Joko MacKenna

The scarlet K

Is teaching kids just as valuable to a school as teaching specialized stuff

I've been pigeonholed. Typecast. A big, scarlet 'K' has been branded onto my CV. The letter represents the language learners I'm best with: Kids. It's not something I'm ashamed of or embarrassed about. Some of us have the temperament, patience and classroom presence to be good at teaching young learners and adolescents. Some of us have that inherent ability to be measuredly authoritarian when the need arises. Some of us would rather teach prison inmates than ride herd over a gang of kids.

I've been a little surprised here early in my career to find I'm part of the former group, as I don't have kids of my own, and I certainly can't have any type of latent maternal instincts. Nonetheless, at my mid-sized language school of a dozen or so teachers here in Yangon, Myanmar, I've become the one whose 'good with kids' and whose course load reflects that.

Another guy, he's the IELTS expert. A couple teachers are known for being pros at business English. This one, she's experienced in customized, one-to-one programs. Me, I'm the funny guy who plays ukulele and the kids love. Nothing wrong with that. I know that I could be the business English guy if needed. I spent 20 years in the business world before becoming a teacher of English as a foreign language. I speak corporate probably better than most of my peers. From my understanding, you can learn to teach IELTS in a day. My only issue is how these different skills are valued.

I'm fairly sure that my company is not unique in it's compensation package. Teachers who have specific skills and can teach courses other than general English get extra money added to their paychecks every month. It's a fair enough system. I've no problem with it. IELTS, business English, customized corporate classes, these are offerings that language schools have to have to distinguish themselves from the competition. Teaching kids? Those places are a dime a dozen!

Why? Why do my colleagues who can teach IELTS get paid more than I? My scarlet 'K' should count for just as much. Having not taught IELTS, I can't speak too much about what skills or knowledge being proficient in it requires, but I'll venture it's no harder than teaching kids.

Not to pat myself on the back, but my talent with teens has allowed my school to offer teen classes that they've never offered before outside the now concluding 'summer' break. I'm gonna teach after school classes as several of my 'summer' students have asked their parents to see if they could continue on with learning English with us. Kids wanting to spend time in a classroom? I could ask for no higher praise (other than few more thousand Kyats on the paycheck).

As I said, being a teacher of teens requires a certain classroom presence, but it's more than just knowing how to organize and direct fun and games. Certainly, there's plenty of that in my classroom, but in between, my goal is to present English as a puzzle to be figured out. The English language itself is a game with rules and strategies, and if you learn it, I stress, you can win more than a game, but at life itself.

Your thoughts? Should I press the bosses to have my 'K' added to the list of bonus-worthy teaching skills? Or, is teaching business English, IELTS, TOEFL or EAP inherently more valuable than being a glorified babysitter?



"Statistically, most teachers leave the profession within the first three years..."
What statistics are these... or are you guessing? You are guessing of course!

" I have no idea what you are complaining about..."
Again you have got the wrong end of the stick...
Asking questions isn't the same as complaining.

"Elementary school teachers at international schools and private schools generally earn high salaries in Thailand..."
You're on a roll, Mr. Thailand... Joko doesn't teach in Thailand!
He states very clearly in his blog which city and country he's working at.

Before offering an opinion on anything (and making it public) it's been best practice for some time now to at least get some of the facts you are talking about correct.

Whilst it's clear from your follow up post that you can read (and even write, to a degree) it's just as clear that you don't understand any of the words.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (21st June 2014)

Elementary school teachers at international schools and private schools generally earn high salaries in Thailand, so I have no idea what you are complaining about. If you truly feel that you are nothing more than a 'glorified babysitter,' you have quickly reached 'burnout' as a teacher and should go back to your business career. Statistically, most teachers leave the profession within the first three years, and you will certainly be joining this category.

By Mr. Thailand, Phuket (21st June 2014)

Hey Joko thanks for your recent blog post; it's always fun to read your thoughts! I'm a kids teacher, too, and even went back for my post-grad in early childhood education years ago to further my teaching abilities at this level. With my then newly achieved M.Ed. in hand, I returned back to my homeland-of-choice here in Thailand and you know what? I still only make 37,000 Baht per month which is just two grand more than I first made when I began teaching here almost 20 years ago.

I think the problem is not unique to here, though. Primary school teachers the world over are at the bottom rung on the salary scales. This is the question I beg the answer to: why do societies demand so much for their childrens' educations yet barely compensate those of us who provide this service?? I'm lucky in that I have a secure retirement (inheritance) and don't have to worry too much about money. I teach kids because I truly love them and care for them in a very paternal way, though I would wish for a world where we were appreciated monetarily for the serious duties we are responsible for.

Keep up the good work and let us know what's going on the fast changing world of Myanmar!


By M.Ed., Surin (18th June 2014)

The proof is always in the pudding.

