Teaching in Thailand


 

Q First off what’s the difference between a legal and an illegal teacher?
A A legal teacher has a teacher’s license (from the Thai Ministry of Education), a work permit (from the Thai Labor Department) and a one-year visa (from the Thai Immigration Dept) The one year visa is issued on the strength of you having a work permit. If you don’t get the work permit, you don’t get the one year visa. They are inextricably linked.
An illegal teacher has no teacher’s license and no work permit, and of course - no one year visa. Illegal teachers are resigned to doing border hops and consulate runs to neighboring countries every month or every 2-3 months depending on how they’ve got things organized.


Q What visa options are available to me before I enter Thailand?
A To say that Thailand’s visa regulations are extraordinarily complex just doesn’t do things justice. And if anything they seem to get more and more complicated as time goes by.
Well there are three main options and these themselves have options within them.

On-entry Visa: Most nationalities can receive 30 days on entry automatically with the option (at the Immigration officers discretion) to extend by 10 days (OR SOMETIMES 14 DAYS at a cost of 1,900 Baht) at an Immigration office. Go here for the list of countries: http://www.imm3.police.go.th/eng/ There are countless foreigners who have lived in Thailand for years and simply toddled off to a border point every 30 days, done a quick ‘in and out’ and received a fresh 30-day stamp. That all changed on October 1st 2006 when Thai immigration announced that you could only have a maximum of three 30-day stamps, and then you have to spend 90 days out of the country before you were allowed another one……….or you have to go to a Thai consulate abroad and get a ‘proper’ visa (tourist or non-immigrant) There are many theories as to why this rule came about but one popular notion is that it stops foreigners using the perpetual 30-day stamp as a cheap sort of permanent residency permit.

Tourist Visas: Can and must be issued by a Thai Embassy or Consulate and there are different numbers of entries (not always easy to get more than one though!). A single tourist Visa would automatically entitle you to 60 days on entry to Thailand, with the option to extend by 30 days (again at 1,900 Baht) at an Immigration office. A double entry tourist Visa would entitle you to the above, with a further 60 day entry once you’ve left and returned (exit and re-entry) to Thailand (see border runs further on) and the option to extend by a further 30 days. A triple entry would be the same but with THREE entries of 60 days etc. The most entries I’m aware of is four, but you’ll find that most neighboring Asian countries will only issue singles or doubles at best. A common question is ‘which embassy or consulate is the best to go to for a tourist visa? Penang in Malaysia? What about Kuala Lumpur? How about Vientiane in Laos? Or Cambodia even? The answer is ‘who the hell knows?’ You hear just as many success stories as you do refusals - from all consulates. It all really depends on which way the wind is blowing.

So let’s recap on what you can do with a double-entry tourist visa if you’re lucky enough to get one.
Let’s say you enter Thailand on the 1st January (for sake of argument). You get 60 days on entry which will allow you to stay in Thailand until the 28/29th February. Just before the 60 days expire (or on the last day itself) you go to immigration office in Thailand and extend for a further month. Then you can extend for another two weeks (all extensions are currently 1,900 baht). When your final day of your final extension is almost upon you, you catch a bus, train or plane to a neighboring country’s border point and then turn around and re-enter Thailand. Thus you now activate your second entry and your second 60-days. So in effect, a double entry tourist visa will get you 60 days plus 60 days plus an optional extension of one month on each entry and then a further extension of two weeks on each entry (all extensions can be done at an office within Thailand). So you would get about seven months out of your double entry tourist, but that includes one border hop and FOUR trips to the immigration office!
For the cost of tourist Visas in the UK go here: http://www.thaiconsul-uk.com
Remember - you cannot work legally in Thailand on a tourist visa!

Which brings us to Non-immigrant Visas! There are many many different types of these but I’ll cover the main ones in the next section.


