What could your school do better?

What could your school do better?

Teachers give their opinions on a teaching in Thailand issue

What would you like to see your school do better? 

It doesn't matter if it's a university, a government school, a private language school chain or a little kindergarten tucked down a deep soi, give us your opinion. What could your employer do better? What changes would you like to see made? Please put your comments in the section below and I will transfer them to this page. You don't have to give your real name and there's also no need to mention your school either.

Trevor says

I'd insist on soap dispensers and paper towels in the toilets. There is NO SOAP in any of the toilets at our large school. I have a private toilet annexed to my classroom, so my own situation is different, but as any foreigner teaching in Thailand knows, shaking hands with hundreds of small, grubby students every day can't be very hygienic. It's because of the soap issue that I simply don't do it, even when the tiny paw is thrust in front of me. I'm not rude about it. My coffee flask will switch to my 'shaking hand' if I see a student headed towards me with Western style familiarity on his mind! 

Frankie says

Our school insists on having weekly teachers' meetings even when there is nothing on an agenda and nothing to talk about! I think that management see it as some sort of bonding exercise to get all the teachers together in one room for a couple of hours each week but truth to told, we would just rather go home early if there is no purpose in having a meeting.

Kenneth says

I'd like to see more people from the front office moving around the school classrooms and paying more attention to the teachers and what they are doing. It appears to me that if there were more supervision, the amount of time playing games and checking in with Facebook would plummet! And I swear I have never worked at a place where the employees can fall asleep anywhere at the drop of a hat! Then again, it's none of my business and what they do doesn't affect me so I shouldn't really care.

Steve says

The accountant at my school is such a fearsome woman. Everyone treads on eggshells around her because she's both well connected and she's worked at the school since the year dot. Unfortunately, she's the lady you have to go to if there is a problem with your salary. I would just love to see her replaced by someone with a bit more compassion. She does nothing to enhance relationships between Thai and foreign staff. 

Dylan says

Simple.....allow students to fail.

Nicola says

I'd like to see my school give more importance to early childhood education. I am a strong believer in early childhood development being pivotal to a child's future and well-being, and it saddens me that so often in Thailand not a lot of young children are being given the best learning experiences, they often sit tests far too early, and aren't given enough time to play and explore. I'd also like to see more appreciation for hard working teachers.

Sam says

At the moment? I'd say hiring one more teacher to cover the "miscellaneous" classes that pop up whenever someone at the international school I'm at gets "moved up" to admin. There are always a few classes drifting about... not enough to warrant another teacher, yet enough to require the rest of us lowlies to take on one more course. Prepping and teaching five different courses across five different grades is at the verge of my abilities.

Extra pay for extra curriculars would be nice too, but hey, let's take it one step at a time.

Kenneth says

They could defend their teachers more and not listen to stay at home moms about how to teach their children.

James says

1) Let the students fail.
2) Only let students in to the English Program who can cope, a 5 year old Chinese boy with learning difficulties and no understanding of Thai or English just isn't going to cope in a class of students who have all been learning English for 2 years, but they can charge the parents more for EP.
3) Can the teachers please stop hitting the children! It is illegal for a reason.
4) COMMUNICATION! The farang teachers often need to know what is happening tomorrow as well!
5) As Trevor said, soap in the toilets would be nice. And if they felt like putting some toilet paper and bins in there as well that would be appreciated.
I could make this list a lot longer, but I think I will stop there.


Let children make mistakes - last week I was monitoring during a lesson and a child was not working so I took a closer look. She had her hand over what she had done so far and it took a lot of coaxing to get her to reveal her work. She had connected one item to the wrong word and was terrified that she was going to get yelled at or hit. I simply took her eraser out of her case and erased the mistake, gently explaining that this is why 4 year olds always write in pencil, so they can try again.

When the Thai teachers erase work they then do it for the child, with no apparent explanation of why it was wrong and no chance for the child to learn from the mistake. They seem to think I'm mad for erasing and then going over the lesson and asking the child to try again.

And don't get me started on the exams, where everyone passes and children I have seen staring into space for an hour suddenly have a perfect score after I've spent ten minutes checking the exam next door. I'm not saying "let them fail", I'm saying do away with the exams altogether. There are different methods of assessing Early Years learners and these exams do not assess the children at all as they are 'edited' to make sure everyone gets a high mark.

By Norman, Thailand (29th September 2017)

Samuel I think you must have me confused with someone else. None of your assumptions about my professional life were accurate.

By Jack, In front of my computer (21st August 2016)

Good luck to you.

I'll keep on trying to make a difference even if it's small.

Keep on with your business here. Let's hope the junta aren't serious about cracking down on corruption and not turning a blind eye to illegal businesses. That truly would be awful for people who don't know what an honest day's work is and have very few (if any) morals.

