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.
Don't forget Mr Wunder-ful
I read the hilarious articles "who do I work with" and laughed. But, you left one kind of teacher (I use the term loosely), out. We have another kind in my school. Mr. Wunder-ful
He's the one that secures a job over the Internet, promises to be here on a certain date and comes a month later claiming he had some problems leaving his other job. He arrives in Thailand fresh off the turnip truck with 500 baht in his pocket. Contacts his supervisor, checks in to a seedy hotel and spouts about he WAS an pilot trainer for a major airlines in the west. he has no pilot license because he wasn't required to have one, and a two year Junior College degree in flower arranging. He borrows enough money from the school to get him by until payday, (or was supposed to get him by), that didn't happen and borrows more money from his supervisor and anyone else that will loan it to him. He realizes he needs a place to stay, so he elicits help from the school to find him one. Walla, he finds a house. Oh! Did I forget to mention he gets his supervisor to put up the deposit? Shame on me. He moves in and again realizes he needs everything for a house, so he, turns on the charm to his neighbors and gets enough furniture (to get him by until payday).
He elicits help in doing his laundry , again from a neighbor on the "when I get paid" payment plan. He is a instantly a teacher assigned to teach Kindergarten. Never mind that he has never had any children, nor ever been around any, he'll learn. He realizes the first day, he is not a teacher, so he turns on the charm and gets his supervisor interested in him. She helps him teach the little darlings. Realizing he needs a way to get around town, he turns on the charm again and gets his supervisor to pick him up and take him where he needs to go everyday. He is also assigned to teach second grade. Again, he elicits his supervisor to help him teach because he doesn't have a clue what to do.
Payday finally comes and he can't afford to eat, so yep, you guessed it, gets his neighbors and anyone else he can to feed him. He goes all out with his charm and has the unsuspecting Thai teachers bring him food everyday because he spent all his money on getting set up in his new home. All is well now, but he doesn't have any furniture for his new home. He's "in love" with his supervisor, so she buys him furniture. He's on a roll now. His cousin comes to visit and she doesn't have a bed to sleep in, so again, you guessed it, the one he's "in love" with buys her a bed and a TV to watch while she is here. He doesn't need a motosi or a car because his supervisor takes him everywhere he needs to go and of course he doesn't have to pay any gas or repair bills.
Don't sweat the small stuff
I read with interest Dave's and Julia's articles. I too, had many concerns when I decided to leave my home country, the United States. I went to Iraq for three years and worked. During that time I would visit "home" about two times a year. When I finally had enough of the problems in Iraq, I returned to my "home". Except, home wasn't home anymore. Sure, the buildings were still there and there were more every time I visited, but the people that attracted me there 37 years ago, had changed. I realized I didn't hardly know anyone. I felt like I was a stranger in the town I grew to love and made my home in. I guess it is human nature to want to be around familiar surroundings. In my case, something was missing.
I had been to Thailand many times on vacation and met several people that later became close friends. So, being at "home" wondering what the next chapter in my life was going to be, I decided that "home" isn't about familiar surroundings. It's about where you are the most happiest. So, I decided to sell the building I called "home" and all the furniture and move to Thailand. I had heard horror stories about securing a job before I arrived, but being some what of a rebel and not taking any one's advice, I secured a job over the Internet. No contract, just an email telling me I had a job when I arrived, the details, and a contact phone number. I had never heard of the city I received the job offer from, so a friend met me at the airport and assisted me in getting to Suphanburi.
After checking in a hotel, I called my contact number and in 10 minutes, I had my supervisor picking me up. I was shown the town and all places I might need to go, IE; Tesco Lotus, my school, etc. My supervisor assisted me in getting settled in every way possible. She even arranged a tuk-tuk to pick me up every day, take me to school, and home in the afternoon. Later, she assisted me in getting an house and moving in, finding a house keeper, buying furniture, etc.
