familiar with the courses you teach and already have existing lesson plans and activities.
The course fees charged by language schools are well beyond the means of many Thais. Course costs vary greatly but generally run anywhere from around 2,000 baht to upwards of 7,000 baht for a 30 hour course. These prices may or may not include a course book. If it is not included, a standard course book should cost no more than 500 baht. I mention these prices because they show how much it costs a Thai to study - and as such, why you should take the responsibility of teaching your students very seriously!
The main types of people studying English in language institutes in Thailand are:
1. School students i.e. those aged fro 5 - 18, whose parents send them along for extra tuition to give them a head start on their peers, or perhaps to catch up if they have fallen behind, or are doing poorly at school. As they are attending school during the day they tend to study at language schools at the weekend, with Saturday morning classes being particularly common. Some may be interested in studying, but many aren't. Essentially they are only there because there parents have told them they have to go! Sometimes I feel that parents send their kids to language institutes as a sort of baby sitting service! Thai school students have a long school day and I have serious reservations that they often don't have enough time to just be kids. They tend to be overloaded with homework which really is questionable. As such, don't be surprised if young kids seem disinterested in class. It may not be because your lessons are a bore, but that they are tired!
2. Young adults / university students. They study to improve their English which in turn increases the chance of getting a good job, or a promotion if they are already employed. Some also cram to prepare themselves for study abroad. In a small number of cases, they may simply be studying English and biding time because they do not really know what they want to do with their life.
3. Employed adults. Already in employment, they may be studying to improve their English, to improve their chances of promotion or simply because they are interested in English. Language students in this group typically study in the evening and some may choose a Business English course - which may be paid for by their employer. I used to really enjoy teaching this bunch, probably because they were often of a similar age and it was easy to relate to them. After a long day at work, often they just wanted the chance to chat in English with a native English speaker and learn about that person's thoughts on Thailand and the world.
The better private language institutes hire teachers with a specific teaching qualification like the CELTA or equivalent. Today most require candidates with a degree. There are a number of reasons for this, not least because that is what the Ministry of Education requires before they will issue a teacher's licence but also because some of the older students will already have a degree and they will find it difficult to understand why their teacher may not have one! Some language institutes will hire you if you have sufficient experience but don't have a degree and / or a TEFL certificate of some sort. They'll often look for someone with teaching experience. It goes without saying that you should be cautious of language institutes happy to employ someone with no qualifications and / or experience! These tend to be unprofessional operations.
Classes in private language institutes can last anything from 1 - 3 hours, with around 2 hours the norm. There's usually a short break in the middle. Teaching classes longer than 2 hours can be a challenge; Thais like to have fun and generally don't have a very long attention span. I look back on my time as a language institute teacher and remember dreading 3-hour classes at the weekend. It's an awful long time to keep a group of students interested, especially if you have a heavy or difficult grammar point to cover. I found shorter classes were much easier with Thai students. Weekend classes are often 3 hours in language institutes. In a worst-case scenario, a teacher may get 2 x 3-hour classes on each of Saturday and Sunday which could make for a long and tiring weekend!
I used to teach 2 x 3-hour classes on a Saturday and I personally found it a bit much. The first class ran from 9 AM - midday, and the second from 1 - 4 PM. With a lot of teenagers in the classes, come mid afternoon I was knackered! And on the odd occasion I had been out for a few drinks the previous evening it could quickly become hell! Of course the schedules are different in every language institute.
One of the big positives of teaching in a private language schools is the class size. Language learning is suited to small class sizes and I personally think about 8 students in a classroom would be ideal. Few language institutes would ever have more than 16 students in a class and more often than not they run courses with less than 10. I gather that at least one large chain of language schools nationwide, runs classes with 20 students which I feel is too many. You've got to remember that the students all want a chance to practice their English by speaking with the teacher - they seldom want to speak with one another in English - so in larger classes they have less chance to speak and can become frustrated.
In Thailand, Thai time prevails, one of my pet hates! Thais are absolutely not known for their punctuality and some students studying in language institutes seem to have the attitude that as they are paying to be there, they can turn up when they are good and ready. You will often find that at the time the class is supposed to commence you may only have a handful of students present, the rest drifting in within the next half hour or so, which is horribly disruptive to a teacher. Students may often cite a silly reason for being late such as bad traffic - which is every day in Bangkok - or bad weather. But more often than not they will not offer a reason for their tardiness. How you manage this issue is up to you. You cannot tell the students off for being late! It is a language school and they are the paying customers and besides, Thais HATE being told off or dressed down by foreigners. It causes them to lose face and this is something you have to be very careful with. It can be a difficult situation to manage and often the best thing to do is to talk with the girls at the front desk and the centre manager about the best way to manage it.
Speaking of which, every language institute has a bunch of customer service girls at the front counter. Their job is to provide information to the students and to sell them the course. They also make sure the students are happy with the course while they are studying. In smaller language students where there is no DOS (director of studies), they will also provide the foreign teachers with various information such as when a new course starts, who the students are etc. It is very helpful to have a good relationship with these girls - which is usually very easy. They tend to be pretty Thai women fresh out of university who are sweet, hard-working and eager to please.
While private language schools schedule courses, some students may prefer to study "privately", that is one-on-one, just them and the teacher. This provides the student with a chance for more personalised attention and the teacher can concentrate on their specific learning needs. One-on-one teaching can be quite demanding - on both the teacher and the student - and there are many teachers who don't particularly like it and / or aren't particularly good at it. To really be effective as a one-on-one teacher you have to be able to identify the student's specific weaknesses or needs and concentrate on them. That means that you probably need at least a couple of years' experience. One-on-one study is expensive - they may pay anything from 600 - 1,200+ baht an hour to study with you so they will have very definite expectations! I personally prefer teaching classes with a number of students as opposed to one-on-one teaching which I just don't find invigorating. It takes longer to prepare lessons for one-on-one teaching and to me it always felt that the lesson went more slowly. When things go well in a classroom it can be quite energising, a feeling I never had when I taught one-on-one.
One of the selling points of a language institute is the quality of the premises and as such the facilities tend to be pleasant - making them a nice place to work. Generally, language institutes are much nicer and often better resourced than regular schools. Thais are awfully image conscious and often choose a language institute based on the quality of the facilities than the quality of the teachers - which they probably aren't really in a position to judge anyway! Language institutes almost always have air-conditioned classrooms (MANY regular schools do NOT!) and are generally a pleasant environment to work and teach in. There will be white boards with marker pens instead of the horrible blackboards that are still found in many Thai schools.
Remember that at the end of the day, private language institutes are businesses. They exist not only to meet the students' learning needs, but to make the owners and investors money! With this in mind, decisions may be made that might not appear to be in the school's or students' best interests. Don't get too concerned with it.
It is my experience that private language schools tend to have the best resources of all the different types of schools and any decent school should have a range of different course books, lots of resource books and materials as well as easy access to a photocopy machine. Virtually all language institutes are connected to the Internet these days and with high-speed internet connections inexpensive in Thailand, it should be of an adequate speed.
If you're only looking for part-time work, then language institutes are your best option. They are often looking for teachers to teach a small number of hours, perhaps just a few courses each week. It should be noted that part-time teachers almost never get a work permit and as such, technically, you're breaking the law. Most teachers never have a problem but there is a chance that you may. Pretty much every person I know who has had a problem teaching without a work permit found themselves caught up in a situation where a disgruntled former employee tipped off Immigration who visited the school and carried out a check of all of the employees.
If the school is visited by Immigration, the management and owners of the school may get a slap on the hands, whereas the foreign teachers working without the required documentation might face penalty. This could be a fine, or it might be prosecution and deportation. It's not common, but it can, and from time to time does happen. At the end of the day the Thais are generally quite forgiving and they usually issue a small fine and simply insist that the illegals get legal immediately.
If you accept a full-time position, the school should apply for a work permit for you immediately and it should take no more than a week to be processed. If they drag their feet or say that there is a probation period before they will apply for a work permit for you, I wouldn't consider working there. Full-time work should always come with a work permit!
In the bigger language institutes there will be an administrator whose duty it is to handle work permit applications and renewals. In small language institutes there might be no-one who knows what is required. It's very much worth asking about this at the interview stage and I would specifically ask if the existing foreign teachers have a work permit. In fact, when interviewing in Thailand, if you're really confident, ask to visit the foreign teachers' staffroom and ask them about this directly!
One of the nice things about working in a language school is that you are primarily a language instructor. You don't have to carry out many of the duties that teachers in a high school are required to such as patrolling the school grounds, attending morning assembly, various ceremonies, parent / teacher meetings and so on. At a language institute your primary duties are preparing lessons and teaching those lessons. Language institute teachers don't usually have the same paperwork requirements that other types of schools typically have. Another major advantage is that if you don't have a class you can often slip away, go shopping, take a long lunch break, read the newspaper and relax in a café or whatever. You don't have to be in the office all the time, and are not required to look after kids - as you are in a high school.
I used to think that I would always prefer to work in a language school as opposed to a high school...but that changed. Like many teachers, the generous holidays offered in a high school more than anything else eventually won me over. The anti-social hours that you often end up working in a language school meant that while I found myself working in a great language institute in a really professional environment, the hours I worked meant that I just did not have the time to enjoy myself away from work. I can't help but feel that generally, many language institute teachers are overworked and underpaid. And remember, many choose to work in Thailand just for a year or two - and they want to enjoy the experience outside of the classroom!
So what sort of money is offered to the teachers in language schools these days? In the late '90s, for a full-time employee anything above 25,000 baht a month was considered ok and over 30,000 baht was considered quite good. As far as hourly rates went, 400 was considered good but many only earned 200 - 300 baht an hour. The sad thing is that language institute salaries have not changed a great deal in the last decade and many institutes have barely adjusted salaries, yet the cost of living in Bangkok has soared!
Personally, I think 35,000 baht is the absolute MINIMUM you should accept to work a 5-day week with a maximum of 25 contact hours per week. If you're part-time, don't consider teaching for less than 500 baht an hour. I personally would want a fair bit more with Bangkok becoming increasingly expensive. That said, these are businesses, so good luck getting them to pay more!
Language institutes recruit year round. There is no best or worst time to apply. They will simply recruit when they have staffing needs.
Pros: The opportunity to work in (usually) nice premises which are often well resourced. You have the opportunity to teach and get to know young adults who may be around the same age as you. You are not required to be on the premises all of the time.
Cons: The hours may not allow a wonderful social life with split shifts, obligatory weekend work and some language institutes expect teachers to work six days a week. Less holidays than in other types of teaching positions in Thailand. Salaries vary and may be
The Bottom Line: Language institute teachers are often underpaid vis-à-vis the amount of actual teaching they do when compared to teachers in Thai high schools. A good bet if you prefer to teach adults or young adults. Part-time teaching options available.
Regular Thai Schools
Students: Good morning teacher!
Teacher: How are you?
Students: I'm fine thank you, and you?
Teacher: Fine thank you. Please sit down.
This silly little dialogue takes place at the start of just about every English class at every level in government schools throughout Thailand. If you are going to teach in a Thai high school, get used to it because you will hear it over and over and over again! As you enter the class all of the students will obediently stand up and go through this little routine like robots. Failure to go along with it will confuse them! I fought very, very hard to get my students not to go through this - and then found myself chastised by management for doing so!
Regular Thai schools have been the big growth area of the English teaching industry since the late '90s with many taking on native English speakers to expose students to a native speaker and help them with listening and speaking. Many schools acknowledged that the Thai teachers' spoken English was not at an adequate level to teach these skills well.
Thai schools are big and many have a role of around 5,000. This in itself is not so bad but when you consider that there is an average of 50, or sometimes as many as 60 students in a classroom, then you start to understand the challenge that language teachers face in this environment. These numbers are crazy for most subjects and the sort of numbers you expect in a lecture theatre! Not only is it difficult to teach with so many students, classroom management becomes a real challenge. Male students at the back of the class will inevitably be chatting away to each other so discipline can become a real problem and with these sorts of numbers, you simply cannot give any one student any real attention. Some classes may have fewer students, and if you're lucky you may have some classes with 30 students or less - but don't count on it!
The working week is almost Monday - Friday so your weekends are free. The work day starts early and many schools insist that teachers clock in - yes, you read that - many schools require you to clock in like a factory worker (!) by 7:30 AM or thereabouts for the obligatory morning assembly and flag raising, which takes place every day at every school nationwide. The school day runs through until 4:00 or 4:30 PM although you can often sneak away earlier, that is if you're not employed at a school which requires you to also clock out! Yes, some schools have draconian rules placed on teachers that they must clock in before a certain time and not clock out before a certain time - even if that teacher's classes had finished hours ago.
Classes are usually 45 minutes to an hour in duration but the time spent teaching can be considerably less. The last class might have run late, students might have had to traipse from one side of the school to the other if, for example, they had just had PE - so often you only have 35 - 40 minutes to deliver your lesson.
The classrooms in regular schools vary from school to school. In many schools there is no air-conditioning in the classroom - something I personally could not cope without. Some schools, especially those in poorer areas, may still use blackboards and chalk!
The quality of resources can vary greatly from school to school and I have seen some schools with resource books from the '50s and '60s! In some schools you may not even have access to a photocopier. Of course, in the better schools, the quality of the resources could be first class. It really is a lottery!
From their very first year of school, from the age of 5, Thai students are tested. The school year is two semesters and there are mid-semester exams and finals, each of which usually takes a week. This means that in one academic year, you lose 4 weeks to exams - and often more than that because you may need time to prepare the students before the tests! Once they have completed the tests, you then have to mark them - often hundreds of exam papers before tallying up the marks. It is terminal boredom! Of course it is also your responsibility to create the tests.
The crazy thing about tests and exams in Thai schools is that you cannot fail anyone. OK, they can fail, BUT you have to retest them - and keep retesting them - until they pass. The system is flawed because students know they cannot be failed and as such, some of the lazier students just don't do anything. They knew that eventually the teacher will just given them the minimum pass mark. Even if you ask them "how are you" and they look at you like you are a Martian, not understanding what you said, you cannot fail them!
On top of all of the exams, there are various other activities throughout the year, from special projects to functions to Teacher's day - and this often means that classes are cancelled. As crazy as it sounds, I can remember one semester where I had at least one class canceled every week for an entire semester. Much importance is placed on other activities. Further, morning assembly can often run late and cause your class to start late - or perhaps even be missed altogether. This sort of thing is very much the norm in Thai schools!
Foreign teachers typically teach a number of classes of students the same age so, for example, you have 6 different grade 9 classes, each of who you see each class twice a week. This means that you may will repeat the same lesson six times which greatly reduces preparation time. It also allows for personal development as by doing the same lesson over and over again, you can find out what works and what doesn't. After three or so times teaching the same lesson, you should have it just about PERFECT!
Teaching in a regular school is not just about what has to be done in the classroom. There are a number of duties and obligations that the foreign teacher is expected to perform or at least be a part of. In Thai schools, there is the flag raising ceremony at around 7:30 AM and in most schools all teachers - That and foreign are expected to be present. At any ceremonies or special occasions - which may or may not be held during regular school hours, the foreign teachers are expected as their presence adds a certain amount of "face" to the schools reputation. Foreign teachers may also be required to be part of parent / teacher meetings which are usually held on Saturday mornings. Don't worry too much about speaking Thai as any parents coming to speak to you will almost certainly expect that you cannot speak Thai and they will likely be proficient in English.
With English becoming more important, and Thailand recognising that Thais English ability is not where it should be - and not as good as any of its neighbours - there is a small foreign contingent in many Thai schools today, working right alongside the Thai teachers. About 85% of school teachers in Thailand are female and I have found most of them to be a pleasure to be with. Their teaching methods are somewhat different from us but it's not our job to meddle and best just to leave them to their devices and allow them to do as they please. You will often find that the Thais teaching English will ask you questions about various things with the English and some just like the opportunity to practice their English with a native speaker. They will really appreciate it and if you take the time to work closely with them - and indirectly you are helping the students. With all of this said, don't be surprised if some of the Thai English teachers' spoken English is very, very poor and in some cases, what they are teaching the students is actually wrong!
It really will make the work environment more pleasant if you take the time to foster good relations with your Thai colleagues. There will always be the odd teacher who is not fond, or perhaps even opposed, to foreigners teaching at their school, but for the most part the Thais will be happy to have you there. Do bear in mind that your salary will be much higher than theirs so be very careful to avoid comments about money or ever complaining about the prices of things in Thailand. Thai teachers are poorly paid and it will be very hard for them to swallow complaints from a foreigner about prices in their country when you earn much more - maybe 4 or 5 times - what they do. And they may even work harder than you and have more duties!
Thais spend 12 years at school, 6 years at Prathom level from Prathom 1 - 6, and then 6 years at Mattayom level, from Mattayom 1 - 6. The first 9 years are compulsory, after which time some students, mainly in the rural areas, may drop out. English is taught from their first year of school. You find foreigners teaching every grade, although I think there are probably more foreigners teaching at Mattayom level than Prathom. There are even some foreign teachers teaching at kindergarten level. Sometimes I wonder if this is but an expensive babysitting service as I don't see the advantage of a native speaking teacher over a Thai at that level.
In regular school classrooms, female students tend to dominate and be better at languages. Female students are generally better behaved and keener to learn. Every student is different, but male students tend to chat amongst themselves and are not always that interested, especially English classes with foreign teachers which some consider a free period!
Thai schools that do go to the trouble, and not inconsiderable expense, of taking on foreign teachers tend to be the better schools and with this in mind, there is actually be a bit of prestige associated with being employed at such a school. The less prestigious schools often just do not have the required funds to employ foreign teachers.
Amongst the most prestigious and arguably best schools in Thailand are the Triam Udom schools and the demonstration schools (know as "Satit" in Thai) which are attached to universities. Triam Udom schools are the best government high schools and are presided over by the Ministry of Education. Entry into these schools is very competitive and only the brightest students get in. There are about 15 demonstration schools nationwide and they are connected to universities and called demonstration schools in English. While they follow the national curriculum, they have some flexibility. There is prestige associated with working at these types of schools.
One of the big pluses about working with kids in Thai schools is that there is a real feeling that you can make a difference and that over the course of a year you can see real development. Too often at language schools when the students are in their 20s - and often just completing one 30-hour course, there's no real feeling of development or progress.
Some schools aren't keen on teachers leaving the premises throughout the day. Few will prohibit you from doing so, but they would prefer you were there all day long. As such, many schools put on a free lunch for the teachers. Food varies from day to day, from school to school, but is usually quite edible. If lunch is not provided, there will be inexpensive food options at the school - Thai food - so get used to eating rice daily!
At one school where I worked for 3 months, food was sold by vendors on the school grounds and you could get a wonderful Penang (red) chicken curry on rice with a fried egg, all for 12 baht! The high school I worked at for several years provided a free lunch. Some days it was very good, other days it was terrible - and those days I would pop out and get something outside the school grounds.
I imagine that just about every school has the internet now although it was not like that when I first started. Internet speed varies as you would expect. A classroom full of students in a computer room doing an internet activity online could slow down the 'net for the rest of the school.
Most Thai schools with foreign staff hire them directly, but some schools may approach a teacher agency which supplies them with teachers. The agency is paid xx,xxx baht per month by the school and recruits foreigners and places them in the school. This agency arranges all paperwork, work permit etc but pays the teacher xx,xxx less 25-35% of what the school is paying the agency. As such, if you are employed by an agency and placed in a Thai school you could be doing better if you were employed directly by the school. Generally speaking I don't think there is any advantage in going through an agency.
As a teacher employed by an agency, you may be getting mixed messages, one from the agency which technically is your employer and something different from the school itself!
In fact communication in Thai schools is often so bad that the foreign teacher is the last person to know what is going on. Some foreign teachers even ask the students about upcoming events because they would not otherwise be told!
The one thing that everyone agrees is wonderful about working in a Thai school is the holidays. There are heaps! You get every public holiday off work whereas language institutes open for some. Schools close for October, which is the break between semesters. And from the end of the school year, mid-March, until the start of the next school year - mid to late May, there is a 2-month break. In some schools you have all of this time off, meaning 3+ months off fully paid per year which is FANTASTIC! In other schools you may be required to go in to perform certain duties for some of the time. A number of schools hold a school camp at this time and foreign teachers may or may not be asked to be involved.
Generally speaking, teachers won't be required to teach more than 25 periods a week. The length of periods varies from school to school and from 45 minutes to an hour. 50 minutes seems to be the most common.
The salaries paid in schools varies greatly but more schools are realistic and earning 40,000+ baht a month is becoming the norm these days. High paying gigs are available and some teachers can earn 100,000 baht a month.
Pros: Monday - Friday work week, many holidays and a lot of exams means the numbers of actual teaching hours, if averaged out over a year, is relatively low. There's an opportunity to make a difference and really help the students while they are still young and relatively open-minded.
Cons: Early start, crazy numbers in the class (sometimes up to 60). Facilities are not always the best and resources may be old. There is an obligation to perform duties unrelated to teaching. Career teachers may find their ability to teach difficult due to numbers that are totally unsuitable for language learning.
The Bottom Line: You can lead a Monday to Friday, almost 9 - 5 type life, but class numbers can make it a real challenge.
University Professor / Teaching Positions
Let me state for the record that I never taught in a university in Thailand so this section is very brief.
There are a number of different types of positions available for foreigners teaching in universities in Thailand. In some universities foreigners are hired to carry out listening and speaking classes, concentrating solely on the skills that they believe foreigners are better suited to teaching. With that said, there are foreigners working as full professors at universities in Thailand too.
In the courses at some universities, there might be more emphasis on a grammatical approach would best suit a grammarian who is comfortable lecturing about how the language works and really. This is not teaching but rather, as I said, lecturing.
The Thai university is split over two semesters, with the first running from the start of June until the end of September and the second from late October or early November until the end of February.
The workload is light and the maximum number of contact hours is usually 10 - 12 per week, leaving you plenty of time to do other things. You might have days where you don't even have any scheduled teaching hours. Extra courses are often offered at favourable rates which can be around 1,000 - 1,500 baht per contact hour, although it varies from university to university.
Chulalongkorn University, considered the best university in Thailand.
Salaries at government universities for foreigners used to be very low 17,850 baht per month, plus an 8,000 baht accommodation allowance, a total of less than 26,000 baht per month and a ridiculously low salary is low for a job that carries a fair deal of prestige, especially if you are at one of the better places like Chulalongkorn or Thammasat. It needs to be understood that one of the reasons that government universities are able to pay such low salaries is that there is MUCH prestige working in such an institution and with that comes the opportunity to teach outside or get other work, which can be lucrative. I know a number of Thai professors who earn 20,000 baht or so per month from their university but their total take home salary per month when you add in all of their other assignments can exceed 100,000 baht per month.
In private universities, the salaries are much higher, often in the range of 40,000 - 100,000 baht per month.
You absolutely MUST have a bachelor's degree, in fact the higher your education, the better. In some positions you will be required to have a PhD. Little value is placed on a CELTA or equivalent one-month TEFL teaching qualification by Thai universities.
Universities tend to hire before the academic year starts which means they might start looking for applicants around March for the academic year which starts in June.
As you would expect, the average age of a university teacher / professor tends to be a lot higher than the average age of a teacher in a language school or a regular school. If you're a recent university recruit from the West, I would not bother applying at a Thai university.
Pros: Low number of contact hours, prestige of a university position. No need to be present when you're not teaching.
