Readers' Submissions

The Opportunity Cost Of Teaching In Thailand




I can’t go on any longer. I can’t put up with the same shit that I have put up with for so long. I've decided to end my teaching career in Thailand.

I am not a career teacher. I only taught in Thailand. Never taught in my country and sure as hell hope I don’t have to in the future.

A mate taught here for 6 years. He got himself a nice little piece of Thailand (read: teeruk) and took her back to the UK. He hit Thailand right after graduation and teaching in Thailand was all he knew. His words were that teaching back in the UK was not that much different to teaching in Thailand. Unscrupulous, profit-hungry school owners resulted in corner cutting and questionable standards were amongst his comments. Fortunately he extricated himself from that quickly and got a real job.

I’m a little different. I am not taking myself a piece of Thai crumpet back with me (Thai birds are great for fun but long term, no thanks) so I go back with plenty of baggage – but no encumbrance.

I don’t want to dwell on my reasons for leaving too much as bitching and moaning is not my intention. I will say however that my career teaching mirrored other parts of my life here. It was the same old story, day in and day out, and it’s always the farang who’s in the wrong.

OK, enough of that, this submission is going in the wrong direction.

My main point is to look at the future, in terms of what I will do, and look back at what I will leave behind, as well as reflect on how my life in Thailand may not exactly stand me in good stead back home.

I worked for 5 years before coming to Thailand and had a decent job as a manager in a medium-sized transport company. I enjoyed the work and had lots of great colleagues, professional on the job, but fun-loving after hours. I was lower level management in an industry that doesn’t pay that well. That was part of the reason I left. Crazy as it sounds, I knew that if I could secure a decent teaching position, a bit better than the average – and I managed that with interest being a Maths teacher (Science teachers are also in demand) – then I would be better off in Thailand than I was at home.

And so it was. For years I had a good, but perhaps too easy life. Eating out pretty much every meal for my whole time here, doing the bargirl thing and then moving on to the regular girls when I finally realised just how easy that was. And then coming full circle and realising that they are all pretty much the same!

My job was ho hum. It was easy. We worked 4 ½ days a week, had a light workload and I lived close to where I worked. We got 3 months off paid a year with no summer school commitments that many ajarns get stuck with. Ajarns, not teachers. Hahaha, it makes me laugh. The Thais are so pompous about that, aren't they. Ajarn John, Ajarn Fred, Ajarn Sam. Hahaha!

The routine was the same year after year and it got so boring. You ALWAYS knew what was going to happen next. It's ironic that in a country where many say one of the joys is that you never really know what is going to happen next, the workplace here is so damned predictable. To the point of being incredibly boring.

Is that why I left? Boredom? It was part of it.

Or was it the mediocre pay rise that didn’t even keep up with inflation?

Or was it the fact that every kid had to pass, even when they were clearly so far behind where they should have been, in some cases, 1 or 2 years behind.

Actually, it was quite different reasons. I felt that I got nothing from the school other than a pay packet. I didn’t not develop that much as a teacher. The teachers I worked with were inexperienced and many were there purely for their pay packet. They were zombies, going through the motions. Professionals they were not. I soon learned that the school really wasn’t interested in developing us. What was in it for them? Foreign teachers come and go so why spend money on developing them. Actually I don't think the school hierarchy even liked the foreign teachers much. We were like a necessary evil. And they sure resented paying us what they did. A newly recruited foreign teacher earns more than the school director who has 30+ years so I guess resentment is inevitable in a country where jealousy is so prevalent. I didn’t make any great contacts through the school, be it foreign staff, Thai staff or even parents of students. It all became a ho hum.

So now to the future. I was so positive. I handed in my notice and the school kindly agreed to pay me until the end of my contract and not cancel my visa. I can have a holiday before making my way back to the UK.

Initially I felt that the skills I had gained in Thailand, and the understanding of another culture would hold me in good stead and upon return to the UK I would have no problem getting a job. I had this quiet confidence that my overseas experience would push me to the front of the queue.

But then I met up with two guys from home, quite by chance. They were both a little rough around the edges. One was a taxi driver and the other a manager. They were nice guys, a little older than me, just decent, hard-working blokes. These guys obviously struggled through school, didn’t get a tertiary education and frankly were not going to be at the front of the queue.

As I chatted with them I realised how little I knew about what was going on in my homeland, and how much things had changed. These guys talked of all sorts of things I had never heard of, from compulsory superannuation schemes, to health and safety regulations to the problems of selling stuff on Ebay. There were so many things I never knew about, or had simply forgotten about.

I began to realise that while I am keen to go home and get stuck back into a real job, the realities are quite different. I am out of touch with so many things. And the prices, oh my God! Even just things like car parking are horrendously expensive. I thought I’d saved a lot of money in Thailand and I had, by Thai standards, but converting this back into Sterling will leave me with barely enough to restart my life.

I’ve had a great time in Thailand and up until a couple of years ago it had been enjoyable enough. Then I just bored with the same old drudgery of Thailand and found myself living my life online, reading news sites from home and craving many of the things I missed from favourite television from home to favourite food to even missing friends and family.

The reality is that my time teaching in Thailand may well count against me. I am not so old that I cannot restart in a new career but I am going to have to work my butt off to get back on the ladder. And with the property market explosion in the time I have been away, getting my own home is going to be a right challenge. Might have to marry me a wealthy girl.

Do I regret my time in Thailand? No, I don’t, but I acknowledge the very real opportunity cost of my time here. If I had never made it to Thailand I would now likely be on $100,000+ a year, have a company car and be meeting and schmoozing with interesting, successful people. I would certainly have my own house and it would have increased in value so much that with the equity in it and my salary I would be well on my way to being a millionaire.

While writing this submission the reality of what I face is hitting me hard. I don’t regret my time in Thailand, but I would be a liar if I said that there was not a huge cost in it. I’ll keep you posted how things go back home.

Stickman's thoughts:

It sounds like you came to Thailand at around the same age and time that I did. Had you not come, I imagine it would have played on your mind for a long time. I think it is better not to regret the things you have done, but the things you didn't do. You lived a dream for a while, a life that many dream about. Sure, you might have missed out on many things back in your corner of Farangland but you also experienced Thailand at a time when it was almost certainly better than it will be in the future. Cherish those positive memories!