I often get asked "What's involved in opening up your own language school?" So, this month, I thought I'd write down some of the basic steps for anyone who might be interested. Here goes...
Step 1: Acquiring a storefront...
You can own or rent this space, it doesn't matter. When I first started my school, my wife and I were living in a 3 bedroom, two story townhouse in a village in the Klong 3 area of Rangsit, Pathumthani. All 3 of the bedrooms were pretty small.
We went to the local E.S.A. (Educational Service Area) that holds jurisdiction over our area and asked them what we need to do. They gave us a stack of documents you could choke a horse with, laughed and wished us good luck. Included in the many other bits of info they gave us were exact details of the dimensions needed to open up a private language school.
We needed at least one "large" classroom and one "small" classroom. The large classroom had to be at least 2 by 5 meters. So we knocked out a wall between 2 bedrooms and we had our large classroom. The 3rd bedroom was fine for the "small" classroom, which only had to be 1.5 by 2 meters.
We needed one Mens Room and one Ladies Room. So we just made the downstairs bathroom "Ladies" and the upstairs "Mens".
We needed a "Reception Desk" with an attendant "Waiting Area" with seating for at least 6 people. We just bought an L-shaped desk at Office Depot (4,500 Baht), a sofa for 4 people and 4 loose chairs (8,000 Baht), all of them in a matching set. We needed a "Break Area" for our teachers, which was our dining room table and the "Coffee Area" was in our kitchen.
For the first two years we actually lived in our school. This was tiring and annoying, but saved us a lot of money, obviously. Our monthly mortgage was only 6,600 baht, for which we got a house AND a school! The drawbacks to this sort of arrangement are that we had to pull out our bedrolls after the school was closed down, put them away before the school opened, and we had to make sure that the bathrooms were clean and dry before the school opened up and we had to, in general, make sure that our "house" was fastidiously clean at all times, so that we could convert it into our "school" at a moment's notice if necessary. There is nothing (that I know of) that prohibits any of you from doing something similar, as far as zoning or laws are concerned. This is, after all, Thailand! If you can afford to have your business and living areas separate, please do. One friend of mine has a commercial storefront that has 4 stories. He lives on the 4th floor and the lower three floors are his school. I think that is probably the best way to do it. What a short commute!
Step 2: Feeding the paperwork beast...
a) You'll have to provide detailed architectural plans of every square inch of your prospective school's property, both the interior and exterior. Those plans will have to be "signed off" on by a licensed Engineer or Architect. This can sometimes be free, it can sometimes cost between 10,000 and 20,000 Baht for a "signing fee", depending on your circumstances. For example, ours were signed free by the Lead Engineer of the village we bought our townhouse in. My friend I mentioned earlier though had to pay a Licensed Engineer 20,000 Baht to sign off on the plans of the commercial building he rented, because "the plans were lost in a fire". (According to the building owner.)
b) You will have to provide detailed paperwork attesting to the qualifications of the school's license holder. For example, my wife has a Bachelor Degree in Finance and Banking from Dhurakijpundit University, In Bangkok. How does that qualify her to own an English language school? It doesn't. However, the 12 years she was Head of Conferences and Special Events for The Queens Park Hotel does qualify her, according to Pathumthani E.S.A. 1. They felt that the fact that she had to speak, read and write English every day, in her professional capacity, was enough to qualify her to own a private English language school. Obviously it's easier to get a license holder qualified if their qualifications have something to do with the type of school you want to open up. My wife is the License Holder, General Manager and Founder of The American English Language School. I am the Head Teacher.
c) You will have to get the curriculum approved. There is a standard English language curriculum written by 3 party animals named Lert, Pinyo and Chaweng. I think it was written sometime in the 14th century B.C. It is chock full of useful exercises such as "Pardon me kind sir, is this the Paddington Station?" or "Excuse me my lady, might I inquire as to where I could find a reasonably spot on shop at which to have my Bowler steamed?" That is "officially" the curriculum of my school. I can't remember ever having used it to teach. It looks very pretty on my bookshelf though, where the MOE inspectors see it when they come. I like the Cutting Edge and Opportunities textbook series, by Longman. I find them ideal from Mattayom 1 through university, up to working adults. They come with CDs, have plenty of pictures (but not too many) and teach both British and American Vocabulary and pronunciation. For pure grammar, I use the Oxford series. Ask the E.S.A. where you are what they recommend, then make it the official curriculum of your school. Whether you ever actually use it is beside the point. You'll score brownie points for asking and they'll notice that you followed your advice when they do the inspection to decide whether or not you're ready to receive a license.
d) You'll have to have all the usual paperwork to administrate a language school.
This is pretty self-explanatory...sign in sheets, attendance sheets, daily logs, payroll records, etc.
Step 3: Miscellaneous
a) You'll need a first aid kit that meets the E.S.A. requirements.
b) You'll want a T.V. in the reception area, for parents and students who might be waiting. I hate T.V., but you will want one, trust me. (See point "e" below.)
c) Lots of magazines/books for people to read in the reception area.
d) Lots of plants and an overall pleasant atmosphere.
e) I recommend that you hire a young, pretty, outgoing receptionist who LIKES to talk! Did I mention that they should like to talk?! On Saturday mornings, when we have kids classes, you should see the reception area. Ten to fifteen housewives or working Moms sitting and talking and talking and talking and talking. Wow!
f) Air conditioning for every classroom and the reception area.
Miscellaneous Tips and Advice:
- As far as pricing is concerned, there are usually two ways you can go, hourly or monthly. I think this depends, mostly, on your clientele. For example, a friend of mine has a language school in Ratchaburi and he charges a flat fee per month, for a set number of hours per week. Of course, whether it's a private or a group class effects the price as well. I'm sure (at least I would hope) that any of you who are considering opening up your own language school already know all the basics of pricing and textbook choosing and number of times a student can cancel, etc.
- Have a CD/DVD player in the classroom. If you can, also have an overhead projector linked to a computer with an internet connection. If you have a lot of classrooms, this can be an expensive proposition.
- After you have submitted all of your paperwork asking to get licensed, a team of inspectors from the local E.S.A. will come to inspect your school. I recommend that you offer to take them out to lunch or dinner AFTER the inspection is finished. Don't be cheap! While you're at the restaurant, ask them if there's anything special they'd like to order to take home. They will love the largesse, they'll remember you when it comes to doing your paperwork and it might put you out an extra thousand.
- I recommend that ANY time you, or a representative of your school, have to go to the local E.S.A., take a gift! If you're going into an office where you don't know who's a drinker and who's not, take a cake from S&P. If you know someone is a drinker, get them a bottle of Johnny Red or Johnny Black. Whether you are or not, they assume you're rich and they usually have a salary of somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 a month, so every little free thing helps.
- In my experience, it helps to have at least one teacher (preferably a foreigner) who can speak decent Thai. This is for the really slow classes. It helps. The students get way too discouraged, too quickly, if they can't even get out of the gate due to linguistic inadequacies. I say "preferably a foreigner" because, in my experience, the vast majority of Thai students would rather have a "farang hua daeng" than a Thai educated abroad. Although I disagree with this sentiment morally and philosophically, I tend to look at it from a business standpoint instead.