I am so proud to introduce Dr Tim Cornwall to give his expert thoughts on Teaching English in Thailand:
Teaching in Thailand
It is difficult to write about teaching EFL in Thailand as the continuum of great jobs to horrendous is based on conditions experienced in a particular situation at an individual school or type of school and the personality and expectations of EFL instructors.
Teacher and teaching quality in Thailand
Before beginning, it is necessary to state clearly that the EFL community in Thailand is filled with dedicated Thai and non-Thai educators who work hard and with a good measure of success to help students of all ages learn English.
The Ministry of Education, universities, colleges, NGOs and many professional and charitable groups constantly offer training seminars, workshops and lectures attended by Thai and non-Thai educators searching to learn more and to improve the quality of education they offer.
However, while there are many dedicated and effective teachers, excellent schools, delightful students and rewarding opportunities to help people learn English, any teacher planning to come to Thailand must be careful when looking for and accepting an initial job offer, as there are, unfortunately, many less than ideal EFL teaching situations.
The ideal candidate and school
To establish the norms associated with entry into the Thai EFL teaching world, it is best to describe an ideal candidate, school and hiring situation.
You have decided The Kingdom of Thailand, The Land of Smiles, in particular Bangkok, beckons you to its warm balmy winter nights, spicy Thai food and a vibrant, noisy, dirty, utterly fantastic city environment, so you decide to look for an EFL teaching job.
This is not difficult as numerous websites post information about positions. While not mentioned openly in most employment notices, an ideal candidate will be: Caucasian, native English speaker from Australia, Canada, Ireland, the UK or the US, blonde, tall, fit and good-looking without any visible tattoos or facial hair.
In their mid 20s to early 30s, a teacher will have a BA degree from a recognized university needed to teach legally and receive a work permit and residency visa. In addition, a candidate should have some experience teaching English, and if possible, a CELTA Certificate or any well-recognized equivalent that included observed teaching.
The importance of these physical and professional qualities is, unfortunately, listed in their most typical order of importance with the first the most important – a deal breaker in many cases, with a BA and certificate, useful but not necessary.
If both parties reach an agreement, the school should send the papers needed to apply for a Non-Immigrant B Visa in your home country so you can enter Thailand with a visa that will lead to a Work Permit and a Resident visa valid for up to one year.
This is the idea world. The more items missing, the greater the chance you will be entering a less than ideal teaching situation.
The second scenario is that you do not posses all the physical and professional characteristics listed. If you are in Thailand a few days before school begins and meet some of the requirements listed above, you should be able to start immediately.
Whether applying from overseas or in person, most if not all of the questions raised should be answered to your satisfaction before accepting a position and taking on the expense of coming to Thailand. In this way, you should increase your chances of finding a great school, professional colleagues and delightful students.
A major point to determine is whether you are being hired by a school or an agent. In Thailand, many schools outsource their foreign faculty needs to agents. While some are very good, some are despicable. A good agent versus a bad agent is based on whether they look after your welfare or simply show up once every so often to complain, whether they care about the quality of teachers and schools or just filling positions for a hefty monthly commission.
For many teachers in Thailand agents have a reputation for embellishing the truth with applicants about the position applied for and with schools about the qualifications of teachers recruited. When dealing with agents, proceed with caution and do not be surprised to learn on arriving in Thailand that some, if not all aspects, of your contract have changed.
An initial concern should be to learn more about who you will be teaching – can vary from toddlers to adults. What is the class size – one-on-one or 250+? What number of class sessions each week – up to 30 is not unusual and how many different lesson plans to prepare – ranges from one lesson plan taught repeatedly to every class you see during the week to a different lesson plan and materials for each class. With this in mind, how often will you see a class – ranges from daily, which is unusual, weekly, more typical, and even monthly or quarterly, depending on the school or schools where you teach.
What hours must you be on campus – 07.00 and stay until the last student goes home at 7 or 8 pm is typical for most Thai teachers. Can you leave during the day – ranges from no you cannot even leave your classroom except to use the washroom – to yes you can if you are not teaching. Finally, are there any additional teaching and non-teaching responsibilities – can range from make-up classes for absent students to club activities, from correcting Thai colleagues’ English to preparing weekly, monthly and semester exams.
A second series of questions should be about your colleagues. Will you teach with other native speakers and/or non-Thai colleagues – if so, how many, from where and what experience do they have. Will you be team teaching with a Thai-speaking assistant and if so, what is your role – ranges from being a living tape-recorder to responsible for the complete curriculum with linguistic, administrative and discipline support provided as needed.
What additional administrative support is available – can range from nothing to being met at the airport, helped to find an apartment, receive a work permit and Thai language support as needed.
A third set of contractual questions include contract length, holidays and holiday pay if any and medical insurance – often a local plan for a local hospital. It is also good to know where the school or schools are located – ranges from downtown Bangkok and easy access to public transportation to hours outside a city surrounded by rice fields and a weekly shuttle to a nearby town on Saturdays.
If accommodation is provided, where is it – with answers ranging from a storeroom on the second floor to the owner’s house, from a two-bedroom apartment to a studio. If accommodation is not available, what is nearby; is it quiet, clean and air-conditioned; what does it cost and will they accept non-Thai tenants.
A recent article detailed a day-by-day account of an EFL instructor’s efforts to live on THB 35K a month. While he was able, he cautioned that he already had a furnished apartment and friends to socialize with at homes or in cheaper bars and restaurants. In short, while he was successful, it was not a particularly enjoyable life-style.
