Ajarn Street

Schools poaching teachers

Why does it always seem to happen to us?

This happens ever year. Things are going great, the students and teachers are all settled, parents are happy, mid-term tests out of the way and then out of nowhere a local international school swoops in and poaches one of our ESL teachers. So annoying!

This has just happened at the school where I work and it got me thinking about a wide range of things; money, ethics, contracts, students, colleagues and international schools.

So here's my two pence worth on the topic of 'poaching'

I get it, everyone wants to earn more money, but none of us got into teaching to become millionaires, right? So is it okay to just up and leave for the chance to earn an extra 5 grand a month?

Jumping ship for a couple of grand a month may not show great ethics but perhaps the moral quandary sits heavier with the actual school poaching the teacher.
A local international school are a teacher down at the beginning of school year for whatever reason, but is it okay for them to buy their way out of this situation? Did they think about advertising the position nationwide? Wouldn't that be the better way to find a qualified international teacher? And another problem with poaching is that it can easily have a domino effect, or doesn't that matter, perhaps it's just a case of - 'well it's your problem now'

Unfortunately, most teachers would agree that Thai contracts are worth little more than the cost of the paper they're printed on. Having said that, I was encouraged to read about a teacher who had been unfairly dismissed being able to seek compensation ... but the situation for employers left in the lurch is different - there is very little point in taking a teacher to court. I mean how much would it cost? How much compensation would the school get if they won?
and what is to stop the foreign teacher just disappearing?

You've gotta feel sorry for the students..... they're the ones that really lose out.

So when a teacher leaves it takes time to get a replacement. It's important to get the right person and that can sometimes take over a month, but what happens in the meantime? Well those extra 20 hours usually fall to the departing teacher's colleagues, pushing their already busy schedules to overload. Thanks..

International schools
You always read about international schools building their success on a strong team of fully qualified teachers with previous experience teaching in the UK/US and at good quality international schools I know this to be true. But what does it say about local international schools that poach ESL teachers from Thai schools? I mean international school fees are 4 or 5 times higher than good quality Thai schools, I would have thought the parents were expecting teachers with full QTS.

A Possible Solution - ESL Transfer Window

Perhaps what we need is an ESL Transfer Window like the one they have in football... That way everyone is fair game during the school holidays but as soon as term starts teachers are tied in until the end of term and if you want to move school before your contract expires your future employer better get their cheque book out.

I like the sound of that and perhaps then the front page of ajarn.com will be filled with the endless speculation usually reserved for the likes of Rooney and Suarez...

Well that's my rant over, and here is a quick plug before I go - If you enjoy teaching teenagers and are currently looking for a full time position, kindly get in touch...BUT if you are currently under contract, please don't apply... wouldn't want to be a hypocrite.



Dear Daniel I understand your frustration on such matters but I do not think that an individual who has been a teacher with only a degree in Thailand for over 10 years and has worked in an international school himself as an English teacher can really objectively talk and indeed complain about teachers who do not have QTS, being poached.

By Dan Bakewell, Phuket (7th January 2014)

As you say, it was only for a 5k per month raise and he was a good teacher, did you go back to the teacher and say ....

"We really value the work you do here and rather than letting you go, we would like to match the offer you have been given by the other school. Stick with us and we will increase your salary by 5k per month starting next month"

Or did the admin say... "we can not raise your salary ever... if we raise your salary, how would I pay for my new Benz?"

By Charlie, Bangkok (28th August 2013)

With reference to the "jumping ship" comment, in my school so many Matayom students suffer from apathy and ill-discipline that they would not care if a teacher stayed or not.
I am the 8th teacher this term to take this position - I see why. Though. I have stayed, and it looks like I will see the term out (as my contract runs only until October 15th).

However, it is the MUNICIPALITY that causes this high turnover bringing all these agencies in. They often flood the school with poorly qualified teachers who leave and re-start when they please.