Cons: Salary may be low at a government university.
The Bottom Line: University teaching positions appeal to a certain type of person - and you should know if that is you or not.
How difficult is it to get a job teaching English in Thailand?
It is not difficult at all! In fact it is downright easy. The hard part is getting a job that you really like in the type of place you ant to work in, in an area you want to work in / live.
For as long as I have been in Thailand, there have always been more teaching openings than available teachers.
Anyone who makes a diligent effort will get a job right away. Not within a week, right away! Anyone with a bit of nous and solid credentials or teaching experience will get a job within a few days although, as I say, it may take a bit longer to get a decent job, or the type of job that you really want.
Language institutes hire year round where as schools and universities tend to recruit from March - May. The the quietest time of the year, and probably the worst time to apply for work would be from December through to February.
I really believe that it is best to apply for positions in Thailand. There is no need to arrange anything before you arrive Thailand. It could be argued that any school hiring you sight unseen may not be a school you want to work at. Just turn up in Bangkok and start hunting!
Getting a job in Bangkok under 30,000 baht a month is very easy although I would not recommend working for such a small amount unless you have savings you're happy to tap into. Getting a job in the 30 - 40K baht a month range is a bit more competitive while anything over 40K a month is genuinely competitive with such jobs sometimes attracting as many as 100 applicants. The higher the salary, the more applicants.
The best place to look for work used to be the Bangkok Post newspaper, but there aren't so many listings these days, certainly no more than in the past, when the industry was much smaller.
Today the best place to search for teaching jobs in Thailand is online and Ajarn.com is the best site by far. Dave's EFL Cafe is also worth a look. Staff turnover can be a problem at schools in Thailand so keep an eye out for schools which repeat the same job offere over and over again. This may be a sign that they are either growing at a spectacular rate (unlikely), or they have a high staff turnover.
There used to be a lot of fly by night schools advertising and their ads were usually VERY brief - English teacher required, call so and so. While a decent school MAY place such a brief ad, in my experience most of these ads were for jobs that were a waste of time, They often weren't even a school, but an agency - and I generally don't think there is any good reason to get involved with an agency.
The teaching industry is where many started their Thailand work-life. Teaching jobs are easy to secure and can provide a foot in the door. Things are changing and standards are improving a lot, both the working conditions and the salaries offered - which is good because really, they had to. You would not believe how bad the salaries and conditions were just 10 years ago. As such, many who had never taught before coming to Thailand now see teaching in the country as a genuine career. This was not how it was in the past!
With most teaching positions advertised online, applications are often made by email. Prepare your CV and consider including a small, recent photo of yourself. Thais like to know what you look like when they are scheduling interviews and the way you look WILL play a part in whether they decide to invite you for an interview or not. The photo should be a head shot, just like a passport shot, and it's important that you are wearing the type of clothes that you would expect to wear on the job, e.g. a collar and tie. If you are particularly hard on the eye, look scary (a big thing for Thais) or are knocking on death's doorstep, it might be best to omit the photo and take your chances! You should be clean shaven and your hair should be tidy which for men means short.
You may be asked to provide copies of your education qualifications and teaching credentials, and will certainly need have the original if you secure the job.
While I maintain that it is generally best to apply for jobs in Thailand so you can see the school yourself, meet the Thai staff and get a feel for things, it should be noted that some schools will pay for your air ticket to Thailand and for a return ticket home upon contract completion. These same schools may not offer the same benefits if you apply from within Thailand.
It should be noted that Thai companies, organisations and schools are notorious for failing to reply to emails. Often the person charged with checking email doesn't have strong English and the delete button is so much easier!
What are the legalities of working in Thailand?
To work legally you need a work permit, which is issued by the Department of Labour. Strictly speaking, you are not supposed to start working until the work permit has been issued - but this is seldom the case. Most people start before they receive the blue book.
In the old days I doubt if even half of the foreigners teaching English in Thailand had a work permit. I would not recommend working without one. First of all, what you would be doing is technically illegal, and while it is not likely that you would be caught, there is always a chance that you might be. If you are caught working without a work permit, you could be charged with working illegally. In a worst-case scenario you would be fined, deported from Thailand and in a worst case scenario, you might be declared persona non grata meaning you can never return to the country. This seldom happens but there is always an outside chance.
If you are working illegally, don't let anyone know that you don't have a work permit! There are some odd people in Thailand who think nothing of using this sort of thing against you.
Work permits are issued by the Department of Labour and once you have it, you can go to the Immigration Department and get a visa extension - which some people refer to as a one year visa. You are granted the visa extension because you have a work permit.
If you don't have a work permit, the visa can become a problem and you have to exit and re-enter the country every 90 days OR get a one-year visa another way, perhaps by marriage to a Thai national.
The school should organise the work permit for you, providing all paperwork, filling it all in and accompanying you to the Department of Labour and later the Immigration Department. It should be noted that a work permit is location specific and valid for the school whose name and address is written in the work permit book. A Thailand work permit looks similar to a passport, is about the same size, with a similar number of pages.
I don't have a degree! Will I get a job and a work permit without a degree?
When it comes to teaching, I am asked this question more than any other!
All the best language institutes, all universities and all international schools - basically all of those institutes which offer the best working conditions in the most professional environment with the best salary package ONLY hire teachers who have a bachelor's degree or higher. Without a degree, the best jobs will not be available to you. Generally speaking, those without a degree will find that only schools that are desperate - perhaps because they pay poorly, or don't provide good working conditions, or are in undesirable or rural areas, are willing to hire a foreign teacher who does not hold a degree. Quite simply, no degree means you will not be considered for the best positions.
There is a decent argument that simply having a degree does not necessarily make someone a good teacher and that there are people without a degree who may be excellent teachers, better than some people with a degree. This very well may be true. The relevant point, however, is that Thais respect paper qualifications and they simply cannot understand how a Westerner applying for a teaching position in their country could not possibly have a degree!
Up until around 2004 or 2005, a degree wasn't required to get a work permit to teach. The Ministry of Labour, which is responsible for the issuance of work permits, did not specify that a degree was specifically required when applying for a work permit to be a teacher. The unofficial requirement was that a prospective teacher needed EITHER a degree OR a specific teaching qualification such as an CELTA, a TEFL certificate or some sort of teaching credential. Either was acceptable.
Things have changed since then, although there is a proviso. Anyone already in the system i.e. a teacher working in Thailand with work permit is grandfathered through, but for new teachers entering the system applying for a work permit for the first time then a degree is required.
For anyone wishing to teach who does not have a degree, the school or company employing you must write a letter of support vouching for you, stating that they you are exactly the type of person the school is looking for and they are convinced that the absence of a degree will be no issue and you will be an excellent teacher.
The challenge is that so many foreigners which to teaching in Thailand and 98% *do* have a bachelor's degree, or higher, so for those who do not, it can be really quite difficult to convince a school that you are as good as someone with a degree! Remember what I said about Thais loving qualifications!
Schools in areas that might be considered less desirable to live and teach in, rural areas, might have no issue if someone has no degree. These schools may struggle to get teachers otherwise and might be happy with any white face willing to stand in front of a classroom. There is also the issue, or should I say complication that different branches of the Ministry of Labour around the country may interpret rules differently.
The bottom line is that you can get a job teaching in Thailand without a degree. It may not be that easy and many schools / employers simply won't consider those with no degree. That means it will require some luck and convincing at the interview! For anyone with no degree but experience teaching in another country, that would definitely be in your favour and it would sure help if you had completed a TEFL course. Still, most employers seem to want someone with a degree!
If you have visited the backpacker area of Bangkok, Khao San Road, you have probably seen the many vendors who sell fake degrees. Don't get involved with this! Yes, there are teachers in Thailand who have submitted credentials from the University of Khao San Road and been granted a work permit, but if caught, you're looking at jail time! Submitting a fake copy of a degree, notwithstanding that they are readily available in Bangkok, is MUCH WORSE than working without a work permit! Around 2005 and 2006 there were large signs outside the work permit office in the Labour Department in Bangkok stating that credentials submitted with work permit applications are verified and if fake copies are received then not only will the application be declined but legal action will be taken and anyone found guilty will be not only deported from Thailand, but blacklisted!
In January 2007 there was a crackdown on teachers submitting fake degrees or other credentials when applying for a work permit. It was high profile and covered in the English language newspapers. Those caught were prosecuted, jailed and deported. Many schools were raided and people with questionable credentials found themselves in deep pooh pooh. You absolutely should not use any bogus documentation, and you should be honest in your job application.
Having a work permit gives you protection should anything unexpected or untoward happen at school. It also protects you if there is an Immigration check, which occurs from time to time. It removes the requirement and costs of doing a visa run every three months - meaning you have to exit the country because your visa is about to expire, and then return again. With a work permit, you have protection from the Labour Department should your school / employer act illegally. More than anything, it gives you peace of mind!
To get a work permit you first need a non-Immigrant B visa which you must apply for at a Thai embassy or consulate outside of Thailand. When you apply for this class of visa you will be required to submit a letter from your prospective employer clearly stating that you have been offered a job. Some embassies and consulates may require your employer to supply various other documents. Unfortunately no two consulates or embassies seem to enforce the rules quite the same. Note: you CANNOT get the visa when you enter Thailand - it can only be issued at a Thai embassy or consulate. You CANNOT get the visa inside Thailand! If you enter Thailand on a tourist visa and look for work, once you have been offered work you will need a letter from the school and you will have to exit the country, go to a consulate or embassy abroad - possibly in a neighbouring country - apply for the visa and then re-enter Thailand. It is rather a nuisance as well as an expense but this is what you need to do.
The most popular places to go for a visa run for those already in Thailand are Phnom Penh in Cambodia or Vientiane in Laos. Vientiane is a 600+ baht / 10+ hour bus trip. Cambodia can be reached overland. Other popular places include Penang in Malaysia and Singapore.
Once you have got the non-immigrant B and are back in Thailand, your school / employer will set the work permit / 1-year visa applications in motion. A trip to the Labour Department will be necessary when you are first issued your work permit as you have to sign for it before they seal it in clear plastic inside the main cover. Trust me, it is so much better t be legal and have a work permit than exiting the country every three months to do a visa run. You will also need to make a trip to the Immigration Department where you will get the visa extended, usually for one year. You will also need to go to the Revenue Department to get a tax card and number, a little yellow laminated card with all of the details in Thai, except your name which will be in English. This card will have your tax number on it at the top and you should keep it. Do NOT surrender it to the school. You will need it if you change jobs - and some schools have been known to get shitty when teachers leave and play childish games like withholding your documents. Strictly speaking, you are supposed to have your work permit either on you when you are working or lodged at your workplace. If an inspector comes around and it isn't there, you could potentially be up for a fine of 1,000 baht - but to be honest I have never heard of this happening. Some schools wish to keep your work permit but again, I would never allow this. Keep it yourself.
All teachers teaching in Thailand require a teacher's licence. You're given a grace period of two years to get it and you MUST have a bachelor's degree to get the teacher's licence. It should be noted that around 2007 new rules were introduced that meant that all foreigners teaching in Thailand had to complete various courses on Thai language and culture before they would be issued a teacher's licence. They idea was that they want foreigners to be aware of what is important to Thais. These courses caused outrage amongst the foreign teaching community with many up in arms about some of the crazy components of the course, which lasts 2 or 3 full days - and costs several thousand baht to attend - a fee that some schools paid but others forced their teachers to pay themselves! Some of the components of the course included very basic Thai language instruction and things like learning the names of obscure traditional Thai music instruments and Thai herbs and spices!
It should be noted that if you leave one school and go to another, you need to cancel your work permit at one school and you are given a small window within which this must be done. You will be given a receipt and you need to keep this if you are going to work for another school / employer. You also need to get a tax form from your previous employer as without this, it can be very difficult to get a new work permit. Basically, if you are employed and have a work permit but decide to leave, don't do a runner as it will come back to haunt you if you seek employment elsewhere.
Your school should handle the entire work permit application. It would be very, very unusual for them to ask you to handle it yourself. DO NOT GIVE ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS TO YOUR EMPLOYER! Encourage them to make a photocopies which you should sign. If they insist that the Ministry Of Labour or other government departments insist on viewing the originals, which they may, from time to time, then go along with the originals. Don't let them out of your sight! Thailand seems to be one big vacuum for original diplomas, certificates and degrees and many people have lost their originals because the person at their school whose responsibility it is to handle work permit applications was horribly disorganised. The state of some people's offices as well as some teachers' rooms in Thai schools is shocking!
Are there any general hints or tips you can give me not related to teaching in the classroom, but about being teacher in Thailand?
Whatever you do, don't get romantically involved with students. For teachers in language institutes, especially younger teachers, or those who are clean cut and handsome, there will almost certainly be some young female adults who would be delighted to have a young Western boyfriend. Getting involved with students but if you must get involved, wait until the student is no longer a student of the school. If she is still a student, then you are putting your job at risk.
Keep your private life to yourself don't talk about going to the bars or liaisons with women who work in venues with red lights! Be very discreet about your private life! And if you do get involved with a lady of the night, whatever you do, do NOT take her into your school. It will reflect terribly on you and the school. I would even go as far to say that you should not even let a girlfriend know where you work until you are really comfortable with her and that she doesn't have a propensity to do silly thing. Thai women can become highly volatile if a relationship goes bad and having her turn up at your place of work and freak out will be the end of your position there!
Don't give in to the temptation to teach students privately. Some teachers are approached by students to teach them outside the school, for private lessons. If a student approaches you, tell them you can only teach them on the premises of the school. If you take them on as a one on one student, it is the same as stealing a customer of an organisation you work for - and if the school finds out you could lose your job.
If you have any income on the side, keep it to yourself. Some foreigners really struggle in Thailand and can become jealous of your perceived success. Some schools have a clause in contracts saying other work is not allowed and you could lose your job over it!
Think very carefully if you don't have a work permit. You have almost zero legal rights and if things go wrong as they very well may you can find yourself vulnerable. In the '90s it was not such a problem but Thailand is not quite as free and easy as it used to be and where once the authorities turned a blind eye, things are very different today and foreigners involved in any illegal activities usually end up in court.
Thais tend to do things rather differently to foreigners and you will often find yourself scratching your head at the way things are done in Thailand. You should keep your thoughts to yourself and whatever you do, don't argue in public with Thai teachers or Thai bosses or cause them to lose face. If you strongly disagree with them, have a quiet chat with them, just the two of you.
Don't get involved in workplace politics or the politics of the land! Thailand has been volatile politically for a long time and the Thais are well aware of the issues and generally don't like foreigners butting into what they see as a Thai issue.
Avoid foreigners who are trouble meaning anyone involved in illegal activities, people who seem strange and especially anyone into drugs as a number of younger foreigners teaching in Thailand are. Thailand has severe penalties for those involved with illegal drugs.
Thai schools are notorious for asking you to get involved with things you would prefer not to be involved with, often in your own time after school or at weekends. It takes time to get to know what you really do need to be involved with and when you can say no. There are certain events and ceremonies that everyone should attend and Thai schools often like to parade their foreign faculty. But sometimes they take the piss and just ask too much of you. Be willing to help, but don't get walked over!
The Labour Department is on your side if you are legal! Foreign teachers HAVE won cases against their employer and being white does not instantly mean you will lose!
Should I complete a TEFL course before I start teaching?
It used to be that many of the foreigners teaching in Thailand had neither any formal teaching experience (before coming to Thailand) nor anything in the way of teaching qualifications. I chat with many people who want to teach here and they often start the conversation like this, "I can speak English very well so I don't think I'll have any problems being a teacher". That is not how it works! I know a couple of teachers who don't even speak the language that well themselves but they are damned good teachers. Why? Because they know how to teach! The trick is being able to build a rapport with students, having a good knowledge of how the language works, explaining this to students and most importantly doing interactive activities that allow the students to practice the language. Being able to speak English well is only a small part of it, a very small part.
If you are going to be teaching for any length of time, I strongly recommend that you do an English teachers training course before coming to Bangkok. The most recognised course internationally is the Cambridge University CELTA course that is offered at about 100 or so language schools world-wide. The cost of the course varies from country to country with some example prices from the late '90s were: United States $US 2700 (VERY expensive!), New Zealand $NZ 2750, Australia $A 2500, England UK pounds 1100+, Thailand $US 1400, Egypt $US 1040 (cheapest place in the world to do the course). The Trinity College course is very, very similar and is also offered by language schools world-wide. These one month full time courses are in my opinion, the best single way to prepare yourself to be a teacher BUT these courses alone will not make you a good teacher. It takes a lot of teaching practice and experience before you get to the level where you can genuinely claim to be a good teacher. In an ideal world, one would have a degree in education, an MA in linguistics and an RSA. In reality, and especially so in Thailand, this just doesn't happen!
It should be noted that there are many different teacher's training courses available and different schools and different people will put a different value on each of them. Generally speaking the English / Aussies / Kiwis / South Africans prefer the English courses and the Americans / Canadians prefer the American courses. The English courses involve a lot of hands on practice teaching and prepare you for ACTUALLY TEACHING with lots of real teaching practice. The American courses tend to be more theory and academic based and seem to be more a study in how the language works and general linguistics than anything else. I personally put little value on the American courses from the point of view that they do little to actually make you a good teacher. There is also an emerging market of "internet based teacher's training courses". Sorry folks but I am extremely cynical of such things - but then some training is better than no training.
What teacher training courses are available in Thailand?
There is no harm in teaching for a few months before you do the CELTA. It would definitely make the RSA a lot easier! Most trainees find it a gruelling course and believe that they would have done better if they had attacked it after a few months teaching experience. Although it is recognised world-wide as THE course, it is a little stiff.
The RSA is a four week intensive course that prepares you for the job of English teacher. It should be stated that although about 90% of the people that complete the course pass it, it is by no means easy. There is a pre-course selection test and interview that aims to filter out those who may struggle. The pre-test includes various grammar based questions that require the use of a grammar book or the assistance of a friend who is either a teacher or has a very good knowledge of grammar. The interviewer who interviewed me was very clever and other than asking about my general background etc., he also asked a lot of probing questions about my ideas regarding staff training, teaching methodology etc. I believe he was trying to see if I had many pre-conceived ideas about such things. (I'd done my homework at that stage, reading a couple of books and gleaming numerous amounts of info from the 'net so he couldn't quite out smart me....hehehe!)
If you have never taught before, you will need as much time as possible to dedicate to the course to ensure that you pass it. Many of the concepts can be quite foreign! The course includes six hours practical teaching to REAL students, teaching techniques, preparing lesson plans, scheduling, grammar lessons, observation of CELTA qualified teachers teaching real classes and a hell of a lot more. There are six written assignments to complete on the course and this, along with your "TP" (teaching practice), form the basis of your assessment.
The course moves at a very brisk pace and if one was to fall behind, it would be very difficult to catch up. The course outlines state that you must be free of any other distractions like part-time work or other study and need to dedicate all of your time to the course. In reality this is not the case. I was busy with a stack of distractions when I did the course and about half of the people on my course were working part-time. However, do expect to be up late at night preparing lessons for the following day. You can't just bluff your way through this course. You will get stressed! If you are not on course to pass the course, the instructors will have a quiet word with you and advise you that you need to pull your socks up!
One does need to take the course seriously and prepare as much as possible before hand - it would be a good idea to buy a good grammar book and study as much about English grammar as you can - this was the area where I was weak and had I made a more diligent effort to familiarize myself with the material before the course, I may have found it easier. Certainly when I was at school, we never studied grammar at all so when I was asked to teach something that I didn't understand entirely myself, the pressure really came on!
There are four grades - pass, pass b, pass a and fail. About 80% of people receive a standard pass. Pass "A" and Pass "B" require real dedication and tend to be awarded to those who have had previous teaching experience. Before you receive your final certificate - which in my case came about six weeks later, you get a "written report" from the school which should be kept with your CELTA. If you successfully complete the RSA and want to study further, after you have a couple of years post RSA experience under your belt, you can enrol for the CELTA Diploma. I've never done this (nor will I ever do it!) but gather that it is supposed to be really good. However, it is not scheduled that often and is also very expensive.
The Trinity College of London course is considered to be the only equivalent to the RSA. It is no longer offered in Thailand. It used to be offered by TEFL International but they chose to offer their own course instead when Trinity increased their affiliation fees by 75% in 1999.
The CELTA is offered in Thailand by ECC at their main branch in Siam Square, central Bangkok and, from March 2005, at their second teacher training centre in Phuket. The cost is around 60,000 baht. If you were to do the CELTA at ECC, be sure to have accommodation very close to Siam Square. You have enough to worry about on the course without having to worry about without battling Bangkok's notorious transport getting to and from your accommodation. ECC offers a list of various accommodation in the area that is available at reasonable prices. They have been running the CELTA down in Phuket since March 2005.
The British Council used to advertise teacher training courses from time to time. I'm not sure exactly what courses are offered but I imagine that the quality of the courses would no doubt be pretty good. I seem to remember them offering a "pre-RSA preparation" course a while ago.
Text'n'Talk, a major player in the locally based teacher training market, offers a teacher training course. They make many bold claims in their literature about their course including the following points - better than the RSA, it's more suitable for Thai students than the RSA, it's recognised worldwide etc. Some of these claims are moot points. There are two courses offered, one is 120 hours and costs around 40,000 baht (if you are farang - cheaper if you are Thai) and runs 5 hours a day, 4 days a week for 6 weeks plus a minimum of 6 hours observed teaching practice, so 126 hours overall. They also offer the same course with less teaching practice on Sundays 10:00 - 16:30 for 18 weeks for 25,000 baht.
Perhaps worst of all - and certainly a pet hate of mine, is that this school employs a dual pricing system in that Thais can get a special discount. I avoid and recommend to all others that any business (of any nature) that offers such a discount, read DUAL PRICING, be avoided. (Or when you apply, say you are Thai and see what discount you get - then tell them you are farang and that you want that discount!) Sure, Thai teachers do earn a lot less than farangs do, and using this as an argument has some validity, but overall, if they can offer the course at one price to one nationality, why not the same to all? And if you are going to take this argument through to is natural conclusion, should Americans not pay twice the price as say Kiwis and Aussies whose respective currencies are much weaker?
You could always consider online TEFL courses. There are many to choose from and while I strongly believe attending a training course in person is better, an online course is better than nothing at all.
What is teaching like, as opposed to other jobs?
Teaching is a lot of fun but it can also be stressful at the same time. The majority of English language teachers in Bangkok appear to have come from a background doing something completely unrelated so teaching is something completely new to them. Many agree that teaching can be a particularly rewarding job but it is also demanding and I personally find that when I am teaching, it is seldom far from my mind. Teaching is not for everyone!
As a teacher, one is always thinking about how they can introduce new ideas and language points more effectively and how activities can be done in a manner that is both fun and effective, in terms of the students learning or using the target language. Whereas in some jobs you can hide behind a desk, avoid calls, disappear in the company car, go for a liquid lunch, these options don't exist when teaching. You are there on the spot and must perform! If you are prone to skiving off and know in your own mind that you are not that professional in your approach to work, then teaching may not be for you.
The actual teaching component is just one part of the job. Teaching is not just about getting up in front of the class and performing. At the absolute minimum, good teaching requires careful planning of every lesson, the marking of homework and obviously the presentation and delivery of lessons within the classroom. The classroom aspect of the job requires a lot of energy and can be draining with the torturous three hour classes so popular at language schools on a Saturday making the most energetic of us feel fatigued. When I first started teaching, I found that I was very tired from teaching and this lasted for a few months! On Saturday afternoons when I got home after 3 x three-hour classes, I would just conk out and sleep, waking up the next day!
