Three years ago, a teacher called Jonathan, who runs a very popular Facebook page dedicated to the discussion of teaching jobs in Thailand, put together an interesting bullet-point list of the 18 ‘kinds of school' that he would not work for.
The original list was passed on to me very recently by another teacher and gentleman who has taught in both the Thai school system and in private language schools. Thanks a lot Gordon!
Jonathan's original bullet points appear in bold type. ALL OF THE comments below the bold type are either mine or Gordon's.
OK, let's get started.
I wouldn't work for.........
1. Schools that don't pay a teacher for the breaks between semesters - regardless of how long a teacher has been at the school
This evil practice started several years ago.
In the good old days, teachers signed a 12-month contract and were paid for all of those twelve months - whether they were working or not.
Understandably, many teachers looked forward to a month or so off on full pay and with it the chance to perhaps take a vacation and recharge their batteries.
Then a few of the more unscrupulous agencies out there saw a chance to claw back a bit more from the teacher and decided not to pay them for mid-term breaks.
To ‘nickel and dime' a teacher who is already working for ‘survival wages' is simply a despicable practice. I don't know how else to put it.
Schools and agencies who don't pay their teachers for school holidays are still thankfully in the minority, but their numbers do seem to be increasing.
Many teachers who find themselves in these situations are naturally worried about how they are going to survive for several weeks with no income. Schools and agencies realize this and will sometimes promise the teacher opportunities to do paid mid-term work such as Summer camps, etc and to keep the earnings coming in.
But as many a teacher will tell you, promises are there to be broken and the extra work doesn't always materialize.
2. Schools that don't provide teachers without even the most basic health insurance package.
All the private language schools that I have worked for full-time have provided some sort of basic health insurance package. I would never consider health insurance as a benefit - it's a necessity! Discuss it at the interview.
3. Schools that dock a teacher's pay when they are late for work - even by just a few minutes.
Perhaps I was just lucky but at all the places I worked, on the VERY rare occasion I was late for my first lesson of the day, another teacher would take over and kill time until I arrived. There was never ever a fuss made about the situation. There were certainly no fines or punishments.
However, to my horror, a foreign teacher on social media told me that his school docked his pay for turning up just five minutes late. And this was after the teacher had arrived at least half an hour early every other day that week and had voluntarily stayed behind after school to help with a class project.
Admittedly, I have never worked at large Thai schools with lots of students and staff members. Perhaps these larger organisations do need to implement a ‘clocking in' system where the rules need to be the same for both Thai and foreign staff. But being fined for being five minutes late still seems harsh.
4. Schools that fail to furnish teachers with an adequate sized teachers' room.
Good point! A teacher needs enough space to work in and prepare lessons along with a locker to store their valuables.
5. Schools that have no computers available so teachers are forced to bring their own.
I never used a school computer except maybe to surf the web during breaks. Let me bring Gordon in on this point. He says "in today's day and age, I prefer to save school related stuff on my own computer anyway"
I'm with Gordon on this. I always carried my own small, lightweight laptop with me. They're not too expensive and they're always a good investment. And of course you keep all your private stuff in one place.
6. Schools that don't have an internet connection.
"This goes without saying" says Gordon, and once again I agree with him. It doesn't break the bank for a school to equip a teachers room with wi-fi.
Believe or not, I once worked for a school with a Thai female boss who when in a bad mood because someone had upset her, would turn off the wi-fi router purely to punish the teachers. Eventually one of us would pluck up the courage to knock on her office door and tell her that the internet was down. "I'll see what I can do" she would bark back. After a while she'd turn the router back on. After she felt we had suffered enough. How petty was that? May your school be free of tinpot dictators.
7. Schools that insist you have to remain on the premises for longer than the legal 'working day'.
"This is a difficult one" says Gordon, "in the past, I have argued the toss with a school so I could leave early to teach part-time elsewhere - when of course it wasn't affecting my classes at the school. By and large the school management has always agreed to my demands"
8. Schools that don't allow teachers to exit the school premises during a break just to perhaps run a quick errand.
What! You can't pop out for ten minutes to the nearest 7-11 to buy an ice cream or to pay your electricity bill? That's prison, not school!
"That is ridiculous and I'd never accept it in a million years" adds Gordon.
I'm with you all the way brother.
9. Schools that don't have air-conditioning in some or all of the classrooms.
"air-conditioning is certainly preferable, although at my last school we didn't have it in every classroom" says Gordon.
Personally, I don't think I have ever taught in a classroom without air-conditioning. I can't imagine teaching in a classroom without air-conditioning. However, I've discovered over the years that not every teacher likes air-con so it comes down to personal choice this one. If you're teaching at a school in Northern Thailand during December and January, you'll probably need your woolly hat and gloves anyway, but April in Bangkok? No air-conditioning? Are you insane?
10. Agents that pay you less than 40,000-50,000 baht a month and much less than that if you are working at a school outside Bangkok.
The topic of teacher pay is debated in plenty of other places on the ajarn website so I'll spare you all the agony of going over it again. You know what you are worth! I wouldn't disagree with those figures above though.
Gordon says "this is certainly open to debate and I understand both sides of the argument (I'm sitting on the fence I know), although I did leave my last job because they told me a week before I was due to start that all teachers would have to take a ‘slight reduction' in salary of 2,000 baht per month"
11. Schools that take advantage of Filipino teachers and pay them considerably less than native speakers.
Having spoken to a number of Filipino teachers and bloggers over recent months, I think the days of Filipinos working for 15,000 baht salaries might be coming to an end. There are still plenty of schools and employers offering that kind of salary but whether they are successful in finding qualified, capable Filipino staff is another matter.
