Last month I wrote about some of the bad practices that some teacher agencies engage in and why those practices have given some agencies a bad rep. This month I'd like to write about some of the reasons that a teacher agency could be good for some teachers.
First off, let me divide foreign teachers in Thailand into four general groups, based upon my experience, as a teacher agent:
Group 1: 'Newbies' or teachers who have not been here very long. The teachers in this group usually have little or no knowledge of current immigration, labor or teacher licensing rules and regulations. They usually can't speak, read or write any Thai and, consequently, don't have a very deep understanding of Thai people, their culture or their way of life. Because of this lack of cultural understanding, they often (unintentionally) piss off or offend the Thais they work with and could definitely be helped by having someone who knows how to work harmoniously with Thais by whispering in their ear.
Group 2: Teachers who been here for a long time. They usually speak, read and/or write some Thai, or are able to do so fluently. They have a deep knowledge of immigration, labor or teacher licensing rules and regulations and they also understand Thai people, their culture and their way of life - especially how to work harmoniously with Thais.
Group 3: Teachers who may be new or may have been here for a long time, but do not have the paper qualifications to enable them to get their own non-immigrant visa, work permit and/or teacher license. Also in this group are teachers who have been here a long time, may be perfectly qualified, but don't feel like going through the hassle of doing all of the paperwork themselves and would rather have someone else do it. They have probably had negative past experiences at some school, with some poor, hapless teacher who has been tasked with the unwelcome job of getting all of the foreign teaching staff their visas and work permits. This is a task that usually causes many of them to break down in tears, give up in frustration or pick up the nearest chainsaw. My wife and I have been getting visa and work permits for teachers for 6 years now and we've got it down to a science.
Group 4: Teachers in this group may have a variety of qualification and experience levels. The one thing they all have in common is that they are only too happy to tell anyone who will listen how much they despise everything Thai. "Thais are stupid", "I can't be bothered to learn Thai. It's beneath me!", "All Thai teachers and/or administrators are idiots!" are some of the gems we frequently hear from these types. I avoid these teachers like the plague. Not only are they annoying and bad for morale, they should not even waste their time, or mine, by trying to work with Thais. Nothing good can come of it. If I let them talk enough in the initial interview they always show their true colors.
I currently have teachers working with me from groups 1 through 3. All of them have their own unique and detailed reasons that they work with me instead of going it alone. I think, obviously, the two groups that can benefit the most from working for an agency are those in Groups 1 and 3. Teachers in group 2 usually sign a contract directly with a school, as well they should.
Some of the reasons that teacher agencies might be a good fit for some foreign teachers are as follows:
1) In my case, I know the Immigration, Labor and Teacher License rules and regulations front to back. I do whatever I have to do to get Non-Immigrant Visa and Work Permits for my teachers who depend on me for just such help. I have people I have known for a long time at Immigration, The Teachers Council and The Labor Department in Pathumthani Province (where all of my client schools are located). In short, I've already spent the time and money to have the experience and personal connections to easily get my agency properly licensed and to get Non-Imm Visa and Work Permits for the people who work with me. As far as Teachers Licenses are concerned, it's no longer the responsibility of the employer to get one for the employee. I will, however, assist any of my qualified teachers in getting one in any way I can. This is something that very few newbies could ever do and few long term teachers can do alone. In other words, the agency goes to bat for the teacher to get that teacher whatever that teacher needs. This can be very comforting for some teachers when faced with the confusing rules and regulations that govern our lives here in L.O.S.
2) Some agencies already have a set curriculum and lesson plan in place for their teachers, eliminating (or, at the very least, lessening) the amount of lesson plan writing and re-writing that is such a chronic annoyance in many Thai schools.
3) The agency rep has the potential to be a very good buffer between the foreign teaching staff and the Thai school administration, if and when necessary. I get paid to deal with the small, annoying, day to day administrative B.S. that most of the teachers who work with me never even become aware of. Without an agency rep, each foreign teacher has to deal with the Thai administration from big issues such as the curriculum, lesson plans and days off to small issues such as what color shirts to wear on which days, why a certain foreign teacher always forgets to flush the toilet after doing his business (I'm not making that up!) or why a certain foreign teacher didn't bring any kanom back for everyone else after his trip to Chiengmai. Would YOU want to deal with this stuff, day in and day out?
4) Working for an agency has the potential to allow access to other foreign co-workers on a daily basis. This may or may not appeal to some of you out there. I had one guy who used to work with me from Belgium. He had a Bachelor of Education and spoke Thai well. He went it alone for eight years before he came to work with me. He seemed very overqualified and I told him as much during our first meeting. He said he was tired of being the lone farang in a staff of Thai people and having no one to talk to about "Western stuff". He got along just fine with the Thai staff at his old school, but missed the ability to talk F.A. Cup news, and other stuff from home, with someone who would know what he was talking about. Some of us are more social animals than others.
5) If you work for a good agency, that agency will have plenty of cash reserves to ensure that no one ever gets paid late. I can't remember the last time I paid my teachers their salaries later than the first or second of the month.
So if you're new to Thailand, or considering coming, a teacher agency might be a good place to do your first year with. Once you've got your "Thailand Legs" underneath you and you know what's what, go it on your own if you prefer. That's what I did when I started here many years ago.
Teacher agencies are just like people. Some are fun to be with and some you just wanna kick to the curb. Shop around, ask around. Check to see if the agency you are thinking of working with actually possesses a valid license from The Ministry of Education, many do not. Remember to keep an open mind and not to be too quick to judge though. Most of the horror stories I've heard about agencies have been pretty unbelievable and (usually) one sided.
Good luck to everyone and see ya next month.