Depending on the type of environment you work in, there may also be other responsibilities. Within a language school one might be asked to interview prospective students for the purposes of grading them and placing them in the right level class. In any teaching environment one will be asked to assist the Thai staff with various things and perhaps even helping them with their English. There may well be workshops from time to time and you may even be expected to run one. Basically, there is more to do than just plain on old teaching - but I like this - nice variety.
Teachers are highly respected in Thailand and receive respect simply because they are a teacher. As such, teachers - and this very much includes the foreigners amongst the ranks - are expected to be on their best behaviour all the time. In 2006 and 2007 there were some high profile cases of paedophiles and others working as teachers in Thailand and this tarnished the image of foreigners teaching in Thailand. You are expected to live a clean and wholesome life, or if you are up to no good, to be very discrete about it! The truth is that if a lot of the senior Thai members of staff knew what some of their foreign staff got up to they would be truly horrified. Like I said earlier in the article, many people choose to teach in Thailand because it allows them to stay here legally. Just being in Thailand is much more important than the teaching part.
As a teacher you are expected to be a role model in many ways - well-presented and professional in all respects. With this said, schools don't always show a great deal of loyalty to foreign faculty and if a dispute should arise bet and this is reciprocated by the teachers' attitudes and loyalty, or lack of it, to the schools. Schools tend to manipulate teachers and railroad them to suit the school's needs by giving teachers horrible schedules where they might have to teach a few hours in the morning and a few at night, with many hours free in the middle of the day. Even at some of the more professional schools, this seems to be the case. This all contributes towards significant staff turnover within the industry in Bangkok. Contracts are frequently broken and there seems to be little recourse for either party, though this is changing a little these days. There has been the odd case of employees taking their employer to court over alleged breaches of contract and winning!
Some schools have been known to shit on teachers. I know a teacher with many years experience who once applied for a job at the best school in Siam Square. She was told that she would be teaching high level adult learners at a pre-negotiated time of the day that was suitable for her. A few days before she was due to start, she popped in to confirm her schedule. She had been given hours at all times of the day with big gaps between classes which were predominantly lower level classes. She told them where to stick their job. They quickly changed the schedule to what it should have originally been but she had had enough and told them what to do with their job. Stories like this abound at language schools in Bangkok. Problems like this are common because many foreigners are desperate for work and will put up with conditions far worse than they would be prepared to accept in their own country. There was a time when I was very, very cynical about the whole English language school industry in Bangkok but things are changing for the better. At last! I used to say to people who were serious about teaching, to go somewhere else. There used to be just so much shit in the industry in this city that it made it difficult to do a good job. However, as the industry has grown and grown and the demand for both more teachers and better teachers has increased, so too have the terms and conditions of contracts, and the general working conditions. In the old days it seemed that if you absolutely wanted to be in Bangkok, then English teaching was the only real option. Again, this is changing as there are many, many more jobs available to Westerners these days. Though if you are considering working in Thailand - especially if you are applying for a job locally, remember, Thais will work for a hell of a lot less than us, speak their language fluently and are quite possibly better qualified. And since the economic downturn post '97, Thai students are following the world-wide trend of spending more time in education.
If you're coming from a background working in any professional role or in a company that operated in a professional manner, the level of professionalism (read lack of) in a Thai high school may be more than a minor shock to the system. It seems that these schools are in a constant state of chaos, with continual power plays being made by the middle aged Thai women that make up 90% of the staff. Information is power and the Thai managers know this, only ever telling you, the foreigner (the outsider), what you need to know, and nothing else. No value is placed on letting anyone know what is going on if it is deemed that that information is not essential to that person. It often seems and in fact probably is the case that the Thai teachers do not have the students' best interests in mind, but try and work the system for their OWN advantage. This makes you feel like you are totally out of the loop, unwanted and contributes towards having a very de-motivating effect and lowering morale.
The workplace culture in Thailand is quite different from that which us Westerners are used to. A typical Thai worker will work all of the hours that God sends and will do everything possible to honour their boss. If asked to stay late and work, a Thai more often than not will do so. If asked to cover for someone on their own day off, the Thai likely will. The better Thai managers realise that Thais and foreigners are very different and will not make certain requests or place unreasonable demands on their foreign teachers. Sadly not all managers are like this. Many Thai managers struggle with the way they manage their foreign contingent. One should also be cautious of foreigners who have been in Thailand for many years and who have adopted some of the Thai management style practices. It seems that many start to become "semi-Thai" and will unwittingly adopt some of these Thai practices. As a teacher in Bangkok, especially if you are qualified, you are in demand. Do not be afraid to say NO if unreasonable demands are placed on you. Do not lose track of your vocational and workplace values. Never let go of your convictions!
What is it like teaching Thai students (as opposed to other nationalities) and teaching in Thailand?
Thais are a fun loving bunch and Thai students enjoy lessons that are fun. The flip side of this is that they can become bored quickly. In Thai culture, the idea of sanuk (translated = fun) is very important and if something is not perceived to be fun, then the students will often be reluctant to do it. You have to keep things moving and most importantly, FUN! If your lessons aren't fun they will get bored easily, and don't even be surprised if the odd student puts their head down to take a nap!
It has been said that to be a good teacher in Thailand, you need to be 1/3 teacher, 1/3 entertainer and 1/3 businessman. A stereotypical chalk'n'talk teacher who stands at the board and just talks away will find the students tire of them very quickly. In a language institute this would mean that students don't sign up for the next course - and the institute suffers financially. You should try and include a lot of activities and language learning / practicing games and keep the lesson moving. As Thais can be a particularly sensitive bunch, you need to have more than a passing awareness of Thai culture too. This can make things a tad more difficult than if you were teaching say a bunch of Westerners. There are certain topics which you shouldn't bring up, and certain things that they find dull. As you gain experience, you will have a better idea of what works and what doesn't.
The whole idea of teaching English as a native speaker is ultimately to set up interactive activities that allow the students to practice some specific language. As an example you may give half the class some dummy money and a shopping list and the other half of the class a few objects that just happen to be on the shopping lists. Half the class are shoppers and half are vendors. They then have to use the target language that you had pre taught them to buy the different goods. Once you have done this activity once, you may swap the roles. The problem with Thai students is that they are inherently shy and often reluctant to use the target language or even speak English! In a situation like this, don't be surprised to see them complete the task as you had set it up, but using Thai! While an activity may be a dream with one class, it may be a big flop with another. It is a little frustrating that at times, some classes are not prepared to "give the teacher a little" and actually partake in the activities. Sometimes they will just mill around grinning at each other and saying little. It is usually a problem of confidence and most Thai students are scared of making a mistake, saying something wrong and thus they are scared of losing face. This can be a little tricky to overcome but is usually overcome with a little gentle persuasion. I believe it is not such a problem with students within certain other cultures, especially outside Asia where the face thing is not so big.
The problem mentioned in the previous paragraph is more prevalent, in my experience, at language schools with students who are young adults. People in this age group, often university students or recent graduates make up the bulk of students at language schools. At weekends, language schools will get a lot of children. You may also have a few middle aged folk studying as amongst the upper echelons of Thai society, there is a certain status associated with being able to speak English well. If you want to massage (and / or manipulate!) a wealthy Thai's ego, compliment them on their English ability!
Thai students often have totally unrealistic expectations about the courses offered and some truly believe that after a 30 hour course, they are going to be fluent and be able to understand and communicate about just about anything! To make matters even worse, Thai students attending an English class often remind me of someone going to see a movie in a cinema. They take their seat and sit there, often doing nothing. You get the impression that they just want to sit there and it will all magically happen. This is probably due to the way that they have been taught at school with the rote learning method where they listen, read, write and recite. Frustratingly, many students don't realise that if they wish to make progress, they must actually make an effort! And when they do not make the level of progress that they had hoped for, they may go and enroll at another school, study one course there and then again, find ANOTHER new school...
While education is valued in Thailand, and proficiency in English is acknowledged as being important in getting a good job / going into business, Thai students often turn up late for class and sometimes, do not even bother turning up at all! In some cases this can be a symptom that the student is, rightly or wrongly, not happy with the teacher but in other circumstances, it may simply be that the student is lazy or maybe even that the student was enrolled in a course by his / her parents that he / she did not want to do in the first place!
Teachers are highly respected in Thai society and Thai students are loathe to openly criticize a teacher - so even if you are doing a poor job, you may not be criticised like you would expect to be in a job at home. This all gets taken way too far and even the 19 year old, fresh off the boat native English speaking teacher gets crazy levels of respect, despite the fact that after each day at the school he may return to his apartment to indulge in goodness only know what. He might not even give a toss about his students or the lessons. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the students will study diligently. While they may respect you, they may still gossip in class, use Thai instead of English and fail to do homework. It's other people in Thai society that will be more impressed, particularly Thai adults who will tell you how wonderful it is that you are a teacher.
At school, students will call the teacher one of two words, ajarn or kru. Ajarn is rarely used correctly as the actual translation of it would be professor, someone lecturing in a university - and there aren't too many people doing that. The fact that Thais use this word shows their respect for the teacher and although incorrectly used, it is used remarkably often. Kru is a better word for the students to use and means teacher, though frankly, some of the English teachers working in Bangkok really don't deserve to be called a kru either.
The symptoms of an unpopular teacher are more likely to be students dropping out of the class and not signing up for more courses than, say, criticism. Thai students are very respectful of teachers, indirect and refuse to be confrontational. Asking a Thai student if the teacher was any good is like asking them if grass is green - there is only one answer!
On the whole, the average Thai does not speak English as well as those in the region with even the Cambodians scoring better in English language ability than the Thais, let alone students from the likes of Malaysia or Singapore. There are many reasons for this including a) L1 interference, b) a questionable education system and, c) many very poor English teachers in Thailand (both the Thai teachers within the education system and foreigners at language schools). The Thai language is in no way related to English (as say German is) - Thai does not come from the same "family" of languages as English so students really are very much starting from scratch. The Thai language is very basic in structure with little grammar including little in the way of verb tenses, verb forms etc. Thai also has a relatively small vocabulary which results in the language having a general lack of expression. If you compare sentences in Thai with the English equivalent, the English version is far more complex. The Thai script is totally different from the Roman script meaning that the Thai student must learn a new alphabet. (Many foreigners complain about written Thai being incomprehensible - well the Thais are forced to learn our script.) The one major complexity with Thai is the tones in spoken Thai. When spoken well, Thai can be very pleasant on the ears. Thai students invariably have difficulties with the pronunciation of English.
At most language schools offering General English courses, most students seem to study at either Elementary or Pre-Intermediate level. Some schools will have students studying at Intermediate level. Whereas in European language schools there are many higher level classes, in Thailand, Upper Intermediate is rare and genuine Advanced level classes are virtually unheard of.
Thai students are petrified of tests and exams and this goes back to the school system in Thailand. Thai students get tested frequently and they have to pass a test to go on to the next level. Failure to do so means that they have to re-sit the test (which can be many times) or in worst case scenarios, they may have to study the whole syllabus again. Whenever you test your students, you will find them very nervous and scared and you need to manage this carefully. Further, you need to ask yourself carefully *why* are you testing them. Too many teachers just give students a test because it kills a lesson but the students may not necessarily get a lot out of it e.g. the students do the test which the teacher then marks and gives back to them with little if any feedback and review. A good teacher would go over any areas where several students made the same errors and if necessary teach that language point again. In general English taught at many language schools, I question the wisdom of a lot of the testing that gets done. It can be a useful tool but too often seems to be the old "this will kill two hours" and that is bad news.
Although I do not have a background in education and am therefore admittedly not the best qualified to pass comment on it, I believe that the Thai education system is weak - at best. Basically, students are not taught to think for themselves - an absolute crime. A lot of this probably goes back to Thai culture and this idea of the communal society. At school, students study English for years and when they leave school, they are lucky if they can put together more than one or two grammatically correct sentences. Too much time is spent on reading, writing and grammar and not enough time on speaking and actually using the language. I had one student who studied English for eleven years at school, four years at University and had had three months intensive study at a language school in Singapore and another three months at a language school in England. She came to the school I am working at as a student studying at Elementary level. On top of all of this, I have taught in two prestigious high schools and can quite safely say that in terms of quality of education, these schools would not be considered anything special in the West.
You could do a lot worse than try to learn Thai, if only for the purpose of seeing the challenges that face the Thai student who is trying to learn English. Bear in mind that learning a language is a very difficult long term challenge and you need to be patient with your students. Fortunately, most Thais are particularly amiable and are not that demanding of results. However, as a responsible teacher, you should still strive for them to get the maximum benefit out of the course.
One of the big drawbacks of teaching in Thailand is that there are not a great deal of quality, experienced teachers meaning that there may not be a great amount of development in your role. Although building up time in the classroom is important, it is equally important to have experienced teachers to bounce ideas off, to run lesson plans by and to generally help you out while you are still inexperienced. Many DOSs and head teachers at schools in Thailand would only be considered mediocre teachers in other countries with a more developed industry. This can all result in teachers working a year or two and thinking that they know it all and are fully competent but are actually not nearly as good as they think they are. In fact, there are some teachers who have been here for a few years who are bloody awful. I have yet to meet an unqualified teacher with a couple of years experience who didn't rate their ability in the classroom very highly. Beware that in the west, the person we report to, our manager, supervisor, trainer, whatever usually has a lot more experience than us and is usually in that position for the very reason that they are better at that than we are. We listen to them when they provide feedback on our work and will often take on any suggestions that they may make. Some of the DOSs in Thailand are shockers and some of what they come up with is terrible. Be VERY judicious when dealing with these people and just because they are your superior doesn't always mean that they are right.
The other side of all of this is that while there are not a great deal of quality teachers, there are also relatively low expectations. Those with white skin with a tidy appearance, who are punctual and smile a lot will be considered good teachers at some schools irrespective of what happens in the classroom. There is not a great amount of stress from your boss in a Thai language school - you will probably get more stress and anxiety from students who are keen to learn.
Bangkok attracts all sorts and you will meet some real characters, a good few weirdoes and even the odd genuine creep.
How long am I going to do this for?
The answer to this question also affects the question above. If you just want to piss about and have a bit of fun in Thailand then it probably doesn't matter where you teach or whether you are qualified or not. At a guess, teachers here for a short period of time probably make up 50%+ of the teachers in Bangkok. (But please, try and make an effort for your students - some of them are so keen to learn and many really look forward to it. Further, financially, it is often not cheap for them at all.)
You can also muck companies around and skive off when you want - some companies are so desperate for staff that they won't actually dismiss you until you have proven to be absolutely, totally unreliable. Sadly there is little loyalty shown by companies to their staff and vice versa in this industry in Thailand. If you want to stay here for more than a year, then it pays to be selective about who you choose to work for.
Remember, the longer you are away from your home country or chosen industry, the harder it will be to get back into regular employment in your home country. Living and working in Bangkok is a wonderful experience but if you do it for more than a couple of years it might not contribute towards your future employability. Many people only plan on one - two years in Thailand but they find that they really enjoy the Thai lifestyle and never leave!
One of the sad things about teaching is that you can do it for a long, long time without really doing a lot for your future prospects, be it improving your skills, gaining experience or even saving money. In most professions, the more time you spend doing that type of work, the better your chances are of getting a better job, usually directly related to what you are doing or within either that particular company or industry. If the job itself is a bit of a dead end job, you will usually be able to work your way up through the company's ranks - even if you start in the mailroom.
Teaching in Thailand isn't like this and the industry in Bangkok is a classic example of an industry where experience is not rewarded financially - or only a little. The salary band for teachers at many schools is often pretty narrow and as an example at one school I know, the total salary band for foreign teachers, irrespective of how long they have been there, is 33,000 - 36,000. As a completely inexperienced teacher, you may start on 33,000. A teacher with 15 years experience may get 36,000, the top of the band, only 3,000 baht per month more. At state run universities, the salary is a bit over 25,000 baht per month, irrespective of experience! OK, so this is an extreme example but it does represent the point well. Experience doesn't necessarily correlate to a big increase in remuneration. Compare this with managerial jobs in the west where say an entry level supervisor may get as little as $25,000 PA but up to 10 times that figure or more may be offered for senior management - experience IS rewarded there.
Teachers can go on to be head teachers, DOSs, managers or maybe even to own and run their own school but at the end of the day, if you want to stay teaching as such, there isn't really a lot of incentive financially to continue to do it. There really is nothing in the way of a career path. If you're young, you really do need to keep this in mind. For older guys, those guys who have perhaps decided that they wish to see out their work life in Thailand, then it is not such a big deal. So, if you are financially driven, you may want to consider this. Obviously, there is always Korea, Taiwan or Japan if you want to pursue the big bucks in teaching BUT you don't need experience to go there either...!
How safe is Bangkok from the point of view of living and working there?
If you were to ask this question to Thais, they will tell you that Bangkok is a really dangerous city and that you ought to be very, very careful, not go out at night, not walk alone, be careful who you talk to and generally keep your nose out of other people's business!
Ask the same question to a fellow foreigner and they will probably tell you that the city is safer than wherever it is that you have come from and that there is nothing to be concerned about.
So just who is right? Both, of course! It all comes back to perspective. Thais are more aware of what is going on in the city and the radio and television news as well as the Internet and newspapers often report of all of the crime in the city. The thing about much of this crime is that it happens in areas where foreigners don't tend to live, hang out or go. Also, like much of the world, a lot of "personal crime" in Bangkok happens late at night - and the average foreigner, especially the average teacher, is safe at home fast asleep.
So long as you do not venture into the really dodgy neighbourhoods - you would know if you happened to chance on to them by mistake - and you do not have any dispute with other people, then Bangkok is quite safe.
In terms of the safety at your place of abode, it should be noted that foreigners are sometimes targeted in burglaries due to the perception that they have a lot of money. When you select a place to stay, while location is important you should also seriously consider the security of your building. Most teachers stay in an apartment or condominium and it is recommended that you find a building with good security which has, at the minimum, controlled entry into the building (i.e. a key card or similar) as well as a working video surveillance system. While not that many teachers tend to stay in a house, at least those teaching in Bangkok tend not to, it is MUCH more difficult to secure a house than it is a condo or apartment.
I strongly recommend that you spend several thousand baht on a good safe and keep your valuables in there such as your passport and any other important documents, any cash, jewellery as well as any other items of value such as cameras etc.
Public protests have been a common sight in many parts of Bangkok in recent years with the yellow shirt take over of the airport at the end of 2008, the red shirt street posts (photo below) in 2010 and other ongoing political issues. It is recommended that you stay clear of such demonstrations and while the odds of a foreigner experiencing problems is low, the vibe can change in a heartbeat.
How much money does teaching pay in Bangkok? Am I able to save money while I'm teaching? How much money do I need to survive?
While English teaching is the easiest work to get as a foreigner in Bangkok, it is also the lowest paying type of work farangs do. As a rule, anything less than 25,000 baht will only be enough to survive on - and many people would really struggle to survive on this, and a good number simply feel that such a figure allows a standard of living that just ain't fun! Certainly, forget any luxuries and you'll have to go native in many aspects.
About 30,000 baht should be enough to live a basic lifestyle that is much more Thai than Western. Probably the bottom line when it comes to lifestyle in Thailand and how much you spend comes back to what you require in terms of accommodation, whether you go out much at night and how what you need / desire in the way of Western comforts.
Frankly, I would not live in Bangkok on anything less than 40,000 baht a month. Many people can do it on less - but I personally would not want to. To me, I would rather be back in the West because 40,000 baht just isn't a lot of money in Bangkok any more. When I first came here in the late '90s, 40K a month was considered a very good salary but costs have gone up a lot since then. Just a coffee at Starbucks can run over 100 baht, and there is so much more to see, and do. Frankly, one reason one could happily exist on 25K baht a month in the past was because there was so much less to do in Bangkok, than compared with now. Hell, even bus fares have DOUBLED over the last seven years!
If you want a nice place to stay in a reasonable area, I maintain you need to spend upwards of 20,000 baht a month. Many can cope with much less and you can get a basic room for under 4,000 baht a month - but I would not want to live like that!
If you are earning over 40,000 you should actually be able to have a decent, but still fairly basic, and very Thai lifestyle.
Earn over 50K a month and you should be able to have a few good nights out each month or the odd weekend away, as well as buy some reasonable clothes and a few other bits and pieces, perhaps even save a bit. Obviously it all depends on your personal spending habits.
As at 2010, I was spending 65,000 - 70,000 baht a month. I went out when I wanted, ate what I wanted and had a weekend away about once a month.
I feel that these figures and estimations on salary would be relevant to most career English teachers, and people with a similar mindset to the average teacher. There are plenty of people who find that the salaries offered in Bangkok are simply not sufficient for them to live on - and they often end up in Taiwan, Korea or Japan - or even go back home to their own corner of Farangland.
There are unlimited entertainment options in Bangkok and few people spend every night in their apartment! Drinkers take note: If you drink a lot, this could easily cost you more than your apartment rental.
Incidentally, there are some expats in Bangkok earning 500,000 - 1,000,000 baht per month who manage to spend a good chunk of it! The point here being that just about any other job employing foreigners pays more than teaching....
Truth be told, I used to be happy on 35,000 baht a month, back when I was earning it, in the late '90s. I had a pleasant life, not special, but pleasant, and I didn't look too far into the future. As I age I need to be more mindful of the future. That's one reason I just could not go back to teaching - the money is just not that great. Sometimes you just have to make the hard decision and say that earning 30 - 35K baht a month is ok for the first two years, but beyond that, you really need to look at breaking into a higher paying gig, supplementing your teaching somehow, or getting into a whole new profession. Teachers are not well paid in Thailand and don't let people saying "well the average Thai only gets 10,000 baht per month" lead you into a false sense of security. 30 - 35K baht jobs are a treadmill to nowhere. You can do better, farang! NEVER FORGET THAT!
Salaries are usually paid monthly, on the last day of the month, although the odd school may pay teachers twice a month, the 15th and the last day of the month. While most schools will pay you via direct credit into your bank account, there are some schools that will pay you via cheque which would be a pain because service in Thai banks can be slow!
If you are part-time and / or don't have a work permit, you might be paid by cheque or by cash. It might be an idea to keep the money out of a bank account lest the authorities catch up with you!
At some schools, part-time may staff get paid in arrears, as late as the 12th of the month following the month in which they worked. Full time positions tend to be salary based with part-time positions paying an hourly rate.
Thailand is not the country to choose if you want to get rich. If your heart is set on teaching in Asia, but money is also important to you, consider Japan, Taiwan or South Korea.
Remuneration varies wildly. I have heard stories of some people earning over 200,000 baht a month at international Schools (never met someone earning this much myself though) while others starting out at some of the chain language schools might earn less than 25,000 baht a month after they have paid tax. It should be noted that these high paying jobs at international schools don't usually involve English teaching but rather other subjects such as science or maths and the average salary at such schools is probably a bit under 100K a month as opposed to the aforementioned 200K. Further, recruitment is usually from overseas, and is often dependent on the curriculum used by that school so if the school uses the British curriculum they'll recruit from England, American curriculum they'll recruit from the USA etc. The highest salaries that I have heard of for those teaching strictly English only is a bit over 100,000 baht per month. Still, I know a few people whop earn 60K+ a month teaching English and then make it up to over 100K with private tuition or weekend work.
