This is the place to air your views on TEFL issues in Thailand. Most topics are welcome but please use common sense at all times. Please note that not all submissions will be used, particularly if the post is just a one or two sentence comment about a previous entry.
When it happened, it occurred at the speed of light. Having lost its contract with the local education authority, my company and I parted on amicable terms and moreover, in an uncharacteristic display of Chinese efficiency, within one week I found myself on a flight from Northern China back to Thailand.
‘Home’ at last, settle back in, count the saved pennies and realize that I have another two years before my UK pension. The more astute will realize what’s coming next and do I see a raised hand? Yes? ‘In the intervening years, someone had added six years to your age.’ That’s correct, I’m just turning 63 and able to design a complete semester syllabus, with related lesson plans and present them, although confess I’m unable to sum up my thoughts in 140 characters on twitter.
Sits down at computer, NES, Caucasian, genuine MA degree (becoming a rare collector’s item in an age of photo copiers), TEFL cert’ (the 250 hour one), Thai and Chinese experience and references, updated resume and appearance photos, check. Begin by lowering aspirations as its Thailand, city or rural, twenty hours, which includes all the unmentioned additions at interview stage, 35,000 and a place to rest a weary head. Send out twenty Thai government High School applications and … Silence.
A timeline reflection for age related teaching in Thailand and as it’s becoming a worn out subject, brief and slightly tongue-in-cheek.
1988 > Go for it. If you’re able to maintain the attention span of a goldfish, hold a flashcard and say ‘carrot’ in a neutral accent, you’re in.
1978 > Receive age respect from both your students and colleagues.
1968 > Can you hear me? Accept repetition and slightly raised voices, as a common belief is that deafness precedes senility.
1958 < Explore Thailand and perfect your tan whilst waiting for the magic to happen.
John V (Thailand)
Well, I finally retired to our place upcountry outside of Phitsanulok after donkey years of being a teacher at one of Bangkok’s top international schools. I miss the teaching moments but don’t really miss the hoops that I had to jump through in order to keep my US teaching license. Even though there are plenty of chores and projects to do now, I thought about volunteering a couple of hours a day at the local government school.
But, I ain’t. Why? The rules say so. Here in Thailand a person residing with a retirement visa can’t work nor volunteer. So about two kilometers away sits a rural school lacking in funds and teachers. And I can’t go there and help. For free.
Yes, I could go under the table, but there is always the risk of running foul of the Thai immigration. If they wanted to, I could be asked to leave. I’m not taking that chance. I’m betting that I am not alone in this situation. A lot of wasted teachers…
I've taught in both the UK and the Thai education system. I too managed to 'almost' have control of my classes in Thailand by having fun activities and providing rewards and even old fashioned punishments like detention (agreed with parents).
Being alone with 35-37 eight year olds in a Thai school is a huge challenge of your sanity. No matter what you do, you'll find that the pupils show more respect towards the Thai guy fixing the aircon than the 'farang' teacher. I've seen Thai kids fight, heard them swear in English (quite a lot) and refuse to stop talking to their friends during a reading exercise (teaching reading to Thai kids can be a nightmare if you have a large group of low level pupils).
The reason for all of this is not always the teacher's fault. Nor is it really the pupils' either. It's the system as a whole.
Let's be honest. Thai kids have more 'respect' for Thai teachers for two basic reasons.
1. They speak the same language and can reason with their pupils.
2. Thai teachers tend to have big sticks they beat the kids with for as much as rocking in their chairs. We've all seen this.
Number (2), in my opinion, undermines any real hope of a western teacher controlling a large class of primary pupils if teaching alone. The pupils only react to this negative reinforcement. If they don't fear you, it's time to go nuts and do as they wish.
In my time teaching in Thai schools in the Thai system, I could manage to control most of my classes, but some were simply impossible. Sure, countdowns work for about 1 second. TPR can last a minute or two (if alone with very large groups).
Some subjects are easier than others to maintain control (Phonics/general English). Reading and writing or academic writing can be an absolute nightmare if you teach in a school with kids who only get 2-3 hours per week of English tuition. I've worked in schools that gave the kids books that were far beyond their capabilities. Books that merge several tenses, regular and irregular verbs and about 30 new vocabulary words for 7 year old Thai children. And the school gave us 50 minutes to get them to read 250 words and answer 3 pages of comprehension questions. All this, when the brightest pupils in the class are still getting to grips with using regular verbs in the present simple ("She like dog.") Yes, I suggested they change the books. I might as well have asked the cat.
