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An Introduction to Teaching English in Thailand
Teaching English in Thailand has become a multi-million dollar industry with scores of private teaching agencies, language academies, international schools and private tutors vying for their piece of the English pie. At the other end is the public sector, with universities and Thailand’s public school system under the Ministry of Education scrambling to fill teaching positions.
In some cases, as will be explored in this article, the experience, requirements and credentials needed to teach English in Thailand are varied and sometimes overlooked in an effort to fill vacant teaching positions.
This article will answer a number of questions regarding the teaching experience, accreditation, applying for teaching positions and testimony from current and former foreign teachers who have taught and continue to teach in Thailand.
Most of the teachers consulted during the research of this article were employed at Ministry of Education public schools with established English programs. Several others were former teachers who are now private tutors, teaching online or teaching at a Thai university or private school.
Why Is Teaching in Thailand So Popular?
With a warm tropical climate, one of the tastiest cuisines in the world, and an affordable cost of living, Thailand has for decades been a popular destination for foreigners yearning to teach English.
Is Thailand Accepting English Teachers?
Thailand has been accepting English teachers in large numbers since the 1970s. There are multiple teaching agencies (some dishonest ones too) who recruit new teachers. The website Ajarn.com is the defacto portal for applicants seeking teaching positions in a number of Thai sectors.
Where to Find Teaching Jobs in Thailand
Many private teaching companies/agencies use Facebook to advertise open teaching positions. A word of caution is warranted with regards to some of these posts. I have found through my own experience and from other applicants, that small teaching start-ups use Facebook to recruit. Several of the companies I have encountered do not have a website nor internet presence, a hiring-selection process or even transparent company policies. They are desperately in need of teachers and cut corners. Avoid these outfits, otherwise you will waste your time (and possibly money).
There are a multiple outlets which foreign teaching applicants can explore to find that perfect teaching job. Ajarn.com is the defacto website, mentioned previously, for most applicants to search first. I have spoken to several foreign teachers who were hired through an N.G.O. (Non-Governmental Organization) that already had teaching programs associated with some public schools in Thailand, but this is not common.
Do You Need a Visa to Teach English in Thailand?
One attractive aspect of teaching in a Thai Government or international school is that the school admin offers and prepares a free one-year visa and work permit package for the teacher. Under this arrangement, the teacher is working legally and making monthly contributions to the Thai social security fund. However, even if the teacher stops teaching, changes jobs or leaves Thailand, these funds can be redeemed when the foreign teacher reaches the age of 50.
Can I Teach Online in Thailand?
There are not many online teaching companies in Thailand that specialize in English instruction. I spoke with one Thai teacher who offers private online tutoring to mostly Thai adults and young learners. This market is still in its infancy. It also requires that the teacher be proficient in the Thai language.
However, there are digital nomads who are residing in Thailand and have reported teaching online to students primarily in other Asian countries. Again, one must keep in mind that digital nomads do not have the ability to gain a proper work visa/permit because they are freelancers.
However, some applicants, even those with little to no qualifications, still prefer teaching in a Thai public schools. In recent years, many of these applicants have increasingly been from African countries and the Philippines (where English is the second language). The teachers I consulted with from these countries are all fully accredited and teaching with a visa and work permit.
Is Teaching English in Thailand Hard?
The answer to this question is based mostly on subjective responses and experiences. Some teachers I have consulted with find that language and cultural barriers contribute to making their teaching experience more difficult. This can also be compounded by cultural insensitivities that many Thai school administrators are reluctant and unwilling to address.
In many situations, students at government schools tend to regard their regular English teacher as though they are a substitute. Some teachers have related to me that Thai students are less attentive, less focused and less engaged in the learning process when a foreign teacher is conducting the class. Whereas, when a Thai teacher is presiding, the students tend to behave and be more restrained in their class behavior. Cultural and language barriers also tend to muddy the waters when it comes to student discipline, studying and exam expectations.
