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.

Advertisements

Summer English camps in Thailand

Are you a teacher, backpacker, or digital nomad in Thailand and looking for an exciting opportunity? English camps are a great way to try teaching for the first time while also being rewarded for your time. If you are a backpacker or digital nomad thinking about teaching ESL then these English camps give you an idea of what teaching can be like  before committing to a full semester or a full year required for most ESL jobs in Thailand.  Non-native speakers can also apply for some of these jobs if their level of English is high enough and they can speak in a relatively clear accent.  Here’s the rundown on English camps in Thailand and how I fared recently trying to find a job for the holiday in October.

English camps are a part of daily life for English teachers in Thailand and are most often ran by teaching agencies and the schools themselves.  These events typically last for a day or two, or even three days.  The English camps are ran by the teachers and sometimes agency staff who come up with a theme, activities, songs, rewards, etc.  I have done a few English camps here in Thailand and similar style events in Korea and I quite enjoy them as a way to have some much needed fun outside the classroom.

As for your duties, these are quite light with teachers operating an activity station in a circuit with other teachers for one or two hours and taking part in other camp activities that incorporate learning English in a fun and entertaining way. For example, you may run a flashcard type activity for 20mins with a group of kids before the groups switch stations and a whole new batch of students stop by.  But what I didn’t realise until recently is how big and popular English camps really are in Thailand.

Schools and agencies run English camps pretty much all year round.  If you work at a public school directly you will probably do at least one English camp a semester.  However, if you work at a public school through an agency, you might be asked to work additional English camps at other schools, which can include meals, accommodations, and additional payments.  While you can find English camp job ads posted online most months, the most lucrative months are March-April and October as these are the months most public schools close for the holidays meaning lots of teachers are free to work at English camps. Wanting to earn some extra money, I looked online for English camp jobs recently.

Basic English camp jobs start at 1000THB ($30USD approx) a day and often include meals, accommodation, and transport.  I went to my usual spot Ajarn.com and gave Craigslist a try.  Sure enough, there were ads looking for English teachers to work at English camps in September and October.  Pay for those jobs ranged from 1000-1500THB and lasted for two or three days meaning a Friday to Sunday camp could net at least 3000THB ($85USD) which is not bad considering you would have accommodation and meals taken care of.  I thought of applying for them but then I came across the top tier English camp jobs.

Big private schools in Bangkok offer top money for English teachers during the peak months of English camps.  The jobs that I saw were offering 2000-3000THB ($60-85USD) a day for 10 day camps teaching phonics while also playing games and singing with young learners under 10.  20,000-30,000THB ($570-860USD) for a 10 day job, with a weekend in between, is not bad at all especially when the starting salary for ESL teachers in Thailand is 30,000THB a/m.

There was no way I wasn’t going to at least try for the top tier jobs.  With my past and current experience with younger learners as well as the English camps and big school events I have worked, I was able to snag two interviews in Bangkok.  After a long ass day that involved waking up at the crack of dawn for a 4hr bus ride to Bangkok, having the first interview, and then hanging around Terminal 21 in Asok for hours before the second interview, I was pleased to be offered a position at the second school before even leaving the interview.    It just shows how fast you can make an opportunity like that happen if you do a little research and line up some interviews

VDay pic.jpg
V for Victory! At Victory Monument, Bangkok

I hope this post helps teachers,backpackers, or nomads who are traveling or living in Thailand and looking to try teaching and be compensated for your time and efforts.  The work is fun, the days are not that long, and a 10 day job at 30,000THB could cover a month of your stay in Thailand!  Food for thought indeed.

 

My Top 3 English Teaching Destinations

I’ve seen a lot of other blogs and sites posting their lists of top English teaching destinations and I wasn’t completely satisfied.  Most of their lists are primarily based on how much money you can earn and save. This short list is different because I’m placing emphasis on the overall destination that includes the fundamentals of salaries and saving potential but also delves into the things that matter on a more daily basis.  Things such as food and quality of living.  I should also note that while this is a top 3, I am not ranking them above each other.

South Korea

Yes, I bet you knew this one was coming.  South Korea really does have it all.

