Teaching English in Thailand Schools: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Primary Thai Students Putting on a Performance

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Teaching English in Thailand Schools

For almost seven years, I taught English as a foreign language (EFL) in Thailand public and private schools K-12. Overall, this was a great experience and there are no real regrets. It was not easy work, but rather very challenging and at times frustrating. This is because teaching EFL in Thailand was a lot different from my previous experiences of teaching EFL and ESL in Taiwan and the United States. In this hub I present the good, the bad, and the ugly of EFL teaching in "the Land of Smiles." Hopefully, it will be beneficial to teachers seeking teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) positions in Thailand.

Sixth Grade EFL Students in Thailand

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Thailand English in Thailand Schools

Teaching EFL Students in Thailand

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What's Good About TEFL in Thailand?

In reflecting on my experiences from 2007 until 2014, I would have to conclude there is more good than bad or ugly in teaching in public and private schools K-12 in Thailand. Why else would I have stayed in this field? The good points include:

1. A Steady Job With Fixed Monthly Salary

Most foreign teachers in a primary or secondary school have a year long contract with either their school or an agent who has secured their employment at a school. Teachers are often guaranteed 18-22 hours of teaching each week at a monthly salary usually ranging between 1,000 and 2,500 U.S. dollars. Most of the time, teachers don't have to rely on part-time employment at evening private adult TEFL schools to make ends meet.

2. Paid Thai National Holidays And School Breaks

If a teacher has signed a contract with a school, he or she will be given paid Thai national holidays and paid time off during the school break in October between semesters. The teacher will also be given two to three months of paid vacation during the Thai summer break between school years. This break usually runs from the beginning of March until the latter half of May. If a teacher has signed a contract with an agent, he or she will only be paid for national holidays.

3. Extra Benefits

In many schools, teachers receive free medical insurance and a free lunch. On the occasions of Christmas, New Years and Teachers Day, teachers usually receive gifts from the schools, especially if they are private. Many students also give New Year gifts to their favorite teachers.

4. Free Seminar Training And Financial Support From Schools for Training in Education

Twenty hours of free seminar training in teaching and learning theory and application is provided each year to teachers in most schools. If a teacher decides to work towards a Bachelors or Masters Degree in Education, the school will usually pay 50 percent of the tuition cost.

5. Special Satisfaction From Seeing Students Succeed

There is no better feeling than coaching a student in public speaking, and then seeing him or her win a speech contest. It is also quite rewarding in writing a letter of recommendation for an excellent model student who is accepted for studying abroad in either the United States or the United Kingdom.

What's Bad About TEFL in Thailand?

TEFL teaching can definitely be very tiring and frustrating. At times I was tempted to get out of it for the following reasons:

1. Long Hours

In many schools a teacher must be at work Monday through Friday from 7:20 A.M. until 4:30 P.M. During this nine hour period, a teacher will normally have four or five hours of classroom instruction. When not teaching, a teacher must remain on the school campus in his or her faculty room to prepare lessons or grade student papers and tests.

2. Excessive Paperwork

Many schools require teachers to prepare detailed lesson plans along with evaluations after a unit is taught. Most teachers have seven or eight different classes with a total of 240-300 students. This certainly creates a lot of paperwork in grading workbooks and notebooks, tests and in preparing detailed evaluations of students.

3. Visa Runs

Most of the foreign teachers have work permits with a year long non-immigrant visa. These teachers must go to the Immigration Bureau every three months to report their residence. The teachers who have no work permit or non-immigrant visa must go on visa runs to neighboring countries like Laos, Cambodia or Malaysia every two or three months to apply for new tourist visas.

4. There Is More Entertainment Than Teaching

When I first started EFL work in Thailand five years ago, I quickly found out that all schools want learning to be fun. To grab and maintain the attention of students, it is necessary in many cases to be more of an entertainer than an educator. During my first job at a public high school, I was frankly told by the head English teacher that I should be entertaining my students by singing or playing games with them!!

5. Everyone Must Pass

According to Ministry of Education policies, no student can fail, even if they don't achieve the minimum passing score of 50 percent. For me, it is especially disturbing to pass a student who is lazy, unmotivated, and unwilling to try to do homework or participate in class.

6. Bad Communication Between School Administration and Foreign Teachers

It never fails that the foreign teacher is the last person in school to learn about cancelled classes or an extra school holiday. My colleagues and I have wasted so much time showing up for scheduled classes which were cancelled at the last minute without our knowledge.

