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.

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There's nothing wrong with playing favourites

There's nothing wrong with playing favourites

Almost all of the literature and advice about teaching kids says you shouldn't play favourites... and I think that's wrong!

I mostly 'play favorites' because I only see my students once a week, but I do it for other reasons, too. It's a balancing act... I sometimes favour the enthusiastic kids, because I think they'll enjoy the class more and benefit from my extra attention in the long run. I sometimes favour the restless kids at the back, because I think that sometimes, a jolt of attention might flip a switch that makes them keener and more attentive to learn.

I favour girls more than boys when the class becomes restless... because if the girls are talking when they shouldn't be, there's a good chance it's about what 'I' am doing. If the boys are chatting out of turn it's probably because of what 'THEY' are doing!

In Thailand, most large (40+) classes are overloaded with under-performers. When your time is at a premium you have to share it judiciously among the crowd. So you have to make hard choices. Students also have different 'roles' to play which can help you to be a better teacher. Some kids will lead the chorus and some will mouth the words that they don't know!

Like I say, it's a balancing act. Some of the quiet kids can surprise you with how much they've actually listened to and retained, so I try not to overlook these kids... which is hard to do, because the quiet kids are almost invisible to the teacher. Asking questions to kids who you know will answer correctly the first time can often help the unsure kids to raise their hands, because they've seen it done and that's how they would have answered... so they think, why not have a go. There's also a lot of in-class 'mentoring' going on where kids feed each other the answers. I used to find this exasperating, but I've learned that, actually, this can be an awesome tool, if it's managed correctly.

In an industry where we are mostly under-paid, under-appreciated, give yourself a good slap on the back for going against the grain and doing things YOUR way!


Don't accept paltry salaries

I have been teaching in Chiangmai for about 10 years now and my salary is now just above 50 k per month. I started back in the day at 28k a month. I cannot believe that even 50 k can be enough to live in Bangkok let alone 30k.

I agree with other teacher's comments, do not encourage these 'employers' by taking their paltry salaries. I realise that many people are settled here with Thai nationals and have children and these people may very well feel that they do not have a choice in dictating or demanding certain salaries, even if they are experienced esl teachers.

Thailand attracts a lot of very young newly qualified teachers who have had no experience teaching in their own countries they qualified from and many of whom are doing a really abysmal job of teaching their pupils. These qualified teachers are not here to stay but are in fact here to have fun, use their salaries on hedonistic activities then leave. These teachers are not too concerned about how much money they make because they are only here to have a good time. I feel that it is these teachers whom are lowering the basic salaries kingdom wide for serious long term teachers by accepting these low paying positions.

Qualifications certainly seem to come before age and experience and this is to the detriment of the pupils in Thai schools. For those teachers who have been here a while and are doing a good job and have furthered their education by doing a pgcei or a masters in education on top of their degrees, should leave Thailand and work in schools where their knowledge experience and qualifications are valued both monetarily and personally.

Another thing to note is that western teaching qualifications do not have a great focus on English as a second language learner and this too affects the children's education in Thailand as specific strategies are needed to teach them successfully.


Winning severance in the labour court

Winning severance in the labour court

I have lived in Thailand for 14 years and worked in international schools for 13 years. I love my life in Thailand and was awarded Thai citizenship in 2017. I was over the moon with this and it was one of my proudest achievements. Unfortunately this marked the beginning of a long labour dispute with my former employer.

The Private School Act states that foreign teachers can be employed on fixed term contracts but Thai teachers must be employed on non fixed term contracts. The act also removed the entitlement of foreign teachers to severance at the end of their fixed term contract.

At the time I had worked for the same international school for 9 years and 4 months. The headmaster decided to offer me a fixed term contract in December for the next academic year. I pointed out that this was not in line with the Private School Act in the case of Thai nationals. He then offered me a non fixed term contract but removed my bonus, flight allowance and end of contract relocation allowance. I pointed out that this broke labour law but the school simply ignored this point.

To cut a very long story short the case went to the labour court in Chonburi. The school offered 4 months pay as severance as they argued I had only been a Thai citizen for 12 months. I asked for 10 months pay as severance for my 10 years of service. I also submitted the Judgement of the Supreme Court,

This case involved 7 plaintiffs taking an international school to court for non payment of severance in which the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the 7 plaintiffs. As a result the judge sided with me and agreed I was due full severance for my 10 years of employment plus interest.