If you are an unqualified teacher with little or no experience earning 25K+ a month then you're doing ok. Please, please, please do NOT accept anything less than 25,000 baht month. That really is too little! As an experienced and qualified teacher, you should be earning over 35,000 baht a month - if you're offered anything less, go elsewhere. The highest confirmed salaries that I am aware of are in high schools, international schools and within language schools, at The British Council.
In my experience, observations of and conversations with other teachers in Thailand, I believe that you need minimum 30,000 baht a month to be comfortable, AFTER you have paid your rent and associated accommodation expenses. People earning less than this don't seem to survive that long and / or complain about never having enough money. You can EASILY live on much less than this - there was one month when I only spent 6,000 baht in the entire month aside from my rent - but you have to make a LOT of compromises! This 30,000 is the magic figure most people find they need when they first come to Bangkok. Personal interests, miscellaneous spending habits, financial commitments back home, health problems, vices and the biggy, unexpected expenses, may or may not increase this figure. It has to be said that while Thailand, even Bangkok, used to be very cheap, there is so much to do and so much to spend your money on that you go through it fairly fast. I mean, you can pay close to 150 baht for a fancy coffee in some places - and I am not talking about a venue with they mix alcohol into your drink - you could easily double the 150 baht for an Irish coffee!
Some schools have the audacity to deduct an amount from your pay packet each month for the first few months as "security money". Once you have stayed for the specified period of time (often until the end of your contract), the money will be paid to you. The idea is that by withholding this money from you, you are less likely to do a runner and leave them in the lurch without a teacher. If you are a qualified teacher or if the school appears to be desperate, simply refuse to allow them to take this security money. Some schools will bow to your demands if they really need you.
Tax is very low in Thailand, at least if you are on a modest salary, as teachers are. With deductions, the first 250,000 baht earned per year is tax free and the next 250,000 baht is taxed at 10%. Every baht from 500,000 - 1,000,000 is taxed at 20%. If you earn 1 million baht you would effectively pay 12.5% on that amount.
A pet hate of mine is the term overtime as used at some schools. Most schools will pay you overtime for hours worked over and above your contracted number of hours. The problem is that many of the schools only pay the same hourly rate as your standard pay or in a few extreme cases, even have the audacity to pay less! While I am certainly not left wing, I do believe that people deserve to be remunerated for their work and in my opinion, the overtime rate should be a fair bit higher than the standard hourly rate but unfortunately in Bangkok, this is usually not the case.
There is a lot of BS floating around about what people earn. Teachers at low-end language schools on a full time contract earn 20,000 - 30,000 baht a month. Teachers at better language schools can earn over 60,000 baht a month. Full-time teachers in Thai high schools at the lower end might earn around 30,000 - 35,000 baht a month whereas better school play 60K baht. As far as part-timers go, rates vary from 250 baht per hour at the low end, up to 1,000 baht an hour for business English or corporate gigs. Occasionally you hear of people earning 1,500 baht an hour. It sounds decent, but when you factor in preparation and travel times it still not really that great!
Remuneration for outside contracts should be a lot higher than for inside contracts and in my opinion anything less than 500 baht is unacceptable. You should also negotiate for a transport allowance if they don't give it to you. Given that many schools charge anywhere from 800 to 3,000 baht or so per hour to the company, there is no reason why you shouldn't get a bigger chunk of this! For outside contracts, the companies themselves have high expectations and this is one of the reasons that they are prepared to pay a pretty penny.
There has been a definite upward movement in salaries in Bangkok over the past few years though sadly, it seems that the spread of wages is just like the chedi in the picture on the left - very little at the top and lots at the bottom. I can remember when schools like Siam Computer were starting teachers on a mere 20,000 a month, which wasn't really negotiable, but this particular school has advertised contracts paying up to 30,000 a month. Positions paying more than 30,000 baht a month in private language schools used to be rare but now there are more and more. There seems to be two different sets of forces influencing salaries at the moment. The first is the new, largely inexperienced / unqualified teacher who comes to Bangkok and is happy just to secure a job. This person will usually take whatever is offered and this person has the undesirable effect of keeping the salaries low. Basically, they just want to get a job and that is it - they will worry about finding a better position a little later once they have settled. The second is the experienced / qualified teacher who has been in Bangkok a while. This type of person is actually not that common here (though this group is growing). They usually work at one of the better schools and after a couple of years they may start to get a little agitated that the inexperienced, unqualified teacher is earning almost the same as them. Noises are made and they may get a pay increase or they will move on to a better school. Well, a lot of these folks are now in good schools, earning 30K upwards and I both notice and hear that more and more of the private language schools are prepared to pay to this sort of money to keep their experienced staff. The better private language schools in Bangkok often have a hell of a time recruiting teachers because quite simply, there is a shortage of decent teachers here. In the late '90s I predicted that the divide in salaries between the decent and not so decent schools would widen - and that is exactly what has happened. Now, in 2007, you can find a full-time teaching position in Bangkok earning 25,000 baht a month, and other positions, with similar working conditions, offering three times that.
How negotiable is a contract rate or an hourly wage in Bangkok? Well, it really depends on the individual but I would suggest that it is VERY negotiable *if* you are qualified, experienced, young and perhaps most importantly, well presented. Don't underestimate the importance of presentation to Thais! At the end of the day, some of the language schools are doing very well and they will move if you push hard enough - but it really helps if you have the four magic ingredients mentioned. Timing also comes into it. The negotiation process in Thailand is a little different to that in the West so don't push too hard or you will get no way - joke, have fun and you might just get what you want - figure on getting 10 - 25% more than you are initially offered *if* you fulfil the above criteria AND you are interviewed by a Thai. Foreign bosses, in my experience, tend to be far more difficult to negotiate with - and at times seem to almost take the negotiation personally. As a new recruit to Thailand or as an inexperienced or unqualified teacher, forget it. Also, some of the bigger, better schools offer contracts which are less negotiable but that isn't such a problem as their rates of pay are usually fair to begin with. In my experience, external contracts are the most negotiable of the lot.
If you work your way up the chain, you may well end up in a head teacher or DOS position. The responsibilities of these positions vary from organisation to organisation as does the pay. I have heard of head teachers at one crappy school getting less than 30,000 baht a month - what a joke. Then again, I have heard of one other fellow getting 70K a month. I won't stick my head out and say that 30 - 70K is the range, but it's probably not too far away. If you are a genuine DOS and not just a glorified head teacher, you'd really want to be pulling in at least 50K to make it worth your while.
Some schools offer different salaries / packages for local hires and those hired from abroad. The teachers recruited from abroad may get a better salary and in many cases they will get their return airfare paid for. This is more predominant in the international schools than in any other sector of the industry.
* Just FYI, Thai teachers get paid much less than Westerners. At Union Language School, a Thai language school for foreigners wanting to learn Thai, the teachers get about 12,000 baht a month for less than 80 hours contact (= 150 baht an hour). I know of some Thai teachers working at a Catholic school earning 10,000 baht a month for about 50 teaching hours a month (= 200 baht an hour for hours taught but they have all sorts of other nonsense duties that they have to perform). At a branch of a major chain of language schools, there was a Thai national whose job it was to teach grammar only using Thai as the medium of instruction and she was earning 200 baht an hour. At a high school, Thai teachers start on around 6,500 baht a month and when they are at retirement age, their salary has reached about 30,000 baht per month. The one benefit from working in a high school all their life is that they will retire on a government pension which is about 80% of what they were earning before retirement, and which is adjusted for inflation.
A bit of a reality check about wages with some examples cited. These are all the actual rates of pay paid at real schools in Bangkok right now!
School #1 pays teachers 33,000 baht per month and requires teachers to teach 88 hours per month which equals an hourly rate for hours taught of 375 baht per hour. However, teachers are required to be at school for 5 days a week, 8 hours a day equals about 170 hours per month. With this in mind, the actual hourly rate for work at this school equals 194 baht which is less than $US 5 per hour - and that is before tax! Honestly, who wants to work for $US 5 per hour? Robbery, in my mind.
School # 2 pays teachers around 25,000 baht per month, some more and others less but this is about the average and the mean. For this, teachers are expected to teach 36 hours per week contact which equals about 150 per month. This works out at about 166 baht per hour BUT you are required to be there for 48 hours per week, equals about 200 hours per month, meaning an hourly rate of about 125 baht per hour equals a little over $US 3 per hour. Who are they kidding? If the previous example was robbery, God only knows what this is?
School # 3 is a school that mainly does outside work. They seem to pay most teachers a good hourly rate of about 600 baht per hour. There is no requirement to be on the premises except for when you are teaching, which is actually outside on the client's premises. Classes average about two hours per class and as different material is used for each course, prep time is relatively high - estimated by me at one hour of prep for every two hours taught. Then, there is transportation time, which, being particularly optimistic is at least half an hour in each direction. That means that for a two hour class paying a total of 1200 baht, four hours of time are expended. This means a return of 300 baht, or $US 7.50 per hour, better than the other schools, but still not great - in fact, it's still too low!
Now one could argue that $US are not relevant in Thailand as the currency of the country is the baht and you'd be right - that is a valid point. However, what this does do is prove how low the remuneration offered by schools in Bangkok is, even the better schools! I must make the following comments, however:
Why do schools in Cambodia and Vietnam, neighbouring countries for the geographically challenged, regularly offer hourly rates of $US 12+, sometimes up to $US 20 per hour? These two countries are far poorer than Thailand but yet offer teachers a wage that is commensurate with the position. I have never seen a job advertised in either of these countries offering less than $US 10 per hour. I will not make comparisons with Japan, Taiwan or Korea as these countries are all sufficiently richer than Thailand so as to make comparisons invalid, suffice to say that wages are WAY higher in those countries.
Some of us paid a lot for our education back home and we *need* a reasonable salary to help us pay off our student loans and frankly some of the above mentioned rates just don't cut it. Further, I don't know about you but when I leave Thailand, I don't want to end up in another country penniless - I want to have had the opportunity to put away some money. This is something we all have to consider, not becoming someone who gets stuck in Thailand because a return to the West would simply be too expensive.
One also needs to think of their future in Thailand. Many teachers make the decision at some point to stay on in Thailand indefinitely, and why not, there are a lot of advantages to life in Thailand compared to the West. But as cheap as many things are in Thailand, a teaching salary will only go so far. If you think of the life of someone in say their mid '30s in the West, odds are they drive a reasonable car, live in their own place and long since left the rent game, and have it full with all of the latest mod cons. That is pretty much life in the West, is it not? Sure, the bank might be the real owner of the house, and there might be a few payments left on the car but that is where moist people find themselves in their mid '30s. Trying to have this sort of lifestyle in Thailand on a teacher's salary would not be the easiest thing to do. Let's say an average salary of around 34,000 baht a month which after tax would be a lot closer to 30,000 baht. It is hard to see someone buying an ok place of abode, a car, filling the house with reasonable furniture and appliances and then having enough left over for a pleasant lifestyle. This would be a big ask, it is doable but corners would have to be cut.
As you will find out when you get here, too many language schools in Thailand are run like a business, make as much money as possible and not worry too much about the service that is offered. As qualified, skilled professionals, we can offer a lot to whatever jobs we undertake and am sure that most people reading this are the same. I quite simply refuse to work for less than $US 10 per hour. If you want teachers, pay a reasonable rate, otherwise pay peanuts and you will get monkeys.
Finally, it must be said that in Bangkok there is little correlation between the ability of a teacher and the amount of money that they earn. This is obviously a major disincentive though it is hardly a Thailand-only problem. I have heard this same complaint from those who taught English in other countries - and not just in Asia.
What is the dress code for teachers?
It's a sad indictment of the teaching profession that you can spot foreign teachers in your travels around Bangkok. What stands out to me is a dreadful necktie (Pratunam Market 50 baht!) or shoes that either really do not go with a shirt and tie or have never been polished and look like the cat shat on them. Un-ironed shirts are another big give away. Of course this is generalising but I guarantee that after you have been working in Bangkok for a while that you will know who is a teacher and who isn't! Funnily enough, and I know it sounds daft, there seems to be a correlation between the presentation of teachers and the quality of the schools that they work in - the best dressed guys really do seem to get the best positions.
Standards of dress vary from school to school but for men, it usually means trousers, a shirt and tie - I don't know of any schools where male teachers can get away without wearing a tie. For females, the standards seem to be a bit more flexible though anything too revealing is obviously discouraged and there seems to be a bit of a thing for "closed toe" footwear. Thais are fussy about presentation to the point of being pedantic and a poorly presented teacher is a problem. One excellent teacher that I know occasionally came in to work wearing his father's less than fashionable shoes and they clashed with his otherwise immaculate presentation. This was not lost on the students who pointed it out to him! A teacher with poor presentation will not win the students' respect quickly. Even a badly ironed shirt or a mark on one's clothes looks bad to Thai students who place much importance on presentation.
What's the deal with end of contract bonuses?
Some contracts may have an end of contract bonus, but they're not really that common. It can be difficult to save money in Bangkok and not just because the salaries aren't that high. Even if you are earning a decent income, there are so many entertainment opportunities available, so many places to go shopping and so many places to visit that many people tend to live month to month while others can even struggle to make ends meet. You can look at an end of contract bonus as a compulsory savings scheme as it may give you enough to get you a plane ticket home or enough for a short holiday in the region at the end of your contract.
The problem with bonuses at Bangkok language schools is that they are not really a bonus. Too many of the schools pay a meagre salary and have the gall to term this end of contract pay out a bonus. I believe a bonus is when you earn a fair salary and then get something over and a above that at the end of the contract. "Bonuses" tend to be paid by some of the lower end schools. Decent schools just pay a decent salary right away and shirk the practice of BS'ing you about this so called bonus.
It is not uncommon for teachers to make that call home to their parents requesting some money to bail them out. Those with money may find themselves making regular withdrawals from their funds at home. Needless to say, you should try and avoid either of these situations if you can.
It would be fair to say that fewer and fewer schools offer bonuses these days.
Am I prepared to work six days a week?
The six day working week is the bane of English teaching in Bangkok. A lot of the jobs in Bangkok require you to work a six day week. Personally, I think it is the worst thing about the teaching industry in Thailand and I would say to think very carefully before taking on a job that requires six days a week. Many schools specify in their contract that full time teachers must work six days per week. Tell them where to go! Unless you really love your job, working six days a week will get to you after a while and will wear you down and subsequently piss you off - it'll quite simply prevent you from having much of a social life! And with the jobs not paying you enough to forego a social life, hmmm, why bother working?
If you are like most people, you are coming to Thailand for the lifestyle - not because you specifically want to work here, and certainly not for the money. Working six hours a day can be a real downer. Also, be wary of split shifts where you may have a morning class and then another class later afternoon or early evening - another good way to ruin your day. Unfortunately, the nature of private language schools is that this is often the case. However, with a little careful planning by sitting down with the DOS and other teachers, split shifts can often be eliminated. It's well worth asking about the requirement to do split shifts at the initial interview. Personally, I refused to do them and lucky me, I never got stuck with them. Whenever the DOS asked me if I'd do a night class on a day when I already had a morning class, I simply said no. End of story! With Bangkok transport being as bad as it is, this could mean that you are stuck at or around work most of the day! Stand up for yourself in Bangkok - it goes a long way!
What courses am I happy and / or able to teach?
Different schools offer different courses. The bigger language school chains such as ECC, Siam Computer and AUA tend to offer general English courses whereas some of the better, smaller language schools offer both general English courses along with test preparation courses such as TOEFL, IELTS etc. There are many, many different series of English language course books and it seems that every series of course book is offered by a school, somewhere in Bangkok. My personal favourite is International Express by Oxford University Press which is sort of a cross between a general English and a business English course. The course books are fantastic with lots of really good stuff! Further, the teachers book isn't too bad either. Another good series, or at least one that I enjoy, is Reward, as used by several schools and True To Life which is becoming more popular. Some schools have developed their own courses too. The important thing with course books more than anything is that the course book is suitable for the students and their needs so that as an example, students who want to (and are at the right level) to study business English study a course using such a course book. Using a book designed for general English will develop other skills, but not necessarily cover the all important lexical sets of Business English vocabulary.
Teaching English isn't just a case of teaching general, everyday English skills - reading, writing, listening and speaking. Schools often offer a wide range of courses such as General English, Academic English, English for Special Purposes, TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, GMAT, GRE, Business English etc. Some of these courses require a completely different approach to that used when teaching general English. Some of these courses are grammar based, others are largely exam preparation and some may require specialist knowledge. If you are an unqualified and / or inexperienced teacher, some of these courses would be difficult to teach effectively. If you can't teach it well, you probably won't enjoy it and besides, you owe it to your students to do a good job. A quick note about different courses: Even if you have a CELTA or equivalent, many of these teachers training courses really only prepare you for teaching general English to adults. If you want to teach any other courses, such as TOEFL, IELTS or GMAT, or teach children, you may find that you need to sit down with an experienced teacher and discuss some ideas and strategies.
Students taking IELTS, TOEFL, GMAT, GRE or TOEIC courses should be doing so because they need to achieve a certain score to gain entry into an educational institute overseas. These students tend to be more motivated and therefore more demanding. Failure to achieve a certain score could prevent them from gaining entry into the institute of their course. To teach such a course, you need to be on your toes and VERY familiar with the material. Such courses tend to be offered at the better language schools.
Always attempt to find out at the interview, or even earlier, what courses the school offers, what course books are used and what courses you would be expected to teach. This really is important! I.e. if you have an RSA, you are prepared for and presumably want to teach adults - but more jobs than not in Bangkok are for babysitting, oops, I mean teaching kids which is not what you want!
What are these external contracts that many companies advertise?
As companies and organisations in Thailand look at ways of improving their staff's English, they often outsource training to a language school that provides teachers who do corporate work. The language school is contracted to provide a teacher, a course, and full materials, usually on-site at the offices of the company itself, but sometimes in a classroom on the premises of the language school. This was a big growth area in the English language teaching industry in Bangkok in the late '90s but this sector of the industry was badly damaged by cowboy schools sending mediocre teachers along who were inadequately prepared or who did not have a course tailored to the company's needs. These days, the training manager at many large Thai companies dreads the phone call from the marketing people at a language school who want to sell him a course - because he has been told by all of his friends about the bad job that a cowboy did at their company.
Most of the big language schools, the likes of ECC, Siam Computer and Language etc, are happy to provide teachers for outside contracts and there are also some schools who only do this type of work, and work much the same as an agency in that they do not have their own teaching premises as such, but place teachers in courses taught on the customer's premises.
Basically, what a school providing such courses *should* do is go into the company where they are going to bid for the contract and spend some time finding out about the specific English language needs of the staff in that company. A tailored course should then be designed for that company which addresses their specific needs. There is no need to teach the staff material that is of no use to them, apart from perhaps a basic refresher course, or basic English lessons for those whose English is poor. However, too many companies just go on in and offer a course at a ridiculously low price and then get any old person to teach the course using some everyday course book. This is obviously totally unsatisfactory and schools and agencies taking this approach damaged the industry to the point that a lot of companies have been burned and now won't give any language school the time of day.
If you get involved in this type of external work, you may find yourself teaching on the premises of some really, big, successful company and you ABSOLUTELY NEED to be well presented! Remember, teachers are respected in Thai society and judgment is often made about the way a person looks - good presentation is very important in Thai society. You should not only meet the requirements of a short and tie (assuming you're a guy), but they should be new, fashionable and frankly, you should look the part. You should have a confident demeanour and dressing the part, as well as being well groomed, is a big part of this. I have always felt that people with business experience who have gotten into teaching tend to be the best people for this type of work.
External contracts usually offer a superior rate of pay to in-house work and I would question any teacher taking on such a contract for anything less than 800 baht an hour. Really, that should be the absolute minimum. (Personally, I'd push for more like 1,000 - 1,200 baht an hour.) Remember, Bangkok is Gridlock City so you need to carefully consider where you will actually be teaching and how long the travelling will take. Not every company's premises are right next to the skytrain or the underground! You might also find yourself with a number of contracts of this type, meaning you have to travel around the city from the premises of one company to the next. If you have to go to more than one company in a day, travel could become very time consuming.
Language schools and institutes specialising in "outside courses" sell courses to companies at anywhere between 800 - 3,000 baht per hour of tuition so there is plenty of fat built in to the price. In addition to a fat hourly rate, I would ask for a minimum of 200 baht per day transport allowance. If you have to travel to more than one location, I would insist on 200 baht per location. The better schools will pay this if you are a good teacher.
This type of work can be very much hit and miss but I personally found it to be very rewarding. So much depends on the course that you are teaching and the appropriateness and suitability of the course and the course material to the students and their needs. Also, generally speaking, the students can be a lot of fun - they've got time off work to study so they want to enjoy it! And the fact that they are learning English for free is also appreciated because they can actually see the tangible benefits in it for them.
If at all possible, try and get this type of work scheduled in the morning. Students are fresh and the brain is working better. Courses run towards the end of the business day or worse still, in the evening, can be a bit of a nightmare as student after student is continually looking at their watch, their mind already at home, but their body stuck in your classroom.
One thing with this type of contract that you want to be very clear on is the lines of responsibility. Are you required to report to your boss back at the language school / institute / agency or do you report to someone within the organisation where you are teaching? If things go bad or the students are not happy about something, everything can get kind of messy. Before accepting such a contract, find out exactly what is required of you. Many teachers complained in the past that their employer told them one thing but told another thing to the client who then had certain expectations of the teacher that were never fulfilled. You often find that the company / organisation wants a test at the end of the course and sometimes they even want a written report on each student's progress, things which I would question as surely the whole idea of the course is training and language improvement?
In my experience, these types of contracts can go bad when inexperienced teachers are put into a company where the students often know more about English than the damned teacher! So, if you are doing this type of work, you absolutely must know your stuff!
What about getting a position teaching inside a Thai company?
Some Thai companies, particularly the locally based branches of multinational companies and hotels, may take on an in-house English teacher whose role it is to design course material and conduct courses specifically for the people in that organisation. This type of position usually requires a teacher with a lot of experience as it is typically a self-charge position. You are the only teacher there and you do not have anyone else to turn to. Often, there will be few or even no resources available to you although any decent organisation will provide you with a small budget to put together the necessary resources.
This type of role can be very much hit and miss. You can end up being isolated within the company as you are a one man department with no-one else there doing anything even remotely similar to you! Also, the role may change with you asked to do some editing and proof-reading of outward correspondence, checking company literature in English, including brochures, sales material, and even documents as important as the annual report! Ideal candidates for a position like this will be something of an all rounder. Salaries seem to be a bit hit and miss and the salary range for this type of position ranges from a paltry 30,000 up to a very reasonable 90,000 baht per month, the highest figure I have heard for this type of work.
Some companies that have permanent in-house English teachers include many of the big hotels and others involved in the tourism industry like Thai Airways. These types of positions do not seem to be advertised that often and when they are, an avalanche of applications is received. I remember when Thai Airways advertised back in late 1999 and they reportedly received 500+ applications for the position! Experience in the industry of the company seeking to employ would be a big advantage. Remember that the person interviewing you for this type of position will not necessarily be an expert at teaching so don't harp on about your teaching qualification too much as it quite possibly means diddly squat to them!
I just want a very temporary assignment to finance my travels - is that possible??
