Over 40? Don't fear. Teaching in Thailand is still for you.
Moving to Thailand strategies for those in their mature years
As more and more people look for a new life beyond their native shores, the flood of information to help you through the move to Thailand is everywhere you look. From blogs and forums to Facebook pages and news articles, the wealth of information is staggering.
The following article is for those of us who want to move to Thailand to live long term.
Furthermore, this article is for educated, older people. You know... people who know that Deep Purple isn't just a color. People who understand that Lost In Space isn't just a reference to people under 25.
Really, this is for the educated army of degreed professionals who want to move to Thailand, and teach English here but haven't set foot in a classroom since ink pots were a part of your desk.
If you've ever said the word 'dude' out loud then this article isn't for you. If you think that ESPN 2 is good telly , then you're on the wrong page. If you have a degree in Social Studies then this page isn't for you either.
Bugger off to a blog about how brilliant Thai street food is or how braiding your hair at a full moon party makes you appreciate Thai culture or how you rescued a soi dog from a bowl of overcooked rice.
OK, so we've weeded out the kids, let's get started...
If you're over 40 or even over 50 there are still a lot of opportunities waiting for you in Thailand. You may have had a career in the armed forces or banking or engineering. You may be getting over a messy divorce. You may simply just be tired of where you are from.
Maybe you've been to Thailand before. Maybe even a few times... and you've fallen for the place. Or you've never been here but you've read enough to know that Japan is too expensive and Burma is still getting to grips with the concept of fire.
And so you're coming to Thailand. You've got money or a pension. You've got a brain and street smarts and you've got half a lifetime of work experience in the bank, too. Add to that, you're a native English speaker and you look great for your age...
but you've never been a teacher.
Are you going to live in Bangkok? Probably not. You'll more than likely be in another city or somewhere near the coast. Bangkok has endless opportunities but it's for young people, not us.
Maybe you've married a Thai and have a family here. If so, you won't have much choice about where you live.
The higher quality 'international' schools pay well, but they really aren't for the likes of semi-retired expats living in the provinces. Let's face it, you came to Thailand to live here, not to be an English teacher. The teaching aspect is just to help you make money to get by or get you out of the house because you hate gardening.
Even so, you want to take the job seriously and do the best you can, right?
Skills for the job
There are two jobs that are impossible to do well, if you don't enjoy them... one is waiting tables and the other is teaching. When you come to Thailand you'll want to enjoy your work and do a good job. Hopefully, you'll find an appreciative employer and be happy to devote a few years to them. (Yes, they are out there and they are looking for you.)
There are a number of options open to you when you first start teaching English in Thailand:
You can just start teaching and eventually work out the kinks over time.
(That's what I did and I wouldn't recommend it.)
You can spend some money and a few weeks taking a TEFL test.
(That's what I didn't do... and I wouldn't recommend it.)
You can do some homework on your own and figure out the practical side of things when you start working.
(Possibly, but really, it's still a crap plan.)
You can do an 'apprenticeship' and get paid for it.
(This is what I should have done.)
The apprentice... "I'm in!
So here's my advice and this is what I should have done when I first came to Thailand 15 years ago:
Move to Bangkok for three months, maybe longer. (Don't fret, it's only temporary!)
Go to one of the large malls and apply for work in any of the language centers on the top floor.
Inlingua is the best one so go there first, but ECC or TLC and any of the others are just fine.
So, why would you do this? Well, lots of reasons and all of them good.
1 - It's easy to get hired.
2 - They pay real money. (Usually about 400 baht an hour plus bonuses.)
3 - You control your hours. (Work a full weekend and your rents covered for the month!)
4 - They have free coffee and cakes.(Well, Inlingua did when I was there.)
5 - You'll be teaching a wide range of classes from kids to adults.
6 - These ‘schools' are very well resourced. (Take a hard drive and rip off everything they have!)
7 - You can observe other teachers working (if you ask nicely.)
8 - The work is very easy. (If you can read from a book you can do this.)
You can watch other teachers do their thing and pick up some good ideas.
(You can also find out what NOT to do by watching other teachers.)
You can quickly get used to the way Thai people do things during this period of assimilation.
You'll also meet the oddest group of colleagues you've ever worked with in your life.
The idea of this plan is to make all the cockups at the language schools before you migrate towards your permanent address and employment. And to cock things up in an anonymous environment and get paid for the privilege!
