If you are tempted to leave it all behind and come to Thailand to teach English then this may interest you...
But first, decide which camp are you in... There are two...Either you are coming to Thailand because you want to live here or you are coming to Thailand because you want to teach here. It's important to make this distinction, because if you are in the latter group of people (about 3%) then the rest of this article will be of no interest to you. If you are a professional teacher then everything will work out just fine. Your location is secondary to your profession. In fact if you DO choose the second option then you shouldn't be in Thailand anyway. Piss off to Japan, you do-gooder!
For the overwhelming majority of us though, we want to live here... and teaching English is how we do it. And it seems easy enough, right? Just hop on a plane, hunker down in a cheap room till a job comes along, say two weeks, then start, well... living in Thailand! What could go wrong, right?
Now, there are all colors of the rainbow when it comes to living and teaching English in Thailand. The following essay is aimed at those who want to live in Thailand long term and want to have a decent and secure (as secure as it can be in Thailand!) standard of living. It's NOT for the backpacking travellers or those who only want to spend a year or so here.
I have nothing against people who travel and work for the sake of it. I spent a large chunk of my youth doing the same thing. Also, these reflections aren't aimed at professional teachers. Usually, professional teachers will have a very definite idea of who, what and where they want to teach.
The following is a plan for those, like me, who want to live here for a long time in comfort and for whom teaching English is the best way to get that done.
You probably have a degree. It's quite important. (It's not VERY important but your higher education will open up a lot of doors)
Your age isn't important but if you are between 30 and 50 then you will have more of an advantage.
You are clean shaven and comfortable wearing a tie if you have to.
Are you still with me? OK, if you are, then here's the plan...It's a plan and plans never go to plan, I realize that!
Also, realize that you are starting at the bottom... be patient. Getting ahead in Thailand is easy. Read on to find out how!
The cash up front! Yes, it's always all about money. But coming to Thailand without much money can take ages to recover from, in terms of your goal to live here long term at a good level of comfort. You won't believe how much money you will hemorrhage when you get here for the first time. So, if you can, try to have at least 300,000 baht available to kick start your new life.
Don't bother budgeting for stuff. This never works out the way you want it to. Just bring as much money as you can get your paws on. Basically, you want enough savings to live on for at least six months (ideally a year) without working at all!
The work. What kind of work should you do?
This is an easy question to answer... The answer is "I have no idea!"
So, how do you find out where you are most likely to find a comfortable work environment? Will it be with kids? University students? Companies? ‘One on one' classes? Small groups of secretaries who just want to get better on Facebook? This is the start of your great adventure...
If you are here for the long term, then you'll want to get a job that is most comfortable for you, right?
So here's the first step of the plan... do every kind of teaching there is and then decide what you are best at or what you like the most. The best way to do that is by joining a language school and doing every single job they throw at you!
I personally would recommend Inlingua, or somewhere similar. There are plenty of these types of places to choose from and this environment is the ideal place for inexperienced newcomers to Thailand to begin. And why's that? OK, since you asked...
First off, you should consider your time at a language school as an apprenticeship. And why not...
The hourly pay is reasonable for a freshman. (The hours are not going to be enough to live on but that's why you brought some savings with you, right?)
You will have a wide variety of students to teach (and learn from.)
These places are really well resourced. You can stock up your laptop with all their worksheets, etc.
You will meet loads of other teachers from whom you can learn from.
You will be getting invaluable classroom experience, teaching at almost every level.
They have free coffee and banana cake!
Depending on how quickly you pick things up and how easily you assimilate to your new kind of work, I'd recommend cutting your teeth at a language center for anything up to a year.
Getting a proper job.
There will be a time during the course of your new career when you have that magic moment. This is the moment when you are at work and you realize that THIS is the kind of class you are best at, and happiest doing. It will hit you hard. It's orgasmic! You'll have a ridiculous smile on your face as it dawns on you that you can actually do something well and enjoy it... and not only that, people want to give you money to do it!
I first started working in Thailand for a dreadful language school in Samut Prakhan. (About an hour away from Bangkok.) I was paid the miserable rate of 250 baht an hour for ‘in house' classes and 300 baht an hour for ‘location based' classes. And the cheeky sods had the nerve to deduct ‘taxes' from that! There were about eight of us ‘farangs' and because I was the only one who could drive a car (or admitted as much) I got my first corporate gig.
