Teaching in Thailand: Observations

I’ve been teaching and living in Thailand long enough now to make some observations.  Thailand is a good first country to teach in because it offers adventure and an attractive lifestyle.  Equally, Thailand has some major issues  that I believe prevent it from being a long-term teaching destination if you do not have top teaching qualifications such as a PGCE, teacher’s license, B.Ed, or an MA in education, TESOL, applied linguistics, or a DELTA.  Below are my biggest criticisms of teaching in Thailand:

  • Teaching agencies: Most English teaching jobs in Thailand are through public schools, unfortunately most of these schools farm out the hiring of foreign teachers to agencies that find and place teachers in schools across Thailand. I’ve posted about this before but I’ll sum up the major reasons why agencies are a big factor why Thailand can’t compete as a top English teaching destination. Teaching agencies take a big slice of your paycheck for doing very little, they make you pay for your visa and work permit, most don’t pay during the long holiday months, they restrict your ability to go back to a school independently, and worst of all they’re famous for firing teachers without pay.
  • Most teachers working for public schools only make 30,000TBT, back in the early 2000s and 1990s this was good money but the times have changed with rising living costs and inflation. If you live in Bangkok and make 30,000TBT I do not know how you do it and I would not like to try haha.  Living outside of the cities can make that money go farther but if you think you can pay off your student debt in Thailand on that paltry salary, you’re wrong.  If you teach at a public school in a smaller town I think it’d be possible to save 10,000TBT a month which means per semester you could save 40-50,000TBT which is good for a ticket home or a month and a half, maybe 2, of traveling in Thailand or Southeast Asia.
  • Related to the above reason, top level paying jobs for strictly teaching English and not other subjects tops out at about 60,000TBT at private schools in Bangkok. It should also be said that there really aren’t that many jobs paying 50k+ to ESL teachers, 40K jobs are becoming more prevalent though.  While this money is certainly a good amount to live an exciting life in Bangkok and travel around the country, it still isn’t enough to save enough for a life back home.  If you are willing to work a part-time job or tutor on the evenings or weekends, then you could start to make the money to have a really good standard of living in Bangkok but still only really be on the starting money of what you could make in China or Korea
  • Vices: some people get sucked up into a life of cheap booze, easy access to drugs, and prostitutes. There is a lot of fun to be had in Thailand, but with the temptations so readily available it can be easy to lose control and succumb to some poor life chances if you don’t have a good handle on your self-control.
  • Future job prospects: future bosses may look at your resume and question why you spent so much time in Thailand; it is a country synonymous with pleasure after all. They may also question your quality as a teacher if they suspect the schools you taught at were sub-par.  For myself, I’ve made sure that each school I’ve taught at in Thailand has given me a new experience that I previously didn’t have.  By the time I leave Thailand I’ll only have been here for a year or two tops.  My plan is to leave next year in the spring.

Now the caveats; reasons why teaching English in Thailand can still be considered a good destination, though not a place to settle down.

  • If you are interested in a career in teaching English and have no experience, then Thailand is a great place to go, get a feel for it, and make a decision as to whether this is a line of work you are interested in.  My advice, get a job a public school not too far from the big destinations like Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, or the islands down south, then you can enjoy them on your weekends and during the week not pay the prices those places are associated with.  1 or 2 years in Thailand, then get out, and go somewhere like South Korea or even Vietnam where the money is much better than here.
  • If you’re a certified teacher in your home country, then by all means come to Thailand and settle down. International schools pay in excess of $2,000USD a month which goes a long way in Thailand.  You can even find int’l schools that pay $3,000USD+!
  • If you’re backpacking through Southeast Asia and don’t want to go home yet, then teaching in Thailand is a good way to stick around, travel the country more, and experience Thai culture.
  • If you’re an older teacher looking to take a break from teaching in your home country, or a retiree looking to supplement your income, then working at a public school might be a good fit for you.

Thus is my conclusion.  What do you think? Am I right? Far off? Unfairly disparaging of the teaching situation here? Let me know, I’m interested in hearing from you.  For me, I’ll be leaving sometime next year to go somewhere I can earn more for a masters degree and more backpacking trips.

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