When I started at my school I was earning the same as every other falang - about 32k for the basic classes and another 5k for teaching "extra English" classes in period 8.

I started by being a "good with kids teacher" who was focused on results that were measurable, demonstrable AND quantifiable.

Fast forward 4 years. Now, instead of 150 kids across 18 class periods I have about 1200 and a staff of many. I daresay that I earn a bit more than the 37k thb that I started at.

Your efforts are laudable. While it may not seem like much now, as your influence grows, so will your pay packet (or you can pick up sticks and move to the next place down the block and the kids will probably follow you if you are all that you think you are).

While you may be good at what you do the unfortunate truth is that many are not and far too many are not worth what they are paid. Specialized programs like: IELTS prep, TOEIC prep, Cambridge exam prep, EAP, etc do take extra training and to hold your clients you have to be decent at it.

IF you treat KIDS the same way you will find that your "specialization" will also follow you and it can be a lucrative market once you are head and shoulders above every other one of the "dime a dozen" English Academies on the block.

As to hitting up the bosses for a raise... patience is a virtue. Take it out of the closet and walk it around a bit. Good things come to those who wait (or good things will follow those who are good and couldn't wait any longer after a suitable waiting period has expired).

You're new in the country and still pretty new at the game. Get a bit more time under your belt and then make your pitch.


By Dave, Thailand (11th June 2014)

If others are making more than you at your place of work, there may be a number of factors which you may not be privy to: namely, their educational background and other qualifications, which you may (or may not) have yourself. While you may feel that your skill set trumps these other factors, employers and colleagues may not see it that way.

I think its a bit of an embellishment to say that you can learn to teach IELTS in one day. I think you are basing that judgement on hearsay.

The reason others may teach specialized classes is because they are able to teach to a specific set of curriculum goals. If someone is prepping a group of adult learners for IELTS, if the entire group bombs then the teacher will undoubtedly take some heat. This kind of results-based accountability likely wouldn't occur if one spends their class time wearing a traffic cone on their head and making tots laugh as the highlight of their learning content.

We can all believe that we're the best at what we do, which can be a healthy attitude....but rather than be a legend in our own minds, it's better to stop worrying about how much your colleagues make until you are at contract negotiation time. Until then, just do what you're good at.

By Chet, Nakhon Pathom (9th June 2014)

I used to be that teacher too. I was just naturally good with kids and began to get a bit of a reputation at my language school, so that parents began requesting to change their kids out of other classes just to be in my class. Needless to say, my boss was very pleased with me - but the thanks was merely verbal, not financial. My schedule soon became filled with after school kids classes as well as back-to-back weekend classes. After a while, I got burnt out. I mean I enjoyed teaching the kids but it was exhausting. The amount of energy you put into teaching a bunch of boisterous 3 year olds is a trillion times more than when you teach an adult group (not to mention the amount of prep time at home - flashcards and activity sheets are the bane of my existence). I quit and found a job as an IELTS teacher, where the classes are a bit boring but the pay is much better and I love returning home not feeling completely haggard.
So to answer your question, yes, your employer SHOULD recognise your skills and pay you accordingly but they WON'T because they make more money from corporate clients than kids classes and that's the bottom line with most language schools.

By Lauren, Thailand (8th June 2014)

'Why do my colleagues who can teach IELTS get paid more than I?'

A few reasons go against you in your commendable struggle for equal recognition that would lead to better compensation....

1 - The opinions of your students are not taken into account as much as a corporate clients view of you would be.

2 - Your skills can't be measured and compared as effectively as a more (so called) 'specialized ' instructor.

3 - As a teacher of children you are more easily replaced than someone who markets himself as a specific and elevated instructor of English.

4 - Corporate clients have bigger budgets and are more likely to reward you better if they like you.

5 - Despite your instinct and natural ability for your chosen demographic, it turns out that kids actually like everyone, not just you.

However, as you say, you are barely beginning your journey of discovery.

If you stay loyal to your employer and continue to submit the same enthusiasm, day in day out, then it's up to them if they want to lose you or not. A good employer will recognize your specific talent and reward it. If they don't, then you have some decisions to make.

I'd say that it is too early in your new career at your new employer to start fishing for more money. Maybe after a couple of years, the timing will be better to state your case.

I enjoy your blogs and videos, Joko.

Keep 'em coming!

By Mark Newman, Thailand (8th June 2014)

I don't think you're worth the same as a specialized subject teacher Joko - I think you're worth more.

When I worked in a private language school, I became a very competent TOEFL prep teacher and I was always known as the academic writing guy - but I could never ever teach children. I tried it a couple of times and hated it.

I think a great kids teacher - one who is clearly bringing in new business to the school - is worth his / her weight in gold.

Teaching kids and doing it well is not easy.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (8th June 2014)

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