Q Which visa will I need in order to become legal?
A A Non-immigrant B Visa is generally the Visa you need to obtain if you are looking to work here and to get one you are required to produce a whole stack of paperwork including a letter of employment, an employment contract, maybe a letter from your embassy (and there is even talk of a security background check). You really need to call the embassy or consulate ahead of time and find out EXACTLY what they require if you want a non-immigrant B. If you turn up with 100 pieces of paper, then you can bet your boots the officer will ask for 101.
On entry you’ll receive 90 days of cover, with the option to extend by 10 days at Imm (I GET 14 + 6 ALL FOR 1900) (cost: 1,900 Baht). You can also obtain (although this may have changed recently) double entry Non-imm Bs (two entries of 90 days, the second entry is obtained by exiting and re-entering the country). Multiple entry Non-imm Bs are the best as they will give you just under 15 months of cover in 90 day intervals. For a one year period ANY and EVERY time you enter Thailand with the Non-imm B you’ll receive 90 days on entry. Generally most school prefer you to be on a Non-imm B if you wish to obtain a work permit, although as mentioned before a Non-imm O (spousal or dependants Visa) is in some ways interchangeable and vice versa! A word of advice most Consulates are far friendlier when it comes to issuing Non-imm Bs (and multiples at that) than Embassies. Cost of Non-imm B in the UK: http://www.thaiconsul-uk.com
Again, the immigration rules overhaul of October 2006 meant that non-immigrant visas suddenly become a lot harder to get. Well, some people have had problems….but there are people who have problems doing anything.

A Non-immigrant O Visa is generally for people married to a Thai national or with Thai children or dependants. This works in basically the same way as a Non-imm B. Although if you can show funds in a Thai bank account (400,000 baht) or show sufficient proof of local or overseas income to prove that you can support your family, the immigration can indefinitely extend your Visa for up to 12 months. A work permit can now be obtained on a Non-imm O (it couldn’t before 2006)

Generally (or it seems a lot of employers prefer) a Non-immigrant B Visa. Although it’s possible to obtain a work permit with a Non-immigrant O Visa, it seems a lot of employers either aren’t aware of this, or it’s too much hassle for them. Generally you’ll need at least a couple of months of your Visa left (which would initially be for 90 days) for the school to obtain all the needed paperwork…although if they can show they’re going through the motions Immigration can and will grant an extension (generally of around a month) to give your employer time enough to finish everything off.

Important
Many people will disagree with me on this but I sincerely believe that no visa requirement rule is set in stone. There are many ‘human’ factors involved when you apply for a visa and you are face-to-face with an immigration officer.
Is the immigration officer in a good mood?
Does he / she like you as a person and are you polite?
Are you dressed smartly enough? (you don’t need to be in a velvet smoking jacket but Thais like clean people)
Do you look like someone Thailand would want living in its country?
etc, etc - the list is endless. Most of it is just plain common sense.


Q Briefly, what is the process of obtaining a teacher’s license and getting a work permit?
A Briefly, you give your school whatever documents they ask you for, and they process them. You need to be tolerant and helpful at this point even if you personally think hey have no need to ask for certain things. If you don’t co-operate, the process will get stuck and you’ll be the one leaving the country to get a new visa. First they obtain a teacher’s license for you, and then they use this to get a work permit. Once you have a work permit, your visa can be extended.

Lengthily, (and the details may vary between schools and provinces) the first step is the teacher’s license. This requires more or less the following: A personal information document, up to 12 one and a half inch photos, up to 12 two inch photos, a current health certificate (50 baht any hospital - are you alive? yes - you passed), copies of your degree and other certs (originals may be requested along with transcripts) certified Thai translations of your degree and other certs, copies of every page of your passport, school director’s license, school principal’s license, map of school, teaching schedule of teacher, list of other work permit holders at the school, a new blank teacher’s license book (blue), form Sor Chor 10, form Sor Chor 17, form Ror 11. And if you’ve had a license before, then you can add Ror 12, Sor Chor 19, Sor Chor 18, and your blue license book (not to be confused with the work permit book, plus some provinces don’t issue them, in which case you might need to fabricate a police report saying you’ve lost it)

These are all submitted in quadruplicate to the Min of Ed, and don’t forget to sign every single page. After a while (one week to who knows) you will get the license back. You take this, along with most of the same documents as above to the Labour Department, who will issue a receipt of application. You can use the receipt to extend your visa - the implication being that your application won’t be turned down at this stage. After about three weeks you pick up your new work permit. When the time comes for renewal, it’s a good idea to remind your school about one month before the expiry date, though they really should be on top of things by that stage.


Q How long does this process take, and do I have to do it myself?
A You need a school backing you up in order to get yourself a teacher’s license. If the school can’t do the paperwork then your own chances of doing it will be slim to non-existent. Many schools do not actually know how to get licenses and work permits for foreign teachers, or do not have a member of staff who has ever done it. In this case things can get very drawn out with the application being postponed indefinitely. If you’re the first or only foreigner in a school, good luck.

