Readers' Submissions

TIT – Teaching In Thailand

  • Written by Anonymous
  • November 9th, 2004
  • 6 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By Jimmy Collinson


Stick's recent comments about teaching EFL in Thailand (see Stickman's Weekly Column 07 / 11 / 04) got me thinking. Let's face it, unless you're a truly qualified teacher on a lucrative expat contract with a reputable international school, then teaching English as a Foreign Language in Thailand, or any other subject for that matter, is indeed "a rather embarrassing way to make a living" for people who wish to stay here for a long time. Before I continue, I really should qualify my statement so that I don't upset too many readers out there. Hopefully, my comments might even be seen as useful advice for people contemplating getting into (or out of) the TEFL industry in Thailand.

First of all, when I say a truly qualified teacher, I don't mean someone who spent one month doing a Cambridge / RSA CELTA or even someone who spent three months doing a Cambridge / RSA DELTA, as neither of these qualifications are accepted as legitimate teaching qualifications outside the context of language schools, which in my opinion are not the best places to seek secure, well-paid long-term employment. The reason these qualifications are not accepted outside this context is not so much a matter of their exclusive focus on teaching adults (many, but by no means all, of the principles and practices of TEFL are applicable to both adults and children), it's more a case of the lack of breadth and depth of study and training offered by these courses. If you compared the number and types of modules offered by the CELTA or DELTA with, say, a Dip.Ed.or a B.Ed majoring in TEFL, then I'm sure you'd appreciate this. Try getting yourself a respectable TEFL position in the West with only a CELTA or DELTA and you'll find yourself knocking on language school doors for jobs that pay a relative pittance, while more appropriately qualified teachers get the best TEFL jobs in regular schools and universities.

What I really mean by a truly qualified teacher is someone who spent four or five years at university studying and training in a certain academic discipline such as History, Maths, Science, or even TEFL, i.e.. someone who made a genuine commitment to pursue teaching as a life-long career, not someone who just did a brief crash course in TEFL before heading off to exotic lands, hoping or even expecting to be respected as a qualified teacher. The former deserves some recognition as a real teacher, while the latter deserves ridicule.

Secondly, when I say a lucrative expat contract, what I really mean is a contract which offers a tax-free salary of at least 100,000 baht per month, an equivalent annual bonus, a generous accommodation allowance, free flights to your home country every year or so, a tuition waiver for your kids if you have them, paid school holidays, comprehensive private health insurance, etc. If you think I'm dreaming about such a contract, then think again because this is a fairly standard package at the top international schools in Thailand. If you want a decent life in Thailand and if you want to maintain your sanity, then you need all of these perks, believe me. Furthermore, when I say a reputable international school, I mean a school whose educational ethos, standards, facilities and resources are comparable with schools in Western countries. If you're serious about a fulfilling teaching career, then you need this type of working environment, believe me. Stay in a Thai educational institution for long enough, and you'll soon become disenchanted with both teaching and Thais in general.

So, if you're not a truly qualified teacher on a lucrative expat contract with a reputable international school, then you can't really expect much out of a long-term teaching career in Thailand. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a snob. I'm just giving credit (and dis-credit) where it's due. Although they are a minority, there are hundreds of truly qualified international school teachers (yes, some even teach EFL) in Bangkok, and the fact of the matter is that most of them rightfully earned their way into these privileged positions through many years of studying and training. For these teachers, teaching in Thailand is not "a rather embarrassing way to make a living", as it's the same decent living they would be making in the West, probably even better if they're hot-blooded males with a penchant for silky Asian flesh.

So why is teaching EFL "a rather embarrassing way to make a living" for so many people in Thailand? Well, it's pretty obvious isn't it? Deep down, I think most of the red-faced farang "ajarns" out there know the true reasons, but have yet to face up to realities in the LOS, or should I say the LOD (the Land of Delusions). Any non / under-qualified person who enters any profession expecting to earn real money and real respect is, quite frankly, kidding themselves. Unfortunately, this seems to be what many EFL teachers expect and they are, as a result of their unreasonable expectations, complete and utter embarrassments (I've heard my fair share of pathetic bar stool sob stories from EFL teachers). If they do feel embarrassed, then it simply means they have finally realised how deluded and unreasonable they have been. Of course, there are a few (very few) non / under-qualified EFL teachers out there who happily admit that teaching in Thailand is just a temporary working holiday, and who have plans to commence or resume a more viable career in their home countries, or even in Thailand one day.

Just in case there are readers who think that I'm saying that truly qualified teachers are the most competent and therefore the most worthy of the top teaching positions, then I must point out that this is not necessarily my argument. There are just as many highly-competent, non / under-unqualified teachers in shitty jobs as there are highly-incompetent qualified teachers in prestigious positions. My point is that most societies and educational institutions judge and reward people according to their credentials; that's the way the cookie crumbles, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on where you stand. Without appropriate credentials, you will be judged and rewarded poorly, as is the case for so many down-trodden EFL teachers. Non / under-qualified teachers will always be poorly judged and rewarded for being just that, while truly qualified teachers will always be favourably judged and rewarded for being just that. Whether or not this is justified is a matter of personal opinion.

Luckily, we all have choices. If you resent the fact that your TEFL certificate or diploma is very unlikely to land you a secure, well-paid teaching position that will earn you real respect (not the false respect offered by Thais who have ulterior motives) and see you through to a comfortable retirement one day, then you have one of three choices: grin and bear it (even try to enjoy it), find another profession, or get appropriately qualified. It's quite simple really. The only problem is that Thailand tends to attract a steady stream (some might say it's a tidal wave) of Westerners who have lost, or will inevitably lose, their capacity for logical and rational thought.

As so many have pointed out on this site, life in Thailand can be either a dream or a nightmare, depending on how you play your cards. If you come to Thailand as a non / under-qualified EFL teacher, you'll easily get work, but don't expect to live on easy street. By all means, give it a go, but be realistic about your expectations, and more importantly, have a back-up plan for when you've had enough of your TEFL "career".

Stickman's thoughts:

This is ABSOLUTELY SPOT ON! I could not agree more!