If you’ve ever considered teaching English abroad, Thailand is the place to start. Thailand for the most part is very comfortable and modern, offers plenty of opportunities to get a teaching certification, and is in the midst of a huge hiring boom. Thailand’s schools pay their teachers a living wage, occasionally with benefits, and contracts are generally short. There are certainly plenty of opportunities to make much more money elsewhere in Asia, but because Thailand requires almost no teaching experience, it’s a great place to get your footing and an excellent stepping stone for better gigs in other countries.
Is a native speaker
Preferably from the United States, the U.K., Canada, Australia, or South Africa. If you are a non-native speaker you may still find employment if you can demonstrate proficiency with a TOEC score of 600, but preference will always be given to residents of the countries mentioned above.
Has a degree
The most common question asked regarding teaching in Thailand is “Do I need a bachelor’s degree?” The short answer is yes. This is not up to the school’s discretion: Thailand will not grant you a work permit or visa without one. It’s not unheard of to work without a permit if an undesirable school is really in a bind, but you will have few protections and can expect to be paid less. It can also be a never-ending and expensive process to remain legally in the country this way. Your degree is your ticket to literally thousands of jobs all over the country, and showing up without one can be risky. Another tip: bring your original document, not a photocopy.
The ideal teacher in Thailand can handle a little loneliness. You need to be a “people person” to teach, but you must be able to derive meaning and happiness on your own, too. Being a minority in Asia puts your “otherness” at the forefront of every interaction, and even if you’re not the only foreigner around it can be a little alienating. The ideal expat is a creative problem solver who can make something out of nothing, at home and in the classroom. You can never be sure how much support you’re going to get.
Can be flexible
One week you could be teaching first graders, and the next, high schoolers. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a 48-hour warning before you need to be at the embassy…in Laos. More than once, I’ve said the words, “Oh, you want me to get on stage and sing a song? Now?!” Thailand has a habit of rash decision-making, a love affair with bureaucracy, and a serious communication problem. Some words to the wise: come with a smile, few expectations, and swim with the tide.
Doesn’t have to speak Thai!
Think back to any foreign language teacher you’ve ever been taught by. Did they address you in English? Probably not. There is science behind these methods: studies show that language learners do better when fully immersed in the language they are learning. Your students will start simple and build on their knowledge, just as an infant would learning their native language.
Private and government schools
Private and government-run schools are a newbie teacher’s best shot at a full-time position. You have the choice between pratom, kindergarten through sixth grade, and mattayom, seventh through twelfth grade. Even within a single school, teaching positions and the quality of English education may vary. Parents are often given the choice to enroll their children in more language-intensive programs, called “specialized programs,” at a higher tuition rate. Teaching in a general program often means working with many students at all age levels. You may teach English to hundreds of students a week and spend your days moving quickly between classrooms. In a specialized English program, you may work with only a classroom or two each week, and have fewer teaching hours. However, you will be responsible for teaching a variety of subjects and will be expected to be much more involved, acting almost like a homeroom teacher. Typically, any specialized English program will be represented by an acronym (MEP, EP, IEP, CEP, etc.). Positions in private and government schools are salaried. Some but not all schools will provide accommodation, extra training, and benefits.
International schools are structured similarly to government schools, but you can expect better pay. However, the requirements are higher: having a teaching license from your native country or at least some teaching experience will help you land these jobs. If you have children, the school will often offer free education, as well as insurance for your family and retirement benefits.
Tuition centers offer classes in the evenings or weekends to language learners who want extra practice or are learning on their own time outside of a school setting. These classes normally run for an hour or two, and you will be paid in cash after each session. This is generally not enough to live on by itself; between 500-800 THB a night, but it makes excellent supplementary income. There are few, if any, prerequisites for working in these centers, and often getting a gig is as easy as walking in and introducing yourself.
Private tutoring is always an option if you are good at networking. You will have the best chance of attracting clients if you have established yourself in one place and plan to be around for a while. A tutor assesses each pupil or small group individually and designs a unique curriculum based on the goals and abilities of the students. Tutors often run classes out of their homes or their local coffee shop for around 250 THB an hour per student.
How to find jobs
Through an agency
Work agencies can often locate and place you in positions that are not posted online if you are not willing or able to seek jobs online in person. Keep in mind however that when working for an agency means having two bosses to answer to-the school and the company that placed you-and paperwork can get a little messy. The schools should be paying the agency to find you, be wary of agencies who ask for a commission! Do your research on the schools, and remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Many schools seeking teachers will post openings online at sites like Ajarn.com, Dave’s ESL Cafe, and Serious Teachers. With the right qualifications, you may not need to make a trip for an interview. Be wary of any “school” that asks you for money or credit card numbers – again, you should NOT need to pay anyone to get a job in Thailand. Finding jobs on these sites is a great way to bypass the agencies that sometimes cause more problems than they remedy.
Just show up
Because most institutions won’t hire without conducting a face-to-face interview, you have nothing to lose if you just turn up on their doorstep. In fact, this is the best way to feel out each school and school director and make a real impression. This works really well if you are already in the region and have a specific place in mind you’d like to live. You can hire a driver or take public transportation; just ask them to drop you off at the local schools. With your certifications and degree in hand, simply walk into the administration office and ask for the English department. This sounds unlikely to yield results, but I spent a day and a half visiting schools in one northern town. Within six days I had received two offers, with more coming in the following weeks. Make sure you have a Thai phone or sim card, as many schools will not bother trying to email.
Dress professionally, especially when applying or interviewing. Thailand is a surprisingly conservative country and is very concerned with appearances. Keep your knees and shoulders covered, and try to look a little polished. Foreign teachers are expected to dress even more modestly than the locals, and don’t be surprised when they let you know.
Consider signing a contract for your protection. Most are a year long. You might have heard rumors of teacher “blacklists” in countries like Korea or China, but in Thailand there are few lasting consequences for breaking a contract.
When in doubt, always apply. Because of the demand for English teachers, you might just land a better position than you thought you could. Feel out the situation, and don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary. Salaries for public schools should start at 30,000 THB monthly in rural areas and at least 40-50,000 in the cities.
Talk to everyone. Speak with current teachers at the school. What has their experience been like? Are they enjoying their time? How does this school compare to others they’ve worked at? What’s the school reputation in the community?
Have you ever taught in Thailand or elsewhere abroad? What was your experience?