Teaching English in Thailand: A Beginner’s Guide

Teaching English in Thailand: A Beginner’s Guide

Lots of people want to live overseas in Thailand. Who wouldn’t? It’s one of the most popular countries to visit in the world and is also very pleasant to live in. For people looking to move overseas for the first time, teaching English has long been a popular course to take, especially for native English speakers.

Those from countries where English is the first or second language find that the bar for entry as an English teacher can be quite low. At the same time salaries for teaching are adequately high for people to start their expat adventure, particularly in Asian countries where the people are keen to learn the language. Thailand is certainly one of those countries and, with a low cost of living here, your salary can stretch so much further.

However, it’s not quite as simple as stepping off the plane and announcing your intention to stay. So, whether you’re genuinely passionate about educating the youth of Thailand or you’re just saying that to get your first overseas job, we have a few key pointers to help you on your journey.

What qualifications do I need to get a job teaching English in Thailand?

It is debatably possible for literally anyone to get a teaching job in Thailand, but the level of qualifications you have will determine the level of job you can aim at. You will have an easier time finding work if you are from a country where English is the first language, such as the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. However, Thailand is a big country with a lot of schools, so even those from countries where it’s only the second or third language like The Philippines or India will certainly be able to find something eventually.

As an approximate guide, the following qualifications will give you the following opportunities:

-     Non-native English speaker with no qualifications = Government school

-     Native English speaker with no qualifications = Government school in a major city

-     TEFL/TESOL certification = Low-end private/international school

-     Bachelor’s degree (or higher) + TEFL/TESOL certification = Mid-range private/international school or low-end university

-     Teaching certification = High-end private/international school or university

A TEFL or TESOL certification will make a considerable difference to your experience in Thailand. TEFL is ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’ and TESOL is ‘Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages’. There are other similar qualifications from other bodies, but these are the two main ones. While TESOL has a single governing body and TEFL doesn’t both are considered approximately equal in value in Thailand.

Another option is a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) qualification, which is a good choice if you genuinely don’t like children. However, this will limit your job prospects to just specialised private language schools.

Obtaining a TEFL or TESOL certificate is relatively easy. It generally requires a course lasting four to six weeks, most of which is classroom theory. It will not teach you the ins and outs of the English language - you will be expected to know that yourself. Instead, it will teach you the skills you need to know to teach, such as controlling a classroom of children, writing lesson plans and creating exercises for your students.

It’s worth noting that native English speakers actually have a disadvantage when it comes to teaching English as it’s more likely that you will have learnt the language simply by listening to those around you speaking, rather than learning it from a textbook as non-natives do. To actually teach the language, it helps to know your present perfect tense from your conjunctions, and to know the rules and terminology to go with it.

What kind of salary can I expect when teaching English in Thailand?

You may need to set your expectations according to your level of qualification. The better your qualifications, the better your salary and working conditions can be. If you are a professional teacher with years of experience in a western country, you can probably find work in some of the top schools and even universities in the country, receiving a salary in the region of 50,000 to 70,000 baht per month at the very least - often considerably more. You’ll be working with the most modern teaching tech available, with very small class sizes. However, as there are relatively few of these schools, there are naturally very few positions available in this salary bracket.

At the other end of the scale, there is an almost limitless supply of jobs available at government schools, particularly in the remote rural areas of Thailand. While you certainly won’t want for openings, your salary will be considerably lower - from as little as 28,000 baht per month - and you may have to work far from a major city, where there will be very little to do outside of work and you will be virtually the only foreigner for miles around. On the bright side, the cost of living in such places is extremely low, so at least you’ll be able to save plenty of money. If you manage to get a job in a government school in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket or any other major city, however, you might struggle on such a low salary as the cost of living is considerably higher.

Another problem with working at a government school is that the working conditions will make the job a lot tougher. Classrooms are rarely air-conditioned, usually overcrowded and generally under-equipped. Furthermore, the students will often have little or no prior knowledge of the English language - in fact, you may be the first foreigner they have ever met. However, if you’re starting your overseas adventure from scratch, with no qualifications or prior experience, you will have to endure these conditions for a year or two to earn the experience required to move on to bigger and better things.

The plentiful supply of mid-range international schools is something of a sweet spot for most people looking to start teaching English in Thailand. The salary is generally adequate, with the minimum set at about 30,000 to 35,000 baht per month, depending on the school and your qualifications or experience. International schools are generally found in places with enough of an expat community to support them - in other words, the major tourist hubs like Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai - so you won’t be the only foreigner in town. Such schools also generally have smaller class sizes, air-conditioned classrooms and adequate supplies and equipment to make the job easier.

It’s worth noting that having at least a Bachelor’s degree from a respectable university will make securing a well-paid position significantly easier. It doesn’t make any difference what the degree is in, so long as you have the official certificate with you. This is because it is much simpler for the school to obtain a work permit for you if you have a degree. While it is possible to get a position without one, your selection of potential jobs will be significantly reduced.

What kind of work will I be doing as an English teacher in Thailand?

Teaching English in Thailand certainly has a lower barrier for entry than finding more skilled work, but that does not make it an easy job. Your responsibilities will include looking after a class of children who barely speak your language for at least a full school year. You will need to have a good understanding of English grammar and will need to make sure that, by the end of the year, your kids know exactly what the curriculum says they are supposed to know. You will most likely have a Thai teaching assistant with you to help with communication, but the actual teaching is on you.

However, you won’t have to work anything like as much as other expatriates in Thailand:

-     You will only be expected to be in school for about 25 hours per week (compared to 45 hours for an office job).

-     If you will get at least eight weeks of leave per year (compared to three or four weeks for office employees). However, whether or not this is paid leave will depend on which school you work for.

Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? To a large extent, it really is. As an English teacher, you have a lot more personal time than you would working in an office. However, that time is not entirely free. During that time, you will need to:

-     Prepare lesson plans

-     Prepare student exercises

-     Attend parent-teacher conferences

-     Grade student papers and mark exercises

-     Supervise extra-curricular activities and school trips

-     Cover for absent colleagues

Depending on your employer, you may have the option of earning a little extra by teaching classes during the big school holidays. If your school is one of those that do not give paid leave, this may be less of an option and more of a practical necessity.

It’s worth noting that the job of maintaining order in a classroom of Thais, particularly in an international school, is nothing like as difficult as it is for teachers in the US or UK. Thai culture has a huge amount of respect for teachers and, for the most part, students are extremely keen to learn English. That does not mean that your class may not still contain at least one troublemaker, but the ratio of bad kids to good ones will likely be relatively low.

If you decide to take the CELTA route and teach English to adults, you will find that your ratio of bad students will likely drop to zero. However, you will also likely find that you are paid an hourly wage instead of a fixed monthly salary. That being the case, your income will depend on how many classes you are willing or able to teach, as well as how many students the school has for you to teach. While it may be a little easier to teach adults than children, the inconsistency of the work makes it more difficult to have a comfortable and stable life in Thailand.

How do I go about getting a job teaching English in Thailand?

There are two approaches available when it comes to finding a teaching position in Thailand. The first is simple - look online for job postings, apply for as many as you can and hope for the best. The process is functionally the same as applying for any job in any country. The best source for jobs and also specific advice on teaching in Thailand is ajarn.com (ajarnis the Thai word for ‘teacher’), though teachingthailand.com is a good second option.

If you are not currently living in Thailand, you might find your applications being ignored because the school would have to take a big chance on hiring you when you might not show up or might dislike Thailand and immediately leave. You would have to have spectacularly good qualifications for them to take that risk with you instead of just hiring someone who already lives here. You can improve your chances by moving to Thailand on a tourist or education visa and then trying to secure a position before the visa expires, but this is a bit of a gamble and best left to those who have pretty good qualifications.

The alternative (and significantly easier, cheaper and safer) option is to apply through a teaching programme. These act like agencies - middlemen who will be your liaison with the schools of Thailand to find you a position that suits your abilities. They will also provide you with accommodation, help with processing your visa and work permit and act as a general support infrastructure, all of which you would have to deal with on your own if you apply directly to the school.

The main downside to these services is that they take a hefty cut of your salary as their fee. They will leave you enough to live on, of course, but you won’t be able to save as much as you could have done by finding the job without them. Despite this fact, they remain the best option available if you are looking for your first job overseas since they can find a position for you regardless of your qualifications (or lack of them). Once you are physically in Thailand and have a year or two’s experience behind you, you can work on finding your own job with a better salary and no cuts taken by third parties.

If you want to take your first step into teaching English in Thailand, these are some of the best programmes to try:

-     CIEE

-     Greenheart Travel

-     Interexchange

What aren’t you telling me about teaching English in Thailand?

Everything we have said above makes the whole experience sound like a dream, doesn’t it? It’s a not-especially-difficult job that you can do with virtually no experience or qualifications that allows you to live in a wonderful country like Thailand. Except that, if it really was so perfect, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

There are a few grim realities which, while often not dealbreakers, can come as a shock to newly arrived expats if they are not forewarned and mentally prepared for them:

-     There is a considerable amount of prejudice in the system. White teachers from western countries will have a significant advantagewhen it comes to finding jobs and will be able to get better salaries than people of colour.

-     The favouritism towards white foreigners can breed a certain amount of resentment among teaching staff. As a result, you might not be able to get very chummy with everyone in the staffroom.

-     Thanks to far too many pedophilia scandals, single men will find it much harder to find a teaching job than married men or those in a long-term relationship. Generally, Thai schools much prefer to hire women.

-     Schools increasingly require a criminal background check before they are willing to make a job offer.

-     If you have tattoos that are not easily concealed with clothes, you will have a harder time finding work. Schools want their staff to look respectable and professional.

-     A lot of English teachers move on after just one year (and, in many cases, less), which creates constant staff shortages and inconvenience for the school. As such, Thai schools are increasingly doubtful of the commitment of overseas staff. More and more schools now expect their teachers to pay for their own work permits in the hope that this will lock them into a commitment.

-     As a result of this high staff turnover, employers may sometimes be less inclined to care about your wellbeing and comfort. It is also extremely unlikely that you will get annual bonuses or salary increases, particularly with low-end schools or even within your first few years at a high-end school.

-     What a new international school will tell you compared to what the reality of working with them will be like can sometimes be completely different. This will be particularly true for teachers with good qualifications since the school will be so desperate to get you on board that they will be willing to say anything to get you to sign the contract. You may find yourself teaching subjects you are not familiar with to age groups that you’re not comfortable teaching. This situation may also arise at more established schools if a teacher suddenly leaves and they need you to fill in for them until a permanent replacement can be found.

-     International schools are, at the end of the day, businesses. It is far harder for them to find parents willing to pay their fees than it is for them to find replacement teachers. As such, you may find the school’s management more inclined to take sides against you than to support you. However, this very much depends on the school and is not a universal experience.

-     If you come from a western culture, the approach to discipline in government schools may come as a shock to you. Some Thai teachers have been known to violently strike or publicly humiliate their studentsand, while extreme cases that get into the news may result in the teacher themselves receiving some sort of discipline, minor cases may be going unpunished. Western teachers should under absolutely no circumstances administer corporal punishment.

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