Salary and benefits: Starting salaries of 2.1m KRW ($1800USD) are not bad at all. Then you throw in paid accommodation, severance pay, a paid flight home, and pension.  These benefits make South Korea, financially a very attractive destination.

Saving potential: HIGH!  Teachers can save up to or even more than half their monthly salary if they manage their money well.  Not to mention that when you leave you will get your pension and severance pay which combined will be thousands of dollars.  Quite a few people go to Korea to wipe out their student debts, then stay on longer to save up for a post-grad degree.

Quality of living: I talked about this in another post but I’ll say it again.  The life of an English teacher in Korea is very comfortable.  You can afford to eat out a couple times a week, go on a weekend trip or two, have nights out on the weekend, and still save money.  The cost of living may be slowly rising but it is still low compared to neighboring Japan.  There is a vibrant expat scene in Korea which further adds to the appeal to life there.  Korea has tons of opportunities to immerse yourself in the local culture, play in rec sport leagues, learn the language, enjoy the nightlife, and generally thoroughly thrive.

Food: Korean food is awesome. Seriously. I am missing Korean food so much haha.  Brilliant BBQs.  Spicy kimchi. Tasty dak galbi.  You will love the food.  An interesting fact about Korea is that it has one of the highest amounts of restaurants per capita in the world which results in a country where there are streets literally lined up with restaurants. One of my favorite is the famous Food Street in Gangnam.  To top it off, eating out is relatively cheap and meals often come with free side dishes to accompany your main meal.  If you haven’t tried Korean food yet, go to your local Korean restaurant and thank me in the comments.

Vietnam

This country is increasingly featuring on more top English teaching destinations and for good reason.

Salary and benefits: Teachers make anywhere from $1000-2000+USD a month in Vietnam.  A lot of teachers have a main job and then supplement it with side jobs in the evenings or on weekends to top their wages up.  Some of the bigger schools offer bonuses and severance pay.

Saving potential: High. Being paid in USD helps a lot.  Having spoken with teachers who currently work there the consensus seems to be that they save on average a third to a half of their monthly income.

Quality of living: Vietnam is VERY cheap.  Teachers in Vietnam can afford to eat out, have a nice apartment, go on weekend trips, party on weekends, and still save a good amount of money.  What I like about Vietnam is that it offers you a similar kind of life to Thailand but edgier due to it being less developed, which I think brings more excitement.  In the big cities there are plenty of expats and lots of social clubs to join and things to do on evenings and weekends.  I have a feeling Vietnam will be my next teaching destination in part due to the quality of life on offer to expat teachers.

Food: Vietnamese food is famous worldwide and for good reason, it is simply delectable! Everyone has heard of pho, the rice noodle soup, but my favorite Vietnamese dish so far is the banh mi! A simple baguette filled with vegetables, pork, sometimes a fried egg, and pate that is simply amazing, and for as cheap as a single dollar!  Street food is another one of my favorite things about Vietnam; you’re never far from it and it is always cheap and diverse. On the other end of the spectrum you can find world class food in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for a fraction of the cost it would be back home.  Simply put, food is one of the highlights of teaching in Vietnam.

UAE

Arguably the best place to teach English in the world, but that is not to say it is easy to find a job there.  Most jobs are limited to teachers who are certified to work back in their home country.

Salary and benefits: It depends on the type of job you have but generally in excess of $2000+USD, tax free.  Benefits include an annual travel fund for flights, severance pay, free healthcare, moving allowance, etc.  At the top end of the jobs in ESL in the UAE, university jobs, I saw salaries of over $5000USD a month!  This, combined with my previous experiences of visiting the UAE, make it my ideal place to work once I have a masters under my belt and can enter the university teaching job market.

Saving potential: High.  If you’re making at least $2000, and most are making more than $3000, you can save some serious cash.  Just a year or 2 in the UAE could set you up financially.

Quality of life: First off I should address the concern some people may have because it is an Islamic country.  The UAE is one of the most liberal Islamic statics in the world.  Woman are not required to wear the veil or anything like that, but you should dress sensibly in most public places.  It is nothing like living in Saudi Arabia or other hard-line Muslim countries.  There are bars and clubs but they are restricted to hotels and a few other select places.  Alcohol can be bough at certain government stores once you have a permit and can be consumed at your apartment.  Expats seriously enjoy living here.  They often end up working there until retirement.  Lots of opportunities to watch world class sporting events like the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix or the Abu Dhabi Open.  Unlimited options for people who love to go shopping at the mall (this country has more malls than you could imagine haha).

