Thailand - TEFL
What Is TEFL?
The whole industry of Teaching English As A Foreign Language (TEFL) revolves around selling a dream. Many people love to travel and they get excited about being in other countries. They are bored of their home countries and dream of living somewhere more exciting.
However, most don't have the funds to do this and there are additional problems obtaining visas to live abroad. The dream sold by TEFL magically fixes all these problems. Just by speaking your own language you can find paid work abroad and get all the necessary paperwork to live abroad.
Additionally, you can demonstrate your altruistic nature by claiming that the only reason you do it is to help poor foreigners who have no opportunities in life.
In the last few years the 'Digital Nomad' experience has been selling basically the same dream. "Travel the world and have great experiences by turning your notebook computer into a money-making machine."
All I will say is that both things sell dreams but in my experience it is far easier to earn money teaching English than earning money on the Internet.
TEFL sounds perfect, doesn't it? But is it really? What's the reality of being an English teacher in Thailand?
Teaching In Thailand
Asians, generally, are very competitive and Thais are terrified that their children might get left behind. They understand that in a globalised world being able to speak English is a very important skill and there is huge demand in schools for English teachers.
Additionally, almost every child in the country attends tutoring classes outside of school hours and this creates more demand.
It is big business and there is a lot of money involved. Parents fork out lots of money for English classes and Thai business people are very happy to open tutoring schools. The only problem is that they don't have the skills to teach. And that's where foreign English teachers become involved.
There are lots of teaching opportunities, but as a foreign English teacher in Thailand you are just a small cog in the money-making machine.
I still haven't found out what this innovative Thai system for learning English is all about
Your primary role isn't improving the English language skills of your students. The most important thing is keeping your students happy, as well as their parents and teachers, so that they will provide more business.
The way this is done is to keep students entertained. Forget everything you were taught on your TEFL teaching course. If you know lots of games and songs - and even better if you can play a musical instrument or do some magic tricks - you will be a huge success.
Thai teachers tend to be quite strict. When the farang teacher arrives to teach it signals to the students that they can let their hair down and have some fun.
In surveys that have been carried out regarding English language ability, Thailand normally comes at - or very close to - the bottom. People from countries that are supposedly less developed than Thailand normally have much higher ability. Thais are easy to train, but very difficult to teach.
You will also run into many cultural hurdles. Thai students do not enjoy being taken out of their comfort zones (sabaay-sabaay); they want learning activities always to be fun and enjoyable (sanook), and they won't ask questions because of shyness and not wishing to impose upon their teachers (greng-jai).
These days there are millions of foreigners in Thailand, but it is always easy to pick out those who teach English. They are the ones with black trousers, long-sleeved shirts, neckties, leather shoes, backpacks and - most notably - miserable looks on their faces.
But it's not all bad. You can meet some great people and there are some good teaching jobs. As with the rest of life, there is some luck involved and it also depends on your attitude.
Thai Teaching Methods
Schools were based in temples originally and were set up to teach the Thai language. Obviously, the students spoke Thai and didn't need to be taught the structure of the language.
With reading and writing Thai there is a lot to remember and one of the best ways to remember things is by rote learning. I learned my times tables at junior school by rote and the information is still there. If you ask me what is 6x8 or 7x9 I can give you an instant answer. Rote learning can be very effective.
The only problem in Thailand is that rote memorisation was the only method of teaching and as the education system was gradually expanded outside of temples to include other subjects, no new methods of teaching were developed.
To 'learn' the structure of English, Thai students are made to remember the structure of the various grammar tenses by rote. If you plan to teach English in Thailand make sure you know your 'perfect' and 'simple' tense structures otherwise you will be embarrassed by your students.
They are taught the tense structures from books, but not how and when to use them. Most Thais only use the present simple tense. "Yesterday, I go to market."
They can recite the structure of the 'present perfect' and know the past participle forms of verbs, but never use the past or present perfect tense. To do so requires some thinking and this is not what they are taught to do. It's a big disservice to the students because some are very bright.
When I taught staff at a hospital how to deal with foreign patients they just wanted me to write standard sentences on a sheet of paper, which they would memorise and recite verbatim. Onbiously, language can't be taught this way but that is what they felt comfortable with. They are very good at remembering things, but not good at thinking.
I'd read about a 'dinner party' game and tried to play it with some senior high school students. The idea was that they could be any character from history and could have interesting dinner party conversations.
The only characters they could think of were Spiderman and some obscure Thai pop singers who are completely unknown outside of Thailand.
When I have observed Thai teachers it is all one way communication. The teacher talks or writes on the board and the students just sit there attentively listening and taking notes. This is what is expected, but it means that kids who learn English for 18 years end up not being able to speak a single comprehensible sentence.