There has been a big increase in the number of temporary and short term positions offered in the teaching industry in Thailand recently. The two biggest growth areas seem to be teaching in the corporate sector, within the offices of Thai businesses and summer camps. However, this has been somewhat offset by the number of companies that now insist on their teachers being employed legally, with the proper work permit and documentation required.
Summer camps usually run from mid March through to mid May, the school summer holiday period, and run for around a week or so. These are ideally suited for people who want a little bit of money to sustain their travels. Sometimes a school will run a handful of week long summer camps back to back and you will repeat the camp each week. Some schools may run camps up to three weeks long. If you like kids and do not object to a dawn to dusk schedule, then these can be a lot of fun. However, if you believe that you should be remunerated for every hour worked and shouldn't be teaching any more than 25 hours per week, then you would quickly get fed up quickly. This type of thing is best suited for really outgoing folk who love kids. Often there is not a lot of classroom style teaching but rather a schedule of activities with English as the medium of instruction. I question the merits of this type of thing to improve one's language ability, but imagine it would be a lot of fun. Plenty of language schools are getting into these as it provides good income. Further, with this type of contract, age is fairly open so even someone who has just turned 20 would not find their relatively young age a barrier.
Corporate sector contracts may also be very short term and suitable for teachers wanting to finance a holiday. However, most language schools are picky with regard to presentation of the folks that they send on such contracts as quality presentation is demanded by their customers. Further, extremely young applicants may not be suitable for this type of work as the customer may question their experience and therefore suitability for the job.
Lastly, a little bit of luck comes into it. Some language school may be short a teacher or two at a busy time and may be happy to take you on as a filler for a month or two while they search to recruit someone more permanent. All in all, short term contracts are available.
Just remember that with positions like this, work permits are generally not included as part of the package. Odds are one would not have a problem working without a work permit but it could mean visa runs are necessary.
How many holidays do I get per year?
There are huge variances in the number of holidays offered by different schools. As far as language schools go, the best I have heard of is ELT who at one time (perhaps still do) offer a very reasonable four weeks holiday per year in addition to the 15 or so Thai national holidays. But the average language school will offer you 10 - 15 days off per year, in addition to the Thai holidays. The Thai staff will get 6 - 10 days per year, in addition to the statutory days.
If you find yourself at a Thai high school and are directly employed by them, and not through a language school which has been contracted to supply teachers, you may get as many as fourteen weeks off per year fully paid! This is obviously a dream situation. The 14 weeks would comprise about ten weeks over the holiday period from early March until mid May, and then another four weeks in October. Such contracts seem to be getting rarer and rarer as many schools are now offering 11 or even 10 month contracts so that they do not have to pay the foreign teachers for the long period of time off.
University teachers / lecturers usually also get many weeks holiday per year.
Some schools will not give you any time off until you have completed one year of service with them while others will. Many people come to Thailand to base themselves here because they want to travel around the region. If this is the case, you may want to try and seek employment at a school that offers a decent amount of holidays. Some schools do offer you holidays but you must take them when the school closes down for brief periods such as New Year and Songkran (April).
A good percentage of the foreign teachers in Thailand are teaching because they want to live in Thailand, and NOT because they choose this location as the place where they want to work. Many of these teachers are only here for so long and want to see as much of the country as possible. With frequent visa runs and the wealth of places to visit, explore and relax at, the reality is that many teachers just take holidays when they please often giving their boss little notice. Further, it seems that just about every teacher in Thailand has friends visiting from broad at some time and that usually warrants even more time off! Some of the things that some teachers get away with here with regard to holidays is unbelievable and you would be down the road real fast if you did this in the west. However, this is Thailand so if you want time off for whatever reason, you can usually get it. (Thai staff are notorious for taking time off as they please - the usual reason being that they or a member of their family is ill, which may or may not be true, is seldom questioned.)
AUA has a six weeks on, one week off system which would suit some people who want a good amount of time off - but don't mind every 7th week being without pay.
Are there any fringe benefits working as an English teacher?
There are some mighty good fringe benefits associated with being an English teacher in Thailand. First of all, in Thai society, teachers are looked up to and in most cases when introduced to someone as an English teacher, you will get INSTANT admiration and respect. The level of respect depends on a huge number of factors ranging from the way you are presented and the way that you carry yourself to the school that you work at. Someone working at a prestigious university such as Chulalongkorn or Thammasat will get even more respect and an ID badge from such a school carries real weight and if you were to say get pulled over by the police for example, showing them such a badge would in the case of anything minor see you on your way without any further problems.
The majority of English teachers are men, the majority of English language students at universities and language schools are girls. 1+1 most definitely equals 2 here. Relationships do blossom between teachers and students and while as a teacher one must manage this very carefully, romantic liaisons do occur. One needs to be aware that many schools most definitely disapprove of this and it could result in you getting your marching orders. In language institutes, I guess this is semi ok but in a high school situation, one must remove any silly ideas of entering into a relationship with what is likely an impressionably young lady.
Some schools take training seriously and may even organise training sessions and seminars in resorts, with everything paid for. At least one major language institute used to send all of their teachers down to Pattaya for training sessions, put them up in a decent hotel and provide damned good food too! It would be funny wandering around Pattaya in the evening (Thailand's sex and sand capital if you didn't know!) and watching the teachers to see who wandered out of the regular gogo bars with a new friend and who wandered out of the gay bars...
In Thailand, whenever a company or school has a change of name or opens a new branch, there is usually a big party and Thai companies excel in this area. Often it will be held at one of the big hotels and at last the poorly paid English teacher will get the opportunity to have a decent meal, instead of the cheap street food that most farang teachers tend to live on.
While I do not want to talk about prostitution here, the following piece is important nonetheless. A lot of people end up in Thailand as English teachers, not because they want to be a teacher, but because they want to live in Thailand. And then amongst these numbers, there are a lot of people who are in Thailand because of the girls - read the prostitutes. Now the silly thing here is that teachers are looked up to in Thai society and for a nice Thai girl, snaring a teacher may well be quite something. So, note that as a teacher, you do NOT have to mess around with the working girls at all. There are many other options and it is a real benefit of being a teacher that many girls will be instantly impressed. Just writing your email address on the board when you meet a new class will likely get you invitations to go out with your students - and great opportunities to meet their friends. In the interests of professionalism, try and avoid dating your students.
Do I want to work part-time or full-time?
There are numerous advantages to working either part-time or full-time and you obviously need to decide which suits your lifestyle best. If you are full-time, you will most likely have a guaranteed salary each month - whether you work the specified number of contact hours or not, you will receive X baht. You will most likely get a work permit and there may be other benefits such as medical insurance. You will also get paid for public holidays when the school is closed! The disadvantages are that you may be required to go into work each day whether or not you are scheduled to teach and you will get less choice when it comes to courses that you are required to teach. As a contracted teacher, you MUST teach the courses that you are told to teach - you can try and work things out with your boss but ultimately, you cannot refuse.
As a part-timer, the major advantages are that you can choose when you want to work and what courses you want to teach* e.g. you may select not to teach children. You aren't required to go into the school if you are not teaching on any particular day. The major disadvantages are that you have no guaranteed income - and this may be a biggy. Schools may make all sorts of promises about the number of hours they will give you but don't expect what they say to always correspond with what happens! You will not get paid for public holidays and there are a stack of them! Basically, if you want/need to earn a certain amount of money each month, then working part-time isn't really appropriate. However, if you want a flexible schedule and / or have money / another source of income and teaching isn't your first priority, then part-time is probably best for you. While as a part-timer, it is true that you ultimately decide whether you want to teach a course or not, don't muck your employer around too much. If you do get too choosy, they might simply overlook you and gradually phase you out. There has got to be a bit of give and take.
If you do decide to be part-time, try and strike up some sort of gentleman's agreement between you and your boss so that you have a minimum number of hours each month. If the number dips below this, have a word with your boss. If they subsequently increase your hours then everything is ok. However, if they don't, politely but firmly let them know that that is not what was agreed to and that if they expect your loyalty, you also expect theirs.
How many contact teaching hours can I endure each week?
When you're weighing up the terms and conditions of a teaching contract, there are a number of things to consider and one of the main points is the number of contact hours - that is hours in the classroom - you are required to do.
Different schools operate in different ways and as such there is no standard number of teaching hours. They vary greatly by the type of place you're teaching at. Every teaching contract should clearly state the maximum number of contact hours per week.
It is generally accepted that any more than 25 contact hours a week is too much. I personally think that any more than 20 can be tough. Remember that in addition to teaching, you have to prepare the lesson, prepare any resources you're going to use and put together or create activities. Unless you are very familiar with not just the course book or material you're using, as well as the language point or skill you're teaching, you may need to spend time going over the material you are going to teach to make sure you are familiar with it. You need to prepare resources to use, such as worksheets, or other items which you may use in the classroom. You may also be required to write reports about the students, check or mark homework and then there might be certain ceremonial obligations and other outside the classroom aspects to the job. 25 contact hours contact might not sounds much, but that should be the absolute maximum! Fortunately for 7 years of my teaching career we had a maximum of 17 periods per week, which was quite manageable.
Some schools may require to teach up to 36 contact hours a week while others may only require 10 hours a week - yeah, the difference can be that great!
From time to time I have heard of teachers who worked as many hours as they could to maximize their income, with some doing in excess of 40 contact hours per week, which I just cannot comprehend. This truly is madness and few people can cope with this sort of workload. No manager in their right mind would allow a teacher to work so many hours. There would be a huge drop in quality after a certain point and fatigue would set in.
In my first teaching gig in Bangkok I was given 36 contact hours a week. I knew it was too much but I stupidly accepted it. I burned out in just 7 weeks - and walked out of the job. I needed a week to recover from that!
Teaching can be draining so don't think that 25 hours is a small number if you have worked a job where you have put in 50 or even 60 hours a week. 25 contact hours can quickly turn into 50+ hours at school.
When you first start teaching, you can find yourself spending more time preparing lessons than actually teaching them which is actually a good sign because you are probably doing what is required to deliver a good lesson. As you become more familiar with teaching, grammar and the different courses and resource books as well as developing a rapport with your students, your time needed to prepare lessons will decrease. If you don't spend much time preparing lesson plans when you first start teaching, you may not be doing enough to deliver an effective and enjoyable lesson.
In language institutes it is all about the teaching and making sure the (paying) students are happy. Language institutes are businesses, remember! That's not to say that the students' learning is not important too! In high schools and to a lesser extent, in universities, teachers have other duties, outside the classroom, which increases workload.
Do I want to teach children, adults or both?
To teach, children, adults or both? Some people have a definite preference as to the age group they want to teach. Try and identify which age groups you would prefer to teach and apply for jobs accordingly. If you are genuinely happy teaching either, a job which has a mixture of lessons to kids and lessons to adults will give you a nice variety. Generally speaking, you should not have a class with both kids and adults in the same classroom as the teaching approach and techniques used are quite different for each. Lessons for kids should be shorter and have more activities than for adults, and the books used should be different.
The CELTA certificate, which in my opinion is a VERY useful step on the way to becoming a good teacher, does NOT specifically prepare you for teaching children. Although much of it can be applied to kids, this course primarily prepares you for teaching adults. Teaching kids requires a slightly different approach and lessons need to be quite snappy as Thai kids seem to have an even shorter attention span than Western kids. Some of the teacher training courses in Thailand train you and prepare you for teaching children, something which is very useful because a lot of the teaching positions offered in Thailand now are for kids.
Unfortunately, many Bangkok language schools insist on having kids in three hour classes at the weekend (too long in my opinion) or even putting kids in 3 hour classes with adults and using an adult's book - even worse! If you strike these sorts of problems at your school, don't be shy to have a word with the DOS about the placement of students. That said, don't expect them to do much about it because such decisions are generally financially driven and if there is come thing I would say about language schools - profitability is way more important than providing quality education. Such problems are quite frankly a nightmare and will make your job as a teacher unreasonably difficult. I once had a cracker of a lesson (True To Life Elementary) where the topic of a unit was based around the workplace and equipment in an office and a businessperson's diary. The lesson turned out to be bit of an abortion because a couple of the kids in an otherwise adult class just couldn't relate to it.
If you are teaching kids, anything more than a 1 1/2 hour lesson can be a bit much for the kids - and draining for you. Language schools that schedule three hour lessons for young kids are downright irresponsible in my opinion, though the sad fact of the matter is that most schools seem to do this. It is easy money and most language schools are full of kids doing 3 hour lessons on Saturdays and Sundays. I could not imagine that - what a nightmare!
If hired to work in a language school, you should ask if there is any one-to-one tuition required in your job. Some teachers enjoy one-to-one while others don't. It can be draining as it tends to be more teacher-centred meaning that there is a lot more involvement on the part of the teacher. Thai students typically do not try hard so while you may be there, trying to get them to talk or use the language, they might just sit there and grin, as is so often the case. Other students may be more demanding - and they should - as a premium is charged for one-to-one and the student rightly wants to see results quickly. (Language schools charge anywhere from 500 - 1,500 an hour for private one-on-one tuition with a native speaking teacher.) This type of teaching can be very rewarding if you see the student making progress. In one-on-one teaching, you do tend to "wing" it to an extent so comprehensive lesson plans aren't as rigid - you should concentrate on, and address the student's weaknesses and needs.
How far am I prepared to travel in the Bangkok traffic to and from work each day?
As with any job in Bangkok, you should get a job first and then find a place to live that is not too far away from where you work - it's just crazy to do it the other way around. While traffic in Bangkok is as bad as you have heard, there are ways around it by using some of the faster modes of transport such as the skytrain, the underground train, the canal boats and possibly even the motorbike taxis. However, a teacher earning 30,000 baht a month will likely not want to use the more expensive forms of transport too often as it could end up costing quite a chunk of their salary. e.g. A 20 baht motorcycle ride to the nearest skytrain followed by a 30 baht skytrain fare to and from work each day would be 2,000 baht a month (assuming 20 days worked) and that is a chunk from one's salary. It really is best to have accommodation as close to work as possible.
There are a number of language schools in the Siam Square area though accommodation in the immediate area is sparse, and relatively expensive. Living anywhere within walking distance of the skytrain or the underground will give you options although this is not as easy as it used to be. Bangkok apartment vacancy rates have fallen from 35% in the late '90s to less than 5% in 2007, and EVERYONE wants to find a clean, modern, affordable place close to the skytrain or the underground!
For full details about accommodation in Bangkok, check out Living and Working in Bangkok.
Do I want to work in a big school or a small school / branch?
This is really a personal decision - like so many things there is no right or wrong answer. Some people like the idea of working in a small school / branch where they are the only farang and they are a bit of a novelty. Others like a bigger school where there are greater opportunities to socialise and make new friends. If you want to work at a big school that has lots of teachers and opportunities to meet new people and make new friends, AUA's main branch on Rajadamri Road would be hard to beat (although AUA doesn't pay much). Also, ECC's Siam Square branch is pretty big too with a lot of teachers there as well. These would be great places for someone new to Thailand as you would have a great pool of people to meet.
From my experience, teacher's staff rooms tend to be a bit gossipy and there tends to be a lot of back stabbing going on - they're not always the nicest, friendliest places in the world. You've got people of different ages from different backgrounds and different countries, career teachers and those masquerading as teachers with false credentials. It is a recipe for conflict! And with so many people chatting away, I simply find it hard to get on with my preparation and at one job in the past I found that I had to disappear to a quiet classroom so I could get on with things, undisturbed.
From a social point of view, obviously the more people you work with the better, especially if you are new to the city. If one is working in a Thai high school, the Thai staff are usually very pleasant and helpful, if a little stand-offish, so having a few farang colleagues to hang out with, chat with and generally bounce ideas off is nice. Do note though that it is unusual for Thai members of staff to socialise regularly with farang members of staff. Part of this is because most farang teachers are male, most of the Thai staff are female, and the office staff might find themselves getting an unwanted reputation if they socialise with the farangs, even if it is totally innocent. While a lot of farangs want to meet and make friends with the locals, you might find it a little difficult at first. The Thais will almost certainly be polite and generally very nice in the workplace, but they might be particularly standoffish outside, at least until they know you a little better.
A quit word here about dating Thai female staff at schools. Dating is a big deal in Thailand and a woman's reputation is VERY important to her. If a local woman starts to become known as a slag, the old walking mattress so to speak, then she will be very upset and will almost certainly have to leave the company and the gossip will be too much. So, if you want to get involved with a Thai member of staff, be conscious of just how it will affect her. If you split up with her, she is virtually forced to resign. It doesn't matter if she is a teacher, a receptionist or whatever, it will be a big deal. My recommendation is that you simply do not get involved with the Thai female staff at work.
If you work for a really prestigious or respected school, there can be other benefits. The first is that once the locals know you are an instructor at "Highly Prestigious Location", they will all want to study with you - and they will be prepared to pay big money for the privilege. A friend of mine who worked at a somewhat prestigious school was able to charge 1,000 baht an hour for one-on-one tuition and 1,500 baht an hour for groups, all on the back of the name of the school where he was employed. Truth be told, he was a decent teacher too. In addition to this, once you are entrenched at such a prestigious establishment you will have the opportunity to make some VERY useful contacts. Thailand is a country where who you know really is very important. You will have the chance to meet some influential and powerful people, people who could help you to perhaps get a new position, help you in various aspects of your life (find a new apartment, get things done) or in an extreme situation, help you if you ever get yourself in a spot of bother.
Another friend of mine tells an amusing story of how he went through a red light and was pulled over by a cop. The cop started ripping into him and asked to see some ID. My friend just pulled out his ID card as issued by the prestigious school and the cop saluted him and told him to be on his way!
The bottom line is that if you are going to stay on in Thailand long term and teaching is your game, there are REAL benefits in working at a place respected by Thais. Such places tend to be the best two universities (Chulalongkorn and Thammasat) and the most prestigious high schools.
Do schools / companies provide medical insurance?
Some companies do, some companies don't. It really depends from school to school. The two most common medical insurance policies with English teachers seem to be those from either Blue Cross or AIA. If you are a hypochondriac, get some international medical coverage before you leave home - though it can be hideously expensive. Medical care is very good in Bangkok - at the private hospitals where you must pay. Generally speaking, public hospitals are not quire up to the same standards and Westerners might want to avoid them as you might have to wait a long time for treatment! Bumrungrad Hospital in Sukhumvit Soi 4 is generally regarded as the best hospital in Bangkok but there are many other good ones. My preferred hospital is BNH on Soi Convent.
There are several different medical insurance policies offered. I have seen policies with maximum coverage ranging from 15,000 baht per claim up to 600,000 baht. 15,000 baht won't actually go very far if you are admitted into hospital overnight. 600,000 is more than ample for a long stay. Somewhere in between would be adequate. Looking at the Blue Cross policies, the cost of the policies they offer ranges from something like 3,000 to over 40,000 baht per year, which if you compare it with the West is very cheap - but then comparing things in Bangkok with the West is never really a good idea.
Do I want to teach rich or poor students?
During my time in Bangkok I have been lucky to have worked at some of the better language schools in Bangkok, though it was at times less satisfying than other schools, including one of the bigger, factory-style schools. The students at the better school tended to be from wealthy Thai families with stacks of money who have had everything in life handed to them on a plate. They often just want to come into the class, sit there, do next to nothing and leave being able to speak English fluently! Some of these students took absolutely no responsibility for their own learning. At my previous school, the students were highly motivated from lower-middle class backgrounds and were far more active and participative in the class room. This made the whole teaching experience far more enjoyable and satisfying.
The better (usually more expensive) language schools will tend to attract the richer Thais, unfortunately. One can also get the impression that some language schools, especially Saturday classes, are a baby sitting service. The parents will drop off little Lek or Noi or Daeng at 8:30 and then go off, get some food and do some shopping and be back to pick up their little darling at 12:00.
I have had quite a few wealthy students approach me and ask me to do private tuition with them as it would be cheaper for them to arrange to study with the teacher directly rather than arrange it through the school itself. You should always turn down such offers. By accepting them you would be stealing one of the school's customers and this could result in dismissal! If you are really unlucky, your name may get around as someone who doesn't honour contracts and who steals school's students and other schools may be reluctant to hire you - or you might end up on the list below!
What happens if you're a bad teacher?
It has been said that there is a blacklist doing the rounds of certain schools and on this list are the names of many teachers who have taught in Bangkok and conducted themselves in an unprofessional manner. I am vehemently opposed to such lists as it does not seem to be maintained with any sort of standards, allowing bias or revenge to be the basis of the inclusion of some people's names. Indeed, some of the comments on the list by one person ask the question of just WHY a few people are on there as that person found them to be satisfactory employees. Further, the people on the list do not have any idea that they are there and have no avenue of appeal. With the number of unprofessional people in management / head teacher / DOS positions in this industry in Bangkok, I am worried that this list may become a way to seek revenge on teachers who had one minor indiscretion or worst of all, teachers who did nothing wrong but the DOS didn't like.
I'm not young - what are my chances of getting a job?
Age is generally no barrier to getting a job in Thailand although there does seem to be a minor preference for teachers aged in their '30s. There seems to be a perception that people at this age still look young, but are old enough to know what they are doing - as they must have had a number of years experience teaching already.
Obviously if you are 94 years old and on death's doorstep it may count against you but unlike in the West where once you hit 40, things become a lot tougher, age is not a real barrier in Thailand. Older folks get respect in Thai culture simply because they are older and presumably wiser and with this in mind, age may be in your favour. But on the other hand, some schools simply prefer younger teachers who may be perceived to be more enthusiastic and with more modern ideas. (I heard of one school who received complaints about a teacher being too old when in fact he was only 33 - might have actually been another problem with him that they didn't mention in the usual "Thai tell it the long way round manner".) It really depends on each individual school as some consider personal presentation and energy to be more important. The Thai Labour Department does not discriminate by age when issuing work permits. Bangkok Phil told me that he knew of a work permit issued for someone who is 67, which is well beyond the retirement age.
At the other end of the scale, there doesn't appear to be any minimum age imposed upon teachers. I have met a couple of teachers aged 18 and 19 who had jobs, though admittedly with crappy schools and with all due respect, neither seemed to really know what the hell they were doing. Basically, if you are young, say 21 or less, and want to teach, you can get a job but really, the better schools would prefer someone who had at least completed their tertiary studies. Remember, a lot of your students could be in their mid 20s - maybe even a lot older!
Within the different sectors of the industry, you will find teachers of varying ages. In the Thai high school contracts, you tend to find a younger bunch where the average age of teachers would probably be somewhere in their 20s. Language schools are a little all over the place with a mix of both young and old. Corporate contracts tend to have older teachers as you can hardly have a 21 year old going in to a company's offices and teaching them all of the high powered business vocabulary that you need for negotiating a big deal!
The Thai Government has no access whatsoever to your criminal record or any other such information from your country of birth. Basically, what they don't know, won't hurt them. In life, I have found it best to keep one's trap shut about such things so don't go telling all of your buddies that you are a convicted paedophile because eventually, word will get out.
I have always thought that the best age for teachers is the same as the best age for picking up women - in your '30s. At this point in your life, you still have your looks, but you are also obviously not just straight out of university and still a bit fresh off the boat, so to speak.
Is personal presentation really that important?
In some ways, Thailand could be considered a superficial land where presentation and appearance counts for much more than substance ever does! Thais make split second judgments on people and with farangs, this is based primarily on their appearance (for other Thais, various other aspects come into it like their accent, jewellery, the way they use the language, the colour of their skin etc.) Therefore, a student who saw a teacher, a revered member of society, resplendent in their hiking clothes or their dirty old rugby clothes, would quite possibly be horrified!