I hope my story and the case number I have provided helps other teachers who find themselves in a difficult situation as regards their employment contracts. If a contract isn't renewed then severance is due. In addition, an employer can't offer a contract with worse terms than the previous contract and again severance will be awarded by the court.


Thailand doesn't suit everybody

If one Is not living the dream, it is time to change paths in life.

It does not make sense to argue about whether Thailand is “good” or “bad” as we experience the world in a subjective manner. I think one’s enjoyment is primary a matter of alignment of a person’s values and personality with the external environment. I have lived and worked in many different countries, and find Thailand fits me as well as any place, but that does not imply it will fit others to the same extent.

Not everyone is a good fit to live and work in Thailand (or other culturally distant country), so much depends on one’s goals in life, flexibility, adaptability and level of ethnocentric beliefs. For those of us from Western countries, Thailand is “different” and whether different is good or bad depends on one’s opinion and can not be objectively “proven.”

And there are those who are unhappy anywhere and with everything and look to “blame” whatever is handy, and Thailand is a convenient scapegoat for some long-time residents to blame for their unhappiness.


Why older teachers find it difficult to get work here

Why older teachers find it difficult to get work here

A lot of this has to do with energy and enthusiasm and not age - though I do take the point about age and in my twenties in Thailand I found it easy to get work.

What I saw over the years in Thailand though were a number of older teachers who had, over the years, gained a lot of experience but somehow lost their love of teaching along the way and had failed to realise it or, if they had, they were often in denial about it. But this much was clear from the way they conducted their lessons - well structured, linguistically meaningful sessions, as their experience would suggest, but conducted on auto-pilot - as well as their general conversation relating to their profession which lacked passion or was even downright negative.

Students and collegues pick up on this and often, no-doubt unfairly so as regards well qualified, experienced older teachers, this leads to the hiring manager not wanting to make the same “mistake” twice. This is like any hiring situation - it’s risk management and the perception of risk is often rooted in past experiences, whether the fundamentals upon which this belief system is underpinned by are real or imagined.

Let’s also remember that it’s all very well comparing a 20-year old layabout to a 50-year old with a degree in education but I also encountered a lot of 50-year olds without a degree in education - or a valid TEFL qualification for that matter.

Indeed, I remember one such 50-year old criticising me to my colleagues behind my back because I had chosen to go and get my CELTA. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the older teachers saw less value in professional development and had a track record that struggled to point to any - after all, they are native speakers - what possible benefit could they have gotten from a TEFL course?

Also, a lot of older teachers wouldn’t teach if they could get away with it. This, I find is less pronounced in younger teachers, who are still enjoying finding their way in life and collecting experiences - not a bad thing as long as they are doing so in a way that facilitates their learners’ development.

I also encountered seasoned teachers but their enthusiasm had gone or they were wanting to slow down. Trouble is, your audience doesn’t get old with you - it rejuvenates on an annual basis and is always going to be 10 years old or whatever age group you teach. So whilst that combination of qualified, incredibly experienced and enthusiastic does exist - it is less common than you might think.

David Fahey

Don't dismiss Nonthaburi

My wife and I owned our condo in Bangkok for about 15 years. During that time we lived in Korea for two years and China for three years. When we returned from China last year, it was time for me to retire.

We sold the condo in Bangkok and rented a condo in Nonthaburi while we looked for a house in Isaan to buy. The MRT Purple Line made living in Nonthaburii very convenient. We were a two-minute walk from an MRT station. My part time job and shopping centers were one or two MRT stops away. Getting to and from my embassy, the airports, and our prior home was easy. The immigration office in Nonthaburi was an attractive alternative to Chaengwattana.

People were nice. I have early stage Parkinson's and once fell into some thorny bushes and could not free myself. A motorcycle policeman freed me and seemed concerned only about my health. The MRT staff were very helpful on days I used a cane.

We seriously considered moving to Nonthaburi instead of Isaan. We're now settling down in our new home near the Buriram-Surin border but Nonthaburi was a wonderful stepping stone from Bangkok to Isaan.


The perils of the shorter contract

The perils of the shorter contract

11-month contracts usually only work well for those who are fairly confident they don't want to renew their contract, or for those who hope to renew AND are being paid at a higher rate during paid months so as to be able to save for the month without pay.