A more comfortable minimum salary is THB 45K, with options to earn extra tutoring students or taking on evening and weekend classes.
If a position offers an EFL teacher over THB 60K, it will probably be a better school. While not always true, I find that the more schools pay, the more they listen to and work with their teachers to provide the best education possible.
On the subject of salary, two cautionary tales should be mentioned. I taught 15 years in Tokyo and averaged five different monthly paydays. During this time, one school paid late on one occasion. In Bangkok, where I have been teaching 12 years, with a variety of contracts and paydays, 80 per cent of the schools have on one or more occasions paid late, which can be a real concern if you live from one paycheck to the next.
Another concern is payment calculation. A friend is teaching on what he thought was a monthly salary. First payday, the agent calculated his pay based on the monthly salary, divided by the number of days in the month, multiplied by the days worked. THB 45K salary divided by 30, times 18 days worked resulted in 27K or 18K less than expected. When he argued that he did not work Saturdays and Sundays and the calculation was not fair, the agent simply smiled.
It should also be added that medical insurance, transportation, photocopying, accommodation or meals are not included in most packages. In addition, holiday pay and sick days might not be included.
Teaching at different schools
The range of positions varies considerably, from kindergartens to universities, elementary schools to vocational colleges, corporate language schools to in-house positions with a company.
In many language schools a teacher teaches everything from young learners to adult business people. While a few language schools specialize in adult learners or proficiency exams – TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS and sometimes, GMAT and GRE, the largest and most lucrative market is young learners. Many language schools also recruit teachers who are ‘loaned’ to one or more elementary and high schools. While often much better than working through an agent, the school should be asked the all the questions given above.
Language schools and institutes vary from one-room shop houses with a few photocopied books to large schools filled with student self-study and teacher materials. When applying, ask if they have any teaching resources and what textbooks, photocopied or original, are used. What additional facilities do they have – computers, DVD players, and, most importantly – a teacher’s room and classroom air conditioning!
Elementary schools, invariably private as most public schools do not have the resources for a native-speaker, vary depending on the quality of education provided. While very difficult to determine before teaching at a school, a basic, although not foolproof, analysis can be made based on class-size – 25 (good) to 60 (not so good) and the school’s success rate in passing students along to quality high schools.
High schools, more so than elementary, can be placed along a continuum based on how many graduates enter leading universities – Chulalongkorn, Thammasat and Mahidol being the top three. The greater the numbers entering these top three and other second-tier universities, the more interesting the students, colleagues and teaching.
Bilingual schools and international schools not hiring at recruitment fairs can be judged, as with other institutes, on faculty tenure, salary and contract length – two years being about the best. There are also groups of schools associated with religious teaching orders that offer interesting EFL positions, with some providing among the best support and training available, while others fall very close to the other end of this continuum.
Colleges and universities, with class size ranging from 25 to 250+, are interesting and vary depending on whether a position is in an international program taught in English – intermediate to advanced English or teaching English in a Thai program – invariably, but not always – basic to low intermediate.
All universities in Thailand prefer faculty, regardless of what they teach, to have a PhD. A Masters is accepted for undergraduate and sometimes graduate courses. In a pinch, they will accept a BA.
Finally, corporate positions while rare are among the prized positions in Thailand. Ranging from beachside hotels in Phuket to law firms in Bangkok, the teaching is often professionally challenging and the pay, although a fraction of what an expatriate at the same company might earn, offers a comfortable life-style.
City versus country
Bangkok is a great place to work. I live in a studio, cleaned weekly, and with laundry, water, cable TV and air conditioning costs 225 USD per month. The city is vibrant and alive with a multitude of clubs, bars and restaurants to enjoy.
Working in a rural area or many of the smaller towns and cities is different. I have heard of non-Thai teachers, in rural and small town schools being followed around day and night as they shop, eat and try to have a life outside school. Some non-city teaching positions include the need to live on campus so students can have increased access to you on weekends, evenings and holidays.
I have friends who teach in Chiang Mai, and while rent is cheap salaries are half that of Bangkok, as so many people want to live there. Phuket, Koh Samui and Hua Hin and Pattaya, four beach areas where work is available, also have a very high cost of living not reflected in teacher salaries.
If you live in Bangkok on a teacher’s salary, there is a lot to do and you will have an opportunity to mix with other expatriates. Teach in rural Thailand or in a resort area, while you might be able to enjoy your teaching and surroundings, it will require cutting back on things, for example rent, food and entertainment.
The reason for this article’s cautionary tone is that most EFL educators in Thailand know the good language schools, kindergartens, elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities. If a good position opens at one of these schools, and if it is what we want, we apply quickly. If not, we tell friends we know and trust.
These schools are concerned about the quality of education they offer and treat faculty as professionals while insisting on teaching quality – in short, the positions all of us want.
However, if you are a newbie to Thailand, if you plan to teach here, but do not have an inside lead on the better positions, do your research. If you find a position, do not be shy – ask questions and then ask more. If you do not like the answers, try another school. The need for teachers in Thailand far outstrips supply and while it is easy to change schools, it is not something most of us like to do mid-term or mid-contract.
In closing, and to repeat, there are many fantastic EFL and non-EFL teaching positions in Thailand, which teachers should be able to find from overseas if they undertake demanding and inquisitive enquiries.
Dr Timothy Cornwall has been teaching EFL for 30 years and is part of the Shinawatra University faculty. Co-founder of Thailand Educators Network, he can be reached through thaiednet.org or firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated (Monday, 12 September 2011 21:09)