Andy Gray (not the Sky Sports soccer pundit) talks about his ten years in Thailand and why moving to teach in Taiwan was definitely the right move.
Andy my man, ten years in Thailand eh? I recently wrote a piece for the site on how I felt things had changed in the Thailand TEFL game over the past decade. Do you think in general that things have got better or worse?
I don't think much has changed really. The pay is still low and the teachers are probably the same bunch I was working with ten years ago. Teachers keep saying how things have really changed but they are not talking about the teaching, they are referring to the Thais and the nightlife. The only real change I can see is the chance to get a job in a proper school with regular hours is so much easier now; but you'll get the same pay as I got 10 years ago! over the last 2 years or so it has also become easier to train for a TEFL certificate. When I first arrived there were few options to do this.
You’ve done three years in Taiwan. In what ways is Taiwan a MORE attractive proposition than Thailand for a newbie teacher?
Here there is a very clear advantage to the newbie working in Taiwan. Any idiot with half a brain and no teaching experience can start in a job teaching kids and make loads of money. "Lack of experience" is in great demand in Taiwan and the less you have, the more they like you. The basic salary is about 65,000Baht for an "airhead" and this is the minimum. If newbies want to teach kids, Taiwan is a paradise. Experienced teachers are not in demand and it is very difficult to find anything that requires any real teaching skills.
OK, back to Thailand. What about the best and worst teaching gigs you ever had?
The worst gig is difficult because there were so many! Siam computer is probably the worst, but my best mates in Thailand came from the time at Siam computer. After 8 years these guys are still good friends. They should change their job adverts to "Come to Siam and make friends". The teachers must group together or starve at the end of the month! The best gig was a my last one and it was a top Government University. This is similar to being on the dole in England 'cause you have to show your face once in a while and you get the same amount of money. The people (foreigners) I worked with were great and we had fun despite the Thais trying to ruin it as much as they could.
Do you feel that ten years was too long? Do you wish you had moved on earlier?
I never thought of moving until the end. I was getting more frustrated by the minute and something snapped. I had to go or I would have done some serious damage to someone. It could have been a motorbike taxi driver or a food vendor for overcharging me by 5 Baht. I was getting more and more stressed by the minute. Another thing I remember is that I didn't have the money to even think of moving before the 10th year, but I don't regret my time in Thailand.
How many broken-hearted women were left behind?
I am happy to forget the lot. I looked for 7 years before I found a half decent one, got married and had a son. I have, as expected, split up, but I am still on speaking terms with the "Thing". My son is great and I suppose after 10 years I was eventually going to get something right with the Thai girls. My son is half-human, half-Thai and I'll have all summer to beat the Thai-ness out of him
Ever fancied teaching in Japan?
I was going to go there. I got a visa and then I changed the destination to Taiwan. I am glad I did. There is too much pressure in Japan and it's far too expensive from what I've heard.
What used to infuriate you the most about teaching Thais?
When I think back, I only had a few problems in the early years and this was usually the odd snobby student who thinks they are high level because they are a manager. They refuse to accept that they are crap at English and insist on an advanced text. Students who want entertainment are also top of my list. I tell them if they want entertainment there is a cinema around the corner.
Was there an occasion when you absolutely ‘lost it’ in a classroom?
Never! I was a paid employee and I didn't care enough to blow up and I was determined not to let the students stress me out. I got more angry at the management decisions around me which took incompetence to a new level.
Do you keep in touch with many of your old Thailand teaching colleagues?
I always try to keep in touch with my friends in Playland. They managed to succeed in Thailand and save, whilst working as teachers and I am in Taiwan to try and catch up to them financially. My best friends in Taiwan are all ex Bangkok teachers as well.
Are you still a regular visitor to ajarn.com? Come on, you must surf the jobs board if only for a bit of amusement?
Yes I look at the Thai job adverts. I am still looking for a job that pays 60,000Baht / month and does not want me to dance around a pole in my underwear. But a job teaching Thai supermodels for 20,000Baht / month would also tempt me back!
If a student asks “how long will it take me to become a fluent English speaker Mr Andrew?” – what’s your usual answer? (I just hate that question)
I hate this question too. I just tell them that after their 10 Hour course they will be fluent or they should marry a foreigner. Stupid student questions deserve stupid teacher answers.
Thai food sucks! Discuss.
Thai food is fantastic but it's a bit like the women; tastes good at first and then makes you sick later. Seriously though I should apologise to all the good women in Thailand!
I must admit the food is great and I love to eat it here in Taiwan, but I don't like the price tag.
How did you find working alongside Thai teachers?
Generally hated it at first but when you adjust to their tactics it can be great fun. Say yes to everything and do nothing was a good tactic. They couldn't pick up on the sarcastic insults like "Oh it's so good the way you teach English entirely in Thai." The secret to survival was to keep a low profile and I could go really low. Not being around is another favored tactic.
What’s your favorite age group to teach?
College level or above. I currently teach in an all girls Senior Vocational College so I am fine here for now. Higher level students make it easier to teach with group-work and pair-work so this is the level I prefer. My students here are similar to the RaJarbats in Thailand but they work hard and haven't had their brains kicked in.
Any plans to come back and give Thailand another ten years of your time?
I can certainly see myself back there and I would consider semi retiring in Thailand. I would also love to give the Thai beaches 10 more years of my time. If this place gets bombed (Taiwan) I'll be back doing my thing.