Do NOT rely on any paid work during the unpaid month. If your employer runs an English camp and pay you well for it, great, but don't assume that's gonna happen.

10-month contracts typically don't pay during October but require the teacher to come back for the second term. Walk away from those employers and be glad you did.


Personally, I love technology in the classroom

Personally, I love technology in the classroom

I'm 100% behind tech in the classroom, it can save me time and the kids seem to enjoy the differentiation if nothing else. It needs to be done right, not mindless Kahoot topics on an ongoing basis.

Give me a big fat pipe, a fully approving HoD and I'm off to the races. I could run both RW, LS as well as a critical thinking, SAT prep and literature courses off EdTech sites. Books are static. Old textbooks are the death of learning. Bill Gates agrees, less the hyperbole.

I see few reasons to use whiteboards unless you're doing something very interactive and in the moment. Even for LS, toss the guidelines up, do some splanin', divide the pairs / groups and off you go.

PowerPoint which you can refine over the lesson periods and save forever. Don't like PowerPoint? Throw up a PDF. Rewriting your presentation numerous times just wastes huge amounts of class time. Don't like PowerPoints, learn Prezi or Canva or whatever.

I will readily admit drawn out PowerPoints can be a drag, but so is a teacher endlessly scribbling bits of ephemera on the board with his ass to the class. As soon as your back is turned, you're uninteresting, the lesson stops and mischief starts.

As for a student drawing or printing a rose. I teach English not art, they can put a big black X on the page, get the grammar, vocab right. Reeks of logical fallacy.


China or Thailand for a TEFLer?

So many people who have been in ESL or other international work have such interesting stories to tell, there are a lot of negatives in living and working internationally (especially if one is not on a full ex-pat package), but it is usually not boring!

While the grass often seems greener elsewhere, one should be careful in thinking strictly in terms of “country.” Within each country there are jobs with a wide range of salaries, working conditions and types of bosses, as well as a few general similarities. For example, I worked for three years in China with basically a full ex-pat salary, yet the living and working conditions were sub-optimal.

I also worked there three times in two separate location on short-term assignments where the pay was substantially lower, but the living and working conditions were better. Also all supervisors I worked with (all foreigners) were quite different in style as were my Chinese and foreign co-workers. The three places I worked at in the country were each a very different experience.

My personal experience was I usually made more money in China, but I also experienced some significant health issues while there and generally enjoy my life in Thailand (or Vietnam) more. Which is better? I can’t say. But of course, other people have had and will have different experiences. China is a huge country and it is quite different working and living in a first-tier city as opposed to a third tier one or out in the countryside.

China might be a good option for some but I doubt many ESL teachers will find a utopia working there, there are always trade-offs in all we do.


The argument for reading academic materials

The argument for reading academic materials

Anti-intellectualism is nothing new, especially among lower level ESL teachers in Thailand, yet there are many legitimate criticisms of “academia” in every field.

I would suggest using empirical evidence or experience and common sense is not an either/or type of situation, but use of both is often optimal. Experience can be a great teacher, but it is obviously limited to the little world we have personally experienced. It is also limited due to a variety of observation and analysis biases each one of us has. Reading books, journals or attending courses allow us to learn about far more of the world than the specific situations from our own specific perspective. While there is a whole bunch of BS and poorly designed research published in academia, good academic work tends to let us explore nuances and complexities that can be useful.

For example, let us say you find technique 1 works in your classroom while technique 2 does not. It is likely you will think technique 1 is good and technique 2 is bad and will use this information in your career. Technique 1 worked well in your classroom, but it might be because it fit the context you were teaching in and might not fit a different context. If you learn the theories behind the techniques you might be able to determine in which situations technique 1 is likely to be successful while technique 2 is not. But you might also see technique 2 is not necessarily “bad” but could work well in a different context.

Learning a foreign language is difficult, and something few NES English teachers have actually done. All academic research is limited and you will not find simple answers to complex questions in a single article. If you are serious about having a teaching career, I would suggest you get as much education and experience in your field as possible.

While we can find exceptions, the empirical/academic studies indicate in almost every profession salary and income are strongly and positively related to higher levels of education and experience, indicating the market tends to reward us for both. Go ahead and argue against the market if you like, but I don’t like your chances. I don’t think taking a course or reading some academic journals articles will make you a “good” teacher, but I seriously doubt it will make you a worse teacher.


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