The system is a mess, to be honest. If you see a job with classes of over 35 primary aged pupils with no assistant available...run away! Particularly if you'll be using books way beyond the abilities of the pupils.
On a positive note, you can make a difference if you 'hang in there' and become creative with your lessons. But if you're forced to do 'pages 42 -45' of the reading and writing book today, when this book is clearly aimed at native English speaking pupils and not your 3 hours per week mob...don't look back!
It is illegal for a school to keep your work permits now. No matter what they tell you. You must have access to them.
I am trying to open a bank account but I need my work permit. I want to get a loan from my present bank and need my work permit. If you need to make payments at a hospital they want to see your work permit. Now if you cross the border depending on the officer (at at various check points) you need to have both your passport and work permit to provide you are not using fake stamps.
I was just told that I would be fired if I asked for my work permit again to open a bank account. The school said have them call us. The banks don't care who the school is. They don't know the people from Adam and they could be anyone. They want the work permit.
So my school refuses to let me cross the border to see my family, open a bank account or do anything that requires financial proof of income. They literally stole my work permit from me. In the government web pages it clearly says you must carry the work permit with you and especially, keep it at your place of work during working hours. Not 24/7 but some schools will not understand the wording and threaten you. I was told if I ask for it again they would cancel it and I would be terminated immediately.
Beware....you only have to give them a copy of the work permit when they ask. Do not give the original. Also, when you cancel the work permit you must get three pieces of paper from the labor office to leave the country to get another visa. A receipt (free), stamped copy of the returned permit and a work history copy to present at the border. If you don't have these and you try to cross you will be held, sent back to province to get them and on overstay.
The land of Ew La La
I think the biggest issue with TEFL (in Thailand in particular) is the use of agents. Agents, of course, skim off the top of everyone's wages for every single payment from start to end of employment. They are parasites. Every single one of them - no matter what BS they try to pull to convince you that they are 'more than just agents'.
Agents seem to dominate most of the jobs on offer in Thailand so they're kind of difficult to avoid. The agent I work for does things like make all the foreign staff come in weeks before the Thai staff each term to decorate their classrooms (!) Obviously, this is just to make the agent 'look good' to the owner of the school. Rumors abound of agents giving 'kickbacks' from staff salaries to the owner(s) too in many cases. I wouldn't doubt for a New York minute that such a thing goes on.
Salaries have been frozen here for years, the cost of living has rocketed and the workloads have increased. I now have to work online too to make a decent salary. I get about 65,000-75,000 baht a month and it's still not all that great. It's certainly not enough to think about retirement plans etc.
Add to this frustration, a proliferation of Pinoy teachers who have bowed and scraped and enslaved themselves to such a level it has impacted on everyone else.
Let's face it, TEFL as a 'career' of any kind in Thailand is over. Unless you're prepared to work 60 hours a week with few benefits (the 'health insurance' packages are a joke in most cases) forget it.
Stay out here too long and you risk being booted out of the country if you fall ill (no matter if you've got a wife and kids and ten years' of 'helping the nation' by teaching in the government schools). Yup. Time to think how 'valued' we really are to these schools/countries.
Despite this, I don't get angry anymore. The best thing to do (if you enjoy teaching, which I do) is to get qualified. I have obtained an M.Ed now and will return to my home country to get properly licensed. If anyone is in the same boat, you just need to take a deep breath , relax and plan your escape. Everyone is different, but I'll need about a million baht to return and start teaching in my country (apartment / flight / money to support myself whilst I train. etc).
Just choose the path of least resistance when it comes to earning cash to save. For me, that means either The Middle East or China later in the year once I've saved a little.
So please everyone in the same predicament, don't get mad. Don't cry. Just plan your way out and don't get angry at how the education systems in faraway lands work. Do you think they'll ever listen to Mr Farang? You might as well bring your cat with you and ask them to listen to Mr. Tiddles' opinions. It's all about the money and status I'm afraid with many Asian education systems. The desperately sad thing is that the kids' education is barely important to many (not all) schools.
Just do what you can (your best for the students) and don't get angry or upset at things that you will never be able to change. Believe me, I've got myself into really angry moods (punching walls at home once!) at the frustrations of the Thai education system and feeling 'trapped'.
There are ways out if you need one. Find them and use them. Because nothing will change.
On a final note, TEFLing is great for a youngster wanting to try life abroad for a couple of years. Probably unfair on the kids in some cases, but I don't think the (now diminishing) presence of Western teachers makes this education system any worse.