I have been at the same school for two years. There is a lot of things I do not like, but the things I do like far out weigh the things I don't like.
So, to Dave and Julia I would say, you only live once, so take the chance and enjoy the ride. Hopefully they will have the same good fortune I had.
Not all about the money
Sometimes it's not the exotic location or the money that attracts teachers (me for one), but rather how a person is treated and if they are happy where they are. Add in the impossible demands at times and it is clear why the hotel didn't get any resumes. I do fully agree with you about the Philipas taking the jobs. The standard rate is 30,000 baht a month for most places. I don't know about you or the readers, but I find it hard to live on that amount. I do not drink or go to bars, nor do I have a night life.
I do however, live comfortable with my wife and son and every month it is a struggle to make it until the next payday. I hope that just maybe the schools will realize the pay is too low and do something about it. The Thai teachers in my school make 10,000 a month and live on that, but the way the Thai's live, they can. For a farang to live even similar to the way we did in our home countries, it is very hard.
After going through the work permit, teacher license, and visa fiasco, it seems like the Thai government makes it very difficult for a person to leave their home country and want to come here to work. I know, many say, "you can always go home". That is true and I am sure many do and will continue to as long as the conditions I mentioned aren't addressed.
You lucky so and so
Don, you are a lucky so and so. Any vacancies at your university? I get B25, 000 per month for twenty three classes. This is pretty much the norm in Chiang Mai. My original posting was aimed at teachers in Chiang Mai, not all of Thailand. From Long Term Ajarn Expat’s last posing we can see that you have a salary in excess of B40, 000. From this we can deduce that you are probably in Bangkok. Here in Chiang Mai things are a bit different: we have to manage on B25, 000. Sounds like a lot, but it soon gets swallowed up, especially when you have a family.
The costs of living here isn’t that much less than in Bangkok, I know because I’ve lived in Bangkok. The wage to cost of living ratio in Chiang Mai is the worst in Thailand. Don’t bother telling me to move; my wife wouldn’t leave her family. I wish I had you’re salary. It would mean that I wouldn’t have to borrow a couple of thousand from a Thai colleague nearly every month. She’s cool about lending me the money though as she earns more than me and doesn’t usually go short at the end of the month. Yes, that’s right, a Thai teacher earning more than me. She’s just a teacher and not a department head or director. Most of the Thai teachers who have been working here longer than five years earn more than me as they get an annual wage increase; however, I teach more classes than any of them. It seems that schools are only interested in employing those who are here short term or have a pension; obviously they want to pay as little as possible which is why there is such a huge turnover in teachers every year; nobody can afford to stay here and teach. The man with a family needs to teach evenings and weekend (every hour God sends) to make ends meet.
Some people seem intent on keeping the status quo. I prefer change and progress for the better. The recent changes in attitude by the M.O.E. pertaining to western teacher’s qualifications, has been both a change and progress for the better. Stop! I can’t bear hearing “Some teachers with PhDs in education can’t teach for toffees, but some teachers with no qualifications whatsoever are brilliant.” This is clearly an exception to the rule, if we assume the qualifications are genuine. It’s true that some people have a naturally gifted and have great presence in the classroom, but surely you can’t believe that this person would not benefit and develop into a better teacher with training.
Far too many people feel threatened by teachers with educational qualifications in excess of a TEFL certificate. I can’t imagine why as there will never be an influx of PhDs in education coming to Thailand as the salaries are insufficient to justify such a move. Ah-ha! There it is, isn’t it? No wonder you feel that salaries should stay as they are. Are you terrified of being supplanted? Or is it because you’re in Bangkok which obviously makes you far more deserving of a higher salary than the likes of a mere Chiang Mai commoner like me? I’d like to see how you’d get on with B20, 000 less per month. You’d wet yourself after five minutes.
Why complain about salaries?