By Samual, Bangkok (20th August 2016)


Ok, good luck with the attempt to change the world, or at least the entire Thai educational system, by complaining, being extremely judgmental and ignoring the economic and cultural context.

It is hoped your tactics will lead you to more personal success and happiness than apparently it has achieved up to this point.

By Jack, In front of my computer (20th August 2016)

"You can accept the ESL industry for what it is and adjust your behaviour to get the most out of the experience"

And therein lies the problem. I'm a current ESL teacher here and you're not. I can pretty much guess what you're getting out of it and why you don't want it to change. It's a very different story for me. I'm on the ground doing the hard work. I actually want better for the kids and I'll keep doing my thing.

As for tests, like I said before "why do them?". Why waste all those days and weeks making, preparing for and doing tests if everyone is going to pass anyway. You're right - we shouldn't fail kids at a young age, so we should quit with all the tests. But we have to respect the culture so we do the tests. And boy it all just a massive waste of time.

I think it's Finland who has one of the best education systems in the world. I think America is somewhere in the 30s, and last I read Thaialnd was bottom of ASEAN. I'm not any of these nationalities, but my advice to the US and Thaialnd is; stop banging on about how you're number 1 and listen. Go and learn from other countries and models.

So, you respect and work properly within the system - good for you. Well done! I really don't have anything to add to that as it's none of my business. I call a spade a spade. I question and query things and love having discussions. We should always discuss things.

We live in the age of social media and knowledge at our fingertips. It's getting harder to pull the wool over people's eyes with illegal and immoral practises. Word spreads quickly and I look forward to the demise of these greedy little agents and schools. Especially the foreigners who come here and exploit a system of no criticising or personal accountability.

By Samual , Bangkok (20th August 2016)


Passing students who haven’t achieved what was expected of them is a bad option.

Failing students (young students, I am not talking about adult or uni students who can and do often fail for lack of effort in Thailand) is a bad option as research shows this strategy is associated with future negative consequences for the failing students (Are we as a society better off when punishing a 8 year old in a way that could harm his or her entire life for underperforming in his or her third grade school work?).

The better option is to help each student achieve what is expected to pass.
Yes, I know this is easier said than done, but if teachers fail to help students achieve, reasonable people can disagree on which of the other two other bad options is the least bad.

ESL teaching is much like working in the fast food industry in that there are few barriers to entry allowing people with little experience or training to enter; and then people can stay in the industry and move up (I have heard owning a fast food franchise or being a corporate manager in the industry pays pretty well), or use the position as a stepping stone to another career (A high percent of successful people in the USA and other western countries got their first job flipping or serving burgers), go into the industry as a second/retirement career or one can stay in the same position in the bottom of the industry for years and complain about the wages and working conditions until replaced by a younger and less negative replacement.

Without the opportunity to work as an ESL teacher, I probably would have never started on working in an international career. I was able to move abroad and feed my family while gaining the qualifications and experience needed to move into other types of work.

I enjoyed being an ESL teacher and am grateful for the opportunities my first employer (a three letter language school) provided for a newbie to both teaching and living in Thailand. It was an important, interesting, and fun part of my life.

But I also knew early on it was not an industry I planned to spend my entire working life in. But it is not suggested others should follow my path, each of us has to follow our own individual path based on our own individual circumstances and motivations.

Being an ESL teacher was a very important part of my entire career, I have nothing against the industry and the people in it. In fact, I would like to try to help others (if they are open to new ideas) get the most out of the experience whether it is for 1 or 40 years.

Once again, the research (and common sense) tells us being less judgmental of the culture we are working in leads to better adjustment, more personal satisfaction with one’s overseas career and better work performance (therefore also a better chance for promotion or getting a higher paid position) in other professions and I have no reason to believe these principles would not apply to the ESL industry as well.

Do you have any evidence or real belief showing being extremely ethnocentric and judgemental of the local culture is the best path to success and happiness in the ESL industry?

You can accept the ESL industry for what it is and adjust your behaviour to get the most out of the experience or you can try to change the entire industry, country and the world to fit your desires through constant complaining and bellyaching. If you choose the second option, good luck, I hope you have better luck than the tens or hundreds of thousands of other ESL teachers who came before you and devoted their career to unsuccessfully attempting to change all environmental conditions they didn’t like.

By Jack, In a chair at home (19th August 2016)

"I am not convinced failing a large number of students would make a big improvement in the lives of most ESL teachers, but it would allow these teachers to focus their complainants on other issues"

Damn TEFL teachers! All they wanna do is complain. So why don't you just ignore them? I've never understood people who complain about people who complain. Don't get involved or bring something to the table. Be constructive and offer a real argument.

Complaining about no fail students is a completely reasonable grievance. In my opinion, the kids do way too many tests at is it. I'd like to see far, far fewer tests done. So, if we have to do the tests, why does everyone have to pass? Really? What's the point in doing the test? What does it actually teach anyone? Work hard - get a good score. Do nothing - get a good score (relatively speaking) Where's the incentive to try? I commend teachers who wanna see their kids trying their best.