The school, and even the majority of the students, may like the teacher, but if the agency does not win the contract for the second term, the revolving door starts again! (It has taken half a term to stem the constant loss of teachers).

Also agencies screw over teachers A LOT by keeping them illegal and not paying them properly. This means you have no rights as you are illegal, make sure you HAVE your NON-B visa within 2 weeks. Anymore, you're on thin ice!

The municipality wants money, they really do not care what state their schools are in. Unfortunately corruption / MONEY comes first.




By Matt, Mabtaphut (near Rayong) (26th August 2013)

Having come back to the U.K. after working for 2 years in Vietnam, and 5 years in Thailand, both Teaching English across the age range, and running a Language Centre group, I have been following this article/topic/comments with interest.
I loved my time in Thailand, and really enjoyed Teaching in a big Government school, which had an English programme 'within.' And it was a good school, via a good agency.
BUT, having had a very strong commercial background before going into Teaching, I would say to all Teachers in Thailand, certainly in most Government schools, and the majority of Language Centres-


You are being paid, generally, less than Teachers were getting 15 years ago!!
My last school, a good one, curtailed my last semester by one month, (to save money!) so my pay was effectively, over the last academic year, for 8 months.


The School Director, and his senior team in most schools in the Government sector,are certainly on a 'saving versus budget' commission system, as I was for many years in commerce.

Do what is right for you, then the Students, and 'hang' the school.

Get hard with the Terms/Conditions, and if necessary MOVE.
They will not move 1 baht, unless everyone adopts a hard line-


Regards from a very good, non-degree, outtstanding Teacher, now having a 'Breather.'

Regards, Neil Wragg.

By Nei Wragg., U. K. (At the moment.) (14th August 2013)

I would like to add my two pence worth. A lot of schools I agree treat foreign teachers with contempt and as most people say we are there to make money for the school. Not necessarily the case for all government schools.
Who are we there for? The school? Maybe, but I would hope that most teachers would say that they are there for the children, to offer the kids a chance to improve their English, which has to be said is like herding sheep sometimes.
Contracts are pretty much worthless, so rely on the Labor Act 1988 look it up and that's your contract.
A lot of school offer just the term time 8 1/2 months so less than two thirds. If your at a school on 10 months remember that's 83% of the year salaried plus whatever bonus you get for completion or resigning we did have an error where someone stated it was less than 70%. So a 10 month is not that bad. Salaries are low compared to everywhere else but I suspect there are not any qualified teachers as in teacher trained four years at university etc etc that are working here in a school for a salary for only 8.5 months of the year. Those teachers will be in the International schools earning a proper wage and for the whole 12 months plus benefits.
I am currently in the 8.5 bracket however only due to the fact that my Thai employer said that they would pay 9 1/2 months but I was told recently they will not pay the October break. Having said that I have over 720 students and whilst I am annoyed I feel a sense of responsibility to see Pratom 6 off to Mattayom and to help as much as I can with my other students before moving on. I have had unsolicited phone calls offering work which I have declined. I have my poker in several fires and will make a move when I think it is appropriate and that is once the school year is over.
It is very much a two way street, I believe we as foreigners do not feel obligated to stay anywhere as we feel undervalued and that is probably a result of the many years where Thailand schools were staffed at the ESL level with perverts, drunks, and the general travelling riff raff. The result is we have been somewhat tarred with the same brush.
I can say I have been involved with very nice schools and whilst this school has only been let down by the slight dishonesty of the teachers employer I will explore the possibility of staying with the school if a contract can be agreed with them.
So I think everyone should think of the children first, at the end of the day if you move mid term you only do it for a few thousand so if that to you is a good enough reason to turn your back on the kids you agreed to teach for a year maybe you should move on altogether.
If you want to move wait until the new school year then if your a good "teacher" you will get the pick of the crop.

By Jonathan, Thailand (13th August 2013)

As much as I understand that the sudden absence of a teacher and the disruption that it causes to a school and the students is hardly ideal I have to admit that the majority of my sympathies lie with the teacher and not the school.