I would like to address the subject of salaries in Thailand. I have probably the best teaching job in Thailand. I work for a university in the north and it is one of the most beautiful campuses I have ever seen. Lakes and gardens, wonderful sports facilities, friendly students and staff. I teach 10 hours/week and edit scientific papers for my Faculty. I have a Thai wife, live on campus, go everywhere on my bike, and am in my sixties. I earn 30,000 B/ month. It's possible to earn more in the public schools but I am a university teacher.
My normal expenses for the month are:
1. Rent 1500B. This is for an on-campus apt. and includes electricity and water. I admit that this is cheap but I've been to apartments in Bangkok that were very nice and were in the 2,500-3,000B range. My wife recently showed me furnished condos in Bangkok that where costing 3000B/month .
2. I give 3000B/ month to my wife. This is her money and she uses it mostly to support her father.
3. Food and drink comes to 9000B/month. This includes, 100B/day for 3 large Chiang which is delivered to my apt. by one of the cleaning ladies - for this service I pay her 400B/ month. 200B/ day covers groceries and necessities : soap, talcum, etc.
4. We pay 240B/ month for cable.
Total: 13,140B/ month approx.
We cook at home because we prefer it and it probably costs more than eating out. I llike to read and the university has a decent library. We go to my wife's village every 2-3 months for 3-4 days and take 2 Thai travelling holidays/ year.
What happens with all the rest of the money? It took 2.5 years but by the end of Sept/07 we will have completed a beautiful, modern, totally paid-for house. Try doing that in Canada!!!!! In 1.5 years we will have the money to go back to Canada,for a vacation, to visit friends and family. This is all on a salery of 30,000B. I make O.T. money editing but none of that money goes into any of these equations. 30,000B/month is peak salery at Thai universities. You want to make money, teach kindergarten and do o.t. Most importantly, quit whining. I've been in Asia 10 years and I wish I'd come 20 years earlier.
To Mr Crazy
Well, I wasn’t going to respond, partly because this site doesn’t seem to like debate…but…yes, I am long term thank you. Kick back? Why would you assume I was talking about teaching…I was talking about your attitude and the Thai style of “Sabai sabai”. If you think you will make a long term living here by teaching you are gravely mistaken (unless you can save 15 – 20,000 baht a month and even that is not enough, unless you are a very young man (do the math). You will have to go into business to do that. You will never get a pension, be able to own land or much else for that matter (you can get great health insurance).
Kicked back? Sure! But, I was talking about attitude, not back-packers. Teaching is easy…are you mad…it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had! I teach more than 25 hrs. per my 40 + hour week, coach speaking contests, and train students in advanced classes at my school and have for more than 4 years. Qualifications? I’ve seen teachers with no degree do better than some who are degreed up the wazoo. So…who is qualified…I have no idea. Your response is based on many assumptions. Why would you have the temerity to think you can organize a group of foreigners in a foreign country? Why in heavens name would you? You would do well to remember you do not have the same rights here you did in the west. Good or bad/right or wrong that is the fact!
I am well aware of the math and fees and “profit” you speak of, naïve? Possibly, but, maybe you need to rethink your allegation…possibly it’s the pot calling the kettle black, hmm? Of course there are many thing wrong here but…this is not our country and it certainly is not our culture…but…it has many things to teach us. We’re so great? The west is currently blowing the crap out of a third world country killing thousands of civilians monthly…wow…that’s a good idea…bad I.Q.
Back to the salary thing…again, we make 7 or more times the average Thai wage (less than 5,000 bt/mos). Thai teachers start at around 8,000 baht. That’s not enough? Do you know what the Thai teachers think about our 30+ thousand baht wage? They resent it. Yes, of course they don’t think about their retirement pension (we don’t get one even after 30 years), low interest loans, “sam pan hah (3,500 baht raise), and many other perks. I guarantee; you will make yourself very unhappy if you forget this is not the west. This of course begs the question; just why are you here?
Last comment…you like the word naïve and use it freely…be sure you use it well and understand who is really naive. Just knowing the facts does not, a wise man make.