I once went for an interview where a farang lady asked me "Are you a positive teacher"? "Sure" I said. "Good! She said "We've had too many negative teachers here in the past" This was a huge red flag. One or two negative teachers is normal. Too many? You're obviously up to no good. Turns out they were.

I now work for a great school. Is it perfect? No, but it's a million times better than my last school. They recently went to do my 90 day report for me. I didn't ask. I didn't know. They came to me before and told me to bring my passport. That small gesture meant so much to me. I was really happy they'd thought about me. It's only a small thing but the bar was set so low for me. My last school once docked me 25% of a day's salary 'cos I had a hospital appointment. That made me very angry. I come in everyday and you do this to me? What's the 25% bought you? Bad will! Small things either side can make such a 'big' difference.

You're the same guy who said to remain positive and in the same footnote said the TEFL industry is the same as the fast food industry. I'm sure you can do the maths on that one. Only greedy directors and agencies wanna keep the TEFL industry in the doldrums. Some of us want better.

By Samual, Bangkok (19th August 2016)

It seems to be a common suggestion amongst a certain type of ESL teacher to let students “fail.” I am not quite sure what definition of “fail” is usually being applied, if it is to make students repeat a grade (for example redo 5th grade if the student hasn’t perfected the use of the past tense), there is a long standing argument in western countries about the benefits which from failing students. “Failing” students at a young age is known to be associated with negative outcomes in the lives of these students in later life (increased criminal activity, lower levels of professional success and so on) which come apparently from the early blows to their self-esteem for not conforming to the expectations of authorities. On the other hand, competition can drive the overall level of performance of a society or school to a higher level. But either choice requires trade-offs, seems currently the idea of “failing” students has fallen out of favor in most countries, including in Western societies.

Coming from a more individualistic society where competition is encouraged (I am not surprised my home country leads the medal table at the Olympics) I can understand the idea of competition and experiencing negative consequences when one does not perform to standards (My parents, teachers and other authority figures were big on the use of negative reinforcements to control my behavior), but Thailand is a much more collectivist society which often values cooperation over competition.
It is not surprising that people coming from a different cultural background find things to disagree over when working in a different country.

Do Thai schools do everything “right?”

The answer for sure is no.

Will all the problems be fixed by importing a system designed for use in a different cultural, political and economic environment with no changes or adaptation?

I doubt it.

Does “passing” a student on from fifth to sixth grade even if the student did not master a foreign language really cause a major problem for most ESL teachers?

I am not convinced failing a large number of students would make a big improvement in the lives of most ESL teachers, but it would allow these teachers to focus their complainants on other issues.

By Jack, In front of my computer (18th August 2016)

One wonders if anything will change at all and is there any reason in complaining. It is the Thai system and they have not listened for years so why would they start now? No matter what changes come in they are always watered down so the changes amount to naught.

Not only can the kids not fail (which we have go used to) it the fact they expect 80% in the class even when doing no or little work and exams are so easy the grade 2 years below could ace it. Then they complain that it is boring. This combined with the multiple choice system where no one fails means the Thai educations system stays in the doldrums where it has been for years. The rest of the world races forward to the new era of It and technology and Thailand is stuck by silly rules, petty differences and things that do not work, and not about to change any time soon. Maybe they think their wonderful multiple choice system with no fail policy does the country any favours.

In my school they had some writing but then – wait for it – they had to write the paragraphs for the students on the paper – all they had to do was rewrite them in the right order. For some even that was too hard (grade 11 – aka Mattayom 5). When this changes maybe the Thai education system will move forward. I was teaching privates recently (2 women working in an office who told me they thought Thai education was leading ASEAN). When I had nearly fallen off my chair with laughter I guess they thought I had a different opinion. The lack of creativity and the blame game just never ends .

By Johnny Jon, Bangkok (18th August 2016)

Foreign teachers who feel indignant when you don't conform to bizarre, or otherwise, social norms.

Some Thai and foreign teachers decided to meet for some drinks after work on a Friday. A couple of the newbies invited me. Now, when I don't want to do something, I don't feel the need to make excuses. For me it's very simple, I just don't wanna go. I'm honest. It ain't personal, it's business.

Newbie: You coming for a beer after work?
Me: Na. I'm going home.
Newbie: Why? Come on! It will be fun.
Me: I'm sure it will be. I'd rather just go home.
Newbie: What's wrong with you? Everyone is going. It will be fun.
Me: I'm not going. End of.
Newbie: The Thai teachers won't like it. We said all the farangs are going.
Me: Well, don't speak for other people. If you'd like me to tell you I'll be there and then not show up - I can do that. Would that make 'you' happy?

In the end, there were some people who didn't show up. That's okay though 'cos they said they'd come.

By Trevor, Chiang Mai (16th August 2016)

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