Teaching in Thailand


Teaching overseas is the best way to combine great working conditions with living an exotic lifestyle. But it’s not without pitfalls for the unwary. I’m going to share a little story with you about how an experienced international teacher ended up having a really, really bad couple of days…
When you are getting ready to move overseas, you will definitely want to take a very close look at what kind of visa you need to get. Moving your teaching career abroad isn’t the same as going on holiday. You are not entering the country for tourism purposes, and most countries distinguish between tourism visas and, well, non-tourism visas!

You many need to get a non-immigrant visa, or a business visa or a working visa… there are many names and number designations that are country specific. For example, teachers who are moving to the United Kingdom require a working visa (or a working holiday visa if they’re under 30) but I needed a non-Immigrant B visa to enter Thailand to take up my post here.

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What kind of stuff do you teach at CMU? I teach English language skills - grammar, reading comprehension, listening, and writing, to all the university students who are non-English majors (the English majors are in a separate program). I have students from engineering, general science, biology, foreign languages, accounting, and many other disciplines.
English classes are required for all science and humanities students. These classes cover the first two years of study. As many as 1500 students may be enrolled in a particular English class during a semester. That means that there are probably about fifty or sixty sections being taught by twenty or twenty-five ajaans, each with two or three sections. Some of the lessons involve listening to a tape, and on certain days you can hear the same lesson reverberating through the hallways, as different classrooms play the same tape at the same time, but not quite in synch with each other. Or, you may hear a humanities tape and a science tape mixed together in the air. Charles Ives would have been proud.

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How many classes do you teach, and how big are they? At CMU, I usually teach five classes per semester, which means five classroom hours a day, three days a week. Usually I have two or three sections of the same class, which means if I have a good lesson plan for one section, I can use it over again in the later sections of the same class. On the other hand, sometimes I have a terrible lesson (it happens) in the morning class, and later I improve on it. Or, sometimes I have a plan that works really well in the early going, but by afternoon all that magic has somehow gotten out of focus like the previous night’s dream. Lesson planning is not a static thing; it’s very organic.
My classes at CMU usually contain from twenty-five to thirty-five students. Once, by some twist of fate, I got a class of only thirteen students, but that’s very rare.

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Okay! School vacation’s over! Ready to go back to class? No?? Don’t worry, I won’t make you work too hard or stand up in front of the class… unless you want to, of course. But if you’ll just follow me, I’ll show you where I work.

What kind of job do you have? I teach English at Chiang Mai University, known in northern Thailand as maw-chaw. (Maw-chaw is the initials for the university in Thai.) I got the job when I first came to Chiang Mai a year ago, and so far they seem to like me. I get paid by the hour, and I teach 15 hours a week. I don’t make a lot of money, but it’s enough to get by if I budget myself and don’t go hog-wild on weekends. Most farang ajaans at CMU have a second job, and so do I. My second job is at a Catholic high school for girls. Between the two jobs, the money I make is pretty good.

What is an ajaan? An ajaan is a college teacher, a professor. It’s a title of respect. When I go out on the town, people who know me often call me ajaan John. It means they think I’m a really swell guy. I kind of like it.

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We had another guy quit at work today. He lasted one week. I hate this certain mentality of some foreigners who come here to work, but expect to be able to do so without doing any actual work. Why apply for a job, waste everybody’s time being trained up, getting a work permit, getting a visa, only to turn around and walk out the next day?

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