Some teachers I spoke with told me of having to prepare, administer and correct hundreds of test papers without any assistance from their Thai co-teacher. All of the public school teachers told me that they are NOT allowed to fail a Thai student. All students in a Thai public school must receive at least a 50% grade, regardless of their academic shortcomings. This is one facet of ‘saving face’ in Thai culture. Failure is not an option regardless of the students’ inabilities.
The teachers from the Philippines and Africa expressed their dissatisfaction with the pay inequality between themselves and western teachers. Thai society incorrectly assumes that a white-skinned western teacher is more qualified to teach English than their equally-qualified/experienced Non-Native English Speaking (NNES) colleagues/counterparts. This practice, which is condoned by the Ministry of Education, is the policy by which NNES English teachers must adhere to in order to be offered a teaching position in Thailand.
Several Native and Non-Native English Speaking teachers related to me the practice of Thai students grading and evaluating the English program teachers at one particular government school. Whether the contract was renewed or terminated was contingent on the results of these student evaluations. The foreign teachers recounted to me how they tried to express to their Thai supervisor how demoralizing and unfair this practice was. However, none of the Thai teachers were subjected to this type of evaluation.
These discriminatory practices also extend to foreign teachers who become pregnant while fulfilling their teaching duties. Foreign teachers are only allowed thirty days of maternity leave, whereas Thai teachers are given 90 days. I interviewed two Filipino teachers who gave birth whilst teaching at a Thai public school. Regardless of the hardships (no family members to offer emotional or babysitting support) these two teachers were required to report back to work after just thirty days of maternity leave.
Some foreign teachers recounted that there is less paperwork involved in the Thai public school system compared to their home countries, the only exception being the grading of exam-test papers.
Most of these issues cited above are related to Ministry of Education schools. Foreign educators/professors in the private sector (international schools, Thai universities, language academies, etc.) report a much different experience where certain liberties taken by public school officials are not practiced. They report having a more professional and positive teaching experience.
For more insight into what the teaching experience is like for foreign teachers in Thailand, there are two vlogs on the Global Visions 3 Youtube channel that contain interviews with current foreign teachers, Thai admin officials and students. The vlogs were produced by a former English program teacher who resides in Thailand and also used to teach at the Thai public school featured in the vlogs. The vlogs also include useful information with regards to a reputable teaching agency featured (XploreAsia.com) and other issues raised in this article:
Can I Teach English in Thailand as a Non-Native English Speaker?
As mentioned previously, NNES Filipino teachers are highly sought after and make up the largest group of foreign teachers in Thailand. Although statistics vary, some sources (most notably the Ministry of Education, news articles, and embassies) report that there are at least several thousand legally-documented Filipino teachers in Thailand.
What Qualifications Do I Need to Teach English in Thailand?
Ideally, the Thai government would like to have all teachers in Thailand possess a BA degree and a teaching license. Those without a teaching license are required to take a 20-hour Thai culture course, a one year teacher training course, and must pass four exams.
Then again, it depends on which teaching circumstances/route the applicant wishes to take when searching and applying for a teaching job in Thailand.
Many Thai government schools are less flexible, adopting a ‘take it or leave it’ approach. In their minds, there will always be other applicants willing to accept the less-than-ideal working conditions and low salaries.
How Much Money Do English Teachers Make in Thailand?
International schools and universities tend to offer higher paying teaching positions. Then again, the requirements and qualifications for teachers in the International schools are higher and more stringent. The same can be said for Thai universities. Many international schools are owned and operated by western entities. These institutions tend to be more flexible and culturally sensitive than their Thai public school counterparts.
Salaries for NNES teachers, as stated earlier, are lower than their Native English teaching counterparts. For government schools, the salary for a NNES can start at 15,000 baht monthly (around US$400) compared to 30,000 baht (just over $800) or more for a Native English Speaker. Other NNES teachers have had their salaries maxed out at 30k baht even after 10+ years of teaching in Thailand.
