It's important to point out that here in Thailand there is precious little correlation between a 'successful' teacher and a 'good' teacher. Also, 'success' may not mean the same for you, as it does for me.
But for the sake of this little piece, we'll think of success as being in a pretty well paid job (or jobs), being appreciated for what you do and being able to afford the things that you desire.
A lot of 'Ifs!'
If we keep it simple we can better focus on how to get to this point or how to avoid NOT getting to this point!
If you are not thinking of settling in Thailand then skip the rest of this. It's not going to be of much interest to you.
If you are content where you're at right now, then ditto. Not much point in causing yourself the pain of reading through to the end.
If, however, you want a better standard of living and more job security, then read on. Some of the following ideas may inspire you, enlighten you or simply re-affirm what you know already.
Lots of people are taking a chance on working in Thailand each year. More and more people have decided to uproot and emigrate. And not just native English speakers. There's a chronic unemployment problem throughout Europe and elsewhere around the world. This reason alone is causing waves of young people to spread their wings.
But for most, they will consider this move to be temporary or as part of a chain of events which will take them to other places aside from Thailand and eventually home.
It's because of this that wages in Thailand for English teachers have remained stagnant for the last 20 years. And there aren't any signs that this will change over the next twenty years, either!
Despite what you might think about Thailand having prejudices, the teaching game is definitely an equal opportunity employer! Pretty much anyone with the air fare can pop over to paradise and get by, being an English teacher.
For some, the lifestyle goes on forever but for most, we eventually find a way back home to live 'normal' lives. For those that do stay, however, there are layers upon layers of lifestyle comforts available and unless you choose which layer of comforts you want, they will be chosen for you.
So, with that in mind, let's start with the job hunt.
How do you get the attention of the best employers?
There are loads of articles and opinions on how to get a job. This essay isn't about getting a job. That's the easy bit. This is more about you choosing that job, keeping that job, enjoying that job and having a sense of value within that job.
Success may not be all about money... although it should play a pretty big role in terms of your own self worth. Success isn't about hard work, either. It's about working smart... and here's where most people screw up!
Too many people come to Thailand, get 'qualified' and work their asses off in the classroom. They love their students and they bemoan the text books/materials/the system and devote a lot of their energy substituting for these deficiencies. Laudable? Well, yes, maybe. Sensible? Not even a little bit! They burn out quickly and go home or sink into an abyss of failure within the system.
And that's a shame, because I'm sure that almost every one of these people could be living here in reasonable comfort and be happy with their lot. I mean really happy. You know... that feeling you get when you wake up and WANT to go to work. Yes, it happens!
How do you get to this 'nirvana'? Two steps...
First, the only way to be successful is to fully understand what your employers want you to do.
Next... be self aware. This means understanding completely (and caring about) how everyone perceives you.
And that's it! The rest will come along regardless of how much effort you put into doing your job.
Finding out what your employer wants from you is the most important aspect of your job and it begins with the interview for it.
You should be pressing hard for answers to questions such as 'Why did the last teacher leave?" and "Who are the best teachers - and why is that?" and "What are you looking for when you hire someone?" Find out all you can about why the company or school is hiring. Find out what their intentions are for you.
Finding out why other teachers have been let go will give you a template on what to focus on should you decide to be their replacement. If you're lucky, your interviewer will be a bit of a gossip and won't mind sharing with you what they see as the worst traits of character of the Western help.
If he or she is dropping comments like "They always seem to want to get away early on Fridays and after lunch we don't even see them!" then make a mental note not to be seen doing the same thing.
You might hear "We've been having a bit of trouble getting some teachers to work in the morning!" or "One or two aren't handing in lesson plans." Make mental notes of everything you can. This fishing expedition can help you to decide whether or not you want that job, but more importantly, it will help to shape how you are going to behave if you do take it.
Of course, you may be fed a line of BS... but when you are walking around the school and in and out of classrooms, you'll get a pretty good idea of what your real duties are going to be and where the priorities of the school lies.
If you want the job, then embrace those duties. Embrace THEIR priorities, NOT yours. If you get a bad feeling about the place then walk away and never look back. There are too many people working rubbish jobs simply because the school said 'Yes!' first, when they went job hunting.
Learn the priorities of your employer. Some employers just want someone reliable who will show up sober. Some employers want someone to re-invigorate their English department. Some places of business will value your input and others won't. Some places will be embracing of your suggestions and some will be resistant to any kind of change. Knowing these things is the key to your professional happiness and job satisfaction.
Look at yourself closely
Next point... Be self aware and change your behavior to fit in with the culture of your immediate surroundings. Too many teachers simply blunder through situations either ignorant of their affect on those around them or because they are arrogant (and wrong!) about their place in the grand scheme of things.
Have you ever heard anyone say this? "I'm me and I'll never change." or "Why should I change. I'm in the right." or "I'm too old to change my ways." It's all bullshit and very annoying to listen to. If you aren't prepared to make changes to yourself and your behavior then you'll not find success anywhere, doing anything in Thailand.
Last year, a farang English teacher got fired one morning for reaching over the shoulder of a Thai teacher to 'fingerprint' into work. The Thai teacher was dithering about, chatting to a friend and this was enough to frustrate the farang and he couldn't wait any longer. Now he's out of a job and he doesn't know why.
This was the last straw in an accumulation of ignorant behavior and social transgressions. "But I'm a great teacher!" he boasted. "My students love me!" he cried. "They can't fire me for that!" he raged! The funniest one was "They'll never get anyone as good as me."
Well, they did. And he was bumped because he wasn't aware of how he should have behaved to fit in with his surroundings... or maybe he was, but he thought he was above conforming to them! Either way, his case is by no means unusual. The best teachers aren't always the most successful ones and often it's because they simply can't (or don't want to) abide by common courtesies that seem silly to them.
Social errors of judgement may seem trivial to you but they shouldn't be dismissed as unimportant. One of the biggest (and most unknown) is looking annoyed or impatient. Yes, simply wearing the expression of being annoyed is a bloody stupid thing to do if you are trying to fit in to your surroundings. Do you ever see anyone else at work with those ridiculous, pained expressions? Of course not. This is Thailand. Learn to smile.
Every aspect of you is constantly being monitored, graded and judged. From your clothes and hair to your attitude and poise, you are always being evaluated. So, learn what is acceptable behavior and what isn't. Be aware of how you fit in and change things that make you stand out in a negative light.
Thai employers are resigned to hiring foreigners that don't match their requirements. They have to because, despite the large amount of people jostling for jobs here, the actual pool of acceptable talent in Thailand is very, very small and they just can't justify the expense of paying someone more than the going rate, regardless of how capable they are in the classroom.
The alternative to hiring qualified talent (and paying them what they're worth) is to go for second best, pay the going rate and hope, hope, hope that they show up sober, look clean and don't rock the boat. With some luck they'll get some teaching done as well!
Success in Thailand is an easy (but often lengthy) process of self discovery. But it starts with finding out what is expected of you from everyone you come into contact with and being able to adjust your behavior to provide those things.