Long term ajarn expat
Naive and ignorant
Firstly, why are there so many politically correct, self righteous people who take offence to different opinions, alternative trains of thought and change?
So, who thinks that all western teachers can teach with the same standards, convictions and work ethic? Do you think that someone with degrees in education can’t teach more proficiently than someone with a degree in engineering? Do you think that the teachers intending to stay for a one year working holiday, and who are not concerned about renewing their contracts, are going to apply themselves as much as the teacher who lives here and has a family to support? Do you think Aiwa speakers are as good as Bose speakers? You either pay for the quality or you settle for mediocrity. At least you’ll have some music. Long Term Expat (if you really are that), as far as “kicking back” is concerned, I don’t.
This is truly the ugly face of the west: backpack mentality teaching. I’m building a life here. I am contributing to society as well as providing for my family. Have you ever heard the following? “Wow! Teaching is easy, and I’m so much better at it than the Thai teachers. I don’t need to improve or put in too much effort.” Backpack teaching is such an asset to Thailand, don’t you think? It’s no wonder that schools get non native foreigners to teach English. At least they put in an honest days work and don’t kick back. If you teach then you should be striving to be the best teacher that you possibly can. As far as dictating salaries to schools is concerned, well, I’m not. I’m informing them of what it would cost to employ me, not you. If you’re happy with what you get then stick with it. Good for you. I happen to fall in the category of Both, hence I cost more.
Let’s talk more about money for a moment. Mr. Disappointed, you might learn some things about the Thai education system. My school had, stress had, an English programme. I found out how much the student fees were and deducted the salaries of all foreign teachers. After three years the school made a clear profit of over B3 million. This is a government school mind you. Not bad for a non profit organization. Unfortunately, the programme ended because the school couldn’t entice a replacement native speaker and settled for a Frenchman to save a couple of thousand baht per month (how greedy is that?). Of course none of the students, or I, could understand his accent so the parents complained and the programme was axed. What did the school spend this B3 million on? They acquired several electronic whiteboards. O.k. this is good, but alas only the Thai teachers get to use them. Never mind, it’s still good for the students.
The new director of the school had a Chinese fortune teller come into the school, and from his mystical advice the director had his office extended at the cost of B375, 000 while the students sit on broken chairs. The point is that every school cries “poverty” when recruiting westerners, when in fact they make a nice profit out of you. If you think they only pay what they can afford then you are extremely gullible. Of course they’re entitled to make some money. The schools need money albeit to be wasted on the director gaining face. I don’t have a problem with them making money from me, but I’d like to see the money spent wisely though.
Here are some facts that are not common knowledge, and your school will probably deny (one again, Mr. Disappointed, you might learn something): The government pays its schools a monthly budget of just over B19, 000 to pay for the foreign teacher’s salary. I’ve seen the advice note from the government to the school (fortunately I can read Thai). This amount is our minimum salary by law. If the school wants to pay you more it’s up to them. Do they want Aiwa or Bose? Student’s fees are more for the students that study with you and as a result the schools make money. Did you think they made a loss? In addition, if your school lays you off for any reason other than gross misconduct then you are entitled to severance pay. We do have some human rights here. These are the facts that you probably didn’t know and are now either in shock or denial. As I mentioned before, if you’re in an English Programme then they make millions, and the director is laughing all the way to the bank (let’s not forget how rife corruption is in this country, and how most school directors manage to afford top of the range Mercedes on their salaries). They’ve been playing us like a tune.
So, now you’re no longer ignorant about school monies. Whether you want to be naïve or not now is your own affair.