The kids get very used to this method of teacher and if, as a foreign teacher, you try to involve them or get them to think for themselves they are very reluctant to participate. There are many problems with the Thai education system that affect you as a foreign teacher.
There was an interesting quote made about the Argentinian education system by the new education minister: "We don't want to accept that we're doing badly at anything."
This is exactly the same as Thailand. The country can't face up to some uncomfortable truths and the fact - shock, horror - that there could actually be problems with the education system. Until Thailand does so, nothing will change and the problems will continue.
Conditions And Pay
These vary enormously. Some municipality schools are like zoos and it is virtually impossible to teach, but there will always be foreigners willing to work. Western teachers in Thailand tend to be quite demanding and expect a lot. However, there are also many Filipinos teaching English in Thailand and they have very different attitudes. Conversely, teaching at a top private school in Bangkok will be a very different experience.
If you work for some kind of an agency it may be necessary for you to travel to different locations. This may be easy, but if you are in Bangkok and need to do a lot of travelling it will add a lot of time, not to mention stress, to your day.
Doing this kind of work may also mean split hours, where you may only work a few hours each day, but spread out over several hours.
The monthly salary for a foreign teacher in provincial Thailand is around Bt30,000. It's not a lot, but it is a lot more than Thai teachers get paid and they have to work a lot harder.
In Bangkok, figure on Bt40,000 to Bt60,000, but to find a comfortable place to stay in Bangkok is more expensive than the provinces and there is a lot more to spend your money on.
Some international schools in Bangkok may pay up to Bt80,000 per month, but they will only hire career teachers with appropriate teaching qualifications - not backpackers bumming their way around Southeast Asia.
In addition to teaching establishments, teaching opportunities occasionally arise elsewhere. I worked at a university hospital for a while and it was much better than teaching at a school. Thailand has an offshore oil industry and occasionally an oil company will hire teachers for its Thai staff. The pay will be a lot higher than regular teaching jobs.
To stay in Thailand you need a visa and if your are a teacher it will be a Non-B business visa. The visa doesn't allow you to work. In order to work you need a work permit.
You should make sure that any employer who offers you a job agrees to do this paperwork for you and also that they pay for it. When I worked at the hospital it was part-time and my employer wasn't willing to do the paperwork. I did it all myself and it was a huge headache. You really don't want to get involved with this yourself.
If you get a Non-B visa through work and then lose (or quit) your job, your visa expires. I believe you have around seven days to leave the country.
Work permits are very specific about what you do and where you work. If you get a work permit to teach, you can't suddenly start doing a different job with the same work permit.
Also, if your work permit allows you to work at Location A you can't work legally at Location B. It's unlikely that anyone will check, but occasionally immigration has a big crackdown.
This can be done from outside of Thailand. Language schools with branches in your home country as well as Thailand are one option and of course there is the Internet. My personal experience applying for Internet advertised jobs in Thailand was not good though. Most jobs I applied for that way didn't even result in a reply and occasionally I would get a refusal but I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because I didn't have long list of qualifications or maybe because my face didn't fit? Job applications in Thailand always require a photo so they know what you look like).
In Thailand it's a different story. When I decided to go job hunting I brushed up my CV, copied it several times along with copies of my qualifications and went walking around some schools. The first one I stopped at offered me a job there and then which rather took me by surprise.
When applying from a distance they are never quite sure what you are like so being able to meet you in person is a big bonus. You are also there and available! It seems that many people thousands of miles away who are offered jobs just don't show up. I would strongly advise anyone looking for work in Thailand to go there first.
As I said above, don't restrict your opportunities by only thinking about working in schools and language institutes. Thailand depends very much on tourism and foreign trade and all sorts of businesses have a need for English language skills.
Is A TEFL Qualification Necessary?
Strictly, no. If you happen to walk into a school where they need English teachers and you are a presentable, native English speaker you can probably find employment. However, this question raises ethical questions.
Why do you want to teach English in Thailand if you aren't qualified to do so? Is it just to fund your enjoyment of the wonderful lifestyle Thailand has to offer? Is it to pay for your drinking sessions or encounters with prostitutes?
English is now an important life skill for Thais and some are paying a lot of money for lessons. Don't you owe it to them to give your best? And to do this don't you first need to learn the necessary skills required to teach?
I did a 4 week TEFL course before I went to live in Thailand. I thought that my use of English was already pretty good and I know that my spelling and grammar usage is better than 99.9% of kids coming out of University with degrees.