The pay offered at Thai public schools is generally lower than at other academic institutions. The public school teachers I consulted with related that Thai schools are rigid and unwavering when it comes to salary negotiations. You accept what is offered, or the school officials will find another applicant willing to accept the lower pay. That is not to say that you, the applicant, cannot attempt to negotiate with Thai schools. Just don’t expect Thai school officials to be responsive to salary negotiations.
At International schools, teachers have told me that a starting salary for a Native English teacher can range from 80,000-100,000 baht a month (at the time of this article, the exchange rate was 37.15 Thai baht to $1 USD).
There is no standard Teachers’ salary range in Thailand. It all depends on your ethnicity, experience, qualifications and where you choose to apply. The only constant for teachers in Thai public schools is that, regardless of nationality, only one-year contracts are offered by the Ministry of Education. For other learning institutions, it depends on whether a teacher is freelancing part-time for a private language academy or an agency, or working full-time with a contract/visa/work permit.
Some private teaching institutions are willing and open to negotiating salaries, benefits, and accommodations (if offered), but less so the Thai public schools.
In addition to international schools, Thai government schools, universities, and private tutoring, there are also language academies which are privately owned and operated. I have consulted with English teachers who reported that hourly rates for private tutoring can be negotiated in some cases.
Can You Teach English in Thailand Without Speaking Thai?
It is not a requirement, nor mandatory that foreign teaching applicants be able to speak the Thai language. However, for the sake of communication and avoiding misunderstandings, between school admin officials (many of whom are not able to engage in English conversations) and communicating with students and parents, being able to speak the Thai language would be beneficial.
How Long Can You Teach English in Thailand?
The length of teaching employment depends on the individual teacher, the school’s satisfaction with their job performance and how comfortable the teacher is with Thai culture and society in general. Some teachers at government schools have their visas/contracts renewed annually and have been teaching there for over a decade, others just a year or less, while some are on four or six-month contracts from agencies.
Is Teaching English in Thailand Worth It?
Generally, the short answer is yes. Most teachers I consulted with have reported that teaching in Thailand has been worth the efforts due to the positive cultural-language exchanges that thousands of foreign teachers have experienced throughout their teaching journey in Thailand.
The public school teachers I consulted with did express some dissatisfaction with the low pay, disorganized administration, cultural discrimination and inconsistencies with regards to English program standards, grading, and student discipline issues.
However, in spite of these hardships, thousands of foreign teachers continue their teaching journey in Thailand, making adjustments, studying part-time for additional credentials, and changing jobs if necessary.
How to Become an English Teacher in Thailand
If you are seriously interested in becoming a teacher in Thailand, there are a few suggestions to take into consideration.
Most teacher-applicants hired for Thai teaching positions are already in the country and available for interview, though XploreAsia.com does recruit applicants from overseas before they have arrived in Thailand, four of whom were interviewed for this article.
It is suggested that you first contact XploreAsia.com to determine whether they can assist you in finding a suitable teaching position and are able to place you in a Thai school.
XploreAsia.com is recommended chiefly because I spoke to school recruiters and foreign teachers who were recruited from the agency at two different Thai government schools. This agency also has a lengthy track record with regards to operating as a legitimate teacher placement agency in Thailand.
Secondly, do your own research. Consult with anyone you know who has been or previously taught in any capacity in Thailand. Ask yourself, where do you wish to teach? In the capital, Bangkok? In the suburbs? Upcountry or near the Gulf of Thailand coast? Up north in the Chiang Mai area? Do I have the necessary credentials and experience? Am I willing to accept conditions that are not commonplace in my native country?
Go online and search for teaching jobs at Ajarn.com. Utilize social media, e.g. Facebook, to search for open teaching positions. Also, it might be worth looking into an N.G.O. that has an established connection with a Thai school or academic institution.
Teaching in Thailand is not for everyone, but for those who have stuck it out, these teachers have gained a trove of experience, knowledge and cultural insights that would have been impossible had they decided to remain in their native countries.
Good luck and Sawadee Krop.
Visit Global Visions 3 for further discussion on this topic.
A list of other teaching jobs can be found here.