Class sizes can range from six to 60. Accordingly, so do standards.
In many countries, there are three strata of schools. At the bottom of the rung are government schools. These typically only employ a handful of foreigners (as you’re an expensive luxury).
Class sizes in government schools can be enormous; 50 in a class is not exceptional. Fees are relatively cheap, and so this is where most students are sent. A foreign teacher here would tend to get a salary that is equivalent to, or better than, the average wage, plus a good amount of holiday. Make sure it's paid holiday before you sign up.
The second tier is private colleges, where class sizes could be between 25 and 40 students.
Middle classes tend to choose these colleges as much for networking reasons as academic ones. It’s never a bad thing when your classmate’s father builds houses for a living and you happen to supply imported furniture that would look splendid inside such homes.
Many of these mid-tier schools run English programmes, where for an extra fee your child will meet foreign teachers on a regular basis. Private schools employ more foreign teachers so you can expect more folk to hang out with.
Perks may include free health insurance, an end-of-contract bonus and, if you’re fortunate, a flight bonus.
At the highest echelon are the international schools. There are relatively few of these, and most of them will probably be based around the capital city or industrial centres (as that’s where foreign parents will be working).
Internationals are nearly always based on the British or American curricula, and employ career teachers. Class sizes can be tiny and anything over 20 to a class is considered cramped.
UK-based teachers will hold a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE), which for many is the Holy Grail of teaching.
Many foreigners start by teaching ESL and then decide to make more of a commitment and gain the PGCE. The prime reason for this is hard cash. Teach in an international school and you can triple your ESL salary, along with all the trimmings. If you have children they will normally get free schooling.
'A different breed'
Students at international schools are a different breed. Not only will most speak English fluently, they will also tend to be far more independent, organised and motivated than pupils from local schools. ESL teachers can still find work here, as new students who don’t yet possess adequate English skills will be given intensive language lessons to get them up to speed.
Salaries for ESL teachers at international schools are better than regular ESL teachers but generally fall short of mainstream teachers’ wages. Paying so much means schools can be picky and you’ll need three years’ experience plus the qualifications - or happen to be in the right place at the right time - to land a gig in one.
Another option is to teach Business English.
Large multinational companies need to train Thai staff to deal with international customers, so demand for teachers is always high. Many ESL teachers supplement their salaries with this kind of work, which pays at least 500-600 baht an hour. Some prefer Business English as they teach adults who are more motivated than students, and are often just as much fun.
Look for industrial estates and/or language schools nearby. Make friends with either of these and you’ll soon find extra work.
Universities will also take on ESL teachers who have taught for a couple of years. Paradoxically, the level of university English in many developing countries often isn’t any different from in high schools. Wages aren’t much different either, unless you make your way to the more elite institutions.
Despite being the highest level of education a country can offer, some universities are not too fussy when it comes to quality. That could be why one writing course we heard of featured a tutor who couldn’t actually spell the word ‘review’ or ‘brief’. Or, best of all, ‘writing’.
- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)
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