Can you advise this teacher?

Can you advise this teacher?

The problems with working for a great school but a poor agency

So, working a number of years at my school via a teaching agency. I'm quite happy at the school as the staff and students are great, it's a nice working environment, and I don't have to endure any of the usual laments, thankfully.

To put it simply I have found myself in a great job, at a great school with plenty of perks to boot and I'd be happy to stay there for a few more years (I'm working towards obtaining a Thai teaching license at the moment and that goal is not too far off either).

Agency issues

What's the problem then you may ask? In a nutshell - the agency. The school are quite professional and organised therefore any issues with the agency frustrates and unsettles them. As we all know, agency agenda is financial gain only, most if not all other things are second to that.

In fairness they have a lot of idiots that consider themselves teacher-worthy to deal with and I'm sure they have their own variation of nonsense to endure, but that doesn't make life any easier for the minority of us long-termers that are professional in approach, do a good job, and fulfil what the school requires of us. We're all just thrown in together and basically treated as disposable accessories. The effort of the collective always overshadows the individual, and if the majority are underperforming all suffer any negative impact.

The welfare of someone thousands of miles from home, with limited financial assets, an extremely weak local network (the ESL brotherhood is often one of cold, self-serving, and tenuous ties...), and almost zero legal rights appears to be non-existent. Our lot in life is that of a Maccy D's ketchup sachet at 2am on a bank holiday weekend.

Things will get worse

Recently, there's been a high-turnover of staff at my school due to people leaving and all of the replacements have been sub-standard to date and barely lasted a wet week. It seems like the agency is either throwing the first person that comes to hand at the position, or there just aren't any eligible 'teachers' floating around at the moment, it may even be a bit of both. To add to this, rumours abound of a number of other long-term staff moving on at end of contract too which will further aggravate instability and uncertainty. It seems that things are only going to get worse and not better...

Now for the crux of the issue: From what I've been told, if the school decides not to re-sign for the ensuing academic year (which they had previously intended to do and assured us of this) the agency has embedded in their contract (with the school) that their staff cannot work directly for that school in particular until after a number of years have passed from date of cessation of said contract.

Hot air?

Is it legally possible for them to stipulate this or just hot air on their part? Surely if teaching staff, agency, and school see out their respective contracts to completion they are then free agents to do as they please, no? How can a contract, once completed in full, dictate what any party can legally do after the contract period has expired? Seems a bit ridiculous in my opinion.

The school have stated that they intend on continuing with the current setup and relationship for the next couple of years but what troubles me is that I can foresee a possible situation arising where the school may become so annoyed with the agency that they call it a day at the end of this contract term, thus leaving me in quite a pickle.

What's even more annoying is knowing that the school would then replace the current agency with a new one in a cycle that serves only to perpetuate the same problems as opposed to solving them. As we all know, agencies are not privy to elite teacher gene-pools, rather it's a case of luck and lottery: who they hire depends on who applies, and most that apply are thinking of sun, fun, frolics, and travel first over pedagogical dedication and professionalism.

In the defence of the school however, I understand their predicament: the location is off the beaten track to an extent, which pushes the school to rely on external recruiters to fill vacancies.

I'm happy in my area, my partner works here, and my life is here too, and I had planned on being here for another couple of years. In the not-too-distant future I'll have completed my M.Ed and will eventually hold a 5-year Thai teaching license too. At this point returning to the norm of agency 6-month-frog-hopping-contracts in backwater government schools would be a complete regression. The school have also mentioned that they would be interested in (legally) hiring teachers directly as an option in the future (a genuine interest btw, not the usual BS hyperbolic yarns that are spun around these parts).

In truth, I have had a good relationship with my agency throughout my tenure with them and have never had any problems or caused them any either. I'm not sure if that would be enough for them to grant clemency and set me free from any contractual small print however...

What are your thoughts on this?

What would you do in my situation? (While there are other job options in my area there aren't enough to rely on a definite opening being there if push comes to shove in the future).

I don't fancy the idea of having to move away from my fiancé either as this is a further step backwards. I also refuse to ask her to sacrifice her job stability and follow me on an agency 'wild goose chase' job-posting to god know's where.

Do you think its worth talking to the agency in advance to discuss hypothetical scenarios, get a feel for potential outcomes and try and reason with them perhaps? (By this I mean investigating a possible release to work direct if there was no re-signing of contract between the agency and school).

Or is this just a kamikaze endeavour and giving them more time and rope to hang me with before any event possibly arises?