Some TEFLers find that they enjoy teaching and return home to teach in their own countries. But as a career? Well unless you're talking about some of those high paying jobs in The Middle East.
Oh, I forgot. You might make a career out of TEFL if you become an agent. Personally, I couldn't live with myself if I did that. I do have some morals left, even after living in Thailand for a couple of years!
I for one would be interested to hear the views of those, Thai or otherwise, who are responsible for EFL programmes in Thailand. On this website we hear from current or former EFL teachers on what is wrong and what should be done about it; there is no shortage of opinion, some of it seems reasonable. In my short experience of TEFL in Chiang Mai I tried to establish a professional dialogue with Thai colleagues who taught English. I suggested, for example, the possibility of exchanging ideas about what vocabulary to teach and how to do so; how we might help one another in classes, for the benefit of students.
I always received a polite response, sometimes a friendly one, but I sensed that my attitude seemed an alien one. Perhaps they would have been more receptive if my suggestions were dropped in casually in the context of a shared meal or social event.
Unless there are meaningful exchanges between teachers/administrators I don't see how small improvements can be made. Of course we always have the option of adjusting our attitude to the status quo, as I found most of the foreign EFL teachers I met to have done.
UK (formerly Chiang Mai)
I do agree with Mark Newman that Thailand should look at other ways to make the public teaching sector rewarding. Those who have made plans to stay for the long term might start to look at other ways to earn a living. There is a massive demand for on-line teachers for Chinese students. The wages being offered are superior when compared to the wages of a native speaker working in a public school. Besides offering residency or citizenship, the government should create a plan where foreign teacher's can pay into a retirement plan.
Thailand is deliberately making things difficult for themselves when it comes to hiring teachers. Sure, more money would be nice but the ability of the teachers wouldn't change much. The same people may stick around for longer or may move to more remote locations....but money isn't the answer.
The Thai government could make it a whole lot easier for native English speakers to want to be here with a few simple changes that would cost nothing.
1 - Scrap the insane paperwork and the expensive need for 'visa runs'.
2 - Reward long-term English teachers by doing the following: After 10 years of full-time teaching service award residency cards. After 20 years of full-time service, award citizenship.
Make it possible for educators to have a decent life in Thailand and good teachers WILL COME!
Thailand has a smaller GDP than the countries where native-English speaking teachers come from. Those teachers can't expect big money, but they should expect the salaries to rise with inflation. Many salaries here have been 35,000 for 15 years! There are no excuses for that. Well, other than sheer greed.
It's like my Thai friend in Korat who has an agency says, "We can't pay more because the rules are the rules". Like they're not so much his rules but a strict set of moral principles that he won't stray from and people should respect. And as I always say to him when he desperately asks for advice outside of paying more money, "foreign teachers are not obliged to come and work for you. But you are obliged to provide native-English speakers (white people) to the schools who employ you. It's advertised in your brochure and theirs.
My friend in Korat has had it far too good for far too long. In the last maybe three years, his business has gone to the dogs. He can't find new teachers and the ones he has are basically children themselves - looking to take selfies with the kids and post their fake benevolence online. And this is where Thailand TEFL is heading. That's why I teach Chinese people online. I can't help my friend because he's only thinking money. He won't take a satang less.
Teaching in Thailand, I've met plenty of Thai bashers, and I've met plenty of those who wear rose-tinted glasses. I avoid both of them. Nowhere is that bad and nowhere is that perfect. Both parties have their issues and neither party is being sincere. As foreigners, we are all outsiders in Thailand. Embrace that freedom and stop caring about trivial crap. I have no time nor zero desire to change their minds. Why would I?
I work in Thailand as a teacher. I meet endless bad teachers. Teachers who do the bare minimum, teachers who are here to fornicate, teachers who think they're rock stars, teachers who don't wear socks. The list goes on. At a TEFL level, can we really expect much better? When paying 35-40k a month with zero benefits, can we really expect people who care? Looking at how many bad teachers there are, the answer is clearly no. You can appeal to people's better nature, but at the end of the day, this is real life.
The best teachers I meet are the ones who try. If you try, you learn. They make an effort. They put in a shift. They ask questions. They admit they don't know. When a good teacher comes to me and asks, "Why do they never tell me before that my lesson has been cancelled?" I just give a what-you-gonna-do smile. People the world over bitch and moan. It's human nature. I really don't care. I just crack on. What I do care about is working with good people. It annoys me working with the lazy and feckless. It disheartens me. When I meet a tryer, I like it. It has a positive impact on me.
You gotta harness in the good energy and block out the bad. Go with the flow.
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