Food: The UAE, but especially Dubai and the capital Abu Dhabi are very cosmopolitan cities and thus you can find just about any food on the planet in either of these cities.  That said, Arabic and Indian food would be what I would think to be the best choices on offer due to the local specialties and large Indian expat community.  Food is more expensive here because a lot of it has to be imported, but you are being paid premium money so you can afford it.  The UAE also has many large Western supermarkets full of international food and food from home for those of you who love to cook at home.

Other great English teaching destinations

Columbia: More and more English teaching opportunities are opening up in Columbia as it develops more. Safety has improved a lot also. Definitely a place I’d consider going in the future.

Spain: Pleasant climate, living in Europe, easy to adapt.  Those are just some of the reasons that make Spain a great place to teach.

Czech Republic: Teaching in a city like Prague would be a dream.  The students are keen to learn, the locals are friendly, there are liberal social policies in effect, the fact Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and its location in Europe make it ideal as a base to explore other nearby European nations.

‘Top’ destinations that did not make my list

China: A vast and growing job market for English teachers but not somewhere at this time I particularly fancy teaching in.  Reason? Primarily the high level of air pollution and the prospect of big brother always looking over your shoulder…

Japan: High cost of living.  It seems harder to enjoy life in Japan as most things are expensive and so you must be careful with your spending if you aim to save money.

Saudi Arabia: Harsh and uncertain living environment, especially for women.  While the money can be hugely rewarding…I place a higher value on freedom than money at this time.  Not to mention the politics of this country.

What did you think of my top 3 picks? Are there other destinations that I have not thought of that you think I should consider for the future? Did I unfairly dismiss China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia?  Let me know in the comments 🙂

Doing the CELTA: My experience

Wanting to be taken more seriously in the field of ESL I decided to take the CELTA as a way to become a better teacher and to invest in myself some of that hard-earned K-money from my year and a half in Korea.   I looked around Asia and settled on doing mine with International House in Bangkok. I’m going to say it now that this is more about the CELTA course and not about my experience with IH.

Overview

The CELTA, which is accredited by Cambridge University, is considered the gold standard of initial TEFL/TESOL English teaching certifications. Only the Trinity TESOL certification is comparable and there is a lively debate as to which is better/worth the money because as far as I’m aware the CELTA is considerably more expensive generally. I’ll make a future post about the CELTA vs. Trinity debate but for now I’m sticking to what I know; the CELTA and whether it was worth it.

The CELTA is a 4 week intensive practical teaching certification that includes 6hrs of observed teaching broken into 8 45min classes. That’s 2 classes each week. On top of the observed teaching portion of the course are 4 written assignments; 1 each week.

On the first day your group (depending on the size) will be divided into smaller groups, and then those small groups divided again if necessary. The smallest groups will be the people who teach on the same day as you while the others in your subset group will be the ones observing you, along with a trainer. So for example in my subset there was teaching group A and B, both groups combined were then joined in the afternoons by the same types of groups to make one big group for the learning portion of the course.

Week by week

WEEK 1. Unit 1: Learners and teachers and the teaching and learning context. Your first 2 classes taught will be judged with less criteria because week 1 is more for your trainer to see how you deal with a classroom and the material given to you. After each class you teach from day 1 to finish you will be given an evaluation from your trainer and feedback from the observing group of teachers. In general you either get satisfactory or unsatisfactory which is a fail. You should not fail more than 2 classes if you want to be sure you will not fail the teaching portion of the course. In the afternoons you learn the Cambridge teaching methods. The first written assignment is also handed out and each assignment is related to the topic of the unit. Assignment 1 is typically the assignment which a lot of people have difficulty with. If it is judged to be unsatisfactory, then you are allowed to resubmit it by making corrections. You are only allowed 1 re-submission per written assignment; so it is ok to have to resubmit each written assignment once and still pass the course. It is also ok to fail 1 written assignment because more weight is put towards the teaching component of the course. I should also say that assignments 1 and 2 are the ones where most people have to resubmit.