In reality, if such a fate transpires I would have to move on from the agency anyway and attempt to find employment in or near my current location. Either way they would be down a teacher, but would that prompt them to see reason and entertain an amicable parting of ways to allow me to 'go solo' with my school? That's the million dollar question.

Marrying my partner is also a plan for the near future and adds to the issue at hand. Allowing myself to be relocated in the next agency job-opening lottery is not an option. Yes, I'm aware that moving on from agency work is a prerequisite to ESL career maturity (if such a thing exists...) but I was hoping my current post would be my last before I attempt to move up the scale to the next level. I have a substantial thesis workload to juggle too, hence my desire for stability for the next while.

All advice and opinions would be greatly appreciated. Final question: will Thailand ever afford us ESL teachers the dignity of a slither of stability and modicum of respect at some point...?! The musical chairs and snakes n' ladders rigmarole is getting tiresome...

John Keating



Enjoy your job while it lasts and don't think too much. Better to concentrate on your studies. If and when the job ends, look for a new job if you're not happy to stay with your agency. Forget making deals between the agency, you, and the school. Maybe the chance will come to work with the school directly. I would think that the agency is unlikely to stop this in practice. It's a civil case and not a criminal one, so not too much to worry about. Better to chat with a lawyer rather than people in the comments section of a website in any case.

With the qualifications you are talking about, it seems like the middle East would be a good option for the future. Apart from international schools, Thailand is not the country for serious professional teachers with experience behind them. Countries like Oman and the UAE pay much more than Thailand and living there is not so bad. With the better jobs that you will be eligible for, you'll be able to take your wife as well.

By John, Bangkok (12th December 2016)

In which university are you studying for your M.Ed.? And, how expensive is it?
International or Thai program?
Nothing I can add to what others have already said, but this information could help some to move out of the "unskilled labor pool".
Thank you in advance.

By Mike W, Korat (9th December 2016)

Firstly, in Thailand, some schools and agencies have agreements outside of the quality of teachers put forward. The school owner and the agency owner might be friends, or one may be generous to the other. In this case, if the school staff think the agency is rubbish, nothing will happen. Until the agency are officially removed, do nothing.

Secondly, without the school there is no job, so how do they rate you? Realistically, how would the agency ever find out you worked there without the school confirming it? Are they realistically going to hang out outside for days on end taking photos of every foreign teacher? If the school will hire you and pay you the wage without the agency commission taken out of it (or a bit less with someone taking some commission), then all is good.

Every Thai school and school principal is different so there is no set answer to the problem. You have to back your own judgement, but remember that whats obvious to you may be irrelevant.

By Rob, Bkk (9th December 2016)

If I were you, I would call the agency's bluff. They are probably too busy chasing baht and shafting their teachers to even notice. Like most agencies, they likely aren't even properly registered as a business and pay little or no tax---or even worse, they let the unsuspecting teachers pay it for them.

By Bart, Chonburi (9th December 2016)

I think you're overthinking the whole deal, here.

If you only intend to stick around while you finish off your studies then suck it up and just do anything... specially if you like the job, you can complete your goals on the crappy salary and the location is ideal.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (9th December 2016)

I am not sure whether I could clarify my idea as I am from China and just hoping to be a mandarin teacher. In my opinion, you might try to sign two papers, respectively, at the end of these issues, one completely new, normal contract based on your individual with the school (Don't forget the PLUS 20%), and, another just file attached on the current contract between you and agency, setting you free for the said period on the condition of giving the PLUS 20% (from school) to the agency, personally and secretly.
Thus, the school pays the same amount of money while the agency and you get the same amount of money as before, nothing changed and illegal.

By Doug, Chiangmai (8th December 2016)

Thanks for your insights and advice guys, appreciated.

Just a few replies to your points:

-the reason I'm with an agency is because I was an unqualified teacher (no Ed degree or licence), therefore I commenced an M.Ed which is drawing to a close next year. I wasn't risking moving around and wasting my waivers allowance until I had completed said M.Ed. Stability and a suitable work environment are important to me.

-as mentioned in my post moving far and wide is not something I wanted to do because of my commitments.

-as for the school 'just filling positions' that's exactly the problem at hand: they don't and won't accept anything they consider substandard. The main issue is the agency not being able to procure an appropriate replacement which is impacting on the overall relationship.