Wake up and smell the coffee
So, a pattern is emerging. Several vacancies have been on the job page for Chiang Mai for quite some time. This time last year all of those positions would have been snapped up, but now schools can’t seem to fill them. Why is that? There’s a shortage of teachers. The teachers who are still around aren’t taking the poorly paid slave jobs that they were forced to take when there were loads of backpackers sliding into the teaching industry and keeping wages at an appalling level. Some schools have slightly increased salaries and some are simply settling for non natives. One school has a more competitive salary but who’d want to work at a Muslim school? I approached one school that was offering B25,000 per month with a counter proposal of B32,000, to which they replied “mai ow kap”. They filled the position with a teacher new to Thailand who had just arrived from their home country of Ghana. I wish that school luck; they’re going to need it I think.
Come on schools, think about it. You’ve had your time of getting native speakers for pennies. That time is coming to an end. The riff raff have gone. Are you going to settle for non natives with accents so heavy that even I can’t understand their English? Now is the time to face facts and pay a respectable wage.
To all the native speaking teachers out there, hold out! Apply for jobs, but tell them you want more. Tell them their pittance is not sufficient. Now is the time for our solidarity and we can do something about it.
Mr Crazy in Chiang Mai
Speaking on ESL in Mid-America
I recently was a guest speaker at Culver-Stockton Collage. This is a small school in a small town in mid-America. I spoke on ESL teaching in Asia with emphasis on Thailand. I spoke for an hour on topics like accommodations, living conditions, pay, day to day living, traveling through out Asia, so it was generally about living and working in the Asian market. What it takes to get there, what degrees and documents you need, shots, how much money to take and where to get information of all I talked about.
I told them how to prepare for the adventure of teaching in a foreign country. I spoke of the TEFL certificate they would need along with their degree in just about any field they had already chosen. How they could get certified in the US, Mexico, or Asia. How much that would cost. What kind of home work they should be doing now. I suggested how to get their passports ready and what kind of visas they would need and how to ask for the right kind of visa here in the US before going over the big pond. Let them know it's about 17 hours in the air and a 24 hour involvement just to get there. And how much money they would need once they touched their toes down on Asian soil?
I told them about my 8 year history of teaching in Taiwan and Thailand. I told them how I went to Taipei first for 8 months but didn't like the food or the untrusting weather. How I ended up in Thailand' which was my original destination. I told them how I loved teaching in Thailand and the language school I taught at there. How it has 6 week classes with a week off after that time so one could get out and see Southeast Asia easy and cheaply. I told them of the transportation and the best prices of each. Where to go and what to see around Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Malaysia, and Vietnam. I talked about the other language schools, universities, International Schools, and privet tutoring where they could find teaching jobs. What papers to look in once in Thailand. Where to stay on the cheap until they scored that great teaching job...the well respected employment of being an "Ajarn" in the Land of Smiles, Thailand.
I thought I painted a pretty picture. The one teacher who invited me to speak seem to really enjoy it. The number of students who came were about 75. A pair of twin girls who sat off to themselves, one teacher and a couple of housewives. One of the housewives said to me after the presentation that she would love to go but didn't think her husband would let her. One student asked what the price of a ticket cost to Thailand so i thought I reached at least one...one. But she said her boy friend had been through there in the armed services and loved it for some reason and she was thinking of giving him a plane ticket over there for his birthday. Oh well I sure enjoyed speaking about the great 8 years I lived and worked in the place that has become my second home and am looking forward to going back in 2 years to work and be with all my friends again in the exotic tropics...ah, Thailand. I miss you.
Nothing but disrespect
"Guilty until proven innocent" seems to be the prevailing attitude of Thai educational administrators and bureaucrats towards foreign teachers. After three months in Bangkok studying the potential for foreigners to teach here, I -- and a number of other foreign TEFL teachers I have met -- plan to return to China and elsewhere where foreign teachers are not treated with suspicion and a surprising lack of respect. My credentials are good which is why I was selected as a teacher for one of Thailand's best teaching jobs at one of the top universities. I have thirty years of teaching experience including 5 years at an American university, TEFL certification from a high quality course, bachelors and masters degrees, and many years working in business, education. and the arts in the U.S. as well as in Japan, China, and Egypt.
