Teaching abroad is a great way to see more of the world and to gain professional experience at the same time — but it isn’t a walk in the park. Teaching in Thailand can be just as stressful as it is rewarding, so here’s what you need to know.
Finding a job
Finding a teaching job in Thailand is quite easy, regardless of where you are in the world. Job postings can be found on websites like Dave’s ESL Cafe and Ajarn. Each post should detail the job specifications and qualifications required to apply. More often than not, they are looking for native speakers with bachelor’s degrees, but some of the more reputable schools ask for candidates who have teaching degrees. Non-native speakers can apply for jobs, but are often required to take English proficiency tests to prove their command of the language — which, for some reason, applies to Irish and South Africans too. It should be noted that a degree is required to get the work permit; whilst some schools claim to be able to hire you without one, it involves some bending of the rules, and you could end up in trouble.
For those already in Thailand, as well as applying online, it’s also a matter of turning up at a school with a CV and applying the old fashioned way; it’s not unheard of that you’d have to perform a demo lesson on that day too. Those applying outside of Thailand will usually have an interview on Skype, before the decision to hire or not is made. Applying to agencies might seem like an easy route, but it can leave you short changed and with little support if you pick the wrong one, so do your research ahead of time.
Arriving in Thailand
In the vast majority of cases, applicants arrive in Thailand on a tourist visa, and will have to make a visa run to a neighbouring country in order to get a Non-Immigrant B type visa whilst the work permit is sorted out. Whilst this process might seem a little dodgy, it’s common practice in Thailand, and is something you’ll just have to accept. Once your work permit arrives, you’ll then get the holy grail: a one-year visa stamp.
It’s also important to ensure you arrive with a significant chunk of cash to cover living expenses whilst you wait for your paycheck. Finding a flat, along with paying a deposit and rent, transport costs, food costs, visa run costs, etc. can add up, so make sure you bring enough to be covered for at least two months. Remember that Bangkok is more expensive than being out in the sticks, and will also pay more too, so tailor your budget to your location. And don’t forget to bring formal clothes! This isn’t a shorts and t-shirt kind of gig; you’ll be expected to dress professionally.
Starting the job
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of Thailand or a first timer, it’s still very possible to experience a culture shock when beginning your job. Things are less organised, some things won’t make sense, and there’ll be all sorts of other stresses that can make you question whether you made the right decision, including a large class sizes, being asked to take on extra responsibilities and language barriers with other staff members. Persevere! It’s a steep learning curve but it gets a lot easier, and you’ll land on your feet.
Teachers will be expected to keep scores for students throughout the year, and some schools are very specific when it comes to how many should be allocated, the weighting of midterm and final tests and what to do if a students fails, so it’s essential to get this clarified and to make a document with the nicknames and numbers of your students to make this process easier for you. Introduce yourself to your students, and have them introduce themselves to you. Students will be interested and intrigued by their new teacher, and these first few weeks can often determine how your year goes. Be too friendly, and you’ll be a pushover; be too firm, and they’ll switch off. It’s about finding a balance and seeing what works for you.
What to expect
From the prestigious international and English Program schools to the rural government schools, no two are the same, but there are some constants amongst them. Whilst international schools follow the same school calendar as the country they represent, Thai schools usually run from May–October and November–March, with month-long breaks in between. Classes often differ wildly in ability, from students who’ll love to read for fun to others who couldn’t read a simple sentence. That’s one of the many challenges of teaching: keeping mixed-level students interested and engaged. Trying to find this balance can be the undoing of many aspiring teachers, so it’s important to find the right balance in your approach.
In the majority of schools, there’ll be no standardised tests, so the teacher is responsible for coming up with tests. Most foreign teachers are accompanied by a co-teacher, a Thai national who will teach the class about English grammar in his or her own periods, but who will also help out in your class periods. These can be invaluable, or terrible, with no middle ground, but can be great when it comes to controlling the class and giving you a hand to make sure everybody is on the same page. It’s also inevitable that you’ll be asked to greet students in the morning by the gate, present an English assembly to the whole school in the morning or to tutor a student who’s going to an academic competition in your free time. Of course, these tasks aren’t in the job description and are unpaid, but it’s something you’ll just have to accept. The number of surprise holidays and classes missed to practice shows for events like Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day usually makes up for it, though.
How to enjoy the experience
Whilst undoubtedly, this experience will leave you with your head in your hands at times, it’s important that you learn to enjoy it — after all, that’s why you’re here, right? Get to know your students; they can be full of personality, and can surprise you every day. Try to motivate them to follow their passion, whether it’s art, sport or making YouTube videos. Plan lessons that both you and your students will enjoy, whether you make a poster or prepare for a presentation. Be the teacher that you wanted when you were in school. And don’t forget to travel! Whilst you might only be told about them the day before, there are a number of holidays that’ll give you long weekends, so make sure to take advantage of them and recharge those batteries.