At your initial job interview, you really need to put on your very best threads - and I mean your best. This is even more important if the interviewer is Thai but a farang interviewer with a good understanding of life in Thailand should also be looking closely at your presentation.
Unfortunately, this can carry on into other situations outside of the classroom and this is where things get a little out of hand. I used to believe that so long as you do everything at work in a professional manner, then what you do outside is irrelevant. This is not the case in Thailand. If you ever join students for an outing, away from the school, it is fairly important that you dress well - not necessarily your Sunday best, but still neat and tidy. (Forget your favourite 10 year old rugby jersey and those hiking boots!)
On at least a couple of occasions early on in my teaching career, things were said when I went into the office in what can best be described as "scruffy casual". One of these times was to collect my pay packet and the other was to do some preparation for lessons the next day.
All of this is somewhat exacerbated if you are a teacher in a smaller town where you are known as the local English teacher. If you are seen cruising around the town in rags, the parents will simply not send their kids to study with you!
I'm not a native English speaker but would still like to work in Thailand - is it possible for me to get a job?
Rightly or wrongly there are a lot of non-native speaking English teachers teaching in Bangkok. I personally have met Dutch, Swedish, Russian, German, Philippino, Swiss, Norwegian and Danish nationals all teaching English so yes, you can get a job. BUT, the better schools would most likely not offer a position to someone who is not a native speaker - but that isn't to say you can't get a good job.
If you are not a native English speaker, it goes without saying that your English needs to be pretty damned good. From a practical view, you may find that you are better suited to teaching the lower level classes as when you get into higher level classes and / or younger students, it might get bit more difficult to explain the nuances of the language, particularly higher level vocabulary. Remember, the key to teaching is being able to get the message across clearly and effectively and to do this, your English does not necessarily need to be perfect.
My school is asking me to do all sorts of odd things. I know things in Thailand are different to the West but where should I draw the line?
One of the sad things about the industry here in Thailand is that there are a lot of inexperienced folk in head teacher / DOS / managerial positions. Some of these people have got no idea about management and may ask you to do all sorts of odd things, often tasks that they should be doing themselves but are too lazy to do. Further, they may make decisions that impact upon you or fail to resolve problems like your pay arriving late. Deep down, we all know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in the workplace. I am of the opinion that what is acceptable in the West is also acceptable in Thailand and vice versa. If your boss or company does or says anything that you would not accept back in your home country, don't accept it here. If you do there is every chance that in the future they'll just walk all over you.
The problem here is that far too often, good teachers are recruited to be the manager / DOS / whatever. Now, a good teacher doesn't necessarily make a good manager but these bloody language schools can't see that. They'd actually be better off hiring someone who was good at managing - even if they had no experience teaching.
One thing to be very aware of is that some contracts have VERY ambiguous clauses such as "the employee will follow his / her manager's instructions and carry out all instructions as they are required". TOTALLY ambiguous. Do not be afraid to raise the issue of such clauses at your interview but good luck getting them stricken out! However, at the end of the day, whether or not you think something is reasonable or not, failure to do it for any reason will fail to endear you with your employer and may spell the beginning of the end.
It is important however to understand that there are additional duties in your job over and above teaching. Schools - and here I mean the sort of schools where children go to study as opposed to language institutes - will have all sorts of ceremonies throughout the year and the foreign staff are expected to attend. These will often be after hours, before hours or at the weekend - and there will be no extra pay for it, but you are still expected to attend! Just the fact that you are white brings prestige to the school and so they like to put their foreign teachers on display at every possible opportunity!
I know of teachers who were great in the classroom but were reluctant to do the extra stuff and thus lost their jobs. Don't think that just because your contract says you are expected to work from 7:30ish to 4:30ish that you do not need to attend these ceremonies and functions. You do! To the Thai staff these are VERY important and your attendance is expected. If you don't go, not only will the school have missed out on an opportunity to gain face, but this will cause resentment and potentially confrontation with the Thai staff and that I exactly the sort of situation you should try and avoid!
What are these English camps that I hear / read about?
If you work at a government school, the school closes down a couple of times a year, and one of these closures goes on for quite a long period over the Summer break. You may find that you are told (not asked) to do a summer camp in some remote location away from Bangkok. The school's idea being that you are on a one year contract and they want to maximise their investment in you and have you earning money for them the whole time that you are being paid. In addition to this, as language schools find the competition increasing, many are now offering summer camps.
These can be fun but they can also be a bit of a nightmare. You may be hundreds of km away from Bangkok in the middle of nowhere and you will suddenly find that it is not so much teaching kids for 20 odd hours a week but babysitting them for 168 hours of the week! You may also find that you are holed up in accommodation that is inferior to what you are used to in Bangkok and that you are being fed Thai food day in and day out which is fine if you have adjusted to the Thai ways but if you haven't, it could be murder.
A friend has been sent on a few of these camps. The worst one was a few hours drive from Bangkok where the camp literally took over a resort in the middle of nowhere. The kids studied with him for about 20 hours a week and the rest of the time he had to conduct activities such as playing soccer, going on bush walks etc. He had to chat in English with the kids but also play the role of guardian and be there when the kids had any problems or issues. He seldom had time to himself and when he did, the resort was stuck in the middle of nowhere and there was little to do. To really rub salt into the wound, he had to share a room with a Christian woman who had very strong views on religion and he had to listen to her going on and on.
If you are not particularly fond of kids, this could be a nightmare - but it could also be a lot of fun and it really depends on what type of person you are, your relationship with the other teachers and the kids and the location of the camp. Basically, you need to think carefully and decide if it is you or not.
How do Thais and Westerners get on together in the school workplace?
At most schools, the Westerners do their thing and the Thais do theirs. While there is a need for everyone to work together, at the end of the day the cultural differences are so great that the Thais end up frustrating the Westerners and vice versa. Secretly, I truly believe that each group is not fond of the actual work they have to do together, but socially the two ethnic groups seem to get on just fine.
I have often found that the Thais (and remember, it is most likely your boss / the bog boss / school owner) treats their staff fairly well, in terms of being pleasant to them, buying them gifts at certain times of the year, bringing in small amounts of food and what not. The social side of working in Thailand is very pleasant indeed, but sadly, the same cannot be said about the locals in terms of their willingness to be objective driven. As foreigners, we have specific objectives in the workplace, and in a school, that usually means providing the highest quality education that we can deliver, through a mixture of quality teaching, resources and a supportive environment that fosters learning. I often feel the locals are more interested in making sure the locals are happy - and that does not necessarily mean that they are learning, more that they feel it is fun, and they have not been upset in any way.
Many Thai managers and administrators cringe when Westerners complain about things - and there is no shortage of things to complain about! Basically, a whole book could be written about this. Let's just say that they way that each party approaches their work is quite different! It is always pleasant and civil, it is just that not everyone always sees eye to eye!
I'm a black native English speaker. Will that effect my employment chances?
Thailand is an incredibly xenophobic country and it is a real shame that folks of African ancestry are sometimes discriminated against. Unfortunately, blacks (and others) are discriminated against in this country and many Thais are actually scared of blacks, fearing that they are "bad people" or criminals. At the end of the day, white skin is revered in Thailand.
If you are black, you may have some problems getting recruited in Thailand. Given the number of absolutely hopeless teachers, many of who are sex tourists, this is a very sad state indeed. Most schools that recruit candidates from abroad will ask for a photo and if you are black, quite simply forget it. The racism here is twofold. Most recruiters are Thai and they usually will not even consider a black, let alone hire one. Some students have said to me that they wouldn't study with a teacher who was black so this just exacerbates the situation.
If you are black, you still can get employment but the fact of the matter is that it will not be as easy as if you were white. My advice would be this. Come to Thailand and search for work whilst you are here - not from abroad. Try and approach schools and arrange interviews with expats in managerial positions here - as opposed to Thais. Your fellow Westerners are much less likely to be colour blind than Thais. Once you are here and you can sell your personality, skills, credentials and experience to them and you'll be in with a far better chance. Good luck!
Do schools in Thailand have an Internet connection?
When I first came to Thailand, Internet access was very expensive. Combined with local call charges, apartment phone limits and dodgy phone lines, the cost of an Internet connection added up quickly. 20 hours internet a month in your apartment would cost around 1000 baht (for the connection to the ISP and the phone cost combined) - and that was at a time when I was earning about 30,000 baht a month - so a decent chunk of my salary! Internet cafes varied in cost but back then the cheapest you would find was NEVER cheaper than 100 baht an hour.
Now things are quite different and you can get high speed broadband internet in your apartment for under 500 baht a month and you can easily find internet cafes from as little as 10 baht per hour. In the old days if the school had an Internet connection, this was worth quite a bit of money to you but those days have gone. Almost every school and language institute has internet access and it is a great way to wile away some of the spare time you get in most teaching jobs.
While most schools have high speed internet, students (and sometimes even the foreign faculty!) set up computers to download files all day long and with a lot of users, this can slow things right down. Still, the net is usually quick enough for you to be able to check your email and browse news from home or do whatever it is you want to do online.
In the better schools, each teacher has a computer at their desk with internet access - meaning you can access the internet all day long, use it for lesson preparation etc. In language schools there are often a bunch of shared computer in the teachers' room or a computer resource room so you have to share. Wi-fi in Thailand is widespread with free connections everywhere and a number of schools and language institutes will have a free connection meaning students (and teachers) can use their own laptop.
The internet is also a great place for teaching resources and there is all sorts of material that you can use to supplement or add to your lessons. Further, you may not want to have a computer in Bangkok and a connection at school can be a blessing and is something worth considering. Just think, if you do get any of those awful split shifts, a free internet connection can help you get through the day.
Of course, schools in rural areas are much less likely to have an internet connection. While high-speed internet is available nationwide, even in small villages, schools in rural areas may not have the money for new computers and high speed internet - and dial up if used for a period of time can actually cost even more than high speed 'net!
From a language teacher's perspective, how do Thai students rate?
Thai students tend to be able to read and write English to a reasonable level but their listening skills are not usually that strong and their spoken English is often very poor, though low levels of confidence are partly to blame. The reason for poorly spoken English is often because they have studied just reading and writing for many years and have never actually had to speak! They may have heard their teacher utter a few phrases of English here and there but they themselves have possibly never actually used it outside a few phrases in the classroom. In terms of comprehension of written material, they are usually ok, but when it comes to producing written material, their writing is very disorganised and lacks structure. This is a classic case of L1 interference as anyone who is able to read and write written Thai will attest. Thai teachers may teach grammar ok, but when it comes to organisation of ideas and so forth, Thai language teachers are sadly lacking. On top of this, there are always errors in their use of verb tenses (Thai really doesn't have tenses as such) and using things like the passive voice provide problems, not so much in constructing it, BUT KNOWING WHEN TO USE IT!
Now, all of this is complicated by the Thai students' desire that everything in life should be fun. Give them a lesson where grammar is the focus and they literally fall asleep. Even with a fun activity as your freer practice, Thai students do not like grammar and many teachers find that when they teach grammar, the lesson goes badly. What ultimately happens is that some teachers stop teaching grammar which is a huge mistake as while using the language perfectly is not absolutely necessary, it is still important. Yep, teachers just jump that lesson in the book - shocking! Thai students can get a little negative at the thought of grammar so you have to play your cards very carefully in this respect, but remember, skipping sections in a book without a valid reason is the sign of a bad teacher! The important thing here to remember is that you have to stick to your guns, and while you should adapt materials to make them more suitable and appropriate for Thai learners, there are certain language points that you shouldn't avoid teaching. A few things to avoid are anything that is too Euro-centric - as you find in a lot of textbooks which are produced in England for a predominantly continental European market, anything to do with history (bores Thais to tears), anything that may cause cultural embarrassment such as lessons dealing with the feet etc. In fact it is well worth while, maybe even fairly important to make yourself aware of some of the cultural faux pas as you only have to make one serious mistake and that is it. Any discussion about the Thai royal family should be avoided, unless you are heaping praise upon them. Discussing some of the social problems in Thailand is not a good idea unless you know the class well enough and feel that they would be willing to partake - Thais do not like to hear about problems within their country. Also, as many of your students will be from well-to-do backgrounds, one needs to be careful on any references to peasants or those from a farming background as upper class Thais tend to look down on such folks. (If by any chance, you have previously been employed in this sector, it is best not mentioned!) As your time in a classroom with Thai students increases, you'll get a better feel for what works and what doesn't work.
What teaching opportunities exist outside of Bangkok?
There are numerous language schools in Bangkok and the bigger chains such as ECC, Siam and AUA also have branches in many centres around the country. The money offered by these chains tends to be less in the provinces than what is offered in Bangkok but this is more than offset by the cheaper cost of living in those areas. Basically, if you want the big (well, better at least) money, you really to need to stay in Bangkok. Some provincial schools will recruit locally while others such as ECC recruit from their head office / main branch in Bangkok for all other branches nationwide. ECC is a good bet for those wanting to teach outside of Bangkok. Just call into the head office at Siam Square for an interview and tell them that you want to work outside of Bangkok - they're bound to have an opportunity or two available somewhere in the Kingdom.
Many foreigners want to teach in Chiang Mai but finding a job there isn't that easy. There are more foreigners living in Chiang Mai per capita than in Bangkok and this can make it quite competitive. There also aren't that many language schools - comparatively at least. Therefore, the language schools that are based there can afford to be a little more choosey about who they recruit. If you have an RSA, you should be fine but it really comes down to timing - being there and ready to work when positions become available.
While the lifestyle in a smaller town outside of Bangkok is obviously going to be quite different, the actual job itself will be quite different too. You may find you are the only English teacher in the school so there is no opportunity to bounce ideas off others. With this in mind, such a position is best suited to someone with a bit of experience. Further, the level of English in some the provinces is much lower than Bangkok and you might find that you are forever teaching low level classes - some will like this, others will not.
Bangkok is far more westernised than many people realise. Take the time to go into some of the smaller towns around the country and you will find out what real Thailand is all about. It appeals to some but not to others. An excerpt from an email that I received demonstrates the potential problems one could have living in the provinces.I taught in a little town called Nakhon Sawan. Not only was I working six days a week, I was limited as to where I could go on my 1 day off. You might add in your article on teaching in Bangkok that unless one is VERY independent and does not need to speak to other native speakers every so often, don't even think of taking a job but in the larger cities. I don't think most people understand what lonely is until you have spent some time in a small Thai town.
What should I look for and be aware of in my first job as an English teacher?
I'm a big believer that you need to go to a school where the atmosphere "feels" right and makes you feel comfortable. This will vary from person to person where some people may want to work in a school with other teachers of their own nationality, some may want a modern building, others one with a lot of greenery / plants about etc. You really should aim for a school that has a commitment to spending time with and supporting the new employee. Working at a small branch may therefore not be ideal as there probably won't be a decent support network in place. When you first start teaching, even if you have an RSA, it is all bloody foreign and can be difficult and quite stressful and you therefore absolutely *need* experienced, qualified teachers to bounce ideas off and to generally help you along the way. For what it's worth, the worst teachers I have met are teachers who have NOT had experienced colleagues to assist them when they first started. This meant that as their teaching progressed, they developed certain teaching techniques, some of which are questionable. AUA is very good in this respect and allocate an experienced teacher as a buddy to all new employees.
With teaching being somewhat of a foreign concept when you first start, it is therefore nice to get a job where your schedule is not too heavy. In an ideal world, we would all start in a position where we weren't required to teach any more than 20 hours contact per week. This would give you the opportunity to spend an hour preparing for every hour you need to teach and still have an opportunity to run lesson plans past more experienced colleagues.
It is therefore important that you ask as many questions as you can at that interview to find out about all of these things. Let me state quite clearly that language schools don't tend to be too choosy and they pretty much take on anyone - obviously this varies from school to school but I would suggest that if you even get an interview, then the chances of getting the job are pretty damned high! You have to be aware of the 30 second brigade. These folks will have made the decision as to whether you will be offered the job the moment you walk in the door - usually based on your presentation more than anything else! They will go on to tell you a bit about the school, very little about the job and then simply offer you the job without giving you a chance to even ask any questions! Be assertive and steer the interview in the direction that you want it to go! Ask lots of questions and don't be afraid to go on with a list of 10-20 questions. If they offer you anything that sounds unacceptable, tell them that that is the case and that if they want your services, they will have to amend this or that. You'd be amazed what you can negotiate.
Don't be afraid of being observed by another teacher. Observations are both worthwhile and important in your personal development as a teacher but sadly there aren't enough of them in Thailand. Many people get all nervous but you shouldn't worry too much about it - after all, back in your own country if someone watched you doing a job, did you get all worked up and anxious about it? No, of course you didn't - harden up! However, I firmly believe that observations should not start right away with a new employee. That person needs time to settle into their new role and actually get a feel for the culture of the school, the students and importantly the courses, course books and materials that they are using. With this in mind, I do not think that observations should take place until the teacher has been there for about a month or so. They should only be carried out by experienced, qualified teachers - no exceptions. If someone wants to observe you on your first day when you are perhaps teaching a course or using course books that you are not yet familiar with, politely refer them to this section of this site and tell them to wake up! I will be straight here and say that unfortunately there are a few clowns out there doing observations and providing some bloody whacky advice. It does seem that there simply are not enough observations carried out here in Thailand and it is a big regret of mine that I didn't invite my more experienced colleagues to come and observe me teach and provide me with some feedback.
Although it is pretty difficult to achieve, try and have a chat with an existing teacher at the school that has offered you a job before you accept the position. Yep, this can be tricky. Alternatively, try and speak with someone who has worked there recently and see what they have to say. Don't be afraid to ask very forward questions. If you find out the school is a sweatshop or simply not suitable for you, walking out once your first pay cheque comes through isn't good for anyone.
On a completely different note, the first 12 months or so in Bangkok really make for your formative years in the "big Thai experience". It can be invaluable to work with a bunch of quality people who can help you learn the ropes and point you in the right direction from the start.
Do you really want to teach and be a good teacher? Are you genuinely interested in helping others to learn English and further themselves?
While this site provides information to prospective English teachers coming to Bangkok, there's also a clear message that if you want to teach here just so that you can live in Bangkok, then you are able to do so. It is a sad fact that many of the teachers in Bangkok don't have a genuine interest in helping their students. All they seem to care about is their pay check at the end of the month - and in some sad cases, spending that money on partying. Teaching, like some certain other jobs of responsibility like those in the medical field is often about putting other's interests AHEAD of those of your own and doing what is right for them, even if it means imposing upon your own time and resources. It is a sad fact that many of the native speaking English teachers in Bangkok either do not realise this or don't care.
The standard of English teachers in Bangkok is much better than it was in the 90s, Today, more and more teachers are keen, enthusiastic, qualified teachers who have a genuine interest in doing what is right for their students. If you really don't care if the students make progress or not, then please, consider a different line of work because you are quite simply not suited to teaching.
It makes me chuckle that every single non-qualified teacher that I have ever met strongly believes that they have sound teaching technique - funny that...
If you are more interested in what you will be doing on Friday night at Nana Plaza, than your lesson on Monday morning, take a little time to consider whether you really are the sort of person who should be teaching - or would perhaps it be better to let someone who really wants to do it - and will possibly be a better teacher to take that job?
Are there opportunities to teach subjects other than English, such as maths, science etc?
The focus of this page is English teaching in Thailand. However, opportunities do exist for teachers of other subjects, but there are a lot harder to come by. Some of the big chains of language schools such as ECC and Siam Computer also have departments teaching computers but this is almost always done in Thai by Thai nationals.
The international schools, schools where everything (except Buddhism and Thai studies) is in English and where the students follow the American or British school syllabus, have openings for suitably qualified teachers. These schools pay extremely well but they are usually fairly picky about who they take on.
Some schools, particularly some of the best Thai high schools have some special programmes in English. Opportunities exist at these schools to teach other subjects and the money can be quite good too - 60,000 - 100,000 baht per month. While you would think that these schools may also attract very good teachers, it is not always the case. These are plum jobs and are therefore not so easy to come by.
OK, I've got the job - yippee! How much money do I need to get myself set up in Thailand?
It really depends on what type of person you are, what your required level of comforts are and whether you have any vices at all. But, bear in mind that in Thailand, most people are paid on the last day of the month and given that you will likely arrive a week or so before the job starts, you may be in country several weeks before you get your first pay packer. You need to do a rough estimation of how much money you think you'll spend during this time.
On top of this, you have to think about accommodation. You should try to find an apartment as soon as possible as other types of accommodation will quite simply be more expensive. Once you have found an apartment, you will have to pay one month's rent in advance, and probably a deposit equal to one, or as seems more and more common, two months rent. Then you need to think about fitting out and decorating your apartment, buying some basic furniture, perhaps a TV, bedding, towels, all the usual crap. Fortunately, the essentials for an apartment are very cheap in Thailand and the usual things like pictures and plants to make it look nice are REALLY cheap! You will no doubt have a few initial set up costs too like a fan, maybe a kettle, towels, bed linen etc.
It is worth keeping an amount in reserve just in case. And if you are coming to Thailand to look for work i.e. you don't yet have a job to go to, then it is necessary to have a bit more. Also, if you need to buy clothes for teaching, do it in Thailand and NOT in your home country as clothes are much cheaper here than most other places.
It doesn't happen often, but I know of at least three people, who have been hit by the old "we don't have enough money so your salary will be late this month" trick. In each case, they were paid their salary, but between 7 and 10 days late. Obviously this can cause untold problems and I couldn't imagine being one of these teachers who gets towards the end of the month with very little cash in their pocket and nothing in reserve.
I know people who have arrived in Bangkok with next to nothing and got a job and off they went, no problems. But for me, I have a certain point at which the alarm bells would start going off. I would strongly recommend that just in case worse comes to worse, you have at least 50,000 baht at your disposal. This would cover an air ticket to anywhere in the world, a hospital bill, as well as other contingencies which may arise.
I've heard that due to the demand for English teachers, a language school will never fire a teacher - is this true?
This may have been true at some institutions once upon a time but is definitely no longer the case now. In the past, the demand for teachers was high, the supply of teachers low and while the Thais knew that some of the folks purporting to be teachers were little more than a bunch of hippies with backpacks masquerading as teachers, they let them get on with it because at the end of the day, they were still native English speakers - and they were the best they could get.
It must be said that at some schools, you can just about get away with murder before they will fire you but any decent school will give you the boot if you prove to be unreliable. It seems that teachers get fired for being unreliable, culturally insensitive or for poor presentation more than anything else. It is seldom that one gets his or her marching orders if they are simply not up to scratch in the classroom - many reasons for this but often the manager (who may or may not have been a teacher himself) simply doesn't recognise that the staff member is not up to scratch in the classroom. On top of this, even if the students don't like the teacher, that teacher would have to be pretty bad before they complained.
Unfortunately, some Thai managers in less well-run schools may take a callous attitude towards the employment of staff and in some odd cases, they may decide to fire a member of staff for something that they deemed to be unfit, but for which the teacher was completely oblivious that they had even done anything wrong. In the odd case, they can get quite nasty and I have heard of threats made to teachers that because they upset whoever at the school so much, that person is going to take it upon themselves to make it difficult for the teacher to get another job anywhere. Note that if you do get fired from a position, and your work permit and visa are cancelled, you must leave the country (or get a new job) within 7 days. Failure to properly cancel a work permit can also result in fines.