Why then did the technology and communications department of one of Thailand's most renowned universities present me and other new foreign teachers with a "no compromise" contract demanding:
-- 2 months notice required of intention to quit the position,
-- only 3 times per year when leaving was allowable,
-- and (worst of all), if the teacher decides to leave before the year contract ends, they are expected to repay 1/2 (one half) of all payments received from the university?
Further, no provision was made for the expenses and difficulties of starting a new life in a new country. Contrast that with the many schools in China which compete to offer foreigners a free apartment outfitted with broadband and cable TV, roundtrip airfare to their home country, one-month holiday pay plus national holidays, and a salary that is normally at least double the typical local income. As one qualified but disgruntled foreign teacher wrote on the very valuable and informative TEFL website, www.ajarn.com , "Why would anyone come here to teach?"
Repeatedly, foreign teachers have complained to me that Thai administrators have little concept of a teacher's needs or rationale for teaching in a foreign country. Teachers are expected to punch in at 9 am and out at 5 pm -- a schedule which was explained to me by a department director as "only fair and what was expected of Thai staff." This uncompromising administrator had no interest whatsoever in hearing arguments -- "take it or leave it." I was advised that "In Thailand, no one negotiates with the leaders -- it would be considered disrespectful. " I would argue that the most successful contracts are "win-win" compromises. This attitude seems to be both short-sighted and destructive of morale. Sadly, too, teachers find their students are poorly prepared and unmotivated. to learn. Basic study skills are lacking among even the highest level university students who consistently neglect to do their homework or prepare for tests. Witness a meeting I attended in which the chair (a computer expert) reported students had done poorly on their English exams and asked for a quantitative report of numbers of words learned by students. The foreign English teachers tried to argue that language learning was qualitative, not quantitative. Neither side understood the others' point-of-view and, as there was no discussion, an impasse was reached in which both sides were offended.
Government bureaucrats have attempted to address the problems by imposing a steadily increasing number of restrictions on foreign teachers. When I attempted to find work at a well-known private language school franchise, I was told that in order to begin legal teaching work, it would be necessary to change my non-immigrant B visa to the new school (1-2 weeks), obtain a teacher's license (45 days), and then wait for a work permit (1-2 weeks). At best, it would be 1 to 2 months before the paperwork could be completed. This after the expense of having to leave the country to obtain the non-immigrant visa.
"Teach at an international school," many people said, "Teachers there receive high salaries." But in nearly the same breath, I was also told about crackdowns and interrogations made of foreign teachers in recent years. A few criminals had slipped into the international schools and now governmental officials are hotly pursuing foreigners with falsified credentials. It seems "a few bad apples spoil the whole barrel." With the talk of bombings, shootings, and revolution in the air; censorship of movies and websites; and the daily experience of higher prices charged to foreigners, Thailand seems to be an increasingly uncomfortable place for foreigners to stay.
For those foreigners willing to devote their time and energies to quality teaching, it can be a bitterly disillusioning experience. With the salaries going lower and the benefits (medical and other insurance, housing, etc.) fewer, and the cost of living increasing, teachers who have been here for years are now leaving the country. Faced with contracts like the ones I have been presented with over the past three months, few quality teachers would choose to remain. Thailand has options as it is such a beautiful country with lovely, intelligent people. I urge school administrators and government bureaucrats to look to the 21st Century hiring practices of Human Resource departments in international businesses and enlightened governments in other countries. Please -- understand that a foreigner comes to a new country to experience the best, not the worst, of another culture. Understand that increasing restrictions is a form of imprisonment and that most people will wish to escape authoritarian practices. Understand that if you treat an experienced, quality professional from the start with suspicion, you encourage criminals and mediocrity and will lose the best people. Understand that teaching requires considerable experience and training to achieve quality and therefore should be compensated and respected accordingly.
As for me, I'm going back to China next week -- where I feel physically safer and am a much more valued commodity. I would love to return to Thailand one day when and if attitudes change.
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