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
-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
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.