The actual process need not take a long time. The important thing is to get the teacher’s license because that will enable you to make your work permit application which is enough to extend your visa. When I process these, I consider the day the visa expires to be the deadline for getting the license in my hands. It can be done in a week. I aim for a month. If the paperwork is flawed you can just keep on waiting.


Q What are the current requirements from the Thai Ministry of Education?
A This is something of a 64 billion dollar question. Ask five different people and you’ll get five different answers. The general consensus (as of Feb 2006) is that you need BOTH a B.A (in any subject) AND a recognized TEFL certificate. If your B.A is in English (and only English), then you do NOT need to show a TEFL certificate in addition.
I’m one of the few people who seem to push this point, but a hell of a lot depends on your school’s relationship with the MoE. Some schools have poor relationships with the MoE and need to jump through numerous hoops to get their teachers legal. Other schools have good relationships and find the whole process fairly painless (not that I’d ever use the word painless to describe an aspect of Thai officialdom)
There’s a lot of argument over what exactly constitutes a ‘recognized TEFL certificate’ but in my opinion, if the certificate’s got the word TEFL on it in some shape, size or form, it should get through.
Contrary to popular belief and rumor, the MoE do NOT check the validity of degrees and TEFL certificates. They simply don’t have the manpower. The responsibility of checking all certificates falls on the shoulders of the employer (which is how it should be) You do however need to show original copies to the officer at the MoE.


Q Do people teach on tourist visas for a long time? Why?
A The main reasons that teachers work illegally (on tourist visas) are
1) they don’t possess the necessary qualifications to obtain a teacher’s license
2) their school / institute can’t get them a work permit / won’t get them a work permit / don’t know how to get them a work permit
3) they actually prefer to remain a ‘free spirit’ often juggling around freelance work and not tied down to one particular establishment.
Be warned though: teaching without a work permit can land you in serious trouble. Jail / fine / deportation - take your pick.


Q Does a work permit cover you for all types of teaching work and in any location?
A Surprisingly it doesn’t and this is something that language schools and institutes remain blissfully ignorant of. Your work permit allows you to teach in ONE location only - the location written on the inside cover of the work permit. The moment a teacher goes ‘outside’, perhaps to teach corporate clients at their company office, the teacher is breaking the law.
There has been talk of introducing a ‘roaming work permit’ which would allow a teacher to teach literally anywhere in Thailand provided it was for the same company…..but it’s just talk.


Q What is a border run or border hop?
A A border hop means taking a train, a bus, a plane or anything with wheels, and crossing a neighboring border. Then usually coming straight back into Thailand again. A border hop is usually done to ‘activate’ a second or third entry on a double or triple entry visa.

Q What is a consulate/embassy run?
A A consulate run is when you physically need to get a new Thai visa in your passport and that means schlepping to a Thai consulate/embassy in a neighboring country. It goes without saying that consulate runs are more expensive, more time-consuming (and dare I say more stressful) than border hops. Depending on what time of day you arrive, Thai embassies / consulates will issue you a new visa within 48 hours.

Q What countries are available to me to do these hops and runs?
A Phew! There must be at least a dozen border points in Thailand where you can perform a border hop, with the most popular being the Thai/Malaysian border point at Pedang Besar, the Thailand/Laos border point at Nong Khai, and the Thailand / Cambodia crossing at Aranya Pratheet.
Long-termers generally have their own reasons for choosing a particular border point.
As far as consulates are concerned, the most popular choices are Penang (Malaysia), and Vientiane (Laos). Other options include Singapore and Phnom Phen. If you fancy a particular place to do a border hop or consulate run, I suggest you put a post on the ajarn discussion board, and find out the latest vibe for that crossing or consulate. Who knows, you might even find someone to buddy up with!


Q If I need to get a non-immigrant visa from a neighboring country, what documentation do I need?
A Firstly, your school needs to be on the unofficial official school-list at the consulate you are going to. If your school has got its act together, they will have notified the consulate in the past and be ‘on the list’. Sadly, organization is not one of Thailand’s best traits. All is not lost though, and if you can plead your case well enough and you’re wearing a clean shirt, you’ll probably get your non-immigrant visa. From experience, it always seems that the consulate in Laos is by far the strictest when it comes to ‘hey your school is not on the list so here’s a tourist visa, now bugger off’  - Vietnam and Cambodia aren’t far behind so I’ve heard.
You will need to take paperwork with you in order to get a non-immigration visa. Again, if your school knows what it’s doing, this won’t be a problem. The keyword is ‘if’.