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What's Ugly About TEFL in Thailand?

Almost all of my ugly experiences teaching EFL in Thailand occurred while I was employed at a public school. They include the following:

1. No Air-Conditioning in Classrooms

During my first teaching assignment at a public school, there was no air-conditioning in any the classrooms. Fortunately, it was approaching the cool season in Thailand, and I did not suffer from the heat and humidity as much as I would have during the rainy season.

2. Ancient Chalkboards

I hated writing on the chalkboards because the surface of all of the old boards was very bad. Every time I used a piece of chalk it would break, and you wouldn't believe how much dirty chalk dusk I got on my clothes.

3. No Faculty Lounge or Teacher's Desk

There was no room for foreign teachers in the Thai teachers' faculty lounge, so my two colleagues and I operated out of the school's resource room. We all shared a seven foot long table. We were expected to prepare lesson plans, but there were no computers available for our use.

4. Large Classes Which Met Once a Week

I remember teaching 17 different ninth and twelfth grade co-ed classes which met one hour a week. Sixty students were packed into a small classroom which afforded the teacher hardly any room to stand in front of the class.

5. Disrespectful Students

Most of the students were quite disrespectful and hardly ever greeted or acknowledged me outside of the classroom. In one instance, a student threw an eraser and hit me in the back while I was writing on the chalkboard.

Considering the good and the bad, teaching English in Thailand schools, especially in the private schools, has been a very rewarding experience. What disturbs me the most is the emphasis on entertainment over education, and the policy that all students must pass even if not deserving. Perhaps I shouldn't be disturbed because the world today is different than it was when I attended school more than 50 years ago.


© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn

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Comments 26 comments

chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 4 years ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

You had to be an entertainer in class! How novel. You sound as if on the whole you've had a great five years entertaining your pupils - sorry, educating them!

Some useful information,first hand, always the best. Thanks for this hub, full of insights and solid experience.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

chef-de-jour,

Thank you for reading and your comments.


maddot profile image

maddot 4 years ago from Northern NSW, Australia

Great hub! Very informative for ESL teachers, thanks.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Maddot,

Thanks for reading and your encouraging comments.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Considering the good, the bad, and the ugly I would vote you felt more of the good. This was an interesting hub about education in Thailand from a teacher's perspective. I think every teacher needs to entertain today, with all the technology kids live with every day they see life as being fast paced!

Enjoyed this hub and voted up and interesting.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Tillsontitan,

Thanks for reading this hub and your comments. Yes, every teacher needs to entertain today, but has teaching today everywhere in the world come down to being more of an entertainer than an educator?


ESLTeachersTales 4 years ago

Wow, I would be disturbed by 4 & 5 of the bad too. Yes, there needs to be room for fun but there also still needs to be a place for discipline. Can everything we need to know be learned and retained through games alone? Perhaps the answer is yes. I don't know. There's also the "hidden" agenda of education, which is preparing the young to be productive members of society after the school years. Are all the jobs in Thailand fun? If not, what happens when the perpetually entertained student encounters the un-fun job?

And of course passing every student is just ridiculous. I assume it's self-serving to make the schools look good. As students go up through the ranks, do they begin to group them according to ability or does it remain a mixed bag in every class up through high school?


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

The hidden agenda of education in many Thailand schools is to make money. Yes, most schools, especially private, are run as businesses. If the students don't receive good grades (i.e. fail or get close to failing) their parents will send them to another school that will give them good grades. No, all jobs in Thailand are not fun. I still can't understand why a student only needs 50 percent to pass a course. A few years ago I got a Thai driver's license and had to score at least 80 percent on the written test to get a license!!! As students go up through the ranks they generally remain a mixed bag in every class making it very challenging for teachers. Thanks for reading and your comments.


bamuscarella profile image

bamuscarella 4 years ago from Buffalo, NY

Great hub! I hate to say it, but I don't think Thai schools are alone in their desire to pass all students, whether they deserve it or not. At least here in New York, where the education system is renowned for being tough (at least for educators who want to work in it), I've heard countless times of high school teachers fudging grades or just flat out giving students high grades just so that they can pass to the next level. It's sad, and part of the reason I'm continuing to focus on teaching ESL at the college level. Granted, some students of course don't take classes seriously; but I find that most of my students are here to learn. They don't want to waste the time and money they're investing in themselves by focusing on entertainment over education in the classroom.