Are there many English teachers in Bangkok? Will I be able to make friends?
The exact number of English teachers in Thailand is unknown, but in 2006 a little under 7,000 foreigners applied for work permits to be a teacher in Thailand. That's nationwide. My best guess, and it is just that, a guess, is that there are perhaps twice this number teaching in Thailand, with a good percentage of those with no work permit most likely working part-time.
English teachers can be found all over Thailand and in all of the major centres. In Bangkok you will likely find a foreign English teacher (or a bunch of them) in most condo and apartment buildings - at least those buildings where the average condo is not the exclusive domain of the wealthy. I used to spend quite a lot of time in Korat and even up there, there would have to be more than 100 foreigners teaching English. English teachers have are everywhere in Thailand.
If I decide to pursue English teaching as a career, what career options are available?
English teaching is a lot of fun, but for most people teaching English in Thailand, it is a somewhat temporary type of work. The majority of folks do it for 1-3 years and then get out of the industry - there are many reasons for this. If you decide that English teaching is what you want to be doing long term, then you'll be pleased to know that there are quite a few different career opportunities that you can pursue.
The most obvious is getting into a senior position within the school such as DOS (Director of Studies) / Head Teacher / Academic Director type positions. These jobs may involve some teaching and some management or organisational type duties. Others may strictly be course development or just management alone, a buffer between the foreign teachers and the Thai management. It varies from school to school but largely depends on the size of the school as to what this person's duties will be.
Teacher training is another area where one might get into but this really is only an option for the better teachers. Teacher trainers have a lot of responsibility and frankly, to be a good teacher trainer you really needed to have been a very good teacher. There are not a lot of openings for this sort of thing. If you think that this type of work might be you, you might want to think about running some teacher workshops as our school and see how they go.
For those who like sales, there are always opportunities to get into sales roles. The first and most common position is a salesperson who works for a school and sells courses to different corporations. This type of work is often done by Thai nationals in Thailand due to the complexities of the culture and the way that business is done in Thailand, though some schools get the farangs to do it. The other type of sales work in the industry is working for one of the publishers who supply the different series of course books such as Cambridge University Press, Heinemann, Longman etc.
Lastly, there is the opportunity to become a certified examiner such as a certified IELTS examiner. These people tend to still be teaching but do a bit of work in the side - and the money can be very good. There is a course to do to become certified.
The one thing I will say here is that it is very easy to fall into a rut teaching in Thailand. You continue on at the same place and get a small pay rise each year, perhaps 10% or so, but you never really get too far ahead. Once you have a few years of experience under your belt, you may want to start pushing hard to move ahead, or possibly to change workplace and move into a better position. It is very easy to do the same thing over and over again and then suddenly find yourself with number of years under your belt, bored, but really not in a great position as far as your career prospects are concerned. Schools in Thailand are much less concerned about your personal development than they are about you doing an adequate job in the classroom. Your boss in all likelihood will not conduct frequent reviews of your progress and it is not that likely that there will be workshops held that often. The bottom line being that you have to take responsibility for your own personal and professional development. This may suit some, an d not others. Of course, if you are someone older, or someone just doing it for the lifestyle, then you may be less inclined to move up the ladder or seek out a higher salary, but really, if you are aged under 50, you want to make sure that you're moving ahead.
There are so many language institutes, schools and other employers. Which should I choose?
Not so many years ago, a number of the language schools had very bad reputations. Some paid poorly, some asked staff to work all the hours that God sent, some paid late, the communication was invariably bad, there were strong students placed with weak students, almost anyone was hired, lies were common (from both schools to teachers AND teachers to schools) and there was quite frankly, a whole host of other problems.
Fortunately, a lot of these problems are in the past. No, not every school is perfect now but most are fair and generally one knows what they are getting into. There is so much information online and that makes it very easy to get feedback from teachers who are currently working at or have worked for, certain schools. Unfortunately, a lot of the schools that have been around for a while, especially some of the chains, have a bad reputation with certain folks. It is hard to know who to believe when people talk about the various schools so always try and get up to date information. What happened a few years ago most likely is not happening now.
As far as the big chains go, the AUA branch at Rajadamri Road doesn't really pay that well, but with so many teachers there it is supposed to be a fun place to work. It would be ideal if you had money or other income already. The main ECC branch really must owe me a commission because I have sent to many Thai language students there to study. As they run the RSA course there, this keeps up the standards and they are pretty good too - but again, the salaries really are not that high. Siam Computer and Language are another of the big schools. They used to ask teachers to work long, long hours, at least for those teachers who actually taught within one of the branches. Again, they are a fun place to work. Ay of these schools are great places to get started. Other decent schools are Inlingua which I have heard is very good these days. Two other chains that little is known about at present are Berlitz and British American.
While some of the chain schools may have had a mixed reputation, one also needs to consider that some branches will be better than others. Don't be afraid to ask existing teachers what it is really like. If you have any concerns, raise them. At an interview, I am always a proponent of asking a lot of questions!
One school that can definitely be recommended is the British Council, generally regarded as both the best place to work as a teacher and the best place to study for students. The unusually named Bangkok School of Management is also an excellent institute that maintains high standards.
I have heard that most foreign English teachers in Thailand are either sex tourists or backpackers who just want to prolong their holiday and consume as many drugs as they can? Is this true?
There are very few backpackers who actually stay on and teach English in Thailand. This was apparently what happened quite some time ago, perhaps up until the mid '90s, although I personally cannot confirm this as I was not here at the time. But these days, there really are very, very few backpackers teaching English.
As far as people who are in Thailand for the sex, it is true that there are a of people masquerading as teachers who are in Thailand for what could be termed questionable reasons. In all fairness to a lot of these people, they may have come here for that, or they may have simply fallen into the trap of the bars after they had already arrived here. Few people remain interested in the commercial sex industry for a long time as it really does get very boring after a while.
The whole sex tourist and paedophile in the classroom issue got a lot of press in 2006 and 2007 when John Mark Carr was arrested in 2006 and deported from Thailand and then in 2007, Christopher Paul Neil was arrested on suspicion of going about his wicked ways with seriously young boys across South East Asia. This is all clearly at the disgusting end of the spectrum.
One of the issues schools in Thailand face is that despite salaries paid to native English speaking teachers increasing significantly compared to how they were, the salaries are still fairly low by international standards and thus Thailand does not attract the highest quality teachers who may prefer to teach in countries that pay better, such as Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and the Middle East. This means that there are always openings for anyone who wants to stay in Thailand long term.
Thailand is quite possibly unique in this respect. I would suggest that of all of the foreign teachers I know well or have worked with over the years, 90% would have spent time in the city's naughty bars and well in excess of 50% would have actually been a naughty boy.
If you are extremely sensitive to the idea that a number of your male colleagues may be indulging with women of the night, then you might have to find a way to deal with it. Some language schools have been known to have their staff meetings located close to major bar areas so that afterwards everyone could go and party hard. If it really bothers you, then Thailand may not be for you. Even at the very best schools - and I mean the top tier international schools, the teachers may not quite be the wholesome clean living individuals that the kids' parents hope they are... I could tell some stories that would shock...but that is not necessary. You get the idea.
In summary, let me say that there are more qualified, experienced and generally professional teachers in Thailand these days, both in numbers and as a percentage, than there were in the past. Things have improved.
I am not sure about teaching. What other employment options exist?
It is true that securing a job in Thailand as an English teacher is the easiest type of work to come by for a Western native English speaker. It is also true that teaching is not for a lot of people.
Securing a job outside of teaching can be a lot more difficult. The first thing to consider is something in the field where you currently work, or the field where you are qualified to work. Depending on the type of position it is, there may be employment opportunities in Thailand, or there may not. Take computer professional positions. There are a number of Westerners employed in the IT industry in Thailand and some of them are doing very well, with whopping great salaries, the highest I have personally heard of was one guy on a day rate of, get this, $US750! Wow! To secure a job like that takes a lot of luck, but all power to you if you can manage it. Don't let me get your hopes up too high though, because most Westerners I know who are involved in IT positions in Thailand earn somewhere between 60,000 - 100,000 baht per month.
As far as administrative positions or management type roles go, that requires even more luck. Odds are that people in such positions are recruited from, possibly interviewed in and actually appointed from the West, often in an in-company transfer, or foreign secondment position. These types of jobs can be difficult to come by, and actually are very tricky for someone who has not had a lot of time in Thailand because managing Thais is quite different to managing Westerners, and a good deal of knowledge of Thai culture and the culture of the workplace in Thailand is needed to make the best of a position like this.
There are always people who fancy the idea of working in a bar. Truth be told, there are not that many positions available and the foreign bar owners I know all work very hard, for not a great deal of reward. They lead a really unhealthy lifestyle too, so unless this really sounds like you, it is something I would be a little wary of.
You could always try and do something online. It could be something as diverse as selling Thai textiles or handicrafts online, or start up a website and try to generate income from it. A few Westerners in Thailand do ok from websites, but they tend to be the guys bold enough to run a site with a distinctly naughty theme. Thus site generates little pocket change.
Perhaps the best option is to either start up a business or better still, buy an existing business. Running a business in Thailand is challenging and there are many things one needs to consider that simply would not be relevant in the West, but most guys who have gone from teaching to business ownership would never go back.
The bottom line is that if you want to do something other than teaching, there are other options.
I do recommend though that if you are planning on moving to Thailand, as opposed to just teaching for a year or two, then English teaching may be a good way for you to get your foot in the door and get a feel for the place.
A good number of teachers do not want to be teaching and are forever looking for something different. It is not always easy to find something away from teaching. Remember, if a Thai company wants to hire someone they will want someone who speaks Thai, and who understands the Thai way of doing things and that industry in Thailand. Not many farangs satisfy these requirements. And when farangs find out the sort of money on offer for a lot of jobs in Thailand, they get rapidly but off.
But it is possible to secure most types of work here, it just takes time, patience, and no small amount of luck. If you want to get a computer job, you can - and the salary could be very attractive too - but there are a lot of farangs searching for such work locally. If you want to get a job in project management, then such positions exist, but again, luck will be involved.
How can I find my dream job in Thailand?
I'm sorry to say that finding your dream job in Thailand likely will not happen. If you secure a good job at a good school, have nice, professional colleagues and end up teaching nice kids, you can have a very good time. But there always seem to be things at schools and language institutes in Thailand that seem to upset Westerners, and I have yet to hear anyone proclaim that they have found their dream job in Thailand. There are always problems of one sort or another, ranging from questionable things happening in the running of the school, to bad communication, to a whole range of other issues and problems.
The bottom line, and I really do not want to be negative here, is that teachers are not always happy in their work in Thailand. They may be happy in the interim period, but they aren't shy at looking around at what else is available. Even the better managed schools seem to have problems of one sort of another. The cultural differences are great and the best way to manage it is to try and do things the Thai way. Learning Thai is a very good way to understand the locals better - there is a method and reason to the way they do things!
Why should I, and why do others, choose Thailand as the place to teach English?
If you are a qualified English teacher and are looking for somewhere to teach, gain some valuable experience with a view to teaching being your career, then think very hard about moving to Thailand. There are a few schools that can accommodate you, that you can learn from and genuinely develop as a teacher but unfortunately, there are far more that will abuse you, wear you down and eventually break you - possibly to the point that you consider giving teaching away altogether. Yep, some of the schools here will do some bloody horrible things to you.
With this in mind, what sort of people come to teach English in Thailand? The vast majority of "English teachers" (need to use this term liberally...) here are teaching English because they want to be here in Thailand and not because this is their chosen profession. Some of these folks do a fine job but others are less proficient. I would go as far to say that a good percentage (75% ?) of people teaching English would actually rather be doing something else but quite simply, there is no other work available to them here in Bangkok and they really don't want to leave... Now, some people want to be here for the rich culture, some want to be here for the travel opportunities that Bangkok affords being in the heart of SE Asia, and another group, quite a sizeable group, want to be here to have sex with young Thais....and to spend every weekend down at Pattaya, pictured below (but the beach is the least of their interests in Pattaya). Yes, my friend, these folks will be your peers, your colleagues, your friends and your confidantes. Is this what you want? If it is, great! But, if it isn't, then you may well find yourself somewhat lost, let down and unfulfilled professionally.
With this in mind, ask yourself this question, "Do I really want to teach English or is it that I really want to live in Bangkok and teaching English is the vehicle that allows me to do that"? If it turns out that you actually want to be living in Bangkok as opposed to teaching, do your level best to investigate other employment opportunities because ultimately, I think you'll be happier in them....and your students deserve better than that. Failing that, try and get a high paying job at home and save hard so that you can bring a decent amount of money to Thailand with you. So long as the Thai baht remains weak - and it shows no real signs of breaking away from around 40:1 to the $US, bringing say $10,000 with you would be the equivalent to about a year's teaching salary here.
One thing that is great about teaching English in Thailand is that it is easy to get a job in the first place. Job advertisements in the West seem to ask everyone for a couple of years experience so if you are unable to secure that initial position in the West, Thailand may be worth trying, if only to get that initial experience and then return to your homeland with some international experience under your belt. In addition to this, if you are in a university or teaching high school kids, it is largely a cruisey number with not a lot of stress - "real" language schools are a little different in this respect. In most jobs, if you stuff up, you probably won't get fired and if you do get fired, getting another job isn't too difficult. Basically, it's all pretty relaxed which is nice, but also means that there aren't a lot of long term benefits for you though...
The following post was taken from the Lonely Planet "Thorn Tree" discussion board in March, 2000. It summarises the point nicely.This site used to include a summary of some of the more popular English language institutes with opinions on it whether it was or wasn't, as the case may be, a good place to work. However, it was just to difficult to keep that up to date, and to keep on top of it so regrettably it had to be removed. Further, it seems that a few schools didn't like what was said about them. In the interests of being fair, that section was removed.
...you're qualified. Kids in Asia get enough scummy backpackers coming over here teaching them English. These scum don't care about the kids, only the wages and when they can piss off to the beach and screw the local tarts. They also know fuck-all about teaching English. Basically, it's not fair on the kids. If you care about other people than yourself, then don't teach unless you're qualified. Having said that, you can still work your way through Asia - bars and guesthouses will give you jobs. The wages aren't great but at least they allow you to stay in one place for a while without costing you much.
Most teachers take on some private tuition at one time or another. Private tuition can be financially lucrative and if you can get one or two regular privates then you can supplement your regular income very nicely. What you charge is entirely up to you but remember that the average monthly income in Thailand is only 7,000 baht so unless you are teaching the high society types, you will not be able to charge a fortune. The average that most teachers I know charge is around 500 baht an hour - some charge a lot more. One fellow I know charges 800 baht an hour for one-on-one tuition and 1,200 baht an hour to teach a group - and he has students lining up! If you charge this sort of money, you will likely be getting rich, demanding students who will want to make progress and see results quickly. One point to consider is that there seems to be a belief in Thailand that the more you pay, the better the service you get. So don't charge peanuts otherwise you may be considered to be a monkey.
If you are a good teacher and can meet the student's expectations then you should be able to teach them for a good period of time and do quite well financially out of it. When I taught privates, I used to charge a lot less but I taught in my apartment building and there was no travel involved. I'm not actually a great fan of one-on-one teaching and now turn down all requests from locals to teach them privately. Private students are notorious for cancelling so do not rely on private lessons as primary income - it should only ever be looked at as supplementary. Don't be afraid to cancel on your private students if you have other plans or get a better offer. Notwithstanding this, there are at least a couple of fellows that I know of who make a very good living just doing private tuition in people's homes or at people's place of work. To succeed at this you not only need to be an effective teacher but you need to be well presented and very well organised so that you can schedule your student's lessons to fit in with your respective timetables.
In my experience, the best place to get private students is to get students you are already teaching. No, I do not mean poaching students from the language school where you are teaching already. That is a good way to get yourself sacked. If you find yourself teaching at a high school, you will very likely be approached by students who want to study after hours or at the weekend and they will likely be willing to pay decent money. You have to manage this situation very carefully because while some schools allow you to do this, others will prohibit it. Personally, I think it is questionable, but many of my colleagues over the years have done this.
The obvious ideas of erecting advertisements on notice boards at places like universities and in apartment buildings do not seem to reap rewards in Thailand. Thais who study privately one-on-one tend to prefer to approach a teacher who they know already, or who has been recommended to them.
A final note about private tuition. Any private lessons that you do are NOT covered by your work permit. Your work permit allows you to teach at your primary place of employment only, the place that is very clearly specified in your work permit. Even if you were to perform work for the company whose name is specified in the work permit off the company premises, or at least the address specified in the work permit, it is technically illegal. But that said, at the end of the day, you will be unlikely to have any problem at all, but just be careful. It pays to keep private lessons hush hush as some people can get jealous if you are pulling in a decent income from your jobs on the side. Also, a lot of employers don't like you teaching away from your main place of employment so keep it quiet!
Another Opinion / Reality Check
The following posting appeared on a newsgroup in the '90s discussing teaching English in Thailand. The author makes some very good, relevant points and I would suggest that most teachers have felt like this at some time in Thailand. There are times when I really agree with this viewpoint.I personally did the CELTA at a language school which was professional in all aspects and one couldn't help but be thoroughly impressed with the whole operation. All of the teachers were fully qualified with a CELTA - NO exceptions - and a number of them had a CELTA Diploma too. More than half of the teachers had also taught English in another country. Systems were in place to ensure that students were placed correctly e.g. elementary level students into an elementary level class etc and this was reviewed as courses progressed. There was a full support structure in place for the students including counsellors who spoke the native language of the students, be it Japanese, Korean etc. There were stacks of resources available for both the students and the teachers. Not withstanding that the whole operation is obviously a business with the requirement to make money, the goal of the school seemed to be to provide a supportive environment to allow the students to learn English effectively. From what I saw, it was extremely successful. Discussions with fellow teachers confirm that the industry in New Zealand, Australia and England is far more developed than the industry in Thailand and very professional.I taught there before the economy got bad so I don't know about the job market now but then it was very easy to get work then. If you're serious about teaching English in Bangkok you're in for a rough ride. The pay is very low and the living conditions of Bangkok are bad, the pollution alone drove me away. You don't need any knowledge of Thai to teach English. I don't know what you expect of the teaching experience but I can say from extensive experience in a number of schools and situations that basically it's a waste of time. The students would like to know English better but very few will make the individual effort necessary to attain any level of mastery. Your job as a "teacher" is basically to entertain, you can forget any notions of actually teaching anything. Most students are too afraid of failing to attempt to say much so you're left holding the bag i.e. presenting more of monologue, even in so called conversation classes. I taught at a teachers college in one of the provinces and even 4th year English majors would be hard pressed to string two grammatically sentences together. Initially I was frustrated but grew to accept the situation and do what I could the best I could. Quite frankly, I don't think anyone's English was improved as a result of my exertions. The bottom line is the students have almost no desire to improve their abilities but expect to be magically transformed by interacting with a foreign teacher, clown, entertainer-take your pick; obviously nothing can come of this.
My view is completely negative, but I feel realistic and true to my experience. I'm sure you can find positive feedback as well. I don't know your motives, if it's just to be in Thailand then it may be the place for you. If it's to make money then Japan, Korea or Taiwan are better choices. Just remember that if your goal is to teach I think you will be frustrated no matter where you go and I've been to all the above except Japan. I just had a hard time respecting myself charading as a teacher. In Thailand people will ask you what you do and you will respond that you are a kru (teacher) and this will impress them invariably. But every time this happened I couldn't help but thinking "if only you knew". I've blabbered on enough, good luck.
Sadly, as mentioned earlier, Bangkok is a different story, though things are improving. There are not that many qualified English teachers here - by qualified, I mean with a CELTA / Trinity / TEFL / equivalent qualification. A guess would be that about 15 - 20% are qualified. OK, so business is business and every business operates for one reason - to make money, but so many language schools in Thailand will just take on any Tom, Dick or Harry - a white face, put them in front of a bunch of eager students and forget about it. So many schools don't give a shit about the product that they offer and the teachers ARE the product. I really feel sorry for Thai students who want to learn English because it isn't easy to find a decent school and even harder to get a good teacher. It is TOO EASY to get a job as an English teacher in Thailand.
One of the big problems at private language schools especially, is that the person in the role of DOS or head teacher often doesn't have the required management skills. There seems to be a way of thinking in Bangkok that the best person for such a person is the best or most experienced teacher but sadly, when this happens, often the person appointed proves to be unsuccessful. A person in such a person should primarily be a good manager with sound people skills and teaching skills and knowledge of the industry should be secondary. The role of this person in a language school is critical as they are more often than not the liaison between the foreign teachers and the Thai management. What all of this leads to is some particularly insincere, power happy people in positions of influence. The DOS / head teacher often goes on to hire people that they like, do little to help develop the teachers and add to the value of the business and generally make decisions with *their own* agenda in mind. Too many DOSs / Academic Directors / Branch Managers or basically people in senior positions have fortuitously fallen into such a position and they very quickly realise that financially they are on to a good number that could not be replicated as a teacher. As soon as this is realised and it dawns on them that they can often get away with doing a mediocre amount of work so long as they do not question their boss and / or the Thai management, they will do anything to keep the position, frequently making errant decisions that impact very negatively upon the teachers at the school.
For these reasons, English teachers do not have a particularly good reputation amongst the expat population in Bangkok. Other than the people who sit on a telephone all day trying to sell those bogus share issues to potential investors in other countries, many foreign expats see English teachers as just about the bottom of the barrel amongst Bangkok expat society. The words I'm an English teacher are not always spoken with a great deal of pride in Bangkok because any English teacher will truly know that many of their farang peers are a bunch of sex tourists, beach bums, misfits or no hopers. Getting a job as an English teacher is as easy as getting into a taxi. Sad, but true. Fortunately, Thai society does view teachers in a quite different light.
The whole point that I'm trying to get across here is that although teaching can be a great job, the whole industry in Bangkok lacks professionalism. As an Australian colleague recently said "Private language schools in Bangkok are all clip joints". Most schools have good motives but at the end of the day, they take on unqualified teachers, they mis-place students in the wrong course and are happy to make zillions of other questionable decisions if it means that they will get more revenue - and with the Thai student mentality of seldom ever complaining, the school simply doesn't receive the negative feedback that it ought to. Other than perhaps the best schools like British Council, IDP and the now defunct Austil, it seems that many language school in Bangkok suffers from these problems to some extent - some worse than others.
In quite a few language schools, there can be a bit of friendly rivalry between the British and the American teachers. While I tend to prefer most things British including British movies, television and culture, I do feel that the Brits in Bangkok schools do incite a few problems here. Constant criticisms of American English and the way that Americans do things only contributes to disrupting the harmony of the workplace. Further, there are a fair few Brits do seem to have rather high opinions of themselves as teachers especially when comparing themselves to the Americans. Funnily enough, the Aussies and Kiwis just seem to get on with things and not get caught up in a lot of this nonsense.
As weird as this may sound, I would not recommend anyone to stay in the Bangkok English teaching industry for a long time. Many of the folks that I have met and / or know that have been teaching for a long time have become very jaded and there seem to be a lot of reasons for this. In some cases, they seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that there is a lot of crap going on and they are unable to do anything to counter this. Many of the folks who stay in teaching a long time are slowly withering down their options if they choose to return to their homeland. Teaching for a year or two in another country is fine on a resume but for a long time, it is not the best piece on your resume and you may find yourself trying to unsuccessfully downplay it. In Bangkok, teachers tend to socialise with teachers and I see this as a socio-economic thing as much as anything else. Few expats in Bangkok earn as little as teachers and teachers will be very envious at what their fellow expats in other industries earn. Finally, a lot of teachers simply do not have the skills to do anything else and they are doing teaching by default, and that is sad.