WEEK 2. Unit 2: Language Analysis and awareness. You’re now given more leeway on how you want to teach the topic of the class. The topic of the class will be something from grammar, lexis, functions, vocabulary, writing, listening, speaking, and reading. Before each class you teach you will talk it over with your trainer and give them the lesson plan and class materials. Your classes will now also be judged using the full criteria to pass/fail the lesson. Your classroom time will be used to bring you up to speed and give you ideas about what to do when teaching something from this area. Assignment 1 will be due at the beginning of the week and Assignment 2 will be discussed and due the next week. Unit 3 is also released in week 2 but not due until late the next week. At the end of the week you will have a mid-course evaluation given to you by your trainer telling you what you’re good at and what you need to improve upon, and also whether you are par for the course at that time.

WEEK 3. Unit 3: Language Skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing. Now you will be free to choose one of the aforementioned topics you have not already done, or do one of the topics suggested by the trainer because they wish to see you improve upon your prior effort. I should also say that you will now switch learners; so if you had intermediate, you will now be teaching elementary. The classroom component will be more of the same except on the topic of Unit 3. By now most teachers are hitting their stride or nervous about the final legs, especially if they have failed one or two lessons or an assignment. Assignment 2 will be due early in the week and Assignment 3 I believe is due the same week but most teachers find it not nearly as challenging as the first two. Assignment 4 is issued by the end of the week, this is the easiest of the four written assignments.

WEEK 4. Unit 4: Planning and resources for different contexts, plus Unit 5: Developing teaching skills and professionalism. Again, teachers should be pretty confident by now especially being the last week as it is just more of the same from the previous 3 weeks but different topics. Unit 4 is the main emphasis of the week and Unit 5 is just a one afternoon thing where you discuss future professional development. Assignment 4 will be due back early in the week. On the last day you will have a free lesson to teach on what ever you like and it will be observed by the trainer. After that there is free time and depending on the center you take the course you will probably either have a little goodbye party with food with your students or have a lunch/dinner with your fellow trainees thrown on by the center. Assuming you have completed all the course requirements you will sit down and sign off on anything not already filled in.

Was it worth it?

I see a lot of people online questioning the value of the CELTA, especially because of how much it cost.  Mine cost $2,100USD.  Of course you can get online courses for MUCH cheaper but the quality is generally not the same, even if it includes a classroom component.  There are exceptions, but generally online English teaching certifications are only good if you want to get your foot in the door, not if you want to be taken seriously and make teaching English abroad a career.  From what I found online the Trinity TESOL is significantly cheaper by hundreds of dollars.  But what I guess what it comes down to it is the effect it is supposed to have on your ability to teach and job prospects.

Personally, I really enjoyed learning the CELTA methods of teaching.  I had taken an online TEFL course like so many people but mine could not hold a candle to the methods I learned during the CELTA course.  I really like the idea of making your classes student centered and interactive.  Already here in Thailand my lesson plans are drastically different than what they would have been had I not learned the CELTA way.  People might debate whether it is the ‘best’ way to teach but for now I will leave that debate to them.  I’m a big supporter of what I learned and in terms of it making me a better teacher I say YES, the course made me a better teacher by giving me whole new approaches to lesson planning and teaching that I would not have known about otherwise.  In this regard, it was worth it.

As to whether it was worth it for the effect on my job prospects I still say YES.  In my first month of looking for jobs in Korea the first time around back in Nov/Dec 2013 I had just two interviews.  This time around, again in Nov/Dec during the height of the recruitment phase, I had 5 or 6 interviews for Korea.  Not only that but the general quality of the jobs I was interviewing was much higher.  The pay was significantly more than my first two jobs in Korea.  I did receive concrete job offers for Korea and I would have taken at least one of them if my recruiter hadn’t been incompetent and fucked up royally….so, yeah.  Personally I feel there has been a significant improvement in my job prospects as a result of me taking the CELTA.

This is just my experience and belief.  What are your thoughts?  Was the CELTA worth it? Is the Trinity TESOL better?  Where did you take your CELTA? Leave me your thoughts.