Submit your own Great Escape

Matt Miles

Q1. Where did you move to and when?

I moved to Abu Dhabi after receiving a great salary and compensation package.

Q2. How long did you work in Thailand?

7 years.

Q3. What was your main reason for moving?

There are so many reasons. I take teaching seriously, as it is my chosen profession. I am considered an expert in the USA as I regularly published experimental and non-experimental research literature in leading educational journals, will soon finish my Ph.D. in education, and have a diverse portfolio of training and development consultation work at corporations and schools.

Too many schools in Thailand are a case study in poor teaching practices. Decisions are made based on administrative convenience. In other words, whatever is the easiest way for the person in charge. There is also massive corruption. To get a job at many schools, you have to work for whichever agency is kicking back money to the school director.

Lesson plans are only done by foreign teachers, and even those are made sloppily by copying and pasting from some other lesson. Thai teachers employ the "listen and repeat or write fifty times" method.

Thai school staff are hostile towards foreign teachers for a combination of (bad) reasons. There are backpackers that come here and lie/cheat/scheme their way through a couple of paychecks and then leave without notice. There is also a large pay gap between Thais and what foreigners are willing to accept. There is also a huge cultural difference where Thais are raised to bow and obey their superiors without question, whereas foreigners expect a rationale explanation for things. In Thailand, there usually isn't one.

There is also a "copy to help" culture where Thai students are taught that cheating is OK, that if another student doesn't know an answer you should give it for them, and they don't even know what good study habits are let alone practice them.

You also have the larger cultural difference of wages and labor conditions. Thai business owners give workers less than .01% of the income received, no benefits, no safety procedures or equipment, and 12 hours a day or more of work and act like they are doing them a favor. It's not uncommon to see a Thai working heavy construction emaciated and barefoot. Of course this attitude gets carried over more and more into the teaching space and with foreign workers. These are all reasons why Filipinos are being hired more and more in the schools here. Filipinos will work for a standard Thai wage, and they will work under any conditions without complaint.

Meanwhile Thailand continues to sink on international English competency surveys and tests. The Filipinos don't perform any better than the native Thai teachers do, so it's all an exercise in pointlessness. I don't see things getting any better any time soon.

You also have the Thai culture of "saving face". In a work environment "saving face" leads to real problems. No one accepts responsibility for their actions, or lack of action (especially supervisors). Most management gets their job through personal friendships anyway, because in Thailand it's not what you know or what you can do, it's who you know. As a result you often show up minutes before a lesson or activity is supposed to start, only to find that no one has planned or prepared anything. The chaotic running around for materials and knee-jerk taskings that ensue are very uncomfortable.

Managers, head teachers, and principals weasel their way out of these situations using any number of common excuses, and the teachers are left looking incompetent. You can be the most motivated, well-trained, diversely experienced teacher on Earth, but in Thailand you will fail. There are too many problems, many beyond your control, that will interfere with your ability to teach well. I could go on for another three pages easily listing other such problems.

Q4. What are the advantages of working where you are now compared to Thailand?

I now make 15,475 AED per month teaching at a state school in Abu Dhabi. That is more than three times what the average teacher in Thailand makes. Also, all expenses are paid. Paid airfare, immigration fees, luggage fees, food, housing, and transportation back and forth to work. Not to mention the basic benefits like health insurance, dental insurance, contract completion bonuses, yearly raises and career progression. It's a no brainier.

Q5. What do you miss about life in Thailand?

I miss everything about life in Thailand, but I don't miss anything about teaching in Thailand. Those are two very different things. I credit my own dedication to effective pedagogy as the reason I kept struggling in Thai school as long as I did, and wanting to see my Thai wife happy among her friends and family.

Q6. Would you advise a new teacher to seek work in Thailand or where you are now?

Absolutely not. There are some disturbing trends growing in the ESL scene here, especially in Bangkok. TEFL schools are charging more and more, then turning around and taking a percentage of the teacher's salary just for referring them to a job. They continue skimming teachers' salaries until they leave the job regardless if it is three months or three years.

The hours are getting longer, the teaching periods per week are increasing, the wages are getting lower, and the ability to apply teaching techniques is decreasing. More and more teachers are given a set lesson, materials and direction of what to do and say minute-by-minute.

Backpackers love it because they don't have to put any thought into their teaching, but real teachers see the lack of engagement and poor instructional designs and are horrified. Companies are starting to withhold money from teachers that they have already earned, as a way to prevent them from quitting. There is a term for this practice, indentured servitude, which is a less brutal form of slavery.

Immigration policies are becoming more strict, more expensive, more time-consuming and more invasive. Not to mention they change on a weekly basis, and different branches are all going by different rules. The immigration office in Udon Thani, for example will require different documentation and use different forms than the main office in Chaeng Wattana, Bangkok.

Q7. Any plans to return to Thailand one day?

None. I have seen all I need to see in Thailand. For tourism in the future I will go to other countries that I haven't been to yet. My basic understanding of how Thailand works prevents me from enjoying myself there anymore.

Q8. Anything else you'd like to add?

Thank you to for allowing teachers to share their experiences with each other honestly and openly. This is a powerful social platform and it does a lot of good.

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