I think Filipinos are finally waking up to the fact that they are not only worth more, but Bangkok especially, has become a much more expensive place to live. In addition, more than a few have told me that the situation back home in The Philippines has improved considerably so teaching in Thailand is not the draw it once was.
12. Schools that fail to come up with a proper teacher contract.
There are cynics out there that will tell you a contract between an employer and employee ain't worth the paper it's printed on. The Thai Labor Department would disagree and should you ever need their assistance, it will help to produce a contract. So get one.
13. Schools that employ you as an English teacher but then want you to teach other subjects (math, science, etc).
Gordon says, "I have experienced this. I was told the day before I started that I would be required to teach economics. Fortunately part of my degree included economics but just you try teaching even basic economic theory to matayom one students when their English is fairly basic to say the least"
I think rather like air-conditioning in classrooms, this one comes down to personal choice. I can understand Gordon's frustration at having to teach a subject to students who aren't up to the task, but I think many teachers would welcome the opportunity to teach something other than English and try their hand at maths, science or whatever.
14. Schools or agencies that pay only for the semester so it avoids paying a teacher for the semester break.
Gordon calls this a ‘blatant rip off' but I'm not 100% sure I grasp the situation. Is this when a school says they will employ you for just one semester and then it's job done and goodbye? Or they offer to pay you ‘semester by semester' and not for the breaks in-between, in which case we could refer to point number one at the top of the list couldn't we?
15. Schools that don't provide a teacher's desk or table on which to put your books, CD player, etc.
A teacher needs a desk. Nuff said.
16. Schools that don't provide free whiteboard marker pens.
Gordon says "I have actually bought my own markers before so that's not a big issue although I suppose they should be supplied; however, you could argue tradesmen have to purchase their own tools"
Hmmm.....interesting comment Gordon. I've never thought about it that way but I've never heard of teachers paying for markers either.
I'm going to come down on the schools' side a little bit here though because quality white-board markers are not cheap and I often saw teachers be disrespectfully wasteful with them.
At one language school I worked at, teachers were allowed two board markers a week - a blue one and a red one or two blue ones - and you guarded them with your life. Two markers a week was more than enough, even for those of us who taught a lot of hours. However, if you were one of those teachers who filled every spare inch of the whiteboard (usually an inexperienced teacher) or a teacher who loved to draw elaborate pictures, then you were in trouble.
Honestly, I never blamed schools for keeping a tight rein on board-marker usage but to make teachers pay for them just doesn't seem right.
17. Schools that make a teacher teach an unreasonable number of periods / hours a week.
Gordon says "this is a difficult one. I have in the past taught between 16 and 21 periods a week but would prefer to teach around 16 x 50-minute classes. I am now working at a language school and last month taught 119 hours, which is a lot, and something I don't want to do for more than a year - so I'm tending to side with this"
119 hours in one month Gordon? Luxury. My record was 184 contact hours in one month and we had to pay the language centre owner to work there!
Seriously though, I did do 184 classroom hours in one month but it's not something I would recommend.
This again comes down to personal preference though because there are so many variables. How difficult is the subject matter? (is it a lesson you could almost teach in your sleep) How good or bad are the students? (lessons with better, more engaged students will always pass more quickly and require less effort) How much prep time is needed? (you don't need much at all if it's a lesson you've taught countless times) And let's not forget - how money-hungry are you? (I've worked with hourly-paid teachers who would have taught 16-hour days if given the chance)
18. Schools that don't provide teachers with a free or at least subsidized lunch.
I have never worked at a school that provided a free lunch so naturally I don't really see it as a deal-breaker.
Truth be told, I'm something of a fussy old grumpy boots when it comes to my lunch-break and I always have been. For me, lunch breaks are to be spent in a quiet corner, far from the maddening crowd and alone with my thoughts. It's a chance to catch up on other work and not have to open my mouth for an hour, except to shovel in food of course.
I generally don't mind sitting with a group of other foreign teachers and perhaps sharing a few jokes and war stories, but to have to share mealtimes with students or Thai staff and make uneasy, polite conversation would do my head in. They need the break just as much as the foreign teacher does. Let's eat and not have to talk shop!
Gordon adds "What is your definition of a decent lunch? I'm not ungrateful when offered a free lunch but I do tend to only eat at most 2-3 times a week in a school canteen. Maybe I'm a little picky. Although I regularly eat Thai food, not all of it I find appetizing"
I'm going to add another one of my own to our bullet point list.
19. Schools that seem vague about the visa and work permit process.
A while back I wrote an article on how every good school has a work permit superhero - a Thai person whose sole responsibility is to take care of teacher work permits, visas and other aspects of red tape. They are worth their weight in gold. Often on first name terms with folks down at the labour and immigration departments, the work permit superhero knows exactly how the system works.
Alas, a number of schools consider the whole visa / work permit thing to be one big headache and it's one reason they have turned to teacher placement agencies. Let the teacher agencies handle all the paperwork.
In conclusion, whether you're working for a school or an agency, make sure they have a superhero.
Both Gordon and I would love your comments on this one. Are there any more bullet points you would add to the list? Do you disagree with any of the above?