Steps To Independent Teaching In Thailand Part 1
Part One – Setting the Scene.
I arrived at the decision to open my own language center from a variety of stand-points. On an emotional level I have come to the end of my tolerance for working in government schools and institutions in Thailand. Though I've only worked at two during the last ten years, I have shared my experiences with many teachers who are also employed in the same theaters and tell a similar tale of woe. Such experiences range from frustration with cancelled classes/sudden schedule changes due to local teachers from other faculties extending their lessons to include some or all of your lesson time while you wait helplessly outside your classroom watching the time tick away to a constant battle to try to maintain professionalism: Class sizes of over fifty high school students are the norm in and around Bangkok, the pressure on job-security (one is generally employed on a yearly renewable contract), the Thai teaching methodology of keeping everything sanuk (fun) and come exam times to falsify the scores "as nobody can be failed" – indeed there is pressure to "bump-up" everyone's grades to the highest bands even though students may have had an abysmal attendance / homework record. On top of such daily hurdles to successful teaching and a sense of job satisfaction, one faces hidden pitfalls due to the constant shifting of political ground within the Foreign Languages Department as the post of head is held only for three years as is that of the director of the school. Such subtle changes affect working relationships all the time as there appears to be kudos in building a relationship with the Western teachers. This 'relationship' can be used as a bargaining chip amongst Thais in their battle to maintain their position within the very med-evil hierarchy or to advance their cause when an opening is perceived to reach the very top heavy management team. Consequently, a Western teacher who has been employed at an institution for more than a year or so will become willingly or unwillingly aligned to a faction which inevitably will run its course and leave him / her perilously vulnerability to a "new broom" somewhere down the line. As Max Boyce famously said "I know because I was there!"
So, having made the decision to strike out on my own I decided to spread myself around. This would leave me independent from having to maintain more than the most superficially polite working relationships with my colleagues, both Western and Thai, on a reasonable hourly rate with a variety of teaching experiences and students. I had already been teaching a couple of early teens at one of Bangkok's more prestigious schools and was lucky enough to pick up another two boys from the same school. These classes are taught at the boys' homes which are not too far away from my own when compared to my daily commute from Nonthaburi to the center of Bangkok (which could take nearly 2 hours one way if heavy traffic was encountered) and I am warmly welcomed by the family and often treated with snacks / full-blown meal / and presents to take home. As these classes are held on Wednesday and Friday early evenings, I took on corporate teaching on Tuesday and Thursdays from 4-6p.m. in central Bangkok. Although the hourly rate is significantly less than my private rate of 1000 baht plus and hour, 500 baht per hour plus 150 baht travelling expenses, it did provide me with another type of class and student. Thus I had exchanged monetary value for the advantage of improving my skills in ESP which would pay further down the line when reading my Masters in TESOL ESP. I took a further corporate class from 5 – 7 PM on a Monday, teaching debating and public speaking skills to middle management at Shell, to fill up my weekly evenings. Week-ends sees me teaching at King's College from 08:30 to 17:30 on Saturdays and 10:00 to 17:30 on Sundays. This language school is considered on parr with the British Council in Thailand and gives further credibility to my c.v. as well as observing the daily routines of a reputable language school – another choice of employment that should pay-off down the line. So, I now stand independent to a certain degree with a monthly income (assuming no cancellations) of 52.000 baht after tax with expenses of rent (8,000 baht), utilities and satellite TV. (5,000 baht) diesel (4,000 baht), food etc (5,000 baht) monthly living expenses money for my wife (5,000 baht) and beer (6,000 baht) – a total of 33,000 baht. With savings in the bank I'm looking at 20,000 baht in the black each month which is 300 pounds sterling, a 2 hour working day from Monday to Friday and a big smile on my face.
Then came the Thai Army coup! This was quickly followed by the American debacle over one of its citizens, John Karr! Suddenly, everything was thrown up in the air with immigration police raids and deportations over visas or lack of! where did this all leave me? Well, one of the attractions of working at a government institution is that they provide the work permit and the one year immigration visa for your passport – both renewable on a yearly basis if your contract is renewed. However, it is possible to obtain a yearly, renewable visa from immigration on the strength of a legally binding marriage to a Thai citizen. It was this second route that I chose as I had been married to a beautiful girl from the North of Thailand since the dawn of the second millennium – it was just a matter of registering the marriage and going through the motions. My double tourist visa which I had purchased in Penang, Malaysia was due to expire at the end of October 2006 and a few weeks earlier I began the bureaucratic dance to register my marriage. It was at this point that I discovered that the new and temporary government had changed the visa rules. Instead of needing to prove financial liquidity to the tune of 400,000 baht in a Thai bank account which could support your dependants, we now have to prove an income of 40,000 baht per month from outside of Thailand from a legitimate business which needs to be confirmed with a letter from the British Embassy to prove that such money is not from family sources abroad. Come on – who in the normal world can live in one country and produce an income which is more than double the national average monthly income from the other side of the world for the rest of your life? Time for a radical re-think!
If anyone's interested, part two will follow – twists and turns abound but perseverance wins through! Interested in people's thoughts as all of us have been or are in the industry and have lived through such turbulence.
Cheers and a grand 2007 to you all.
I always admire those few people who refuse to accept the life as an English teacher and take a risk to start up something themselves. Never easy, but I am sure it will be well worth it in time. The frustrations you have faced as a teacher have been faced by many.