You'll also quickly find out which types of people you are happier working with. If maybe you're a natural born primary school teacher or maybe a high flying corporate trainer.
Seriously, the time spent at these places is better than any other kind of training you'll ever get. When you leave, you'll be brimming with confidence. You'll also have a zillion work sheets and course books on your laptop. In addition, you'll be able to confidently face the trials headed your way when you start work at a ‘proper job' later.
Of course, how you progress after that is up to you. But really, the idea of this plan is to make you capable and confident enough to enter the workforce and enjoy teaching English.
I did it the hard way - by just blundering through classes with no real regard for the mess I was making. I started teaching with no training and no experience and with no awareness of just how dangerous I was.
But whatever path you take and however you choose to find your way into the world of teaching English in Thailand, remember to enjoy it. You won't want to be a part of the horrible pool of depressed expats who work at terrible jobs because they have to. Then spend their free periods at school complaining about it.
For smart, educated, intelligent, older expats, who are willing to make a bit of an effort, there are endless opportunities for work in all fields of education almost everywhere in Thailand.
You might be interested in....
Young teachers vs old teachers? - Which age group do Thai employers really prefer?
Tossed on the TEFL scrapheap - Is teaching in Thailand a young man's game?
Oldies........but goldies? - Are those teachers over 45 suddenly too long in the tooth?
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Why would anyone that is educated choose to teach in Thailand and earn less than most of the educated local population?
By FU Kru/Ajarns, Bangkok (4th May 2018)
Japan is too expensive and Burma is still getting to grips with the concept of fire.....classic! I have been contemplating taking a full time CELTA course in Los Angeles. I am under 40 soon to be retired from "organized medicine". I like your language school approach the best. I would hate to live in BKK full time but I wouldn't mind doing in it for a few months. Most of my friends live there
By Morphan, Las Vegas (22nd January 2016)
Great to hear all the positive tales from the older Thai ESL Crew. Thanks again to Mark for instigating the conversation and challenging the myth that Thai employers only want 'da youth'.
That is not to say that there isnt a bias towards younger folk but then its no different back here in the UK. It wasn't so long ago I watched a programme on telly focussing on the difficulties faced by the over 50's in the job market, due to employers preferring younger folk.
By Sean, England (22nd January 2016)
A great read Mark. Well done. Over 40 ? Turned 60 last year and had seriously planned to retire. My head of faculty (King Mongkut's University) asked me repeatedly to reconsider and another contract was signed. Honestly, my eight years teaching in Thailand have been f**ken awesome.
By John Lawry, Bangmod (22nd January 2016)
You can survive here in your 50's, I'm living proof. 56 and earned 98k last month teaching corporate and privates after 4 years teaching in school. Yes it is in Bangkok but to be honest it's my city of choice.When I started teaching corporate full time 2 years ago I was teaching around 40 hours a week but I have that down to 22 now. I applied for some positions in the past who were ageist but now I'm turning down work .
I find that not taking students who are not really interested in learning too personally is the way to approach corporate classes. Many students are tired after a days work and are not there by choice. You have to be flexible. Adding some interesting activities is one way of keeping interest, such as downloading the lyrics of popular songs and leaving out pertinent words. This introduces a fun aspect to the class without turning into a clown. Good luck to anyone thinking of going down this route it is possible.
By Marcus, Bangkok (22nd January 2016)
Sean - Good luck to you, however you decide to make that leap across the continental divide!
Jack - Lots of good points in your article worth exploring...
First - yes, older teachers get a bad rap because they can't or won't get on equal terms with their students. I've seen this close up, where an older teacher just assumes that because he's in the class teaching, the students are doing their part and learning. The way he is being perceived isn't one of his concerns. He's the expert and if you are in the classroom for long enough, it'll all just fall in to place! Actually, older Thai teachers are also guilty of the same thing!
Next - yes, yes, yes... if the students are 'involved' with every step of the classroom process then of course they are more captivated and engaged. Why is this so often overlooked? It means nothing at all if the student is just gaping at you in scared silence. They have to have a part to play.
But come on, let's face it... it's true that young people simply ARE more interesting to other young people. They are funnier and they are more relate-able. Korean pop music is a real thing and those wacky jeans with the massive tears in them are simply awesome... dude!
So, just as you say, with a little self awareness and a few small adjustments, us old folk CAN keep up... damn it we can keep up... now, where's my pillow. 'Murder She Wrote' just came on and it's time for a little nap!