-the school in question is a private school and off the beaten track therefore they rely on an agency to recruit for them. The school itself is fantastic and also professionally ran, the uncertainty is with the agency which is how I found myself working there. It's not a case of the school breaking the contract with the agency, it's about them not extending that contract after the required current contractual period has been completed (they sign for a couple of years at a time, the current signing is up soon). My worry is about what happens next: i.e. They re-sign the contract and life continues on as normal allowing me to complete my M.Ed to obtain more security or they both go their separate ways and I find a way to go direct with the school. Going direct with the school is the grey area I would like to find out about. There's no issue with the school other than they will not participate in anything that is not above board. As I said, they do everything by the book, hence my attempt to figure out what sway the agency may have if they indicated to the school that my going direct was a breach of some kind of regulation. I stress, both my contract and the school contract with the agency will be fulfilled, it's the aftermath that I'm researching, and what options are available to me. It won't be a situation that the school will 'find a way' for me to go direct, it will only be a scenario where I can go direct with them if a clear, and legal method to do so exists. Risk-taking will not be an option on the table.

As for a 20% increase, I'd be happy with 10% even, as they also provide fantastic free accommodation.

-after my M.Ed my next step is an MA in TESOL, I'm quite happy to work in a stable and welcoming environment for a few years and expand my academic inventory, and eventually move up the ladder at a later point. Without the former, the latter won't be possible. And yes Mark, I agree that most if not all of us are far from the utopian ideal of a teacher, but I'm one that's a work in progress: an M.Ed coupled with an MA in TESOL plus 5+ years of good teaching experience and references (topped off with a decade of previous corporate experience I might add) puts me in a hell of a better position than some 19-20 year old fresh out of uni with zero life experience and nothing but a weekend lazing on the beach as a motivation for being here. I may be wrong, but I don't think so... ;)

By J.K., Thailand (8th December 2016)

I have lived all over Thailand and just put to my bosses a 2 tiered system for us that are here for long time. More hours in front of students for a higher salary would keep me in my current position while the newbies teach less because they need time to prepare.

This has not worked out and so I move again in the very near future. I have lived in 6 different parts of Thailand and changed jobs every time. Finding work is pretty easy and I do not need a lot of money.

As for staying where you are. If the school wants you they will keep you. I have seen it many times. I have never lost a job just chosen to move on. See more of the country. I always left when i realized those with knowledge and experience will never be valued by the school. It is just a case of fill the position with the first person that comes along.

Unfortunately Thais believe anyone is a good teacher when in fact it is still impossible to understand what makes a good teacher. Having seen many new teachers arrive i can assure you a university degree is not a pre-requisite to a good teacher.

If you are highly valued as I believe you are you will find arrangements will be made between the school and the agency. The school i am leaving at the end of this month has people from many agencies. The good ones are kept though treated worse than the newbies. Use and abuse is the Thai way.

This opinion I give is from 12 years experience. You are right in talking about some great schools to work at. I would worry less. There is plenty of work as so many are now going to other countries due to Visa restrictions here in Thailand. If you must move trust me when I say they is some interesting stuff going in this country. Go out. Have a look. You will be doing the best thing for your teaching career. You will be constantly learning. Very hard to teach if you cannot learn. I am sick and tired of newbies telling me they went to right school on arrival. The hegemony is disgusting.

Have fun

By t mark, Chantaburi (8th December 2016)

There's a lot here to talk about - best done over a coffee in Foodland... but we'll have a go on this forum:

"We're all just thrown in together and basically treated as disposable accessories."

Well, that's what we are - a transient pool of unskilled labor. Let's not even begin to fool ourselves that we are hired because of our ability to teach the English language. If that were the criteria for hiring farangs, we would all have been fired decades ago.

Now then... Why are you still working for an agency after all these years? If your long term aim is to stay in Thailand then working for an unreliable agency isn't a good career choice... but you already know that, right?

The agency has put in a 'legal' clause to put you off working for the school directly. This is common practice especially in corporate work contracts and the clause is there for a good reason: It protects the agency/corporate client from unscrupulous farangs who use places to get their feet (foots?) in the doors of companies and undercutting them.

But in this case - if the agency loses the contract with the school, then no contract that prohibits you from being directly hired by the school is going to be enforceable... and the agency simply won't go to the expense of pursuing it, either.

If the school likes you and wants you to continue there, then offer your services at the rate that you are being paid now - PLUS 20%. If the school won't pay you what they paid the agency then it's time to move on. (And make sure they are willing to pay your 'expenses', too.)

"...will Thailand ever afford us ESL teachers the dignity of stability and modicum of respect at some point...?"

There are 'good' jobs for reliable and presentable workers everywhere and they all offer reliability and respect for people who deserve it. (Note - I didn't say 'good teachers'!) If you are NOT in a reliable job and one that gives you a sense of self-worth then move and stop kidding yourself that your job is a good one. It isn't.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (8th December 2016)

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