Is the visa situation different for a person who, like you, is living in Thailand, versus someone who wants to teach there for just a year or two? Also, is it easy to get a job teaching overseas? It's something I've been thinking about and would like to do, but I honestly have no idea where to start.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

bamuscarella,

Thanks for reading this hub and your insightful comments. If you plan on teaching English as a foreign language in Thailand for a year or two it would be wise to get a non-immigrant B visa. With this visa renewable every year, you will be able to get a work permit if sponsored by a school. With the non-immigrant B you only need to report to immigration once every 90 days. If you don't have a non-immigrant B, you can still teach in Thailand with a tourist visa, but you won't be able to get a work permit. The work permit makes you legal in Thailand, but I know of a lot of teachers here who only are working with a tourist visa. The problem with the tourist visa is that it is only good for 2-3 months and then you have to make a visa run to either Malyasia or Laos to apply for another tourist visa. There is a demand for EFL teachers now, It would be best to have a degree, but there are people teaching her without any or with bogus degrees. Read some of the hubs I have written on this subject. If you still have questions, let me know.


Jenniferteacher profile image

Jenniferteacher 4 years ago from Seoul

There are a lot of similarities between teaching in Thailand and S Korea-- overall it's good, but there is still much room for improvement. I don't recall entertainment being a priority when I was in school, either, but times have changed, I suppose.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Jennifer,

Thanks for stopping by and your comments. My son is teaching in Taiwan, and he tells me that some entertainment is also expected in Taiwan schools, but not on the scale that it is in Thailand.


Jenniferteacher profile image

Jenniferteacher 4 years ago from Seoul

The amount of entertainment varies by job, but earlier today, a friend teaching at a top 5 uni's grad program complained about being an "edutainer". So, at least a little seems to be expected everywhere, and a lot is expected at most academies.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Jennifer,

Thank you very much for your interesting comments about being an edutainer.


Richawriter profile image

Richawriter 4 years ago from On Top of the World

Hey Paul.

This is an excellent hub and I have gone through all the experiences you mentioned above, good, bad and ugly!!

But as you say, there is more good than otherwise. Enough to make us want to stay in this country and continue on our sometimes almost impossible mission to encourage these Thai children to actually take English seriously.

One of the biggest problems I face these days is those little I-pads, phones, I-phones etc being used in the classroom ALL the time. I waste half my class time disciplining and confiscating these annoynances. Technology is taking us backwards in terms of social skills and actual thinking skills because if all you have to do is stare at a screen and tap it all day, there won't be as much happening up there.

Oh well. We strive onwards and enjoy regardless because when it does go right, it is wonderful!

Good job Paul.

Peace.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Richawriter,

Thanks for reading this hub and your great comments! I don't have a problem with the students taking I-pads to class, however at times they have had phones and MP3 players which I have had to take away.


vtpoly profile image

vtpoly 4 years ago from New York, USA

Hi, Paul --

I’m considering going to Thailand to look for an ESL teacher job. I have a B.S. and an M.A., but in areas unrelated to education. I have an IDELT certificate from Bridge and six months experience teaching business English in Santiago, Chile. With my limited experience teaching ESL and lack of an education degree and license from my home country, would I have any shot at getting a job at a private school? I doubt that I could survive a year there teaching in a classroom without AC. So public schools would be out for me.

Have you ever worked at a one of the chain schools such as AUA or Language Express?

Can you really save any money there earning $30,000 baht/month? This is the average salary I see on ajarn. It doesn’t seem like very much money. I’m in my forties, and I prefer to put away a little money every year. At this stage, I’m not sure I’d want to live hand to mouth every month.

Thanks.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

vtpoly.

Thanks for reading my hub and your comments. Right now you don't need certification in education to get an ESL/EFL job in a tier two school, which is a step down from the international schools which hire only teachers with certification from western countries. Your degrees and IDELT are more than sufficient to get a job in a private school similar to the one where I am now teaching. You definitely want to avoid getting a job in a public school. I have never worked in a chain school like AUA or Language Express. If you get a job in the school where I am teaching you would start out at 35,000 baht a month and after a six month probationary period be up to 40,000. After every year with a contract from the school, your salary would increase 5,000 baht. If you earned at 35,000 and really watched your living and entertainment expenses, you could save some money. If you have more questions email me at prkuehn@hotmail.com


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

Many of these points are quite similar to teaching in Japan, at least for the English ALTs that take their teaching/entertaining seriously and are acknowledged by their co-teachers (where acknowledgement == marking and assessment, plus 5-6 lessons per day).

I know many JETs co-taught 2-3 classes per day, and were terribly bored, but my co-teachers had me teaching 5-6, with many of these planned and run mostly by me, plus assessment. Apparently it's not a typical JET Programme experience.

The lack of air conditioning, kerosene heating and old blackboards were definitely tough to get used to after Australian heated/cooled classrooms with whiteboards. Most of my classes/students were well behaved, only a couple were ones I dreaded.

Lack of interest and motivation is a problem in all schools, everywhere around the world.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Thank you very much for reading my hub and your very insightful comments. It took a while to get used to teaching kids after having spent my earlier years teaching mainly adults in Taiwan.


Stuart 2 years ago

I lasted half a month in a Thai High School, no thank you the experience was awful, the children unruly and I have taught in a Black township school in South Africa where the students were much more behaved. Lack of communication infuriated me and I had to do lesson plans over again because of the lack of clarrification from the syllabus that was given to me. One of my Thai co teachers was a pain in the neck and was a perfectionist. She wanted us to come up with materials that would have to cost us quite a bit from our wallets so I ended up creating power point presentations but unfortunately my computer never had the correct cable so they said I had to come to them in advance because they had computers. When I did so they would get angry and irritated with me. Everything had to be printed in advance. When I arrived at the school they said all lesson plans had to be complete over a period of 2 weeks for the semester. I thought to myself working all these hours under this much pressure for a measly $1000, sorry I woud rather go back to South Africa and earn less and have a better quality of life budgeting tightly. Thailand is a great place for vocation and has some of the most friendly people but to work in a school here, NO THANK YOU!


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Stuart, I appreciate your comments and can empathize with everything you say. Lack of communication is Thai schools is a big problem which irritated me much while I was teaching. You are correct in stating that behavior is a problem in all Thai schools, especially the government schools where you probably worked. You probably noticed that the Caucasian teacher is mostly viewed as a "white monkey" since "edutainment" is really important in Thailand.


Frederick Green profile image

Frederick Green 17 months ago from Bangkok, Thailand

When you started writing about "The Ugly", I think you should think about who you are addressing this to.

I studied at Bangkok Patana School - the most expensive international school in Thailand. It costs $30,000 to send one child there for an academic year. "No Air Conditioner" and "ancient chalkboards" are quite inaccurate descriptions. In this school, the school doesn't have any chalkboards. Instead, we have a $15,000 HD touchscreen smartboard. In addition to this, every student is provided with a personal iPad Mini and a MacBook Pro for all students, as well as a Kindle Fire HD for reading eBooks.

Not only is there good-quality air-conditioning in the classrooms but also in the cafeteria, lounge, sports hall, indoor swimming pool and the tennis courts. The facilities here are amazing, our lockers have fingerprint scanners and stuff like that. The school spends about 40 million baht every year on new technologies.

Of course this wouldn't be true in a government school or a Thai school but definitely rethink what you said because there are International schools where the super rich send their kids there.

However, most English teachers in Thailand don't get to experience it because you would need to have graduated from a Top 20 school like Harvard, MIT, CalTech, Stanford, UCLA, Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge or at least UCL or Imperial. If you graduated from a really famous school, I serious suggest applying for a job here so you can experience all the amazing facilities.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 17 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

I appreciate your comments about international schools in Thailand. Since I have never taught in an international school in Thailand, I did not include any observations or opinions about them. I agree with what you say because I used to live not too far from Bangkok Pattana School.


wiserworld profile image

wiserworld 2 months ago

Thanks for sharing the tips for teaching in Thailand. Do you find kids to be more respectful in the country towards teachers compared to other countries in Asia?


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 2 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

I have taught EFL and ESL in only two countries in Asia- Taiwan and Thailand. Most of my teaching in Taiwan was during the 1970s and my students were mostly adults. They were extremely respectful. As to teaching kids, I only taught EFL to Taiwan secondary students for one week in 2007. The kids were respectful and I had no discipline problems. As to Thailand, most of my discipline problems and lack of teacher respect were found when I was teaching in a government school. When I taught in a private all-girls Catholic school, at least 90 percent of the girls were extremely respectful. Thanks for commenting!

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