Q What are the costs involved in doing a border run and will my school pay?
A Very difficult to answer this question. You could take a cheap minibus from Bangkok to Aranya Pratheet on the Cambodian border and still have change from thirty dollars. Or you could fly to Singapore and stay a night in a swanky Orchard Road hotel. Border runs can be tailored to fit most budgets.
Schools almost rarely/never pay for a teacher to do a border hop or consulate run.


Q My school will get me a work permit if I sign a one-year contract. What happens if I break that contract?
A Well, the school will be pissed off for a start (unless you’re an awful teacher and they can’t wait to see the back of you). In addition to that, you will probably be required to reimburse the school for the costs of work permit, teacher’s license, admin staff’s shoe leather, etc, etc. You can expect to cough up something in the region of 5,000 baht.
More importantly, once you quit a job, your work permit and one-year visa are null and void. You now have SEVEN days to leave the country and get a new visa. Make sure that you keep tabs on EXACTLY when the school hands back your work permit to the labor department, because that’s when the 7-day clock starts ticking. I’ve heard numerous stories of schools failing to tell the teacher that they’ve already cancelled the work permit and the teacher suddenly staring at a hefty overstay fine. Needless to say, breaking a contract is something you really should avoid doing if at all possible.
Paully also adds the following - In addition to the advice already given, remember that if your written employment contract has a notice period clause in it (as is common), for example, allowing your employer or you to terminate the contract on one month’s written notice to the other party, you are NOT breaking your contract by giving your employer one month’s written notice of leaving. You are terminating your contract by agreement. This is as valid in Thai law as in US or UK law. Your employer may still be pissed off, but there’s nothing in law he can do about it other than try to hold up your application for a new work permit. Keep a copy of your letter of notice and contact the Ministry of Labour if your old employer refuses to give you/the Min of Labour a release form (Tor Dor 11) agreeing to your leaving and allowing you to get a new work permit.
Update from a teacher regarding the ‘7-day rule’
In my case, the employer wrote on whatever form it was that they presented to the Labour Department that my last date of employment was 12 June. They actually notified the Labour Department on 14 June and subsequently notified Immigration on 15 June. Immigration gave me until 18 June (ie, the clock started ticking the first second into 12 June) to leave the country. I was expecting a date of 21 June, so this was a bit of a surprise, but not a problem.


Q What is a re-entry permit?
A If you have a non-immigrant visa, it will be cancelled if you leave the country. To avoid canceling it, get a re-entry permit from immigration or at the airport (before you go through immigration to leave). It costs 1000 baht for a single re-entry, or 3,800 for a multiple. It’s valid as long as your visa.
This is very important if you have a work permit, because canceling your visa cancels the work permit and you have to start everything again. If you have a multiple entry non-immigrant visa which has been extended on a work permit (or you have a work permit application in process) then you still need a re-entry permit, because a new entry is considered to be a new visa, and everything will have been cancelled.
If you’re hoping to qualify for residence, this is another reason to make sure that your visa doesn’t get cancelled as you need to spend a certain number of years here on the same visa in order to apply. If in doubt, check with immigration first, because the consequences of getting it wrong are troublesome.


Q What happens if I overstay a visa?
A Basically if your Visa (be it a tourist, Non-imm, entry….whatever) is due to expire on say 7th May, 2004. You must either go to Imm (on that day…not the day after) to get an extension (if you’re entitled to one…although to be honest there’ll generally give you something although you don’t really want to be paying 1,900 Baht for a days extension), or you can do a run (see border runs) to a neighbouring country and exit and then re-enter to obtain a further x amount of days (depending on which Visa you already hold).

Now overstay (and I’ve heard differing views, but this is generally how it works IMHO) starts from the day (kind of) your Visa runs out. So if you run out on the 8th and you on the 9th you’ll pay 500 Baht overstay. 10 days would be 5,000 Baht, 20 = 10,000 Baht and so on and so on until you get to the ceiling fine amount which is 20,000 Baht. I was under the impression (and bear in mind the whims of Imm can change from day to day) that you were allows one over stay of this amount in your passport…two could mean you’re deported (again you hear a lot of different stories in regards to this).

