There are an estimated 10,000 foreigners in Thailand teaching English at one level or another. If there was one single job that could be summed up as 'egalitarian' it would be teaching English in Thailand.
Literally anyone can do it. Native speakers and non-native speakers, qualified and unqualified, degreed and non-degreed, diligent or lazy, young or old, man or woman, black or white... if you can scramble together the airfare, there's an extended working holiday just waiting for you here in Thailand.
For all of those people, there are jobs to match their skills (or lack of skills!) From the best paying (proper) jobs at international schools in the big city to month-long summer camps in the country, you'll find something that suits you.
There are plenty of articles and blogs written by experienced teachers with lots of good advice for those of you who are getting ready to take the plunge. This is not one of those articles. You probably have a good idea of how long you want to spend in Thailand so I'll not attempt to persuade you one way or the other.
I'll simply take a look at some pros and cons for both long term and short term teaching stays in Thailand. For the sake of this article, 'short term' is anything less than a school year and for 'long term', any work that keeps you in Thailand for more than a year.
Of course, there are many more general pros and cons of teaching English in Thailand but I'll stick with the most significant and obvious ones that affect the length of time you want to be here.
Long-term teaching in Thailand - Advantages:
1 - Living in Thailand is affordable, safe and fun.
Even if you don't have a pension or a stash of savings, living in Thailand may be for you. A modest income from teaching can keep you in a pretty good standard of living, regardless of your age.
If you are young, you are going to be more resilient to the inconvenience of poverty. In fact, for the under 30s, ‘rustic living' has a certain cachet attached to it. Surf on, dude... Thailand welcomes you!
If you're older, your limited resources will be more wisely managed and even a teacher's salary will see you living the good life in Thailand, although probably not in Bangkok!
2 - Long term teaching is the ultimate ‘Great Escape!'.
When you think about leaving your home country for an extended period of time, there can be a rush of panic. How will you possibly do without all the things that you have, up until now, taken for granted? Thailand makes it easy for you to make that transition.
If you have a pension, then teaching part time or just for fun is a great way to exercise the grey cells, meet people and pass the time. Oh, and there's never any shortage of work.
3 - Professionally, teaching English can be satisfying.
If you're serious about your work as a teacher, the return on your emotional investment is tremendous. Distractions aside, the actual teaching is very rewarding. You'll usually be unencumbered by the distractions that most teachers around the world have to deal with. Also, Thai students are very well behaved and fun to be around.
It's not perfect and you'll be frustrated by some aspects of the Thai education system, but if you can see past these and focus on your time in the classroom, you'll come away with rich rewards. Your work is valued and you can take pride in the way your time is spent.
Long-term teaching in Thailand - Disadvantages:
1 - The money isn't all that good.
The wages in Thailand vary enormously but it's reasonable to say that for 90% of us they are pretty basic. Getting by isn't a problem and the occasional treat is usually within our budgets, but those unforeseen difficulties like accidents or ill-health probably won't be covered by your income. And tickets home each year to visit family are also probably out of the question.
2 - Reverse culture shock! (Yep, it's really a thing.)
The longer you stay, the harder it is to successfully resettle back home. You change, back home changes and your life in Thailand is seen as something of a stain on your resume. Getting work in your field of expertise is very hard when there are extended and unexplained gaps in your employment history.
In addition, when you have been used to the loose and laid back life in Thailand, acclimating back into a Western world of petty rules and restricted freedoms can also be a big challenge.
3 - You may become burned out, resentful and depressed.
Teaching English in Thailand can be a thankless, poorly paid and haphazard ride. Things go wrong and there are few places to turn to when they do. Thailand is littered with plenty of burned out souls that are out of options. If you surround yourself with their failure it's easy to get sucked into a vortex of depression and hopelessness.
Short-term teaching in Thailand - Advantages:
1 - It's fun!
Everything is done for you. Food, accommodation, even your lesson plans! And even if these things aren't provided for you, it's very easy to find a job and a cheap place to live nearby. Agencies hire anyone with a pulse so you can fly over, point to a city in Thailand where you want to live and you'll soon be in front of a class of 50 kids all looking at you like guppy fish at feeding time!
There's next to no stress here in Thailand which leaves you with plenty of energy reserves to spend on having fun.
2 - It's cheap.
Flights to Thailand are cheap. Living here is cheap. Food, accommodation, bills... cheap cheap cheap! Even if you get into a jam, bailing you out of it will be cheap!
My advice is always the same... bring twice as much money as you think you'll need and half as many clothes. That's sound advice but for every new teacher that listens to a sage, old-timer like me, there are a hundred others that don't and seem to get by just fine on a wing and prayer!
There's probably no better place on earth to be stony broke than Thailand!
3 - In the short term, teaching in Thailand won't hurt your career.
Any excursion to Thailand for under a year won't be seen as a disaster on your resume. Most kids take a ‘gap year' after university and it's now widely recognized that us older folk also take time off our careers to examine our lives. Anything longer than a year in Thailand, though and the ‘perv curve' kicks in and future employers may regard you with some suspicion. The longer you stay, the steeper the ‘perv curve' gets.
Guys, if you are planning on this being a short term extended break before you go home and back to the real world, then keep this adventure OFF all your social media accounts. Girls, you're OK. You won't get the same inquisitive looks as blokes do when you're being interviewed for that job at the All-Farm insurance company.
Short-term teaching in Thailand - Disadvantages:
1 - You won't really see much of Thailand.
While the experience of living and working in Thailand for a little while is a novelty in itself, you can soon get bogged down and start to think that you're actually doing a real job. And that's NOT what you came here for, right? What happened to all the elephant trekking and the weekends on the beach? Short term contracts in Thailand don't include holidays and paid time off. It's all work and no play!
2 - The money is terrible... if you get any!
Email your mum every day and keep her sweet because the chances are you'll need her help! Many agencies will find any excuse to hold back your wages and lie about how much you are getting. Even if you get hired by a school directly, be sure to have something in the bank or a credit card. Of course, this is the worst case scenario, but it happens and it happens a lot, so at least be prepared if it happens to you. Your employers will know that you aren't sticking around and they also know exactly when you're going home.
Also - the chances are that if you're employed on a short term contract, you'll be working illegally, so there's that, too.
3 - It's over too quickly.
By the time you've unpacked, recovered from you first bout of tummy troubles and gotten used to eating without a knife, it's time to go home. No sooner do you get the hang of drinking beer with ice in it and you're off back home where the oranges actually are orange in color!
Your carefree and stress-free working holiday will go by very quickly leaving plenty of things left undone. So you have two options; you can stay for longer or come back again in the future.
If you're undecided about how much time you want to commit to teaching in Thailand, it's worth making your own list of pros and cons.
However long you decide to come here for (or however long you end up staying!) you'll be welcome. Thais are friendly and patient and very helpful. If you have any questions, hit up other ESL blog writers and sound them out. Writers love to share their experiences and will readily give sound, practical advice.
Avoid ESL forums and Facebook groups. These rat-holes are infested with bitter and resentful people who see the world through a bottle and won't have anything of value to offer you.
In the end, you are creating memories for a lifetime and changing your outlook on life. Hopefully, your memories will be fond ones and the changes to you will be positive. Good luck.