So, I've done my bit to put you off teaching in Thailand...which wasn't my intention, just wanting to be honest about it. You've read all of the information with enthusiasm and anticipation, only to get to the Reality Check bit where Sticky slags it all off! Like a change of job back in your homeland, you have to think things through very carefully. However, what we are talking about here is more than a change of job, it is a whole change of lifestyle. If you are a career teacher, you may find the English language teaching industry in Bangkok to be somewhat unprofessional compared to what you are used to but you have already made the decision to come to Bangkok, so come on over. For many reasons, you'll be in a better position to deal with it all than someone who is new to teaching.
For people contemplating teaching as a way to stay in Bangkok / Thailand, you need to think really hard about what you are doing. The lure of Bangkok can be very strong, so strong in fact that you will consider doing whatever possible within the law, to move there, to live in this exotic, charming land. By teaching English, you should be able to get by comfortably enough but it is very important to realise the following:
- unless you get very lucky and get an international school job, you will never get rich. Figure a salary of around 25,000 - 40,000 baht per month. This is enough for Bangkok, but should you decide to move back to Farangland, no matter how much you have saved in baht, it won't go too far. If money is important to you - do NOT come to Thailand!
- the way schools are run in Thailand is that you are there to do a job, and that is it. Most schools really do not do too much in the way of professional development so you might not even get the chance to learn better teaching techniques and tricks, let alone anything else.
- the schools that you learn as a teacher will bring you confidence and should contribute towards developing your own awareness of the language, and this making you a little more articulate. However, apart from this, you will not gain a lot of other marketable skills.
- what point are you at in your life? If you are financially set or retired, then teaching is probably a good way to go as it will give you some income and also keep you busy. However, if you are a young guy who has yet to carve out a career, I would question the wisdom of a term in Thailand for anything over a couple of years. A two year jaunt on a CV can be explained away, much more is hard to talk around and you may find yourself suddenly out of the loop.
I came to Bangkok with no teaching experience as such, apart from several hours observed teaching on the CELTA course I completed before leaving my homeland. I came to Thailand with the idea of teaching because it was one job I thought I could do legally. I only thought I'd live in Thailand for a year or two but that notwithstanding, I felt it important to prepares as best I could. Working in education is a job you MUST take seriously.
Back in those days, a good chunk of the teaching work was in language schools and institutes, like ECC, AUA, the British Council etc. Outside corporate work was taking off and the demand from high schools to place foreign teachers as full-time teachers on their premises was gaining momentum.
My first job was in the main branch of one of the larger chains of English schools. Thy initially hired me to do an outside contract but there was some confusion there, me thinking that I had been hired for the main branch. When I realised I was to be placed out in the 'burbs, well away from the apartment I had just signed up to in the centre of town that very same day, they did a bit of juggling and placed me as the main in-house teacher at the main branch, which was awfully nice of them. Back then there seemed to be far fewer clean cut, presentable teachers who were young, keen AND had some sort of teaching qualification. (I didn't realise it at the time but I was in REAL demand back then.)
In my first job in Thailand, the staff were nice and the students even nicer. I loved my time the classroom. It was GREAT! I met a few people and made a couple of friends, although the people I knew back then all seem to be doing much the same thing. This school was not known as on of the better employers and they tended to hire anyone. I should have realised that when I was hired without being asked a question. But that aside, let me say that the people there were truly wonderful and even now, I know I left a really pleasant workplace.
The problem was that my workload was totally over the top. I was working 6 days a week and was doing 6 contact hours a day. That is 36 contacts a week, or over a month, in excess of 150 contact hours! After a week I was knackered and didn't go in one day, thinking I would just walk away from it. I am ashamed to say that I was weak and went in the next day. It was sort of weird because they weren't angry at me. I just made up some nonsense about how I had been sick and tried to call and they didn't answer the phone. Notwithstanding that this sort of thing would have caused a massive headache for them, no-one batted an eyelid! (I was later to find out that this sort of thing happens all the time...)
There were other problems at the school which I couldn't help but notice, even if they didn't direct affect me. One day in the classroom next to me was a sex tourist masquerading as a teacher. Some poor girl's parents were paying a pretty sum for her to study privately - one-on-one with a foreign "teacher". Very sad.
I battled on for another month or more, enjoying the teaching and in many ways enjoying the environment. The classes were small and the students were just a few years younger than me. I was 28 at the time and most of the students were in their early '20s. They seemed to respect me because I had a few years on them, but they also seemed to enjoy my company because the age gap was not great. Even though I only worked there for 7 weeks, I made friends with a number of students and went out with entire classes of students to Chatuchak and to dinner a couple of times. It was a great time, but the long days were killing me.
On top of the long days was the fact that I was only earning 19,000 baht a month, and paying up 12,000 baht a month in rent - and that wasn't including electricity, phone etc. The economics of it weren't working, so when I got a phone call from someone I had met a couple of months earlier, the decision to move wasn't difficult at all.
Back in the good old days, long before the likes of Ajarn.com, one of the most popular ways of finding work was to go to one of the English teaching job fairs. A number of employers set up small booths in one of the conference rooms at a large hotel. Prospective teachers would go along and meet the employers and with a bit of luck, a match would be found.
I happened to meet an Englishman who had been living and working in Thailand for 8 years and who had recently set up a new, high quality language school located in a very central location. He was extremely helpful and we immediately hit it off. I gave him my number and he called me for an interview shortly after. Actually, it was not a structured interview as such but more a discussion about life over lunch. He liked me, but as I was still very new to Thailand, he was concerned that my lack of familiarity with al things Thai combined with my lack of experience made me a bit too high risk to hire at this stage. He hired another fellow who had had a couple of years experience in Thailand, a fellow who was to become a very good pal of mine.... This all happened the week I got my first job, he one with 36 contact hours a week.
Anyway, as business at this particular language school picked up, the Englishman gave me a call and invited me in for a chat. He explained that things had picked up and he would like to take a chance on me. He could not offer me a contract or a work permit, but he could offer me 300 baht an hour, which was effectively more than twice what I was earning already. He also said that there'd be no more than 5 days work a week, and h anticipated that initially he would be able to find me about 20 hours work a week. I jumped at the chance. I left the previous school, leaving a "I'm sorry, but..." letter. I never did get paid for the first 3 weeks of that month. Never mind, I had to leave if I wanted the new position. I wasn't proud to walk out on a company like that, but the terms of the contract were so horribly oppressive that I could not bear it any longer.
The new language school was a GREAT environment for a new teacher. It was, and indeed still is, a small operation, but the staff were all excellent and I leant a huge amount from the other Westerners on the staff, both about teaching, and about life in Thailand. One could not have asked for a better place to "start" one's teaching career. The difference of working with and being surrounded by qualified, quality teachers is just so phenomenally different to hanging around with a bunch of has-beens who are there for all of the wrong reasons.
The physical environment of the school was nice and as this was pre-skytrain days, it was a real bonus that it was only a 20 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride from my apartment. The school was very well resourced with a huge range of resource materials. I was now teaching not just general English but also IELTS, academic English, TOEFL and business English as well. There was also some one-on-one instruction. Truth b told, the Thai staff, while nice, were not as nice as they were at the previous place of employment and the students were not nearly as nice either, but hey, in terms of personal development, that place could not be beat.
But things weren't perfect. No sir, they weren't. On my first day at this new school, I was scheduled to teach a 12 year old private student. I asked the DOS for a few hints as I had only had 7 weeks experience and had never taught one-on-one, nor a youngster before - nor had we covered either kids or private one-on-one tuition when I had done the CELTA. He says to me, "I don't really care what you do - get her to teach you Thai if you want - that's what the last teacher did"! Well, I did my best, but really, such an inexperienced teacher should never have been asked to do this. I later found out that every other teacher had refused to teach this particular student and hence it ended up with me!
For the next year or so I experienced a fairly steep learning curve as I became more familiar with the language itself, and also started to get more of a feel for various course books and resource materials. I started to discover which courses I liked teaching the most and became more aware of my students' needs.
Management of the school seemed to like me and I received two pay rises in fairly quick succession, first to 350 baht an hour, and then to 400 baht. This might not sound like much now, but back in 1998, 400 baht an hour was good money. I was offered a contract and turned it down as everything was going well and I liked the idea of doing full-time hours, but essentially being part-time. Without a contract, it meant I did not have to do one Monday a month, the school's day off.
One of the things I really struggled with when teaching at this particular language institute were the long classes. The typical length of one class was two and a half hours. We'd give the students a quick 5 minute break, which often became ten, but still, that is a long time to teach for. I used to think that perhaps it was my own lack of staying power but looking back on it, I think that more than anything, it was the Thais' lack of willingness to accept that not every lesson will be sanuk. So many students seemed to turn off after about three quarters of an hour which was not much more than a quarter of the lesson. It was even worse on the Saturday classes when I had to do a three hour class. Really, I think Thai students are suited to much shorter classes. Absolute maximum length should be two hours with a 10 minute break in the middle.
But I'd be lying if I said that I hadn't noticed cracks in the wall by then. There were problems and I began to realise back then what I now know to be true - that the English teaching game is one big, dirty industry. One day, the DOS approached me late in the afternoon and asked me if I would like to start teaching an academic English course the next day. Sure I reply. I'm then told that I need to design a whole new course as this is a special course for a bunch of very intelligent 16 year old girls from one of the best high schools. It seemed that every other teacher that had been approached to teach the course had turned down the request to do it - because of the need to design a whole new course suitable to their needs - and so it ended up with me. I was always happy to help out so despite the problems, I took it on. Design a course overnight? A bit of a big ask really. I did manage to amend an existing course and use that, but it was hardly ideal. Fortunately, it was a success but it was a lot of unnecessary pressure that I could have done without and it really was a bit cheeky to the students to do things like that.
But it was not all bad. The best time I had teaching was a 3 month outside contract while at that particular language school. They secured a half million baht contract to place two English teachers, myself and a colleague, in a large Thai business for 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, for three months. This contract was handled EXACTLY how it should have been and frankly was a model for how an outside contract should be done. There were almost 200 students and they were all tested and interviewed and graded. They were then separated into 12 classes. We saw each class twice a week. Before the course was put together, the other teacher and myself spent two days with the company in their workplace, booking at what they did, analysing their particular language needs. We also met with many high ranking managers and talked with them about the aspects of the language that were required. We then spent the best part of a week designing a course for them and producing 30 different lesson plans, each one with a freer practice activity. Without wanting to blow our trumpets, we did a fantastic job and so when the time came to teach it, it went wonderfully well. We struck up an excellent rapport with all of the students and when the time came to leave, it really was very sad. This was without a doubt the most enjoyable and rewarding time I have had as a teacher. I liked it so much that I thought about approaching that company to see if there was a requirement for a full-time English teacher. In retrospect, perhaps I should have?
As is often the case in Bangkok, all of the teachers were males and most of us relatively young - predominantly a late 20's / early 30's crowd. On a Saturday afternoon, the last day of the working week, occasionally teachers' Thai girlfriends would come into the school to meet them and from there they could go out. The DOS at my school mentioned to me that my girlfriend should not come in to the school because she had dark-ish skin and the students may not approve of their teacher having a girlfriend with dark skin. This particular school was almost totally attended by rich upper class WHITE-skinned Thais who look down on darker skinned Thais. I got quite upset about this at the time, but later understood that he was doing it to protect the school's interests.
Unfortunately things started to get worse and worse. Good staff members left and they weren't always replaced by people who were as good. High staff turnover is to be expected in this industry given that not that many people in the English teaching game really look that long term.
As the staffing problem got worse, the DOS approached me saying that he was desperate for teachers for a new outside contract he has secured and asked me if I knew anyone looking for work? "Yes", I do". "Is the teacher a good teacher" he asks. "No, he's shit" I respond. "Oh, we don't care about that, is he popular with students". "Yes, very popular", I replied, which was true. "OK, what's his name, we'll take him!" Things like this do get to you after a while. This DOS had pressure on him to fill up the positions for the new outside contracts and he had to take on some teachers that weren't really up to it. This is common at most schools in Thailand and is one of the reasons that it is so easy to get a job. But for a purist, or even just for people who try to do a good job, it is demoralising.
The bad decisions seemed to continue. A fellow teacher was A1 - qualified, experienced and great in the classroom - both effective and popular with the students. He had a very sound knowledge of the language but perhaps more importantly, a fabulous teaching manner that the students responded well to. Unfortunately, there were some misunderstandings with regards to his contractual obligations and his responsibilities to the school. He was offered several classes to teach and turned them down - as he believed he could. However, this put pressure on the DOS to find someone else to teach those courses. One day he finishes his class at midday on a Saturday and thinks he has the weekend to look forward to. The manager calls him from home and tells him that the management has decided that he is no longer required and today is his last day at that branch. He is to be relocated to a branch on the outskirts of the city where he doesn't want to teach, and this with a very small number of hours. He was effectively managed out of his position. I started getting more and more frustrated and disappointed with the way things were going. As I had other income, I made the tough decision after almost two years teaching English in Bangkok that I had finally had enough and decided it was time to call it a day.
The next few paragraphs which are indented and italicized are what I wrote on this site at that time, in April 2000. At the time of writing I vowed never to get back into teaching again, but little did I know.....
In all of my professional life I have always enjoyed giving whatever I'm doing my best shot, and doing things as well as I could. I have been lucky in the past in that I have worked in an environment where this was possible, but I found that with teaching in Bangkok, there was always something stifling me, inhibiting my ability to do a quality job. And at times, I felt that some of those around me were operating in such an unprofessional manner that I felt down. I got fed up and instead of waiting for the inevitable day when I was going to explode, tell someone what I really thought of them and generally do a whole lot that I knew that I would later regret, I decided to resign.
During the relatively short time that I taught in Bangkok I have both met and observed some utterly dreadful teachers. The worst thing about some of these folks is that they seem to believe that after teaching for a year, they are now God's gift to the world. Utter the magic words "lesson observation" or "preparation" and they run a mile or come up with all sorts of ridiculous excuses as to why they are not a good idea...they're scared and they know that they would fail even the most unscrupulous of observations. Why is it that once these unqualified folks have taught for a year, they think that they are the composite professional? Makes you wonder doesn't it... If they were to do a decent teacher's training course then perhaps they would find out just how much they do NOT know.
I get very frustrated at the insistence on the part of some institutions that candidates have a bachelors degree as the pre-requisite for applying for a position. A bachelors degree doesn't prove diddly squat! All it says is that you have successfully completed a tertiary education. It in absolutely no way makes you a good teacher unless it is specifically related to education, TEFL or something directly within this field. Many schools plus all of the universities require a bachelors degree but do not seem to care if you have a specific teaching qualification or otherwise. They place so much importance on the perceived prestige to their institute of the teacher having a degree and seemingly do not care whether the teacher is effective in their role or otherwise. This all goes back to the standard of education in Thailand which sadly, is not too high - and that's being BLOODY polite.
Stories of schools employing non-native speakers and purporting to students that they "speak a little funny" because they come from the north of England is just abysmal! Will this ever change? I would like to think so but I really don't know... Native speaking and purportedly qualified teachers telling me how they do a wonderful job with 65 students in their class...yeah, good on ya buddy.
OK, so those who know me well know that I like to misbehave and have a bit of fun and yes, I am not adverse to drinking and chasing women. Hey, I think I'm a fairly typical guy in this respect. But, when it comes to work, I like to consider myself professional - if I'm going to do it, I'll give it 100%. Much of the English language teaching industry in Bangkok is like a circus, it really is. The point I want to get across is this: If you want to sample an exotic country and enjoy a comfortable standard of living then teaching English in Bangkok is an ideal vehicle to allow you to do this. However, if you want to work in a professional organisation and take a pride in your work while at the same time having the opportunity to develop as a professional and perhaps even develop a new career, then Bangkok may not be the place for you. I am of the opinion that there are only a handful of schools that allow you to do this.
What seems to happen in Bangkok is that the teachers who are qualified and really care about their students eventually get worn down by all of the bullshit bureaucracy, inefficiency and nonsense regulations as well as some of the appalling decisions that are made and are contrary to anyone's idea of quality education. The people who really do care seem to last a year or two and then they just disappear, perhaps off to another country or perhaps into another industry in Thailand. Funnily enough, the teachers who really don't give a shit about the quality of their tuition seem to stay on the teaching circuit in Bangkok for too long. They put up with all of the nonsense because for whatever reason, they do not want to leave Thailand - or perhaps they are avoiding going back to their homeland. As someone who puts quality first, this can all become very demoralising.
At the end of the day, there is just so much crap here. It just became too much for me and I had to get out. Maybe I'll return to teaching but for now, it is nice to take a bit of time off and gather my thoughts. Further, as I plan to spend some time studying the Thai language, that experience should contribute towards me better understanding what it's like to be a student learning a foreign language. Who knows what the future holds? For someone who really likes Thailand and the Thai people, and who is committed to trying to give the Thai people something back for the hospitality they show us foreigners, I felt very sad that the Thais were getting a raw deal from so many English schools and teachers of English.
After resigning from that school, I took the next 13 months off work completely. I studied Thai full-time for 7 months and thoroughly enjoyed it, learning good Thai by day, and bad Thai by night. Within a few months of leaving teaching I vowed never to return again as I had a new income source. However, that all went very bad and in mid 2000 I found myself without income. It was at that time that I really started to develop this website and try and derive an income from it although that was largely unsuccessful.
I later returned to the workforce and was employed as an English teacher at a high school in Bangkok, a job I got through a friend who had already been there for a year.
This was something new for me, working in a high school, teaching kids much younger than I had taught before - and something which, truth be told, I didn't really fancy taking on, at least initially. But I needed to get some structure back in my life and more than a year without any real work meant that things were becoming a bit loose - and I didn't like the way my life was going.
It was a good contract and very competitive for the period. The real beauty of it was that we got generous holidays, something which makes it all very worthwhile. 3 months off a year means you can do pretty much anything you want. A month in October and two months from mid March through to mid May.
But with 50 students in many classes, it was always a challenge to maintain control of such a large class while teaching effectively. It can be difficult to make real progress with 50 students in a class so you have to be something of an entertainer and keep your lessons lively. I remember when I trained to be a language teacher many moons ago and they said that the absolute maximum number of students you should have in a class is 16, though less than that would be ideal. 50 was a real challenge! It took a bit of time to adjust and in time I began to enjoy it more and more, and fortunately the students warmed to my teaching style.
One of the things I liked most was teaching lessons of less than an hour duration. That meant you could go into the class, present a language point, practice it, and that was your lesson. With relatively short periods (compared to a language school where classes are 2 - 3 hours in length), I felt it was just the right length of time to maintain the kids' interest - and that is so important - you have to keep the kids interested! Still, if one's class happened to fall towards the end of the day, the students are never shy to tell you how tired they are or openly put their head down on the desk and try and get a little sleep!
If I thought some weird things happened at the language school where I used to work at, then I was in for a major shock. The first was that there are four lots of exams through the school year. The year is divided up into two semesters and there are mid-semester exams as well as final exams. While the students can fail exams they are given chance after chance to re-test. You can fail them alright, but you have to re-test them until they pass. What this results in is a system whereby every student knows that at the end of the day they will pass. Things can get dumbed down so as to allow every student to pass. If any students fail over and over again, then you, as the teacher may be looked at. Sure, it may well have been you who was at fault and it may be that your instruction methods were not up to scratch, but it may also be the students who were at fault, often through laziness, failing to do the work, or possibly not even coming to class!
I was informed that when making up an exam for the students, you should have a final section called "writing" where you get the students to do a writing task based on something, anything, that you have covered with them. You give this writing a very high waiting, for instance, 30% or more of the entire exam paper's mark. This way if the student bombs the rest of the paper, you just give them maximum marks in this section which will usually (though not always!) give them enough marks to pass the exam. Failing students and getting them to do a re-test is a pain for everyone and is best avoided at all costs, even if it means you are forced to do some things which seriously compromise your integrity! I prefer to make sure my students are thoroughly prepared for the exams and actually run extra classes for them to make sure they can pass. I refuse to dumb things down because at the end of the day, I really do want the best for the kids.
I always struggled with the way that image plays a big part in education in Thailand. It is important that the teacher can answer every question but I will be the first to admit there are things I do not know. Occasionally a student may ask a high level grammar question and if it was something I was not familiar with I would tell them that I would get back to them.
It may seem crazy that you may be working with teachers who have taught English for 20 or more years and struggle to put together a grammatically correct sentence. But that doesn't mean they cannot teach. You might wonder how someone in the English department doesn't speak good English, but most still teach it well.
The first year was quite tough as it was a whole new environment and a whole new way of doing things, but subsequent years have been much easier because once you get used to the way things are done and you adapt to it. This is Thailand and you have to adapt - you cannot expect everything to be done the Western way.
Teaching 20 odd one hour (or less) periods per week sounds like it is quite a lark, but at times it can be quite the opposite. There are always things to do in a high school that wouldn't occur in a language school. There is always paperwork to attend to! Disappointingly, this sort of thing can take a long time to produce and can end up filed away and never looked at again.
And then there are the school duties. Morning assembly and being there for the national anthem and morning prayer. There might be building monitoring to do, looking out for kids playing where they shouldn't be etc. There are always extra projects to do and the number of weekends when you are called in for parent / teacher meetings, school meetings, special project meetings, school anniversary or one of many other types of function soon add up. What initially seemed like a light workload can soon mount up.
I enjoy teaching in the high school environment. I have always had an excellent relationship with the Thai staff and a very good relationship with the students too, and I really enjoy seeing the progress that students at younger ages make. It is so much easier to see progress in younger students, especially if you teach them a few times a week. There is real satisfaction in providing quality education and contributing positively to someone's life.
Teaching in a high school is more than a job, it is a privilege. You have the chance to make a really positive impact on someone's life and you should take that very, very seriously. If you are not serious about it, please leave the job to someone else. but if you are serious about it, what a wonderfully rewarding job it can be!
Looking For Work
Without a doubt, the best place to look for a teaching position in Thailand is Ajarn.com. Set up in 1999 by Ian McNamara and now run by Bangkok Phil, it has revolutionised recruitment in the teaching industry in Thailand. Many positions appear are posted on the site every week. In addition to job listings, there's a lot of information about teaching in Thailand. Just give the forum a miss - or you might be put off teaching in Thailand forever.
Door knocking! Yep, it used to be the best way to look for a job. Just turn up at a language institute or a school and ask to speak with the boss! Make sure you are wearing your best threads as presentation is all important in Thailand. Also remember to take along a copy of your CV / resume, with a photo attached (Thais love photos on job applications) plus copies of your credentials - teaching qualifications, degree etc. The main ECC branch at Siam Square, The Siam Computer head office at Victory Monument and the huge AUA branch on Rajadamri Road are good places to start.
There is a good selection of English language course books and resource materials available in Bangkok. The best place seems to be DK Books who stock a great range of course books, resource materials and general teaching books. The best branch for these types of resources is the store on a soi off Ratchaprarop Road, just up from the Indra Regent Hotel. Thailand is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy course books - they are priced according to the comparatively low amount of discretionary spending money that Thais have.
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