Now I’ve been over a few times here and there (28 days three years ago was the most) and I’ve never had a problem with it although I have been shouted at. Now what seems to be happening is if you can get to the border or airport to pay the overstay you’ll (generally) be fine, BUT if you’re pulled on overstay while in a touristy area, or just routinely asked to show your passport and you’re on overstay…you could be in a heap of trouble. They can and from what I’ve heard will arrest you and possibly deport you (once you’ve paid the overstay amount owed). The worst story I’ve heard (from a very reliable person from S&A) was a chap got pulled on the Jack Golf bus (at Sukhumvit before it was due to leave) and he was actually only 7 hours over and on his way to the border to sort it out….nicked and locked up!
Visa services at the present time are a big no no (at least the ones that send your passports off).


Q Can my employer refuse to give me my teacher’s license when I leave?
A It’s common for schools to hang on to your teacher’s license (both the permanent version and the version issued to that school for your current contract period) while you’re working there. Schools sometimes like to hang on to your passport and your blue work permit book too, officially for safekeeping, unofficially perhaps in an attempt to stop you disappearing at the end of the month. Remember that your passport is yours, the school has no right to keep it and it should be kept with you. The work permit has to be kept with you OR at your place of work during working hours: again the school has no automatic right to keep it in the school safe forever. At the basic minimum, keep a copy of the work permit in case you need it to refer to the number or issue/expiry date.
When you leave your work, the school must give you your permanent teacher’s license (but not the current one issued for your employment) whether you leave Thailand or remain to go on to a new job. Check you have the original license with the original photograph and stamp on it. They have no right to keep the original permanent license and give you only a copy. It’s yours, not theirs.

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.



Different schools have different schedules and different contracts stipulating the maximum number of contact hours per week, or the point at which the number of hours taught will become overtime.

Some schools may require to teach up to 36 contact hours a week while others may only require 10 hours a week - yes, the difference can be that great!  It is generally accepted that any more than 25 contact hours a week is too much.  Remember that in addition to teaching, you have to prepare lessons.  This means going over the material you are going to teach to make sure you are familiar with it - and going over anything which you may not be familiar with - something that can happen after even years of teaching when you are required to teach something you have never covered before.  You need to prepare resources to use, such as worksheets, or other items which you may use in the classroom.  You may have to write reports about the students, or check homework and then there might be ceremonial obligations and other outside the classroom aspects to the job.  25 contact hours might not sounds much, but that really should be the maximum!

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, something I almost cannot comprehend.  This truly is madness and few people can cope with this sort of workload.  No DOS or manager in their right mind would allow a teacher to work so many hours.  There would be a huge drop in quality in that teacher’s lessons!

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.  As crazy as it sounds, I burned out in 7 weeks and walked out of the job.  I just could not cope.  It wasn’t until I left that I realized that staff attrition at that particular language school was a huge problem.  In some was it was a shame as the Thai staff were really nice, as were the students, but no-one could cope with that sort of schedule and every time I hear about that place, there is a new teacher there!

Teaching can be stressful and draining so don’t think that 25 hours is a small number if you have come from a job working long work weeks.  25 contact hours can quickly turn into 50+ hours at work a week.

When you first start teaching, you will probably find yourself spending more time preparing for lessons than actually teaching them!  This is a good sign because you are probably doing what is required to actually deliver a good lesson.  As you become more familiar with teaching, grammar and the different courses and resource books, your time needed to prepare lessons will decrease.  If you are not spending a lot of time preparing lesson plans when you first start teaching, you’re probably not doing enough to deliver a good, effective and enjoyable lesson.

In language schools it is all about the teaching, but in high schools and to a lesser extent, in universities, teachers do have a lot of other outside the classroom type duties, which increase your 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-centered 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 sky train, 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 sky train followed by a 30 baht sky train 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 sky train 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.  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 socialize 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 socialize 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 honor 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 this list 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.

The other side of this is the website ThaiSchoolWatch.com which is essentially a black list of schools and bad employers in Thailand.  Laid out as a discussion forum, users are able to write reports about schools which they feel have done the dirty, or simply are not good schools to work for.  There are both good and bad reasons for the existence of this site and I will not go into them as they are obvious, but being the conservative that I am, I feel that it is very much open to abuse.

I am 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 favor.  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 pedophile 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.

You’ve made quite a few references to personal presentation in many of the previous questions - is it 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.

In late 2001, it was mooted that work permits for English teachers would not be issued to non-native English speakers.  The articles in the Bangkok Post clearly stated that only New Zealand, Australian, Canadian, British and American nationals could be issued with a work permit.  South Africans were notably missing.  Whether or not this policy eventuates or not, who knows - and it must be said that such articles appear often enough, but nothing ever comes about.  Note in 2004: This never eventuated.