I worked for many years at one of the world's leading companies and was used to hard work when the occasion demanded. What I did not expect on my TEFL course was to be challenged the way I was. It was a tough course and not everyone is guaranteed a pass, some people just get a certificate of attendance.
It was tough but one of the English proverbs I teach my students is, "Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy." When I finished the course I felt confident to prepare and deliver English lessons and to handle questions about the language.
I honestly can't see how anyone without that training can teach effectively.
Is A Bachelors Degree Necessary?
It didn't use to be, but it is now. Thais are obsessed with social status and a key indicator of social status in Thailand these days is academic qualifications.
For some years all Thai university lecturers have been required to have Master's degrees and now they are expected to have, or be studying for, a PhD. I knew very few PhDs in the UK, but they are two-a-penny in Thailand.
Thais also believe that academic qualifications are somehow related to ability and that if a person doesn't have a certain piece of paper he or she is unable to do certain jobs. Ridiculous, I know, but this is how it is.
In my analysis of problems within the Thai education system I see many problems. Thais see only one, that is, lowly qualified teachers. They think that by requiring all teachers to have Master's degrees or PhDs all the problems will be solved.
That won't happen but, in the meantime, they require all foreign teachers to have degrees, even if the degree is in the field of Mickey Mouseology (which many are).
Thailand, of course, is infamous for its many counterfeit items and it is quite possible to buy a fake degree in Bangkok's Khaosan Road or elsewhere. If you do this and get caught the consequences can be quite serious.
I also heard something about Thai employers asking for official proof of an employee's qualification through the employee's Embassy in Bangkok.
Free Lessons And Exchanging Lessons
In my opinion this is something to be avoided, although I have helped people who I like at times. Thais always want something for free and I am constantly asked if I can give free lessons. The other ploy is to exchange English lessons for Thai ones.
This arrangement could work but, as I mentioned above, people need to know how to teach. I can teach English and I'd happily exchange some lessons with a proper Thai teacher to teach me Thai but I haven't had the opportunity to do so.
Some Thai friends have attempted this and haven't had a clue. To 'teach' Thai they look around the room pointing at objects and giving me the Thai word. This, unfortunately, is not teaching.
Thai Attitudes To Time
In the Thai value system time has very little importance. Thais will happily waste their own time, as well as that of other people.
If you are getting paid a fixed salary and students don't bother to show up, or they show up very late, it doesn't really matter.
On the other hand, if you prepare a lesson and wait for students who don't turn up and you don't get paid it can be really annoying. The students won't tell you they aren't coming or they will give you very little notice.
You should think of getting students to pay in advance and only refunding their money if they cancel a class 24 hours in advance.
Teaching in Thailand can be enjoyable if you don't need to teach. You can pick and choose jobs, and walk away when something isn't satisfactory. When money isn't the primary objective you can focus on satisfying and enjoyable work.
If the only way you can survive in Thailand is by teaching and you are forced to take what work there is it can be thoroughly miserable. Many Thai students have bad attitudes and simply aren't interested in learning, however, the fault will always lie with the teacher.
Most Thai employers are reasonable, but over the years I have heard some real horror stories about certain employers. For example, one woman I was told about dictated where her teachers would live, banned them from talking to other foreigners, banned them from learning Thai, and when their contracts had finished told immigration that they should not be allowed to enter Thailand again.
Again, most foreign teachers that you work with are fine, but there still a few alcoholic sexpats whose main objective is to offload their work to the new teachers and carry on with their extra-curricular activities.
I have also heard about teachers who believe they can change the world and are real control freaks - normally women. They attempt to control other teachers and can be a real pain. One guy I spoke to had been teaching in Korea for years and had a lot of experience. He moved to Thailand and started working with a woman from New Zealand who was like this. Fortunately, he didn't need the job and just walked out because whe made life unbearable.
Most teaching jobs in Thailand only pay enough to live on each month. There is little left over for anything else and if a teacher marries a local and has children life can be a real struggle. I know teachers like this and they have returned home because they can earn more money at home and also get better education for their children.
Many people who come to Thailand end up staying for years. After a while it becomes almost impossible to return home or go anywhere else. If you teach you can survive, but what about when you want to stop teaching? What do you do then?
Bear in mind what I said at the top of the page. TEFL is basically a dream and reality isn't often spelled out because there is a lot of money in the industry.
For youngsters doing a gap year, spending a year teaching in Thailand can be great fun. For those who don't need the money it can be quite enjoyable and rewarding.
If you are looking to do it long term because you need the money, but don't have the experience and qualifications to get a top paying job in a top international school it can be a real slog.
Thailand for Tourists
Living In Thailand
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand