The five categories of English teacher

What are the pros and cons of each?

A while back, Phil chastised me in the comments section for being too negative (I think I mentioned one is unlikely to get rich teaching English and should take stories of great riches made in the industry with a grain of salt) and challenged me to write an article.

So I have taken the challenge and have written a few, and one thing I have learned is some teachers have some very strong opinions on some issues which differ from my own!

I strongly believe one should focus efforts on what can be controlled and not focus efforts on trying to change circumstances one has little to no power over. Therefore it is felt it is better to adapt oneself to the world we live in and not spend one's life complaining about or trying to change things one has little influence over.

Each of us has some control over the direction our careers take but little control over the nature of the educational system, or any other industry, in a particular location.

Each person is an individual with his or her own unique motivations, skills, and opportunities while being at a specific stage in one's lifecycle.

When analyzing, criticizing, pondering about moving into or out of the ESL industry, or giving career advice to other individuals, most people tend to see the situation from where one is currently standing, which can be helpful for other people standing close by, but this advice might be less helpful for people looking at the ESL industry from a very different angle.

The decision to start or continue to teach in Thailand (or any other location) will be influenced by each person's individual circumstances. Obviously there are both pros and cons to be weighted, but the pros and cons differ depending on a person's circumstances.

While in reality each person is a unique individual, I have broken down ESL teachers into five general categories. These categories are only for native English speaking individuals coming from fairly wealthy societies; obviously the perspectives and other opportunities for educators from different locations will be quite different.

1. The "Gap-Year" teacher

2. The Career ESL teacher

3. The ‘"I Just Want to Live in Thailand (or another country)" Teacher

4. The ESL as a Stepping Stone (to an international professional career) Teacher

5. The Semi-Retired Teacher

Gap-Year Teacher


-Get paid to travel

-It can be a fun experience which can provide a life-time of memories

-You can feel good about what you are doing

-You can probably get a paid professional position with little or no experience or specialized training

-It is a great opportunity to learn a foreign language and other soft skills

-Some employers will be impressed and this could put you ahead of other individual's looking for entry level positions


-You will be away from family and friends

-You will be putting your real career, or graduate school education on hold

-Some employers might not be impressed; this may be especially relevant for male teachers going to teach in Thailand as the country has, ah, a reputation

The Career Teacher


-For many people, teaching is a fun and pretty stress-free way to earn a living

-Lots of opportunities for job mobility, you can change locations easily without changing careers

-Few positions require high levels of specialized training or skills


There is no well-established career path with a progression of steps with higher salaries and level of responsibility as one gains experience as found in many other professions

The pay is lower than found in most jobs found in developed economies. There are a limited number of "well-paid" positions and one might be able to go to the Middle East for a few years mid-career to earn some more money, but it should be kept in mind there has never been a high school student who answered the question of what do you want to do when you grow up with the answer teach English in Saudi Arabia

It can be difficult to move out of ESL teaching into another career. If you take the path less traveled, you cannot easily get back on a more conventional career path

The ‘"I Just Want to Live in Thailand (or another country)" Teacher


One gets to live in Thailand or country of choice

One does not normally have to engage in high levels of education, training or specialized experience to secure a position

One has the opportunity to learn more about the culture, language and lifestyles of the location one has chosen to live


Living and working in a country like Thailand is vastly different than being a tourist (which can be seen as either a pro or a con, depending on the person)

A teacher in Thailand or other developing economy is going to get paid at a much lower rate than most jobs in developed economies

Much like for the career teacher, one generally does not always have the ability to leave and easily move into a new career in mid-life

The ESL as a Stepping Stone Teacher


A great way to gain language skills and international experience (I have personally met many people who came to teach English in China in the 90s and 00s who mastered the language and gained understanding of the culture and have leveraged these skills into high paying jobs with multinational companies)

English teaching can be combined with international education to develop marketable skills sets

It is fairly easy to get a job in the many locations where the ESL industry is active, and being on site can be an advantage when a job opening occurs

Having had one international job gives an individual confidence in pursuing an international career

Teaching ESL can always be one's safety net, as individuals living abroad do not have access to unemployment insurance or other types of government welfare, one can usually find some work teaching when between jobs or while trying to grow a business


While ESL teaching can provide many valuable soft skills, the hard skills developed in teaching are not always directly appreciated by international organizations. (This stepping stone strategy seems to work best when combining the ESL/international experience with hard skill training or experience)

Expatriate corporate jobs are drying up (hiring more local managers) making gaining on of the remaining spots highly competitive

The Semi-retired Teacher


There are few professional jobs one can realistically start later in life, ESL teaching is one of them

For an average person, the money earned is a nice complement to one's retirement income

Being around bright young people can really improve one's mental health as a person ages

It's fun


There are some legal restrictions on the hiring of older teachers in government schools

Many posters on diacussion forums claim ESL teaching is a young man's (person's) game, which has an element of truth in it but in my personal experience an upbeat, kind and open-minded older teacher is usually appreciated and can find some work somewhere.


Obvious these listed pros and cons are purely subjective and no one really understands what another person wants out of life and what other options are available. So instead of giving people advice whether or not to start or continue teaching ESL in Thailand, it is suggested to be aware of the pros and cons and weigh these against one's other options.

Teaching ESL in Thailand or another country might be a good choice for some people at some points in their lives and not the right choice for other people at other times in their lives.

You might not be able to single-handedly change ESL pay scales or immigration laws in Thailand but each of us does have some control over our career choices.

Deciding to become an ESL teacher at one time of my life, and then deciding to move on into other careers turned out, in my opinion, pretty good choices for me, but I suspect the "right" choices for other people will be different.



Although not strictly speaking an ESL teacher, here is another category that could be added to the list:

"The International School teacher"


1) Much better salary, usually including a housing allowance, health insurance and flights home every 1-2 years.

2) Usually better teaching conditions, such as smaller class sizes, access to technology, resources, and so forth. (Although this can vary quite a bit between schools)

3) Proper teaching holidays!! Nearly two months in the summer, a couple of weeks for Christmas, and a few other breaks thrown in during the school year.

4) Opportunity to teach a wide range of subjects other than ESL, from English Lit to Physics to Geography.

5) Long term career opportunities include working in school administration or moving up the ranks of international schools to truly well-paying jobs


1) Higher workload and degree of stress. You won't just be teaching classes, you'll have to lead extra-curricular activities, perform duties, write reports, hold meetings with parents, and so forth. Also higher expectations regarding lesson planning and teaching quality. You'll be expected to differentiate to learners of different ability, address special needs, incorporate technology in the classroom, and more. Not uncommon to work 50+ hours per week.

2) Less exposure to the local culture. At times it feels like you are working in a British or American bubble that just happens to be in Thailand.

3) Quality of international schools can vary widely. There are a few truly excellent ones, but also some terrible schools where the management might fail to deliver on promises, resources, or even salary!

By Danny, BKK (1 year ago)

A fairly accurate article. It would be great if you could write another article on how your former colleagues managed to use their ESL experience as a stepping stone to high paying jobs in multi-national companies. I think that is something a lot of people would like to do.

By John, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Agree with Mark - lot of teachers fall in the "out of all options" category.

Being negative about the industry is a good thing,because there are a lot more negatives than positives. If people just focus on the positives, then they aren't being honest with themselves.

There is nothing wrong with having a negative view of the industry - but that doesn't mean it has to include whining and complaining. Planes leave The airport everyday.

By Mary, Bangkok (1 year ago)

It's great to have a blog from you, Jack. You normally give really useful and insightful comments at the end of all the others, and I suppose I should do so now at the end of yours too - but I think your points are well made. Whatever anyone's reasons for coming into (or staying in) the teaching field, there's room, and there is no major reason for not enjoying the experience, for however long it lasts.

By Steve, Chichester College, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Jack, you've pretty much got all the labels except one... The 'out of all other options' expat who inexplicably manages to get hired!

And don't get too worked up about being labeled as 'negative'. I wear it as a badge of honor these days!

By Mark Newman, Thailand (1 year ago)

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