By Mark Newman, Thailand (22nd January 2016)
In my view, this was a good article and useful for someone considering moving to Thailand and changing occupations.
As there is a lack of statistical information about employment in the ESL industry in Thailand, or worldwide for that matter, most information is based on our own experiences and each of us has had different experiences.
From what I have seen, there are plenty of jobs for quality and reliable older teachers and when schools say a teacher is too old, what they usually mean is the teacher is too old-fashioned/teacher centered and boring.
One does not have to be a great entertainer or good looking and young to make classes more interesting, as if you make the students the center of learning it is usually more fun and interesting than listening to some crusty old fart or pretentious new graduate rattle on for an hour about a topic the students are not interested in.
Just a few thoughts from my own experience and observations, not sure if they are typical or unique, but I would agree with Mark that mature people should not be scared of being too old to teach in Thailand as long as one is willing to learn, adjust and consider the point of views of the students and employers.
By Jack, In front of my computer (22nd January 2016)
Before I read this article my main options were:
-Pitch up in Thailand with my Degree Cert and look for a full time teaching role in a school setting
-Turn up, acclimatise, and then book myself onto a full time CELTA course.
Now I have read this article I have another option-learn on the job in a Language school, teaching to a range of different age groups. It sounds less pressured somehow so I am seriously considering Mark's suggested approach when entering into the TEFL field in Thailand.
As for edutainment-I will make sure to bring my Guitar with me :)
By Sean, England (21st January 2016)
The language school stint is a suggestion for people (like you) who are already well educated but haven't been at the head of a classroom before.
I'm sure that teaching English at a language school for a few weeks would be invaluable experience even if you went on to teach something entirely different later.
You could kick-start a new career teaching Math or computer science at an international school or at a university in Thailand. Or embark on a tour of corporate teaching at specialist companies. You wouldn't have to reveal your 'apprenticeship' at the language school to a future employer!
I know for a fact that there is a market for older educators, especially if you are teaching adults. The owner of this website will attest to that.
My article was squarely aimed at older professionals who want to live in Thailand and NOT professional teachers. Professional teachers don't need my advice and I suspect that if teaching is your primary reason for living then Thailand isn't on your list of places to do it.
Anyway - thanks for the feedback from everyone.
I'm doing a follow up article for older expats about what to expect when you start the 'proper' job.
By Mark Newman, Thailand (21st January 2016)
"Thais do not want teachers teaching English here who are over 40 years old"
That's quite a generalisation and it can depend on what you're teaching. I did some of my best corporate teaching, made my best hourly rates and was most in demand in my early to mid-40s.
"What they want are edutainers"
This is sometimes another way of saying Thais don't want a teacher who is a 'dry biscuit'. And actually, no student in any country wants a teacher who's a dry biscuit.
I'm not saying you're not an edutainer John, I don't know you. But most times, the teachers who moan about Thais only wanting edutainers are the dry lecture blah blah types who can't conduct a class in any other way.
What Mark and Nigel (in the comments section) are alluding to here is testing things out with a short-term contract. See if you like teaching first. Dip your toe in the water.
Start off by giving the bar girl a little cuddle before you throw yourself headlong into a Pattaya Beach Road ladyboy threesome.
By philip, Samut Prakarn (21st January 2016)
Great article Mark? Would all what you wrote apply to teaching Maths/IT? I have a Maths and Computing degree and I'm 51 from Australia.
By joe, melbourne, australia (21st January 2016)
A reality check is needed here. Thais do not want teachers teaching English here who are over 40 years old. What they want are edutainers....preferably under 30 years old...who are willing to enjoy servitude under there Thai masters. There is no professional development here and teachers are hired and fired seasonly. If you are over 40 teaching here would be a recipe for disaster....hardlly any savings (if at all) and a disaster for long term retirement plans. If you are over 40 and have enough savings for retirement than coming here should be considered a working holiday of sorts.
By John Holmes, Chiang Mai (21st January 2016)
Excellent advice Mark. I can fully relate to this and it’s a solid plan. Goes to prove what a great resource ajarn.com really is when planning that move to teach in Thailand. Alternatively, if you don’t fancy Bangkok, maybe try a small agency on a short term contract. I’m aware there’s both good and bad regarding agencies, but I was fortunate to get hired through an agency that also supplied the teaching materials. Despite being an experienced teacher from the UK, this really helped ease me in to teaching English in Thailand. Cheers Mark.
By Nigel Quinn, Thailand (21st January 2016)