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 tat 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 Thai schools have an Internet connection?

If you are reading this, you obviously have an Internet connection and the Internet really is the tool of the modern person (hey, ain’t I politically correct - I DIDN’T say modern man!)  Internet access used to be expensive in Bangkok and combined with local call charges, apartment phone limits and dodgy phone lines, the cost of an Internet connection added up quickly.  When I first arrived in Bangkok, 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 is money one would surely rather spend elsewhere.  Internet cafes varied in cost but were 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 600 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.

Most schools have high speed internet, though with the kids setting up computers to download huge files all day and with a great number of users, this can slow things down.  Still, the net is usually quick enough for you to be able to check your email and browse news from home as well as the local discussion forums.  I have found that the internet in schools can be erratic and can be prone to slowing down, so be careful if you plan lessons around internet based activities.

In the better schools, all teachers will have a computer on their own 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 people have to share them.  In the better schools and the odd institute, there may even be wi-fi transmission 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.

Personally, if a school did not have an internet connection, I would not want to work there.

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 point of view, 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 westernized than many people realize.  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.

OK, this is my first job as an English teacher, what should I look for and be aware of?

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, it also tells you 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.  Teaching, like some other jobs such as those in the medical field is 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 this city is pretty low and what we really need is 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…

Are there opportunities to teach subjects other than English, such as computing, business studies, geography 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 recognize 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.

How many English teachers are there in Bangkok?  Will I be one of a kind or will I have lots of friends doing similar things?

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.

What about if I decide to pursue English teaching as a career.  What are the career options available to me?

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 organizational 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 offering work.  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 there for the girls (or the boys) or backpackers who just want to prolong their holiday and consume as many drugs as they can?  Are these stereotypes valid?

The backpacker part is laughable.  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 pedophile 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 over the pats 5 years, 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.

The truth is that I am looking for a job in Thailand and I have considered teaching English as it seems the easiest type of thing to do, but you know what, I am not sure if it is really for me.  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 summarizes the point nicely.

…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.

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.

Private Tuition

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 organized 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 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 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.

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 counselors 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.

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 DOS’s / Academic Directors / Branch Managers or basically people in senior positions have fortuitously fallen into such a position and they very quickly realized that financially they are on to a good number that could not be replicated as a teacher.  As soon as this is realized 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 socialize 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 realize 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.

My story

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 realized 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 realize 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 realized 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 realize 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, analyzing 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 demoralizing.

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 organization 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 demoralizing.

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!

Good luck to you!

Looking For Work

Without a doubt, the best place to look for a teaching position in Thailand is online at Ajarn.com.  This website, which was set up in 1999 by Ian McNamara but is now run by Bangkok Phil, has revolutionized the way recruitment takes place in the teaching industry in Thailand.  Huge numbers of jobs appear on the site every week and the site has contributed to a rise in salaries offered in the industry nationwide.  In addition to jobs offered at the site, there is a lot of information about teaching in Thailand.

Door knocking!  Yes, it used to be the best way to look for a job!  Just turn up at a language institute or a school and request an interview.  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 in American English…), with a photo attached plus copies of your teaching certificate, degree etc.  ECC at Siam Square, Siam Computer at Victory Monument and AUA on Rajadamri Road (all the main / head office branches) are three big schools with many branches that are usually happy to receive walk-in applicants.

The Bangkok Post  newspaper has vacancies advertised everyday and is the best newspaper to look at for teaching jobs, that is if you are actually in Bangkok.

Eslcafe.com  has jobs advertised online and you can advertise in the job wanted section.  There is also an excellent job discussion forum which is well worth reading and a small submission of posts on Thailand, some good but others a little wacky.

Ajarn.com  The most comprehensive Thailand English teaching website and the place with far and away the most job listings.

The English version of the Bangkok Yellow Pages has an extensive listing of all of the language schools.

“Teaching English Abroad”, by Susan Griffith, gives a good overview of teaching around the world.  The Thailand section is OK but the remuneration details and school listings are pretty old and some details are really need to be updated.  Frankly, to know about actually teaching in Thailand, especially current school details, stick to the internet.

There is an excellent 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.

For a good understanding of Thailand visit Stickmans Blog

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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.

Some schools take training seriously and may even organize 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.

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 organization.  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 organization 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.

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.

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