In my opinion, teacher loyalty (or the lack thereof), is due to several factors.

It seems to be standard procedure now to offer 10 month contracts with an end of contract bonus (if you're fortunate). These contracts mean that we are essentially without work for a full quarter of the year.

I am lucky enough to at least get an end of contract bonus and a paid holiday in October. Sadly, it seems that even this is changing. Some schools and agencies are now insisting on two 5 month contracts and no bonus, essentially meaning that we can only really earn for 9 months in a calendar year.

Salaries have not increased at all and have, if anything, gotten worse. The cost of living in Thailand is increasing all the time. I essentially live hand to mouth and save very little. Hardly a sustainable situation going forward.

Teachers are expected to cover all their own visa and work permit costs which can be significant in relation to our already poor salaries,

Working conditions are hardly ideal in the vast majority of schools. Poor communication, constant demands for extra-curricular activities and the like with little or no compensation.

I didn't come to Thailand to make my fortune. I needed a change in my life and was very happy to do something completely different for little or no financial gain.

Having said that, I certainly do not expect to have to constantly dip into my own pocket to do what is essentially a paid job. I am not a volunteer and I do expect to be rewarded appropriately for my time and hard work.

It seems as if teachers and schools / agencies are locked in a downward spiral. As the conditions of employment worsen so does the overall standard of teacher candidates. Over the last 2 years I have seen every kind of teacher imaginable come and go.

Some were good, the majority were awful. The situation is not improving and if there is to be any change it needs to come from both sides.

I have been with the same agency for several semesters now, they are by many standards quite well run and effective. That has not meant smooth sailing and I have had several disputes with them around monies owed and working conditions. I am at the point where I am ready to resign.

As much as I would like to do this in a fair and ethical manner with the appropriate notices and such, I am afraid to do this.

My visa can and will be cancelled immediately, any outstanding salaries will no doubt not be paid and I am pretty sure that I can forget about anything approaching a reasonable reference. What choice to I have under these conditions except to resign on pay day and head off to my new job?

I know that I am by no means in the minority here. The way some teachers are treated is nothing short of reprehensible and I have all the sympathy in the world for a teacher who is only trying to better his/her own personal circumstances.

Under conditions such as these is it a surprise at all when a teacher suddenly leaves for greener pastures?

Perhaps if schools and agencies started offering more competitive salaries and contracts, perhaps if they treated their teachers with the respect and care they deserve as human beings then teachers would feel more responsibility towards their schools and students?

By James, Thailand (12th August 2013)

I agree with the first comment and disagree with a number of your points.

Firstly, you talk about the the money factor in mentioning "the chance to earn an extra 5 grand a month" which you immediately then describe as "a couple of grand a month". Well, if it is 5, this could be a 20% pay rise for those teachers which may be quite hard to turn down!

Secondly, I find your questioning of the skills level of teachers her (re;"But what does it say about local international schools that poach ESL teachers from Thai schools? .... I would have thought the parents were expecting teachers with full QTS.") quite derogatory to those teachers who have been working in schools here for a long time and may well have far better teaching skills and way more experience than those fresh off their QTS boats (or, as in my experience, even 'old hands' who are sadly not up to the job!).

Luckily, these things don't really affect me professionally as I am lucky to be able to find well-paid jobs with respectable organisations and currently work in a highly renowned Thai secondary school through a large international company. However, as a parent, I am concerned that many Thai schools are not offering quality to their students as the pay and conditions they offer surely cannot guarantee to provide a stable, high quality group of teachers.

By Dave T, BKK (12th August 2013)

The only ethical issue as I see it is to the students. If you jump ship like that, as you pointed out, they're the ones who will suffer, so make sure to cover for them before switching.

As far as the school goes, unless you've managed to miraculously find an honorable school (in which case let me know), ethics are irrelevant; in their eyes you're the foreign face there to make them money, they didn't give you the conditions to keep you, so they don't deserve you.

By Sam, Shanghai (12th August 2013)

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