My magic moment happened about half an hour before my first ever corporate class. It was for a company called Kingfisher and this horrible language school had secured the contract. As I waited for the attendees to assemble into the company board room, I remember clearly, looking out of the window, about thirty floors up, overlooking all the other sky scrapers in Bangkok, and thinking... "I am a corporate English teacher. THIS is my calling!"
It was like I had just gotten laid for the first time. I had that huge grin on my face, because I knew that from that moment on, my future was in corporate teaching.
You will have a similar experience... be it corporate, university, high school or kindergarten... There will be that magic moment when you know what you do best.
Are you experienced! (Old farts will get that!)
So, by now, you'll have been in Thailand for %$#@ months and you are ready to make some real money... Things start happening quickly now and your confidence should be at an all time high!
The great thing about cutting your teeth at a language school (even a rubbish one) is that you can boast to any future employer that you have taught... well, pretty much anything that any future employer will ask you! Also, by now, you'll be feeling pretty claustrophobic at work and be itching to get a good job. Even though you have only been living in the kingdom for a year or so (if that) you know that the language school was just a stepping stone to greater things.
The other good thing about your apprenticeship at a language school is that there's a very definite point at which you can say to yourself that you have nothing more to gain by staying. They'll miss you when you have gone, but there's another ‘you', that's just got off the plane and he will eventually stumble through the same interview, with the same head of teachers, at the same language school, teaching the same students that you are leaving behind!
It's time to move on...
So, you've had that ‘magic moment' epiphany and now you know what you want to do... Now's the time to start looking for that job that will (eventually) lead to comfort and stability in the TEFL rat race.
Don't be afraid to aim high! You've seen the ad... 50,000 baht for a teacher - starts immediately - specializes in what you are good at! GO FOR IT! Even if you don't think you'll get it or even deserve it! Don't let the bastards get you down!
After a few months working for this abusive language school in Samut Prakan, I applied for a job I saw on Ajarn.com. It was for 40,000 baht a month at a factory not far from where I lived with my other fellow teachers. 18 hours a week and the contract was for three months. A HUGE step up from what I was earning!
Just applying for the job caused me problems with the other farang teachers. Looking back, I don't know why I even told them that I had applied... but I was still on that steep ‘This is Thailand' learning curve.
"You'll never get that job!" they wailed in unison. "You haven't been here long enough - you aren't even a proper teacher - If it was that easy, we would be doing those jobs!" Well, after about three weeks I was beginning to think that they were right. Who the hell was I, anyway! There were no replies from my application and I'd about given up on this dream gig...
But just as I was getting back into the good graces of my un-ambitious colleagues, the call came through. As it turned out, the job was too far outside Bangkok for anyone else to take. They were desperate for a teacher, even for one as inexperienced as me. I was nowhere near first on their list of preferred candidates... but I lived close by and I was enthusiastic! Sometimes that's what it takes!
I took the job and left the language school. Unfortunately, I also left all those language school teachers behind. I felt slightly treacherous because I liked them a lot, despite their lack of ambition and fatalistic attitude toward themselves.
Are you really a good enough ‘English teacher', by now?
Over the last 15 years I have worked closely with hundreds of teachers. I've worked alongside the most famous farang teacher in Thailand and I've worked with the very worst teachers, also. They are all the same to me... I look at them teaching and I think "Fuck me... I wouldn't ever do it that way."
If you saw me in a classroom, you'd also think the same thing about me... "Bloody hell, I can't believe that tosser does that! I'd do it much differently."
And you'd be right to think that way. You should use all the experience you have with other teachers (good and bad) to find out what doesn't work in a classroom for you, as well as what does.
If you are coming to Thailand to stay, then have a plan. You can ignore my advice and experiences and still make it big here... but have a realistic plan.
To cut this essay short and prevent it from becoming boring, I have skipped so much. I didn't even get started about how to work alongside Thai people, or your farang colleagues. I never got to say how to get that car and house and life that is within your grasp...
But maybe by reading what I did manage to leave in, you'll have some idea of who you are, where you stack up and how you can make a great living for yourself out of this wonderful land of opportunities.
Be patient... and learn from the best (and the worst)... and believe in yourself... and aim high!