Richard McCully

Are TEFL teachers unambitious?

What can you do about it if you feel you're stuck in a 'teaching rut'?

I met a friend of a friend the other day who said to me that TEFL in Thailand was dead. 

He’d been in the same 37,000 baht a month job for seven years and said there was nothing out there to improve his lot. He thought the only option was to go and qualify as a teacher in his home country and come back to Thailand but he didn’t fancy anything that serious. He liked his simple working routine but not the remuneration and conditions that came with it. 

Strangely, this conversation wasn’t a one-off. I’ve had it numerous times with many TEFL teachers in Thailand. 

So many people complain about conditions, wages and opportunities but do nothing to address these things. Some TEFL teachers seem to think this isn’t an industry or a “real” job so other aspects such as annual reviews and training aren’t relevant. It’s led me to believe that there are a lot of unambitious TEFL teachers out there who do the bare minimum and still complain. 

Coasting along

We’ve probably all felt at some time in our life that we’re 'coasting'. The feeling of doing the bare minimum and not really improving or developing. For some people it feels good whilst others hate it. The problem is here in TEFL Thailand it’s possible to coast for a long time and not do anything about it. 

After three years in my previous job I felt myself coasting. I wasn’t improving or developing and discussed this with many colleagues there. Interestingly, despite agreeing with me, none of them have left their jobs almost two years later. These teachers still complain about the same things and it makes me laugh and also feel rather sad for them. The problem is they feel the extra work or training to get a better position isn’t worth it. 

Same wage 

I hear the argument that wages in Thailand have remained the same for years. 20 years ago it was possible to make 35,000 baht a month in a government school and it’s the same today. The problem is a number of TEFL teachers have seemingly accepted this and stayed in that job whilst doing nothing but complain.  

TEFL jobs in Thailand can pay over 100,000 baht a month if you get the right positions and perhaps do a bit of work on the side. 35,000 certainly isn’t the ceiling. Those stuck at 35K a month and complaining about it are obviously unambitious, they’re happy with what they have and don’t feel like putting the effort in to make more. If they aren’t unambitious then they’re certainly lazy. As you’ll see below it’s really simple to go to 50,000 baht a month with just a little extra training. 

This isn’t just an issue for those on 35,000 baht a month. It’s easy to coast on any salary. Many TEFL jobs pay around 50,000 baht a month and many of my friends have gotten to that level and think they’ve succeeded. If you’re making over 100,000 baht a month then you’re doing well but if you’re making 50 -80,000 baht a month you can certainly make more. 

Of course, in most situations, the extra money will come with higher training requirements and more responsibilities but unfortunately so many people are here for the easy life. They can see that extra 10,000 pay rise but think “nah, can’t be bothered with that extra work”. 

I’ll do it next year.. 

A key argument from many people I’ve met is there aren’t accessible courses they can do to improve or develop. I’m left astonished by the number of times people haven’t heard of well-known TEFL training courses which would make a big difference for them. For most of these you can do them part-time and don’t need to leave Thailand – no excuses not do them unless you don’t care about improving yourself. 

CELTA, DELTA, TRINITY and DIP TESOL are just some of the options available. These days you can even do online TEFL degrees or online master degrees backed by international universities. The problem is so many people I’ve spoken to either give up on these courses or just put them off. 

I’m telling you now, if you get a CELTA there are lots of jobs paying over 50,000 baht a month you can walk into. No experience needed, no fooling around, these jobs are out there. 

On these jobs exist, just take a look.  If you’re in a 35,000 baht job, just go do a CELTA and the 60,000 baht fee will be paid off after four months in your new job. It should be a no-brainer to do a CELTA if you plan to be here for the medium-long term working in TEFL but it seems a lot of people can’t be bothered or don’t want to put the effort in. 

If you want to be in TEFL and maximize your opportunities (and salary) then an MA in teaching, a DELTA or TRINITY DIP will see you get some of the most prized TEFL jobs around the world. 

Another argument is that some teachers say these training courses are too serious and they don’t want to do more training. There are certainly people doing the bare minimum to be here and are so unambitious that they don’t want to improve as teachers. 

I’ve also heard many TEFL teachers saying they will go home and get qualified as a teacher in their home country and come back to work at an international school. I don't know of one person who’s actually followed through on it. Becoming an international school teacher is just a pipe dream discussed on a Friday night at Cheap Charlie's for many TEFL teachers. 

No promotions or responsibility 

I understand if people don’t want to work in management, it’s certainly not for everyone. The problem is that if you don’t want to change schools or get a new qualification then promotion is realistically your only way to develop and earn more. 

A job I used to have paid the assistant managers an extra 5,000 baht a month more than teachers. For the extra responsibility it wasn’t a great deal. However, after around a year there was a high chance of becoming a branch manager making around an extra 35,000 baht a month compared to a teacher. The issue was so many teachers were short-sighted and only looked at the negative of extra responsibility for only 5,000 baht extra a month. 

I understand some people just want to be a teacher and detest the idea of working for a “corporate machine” but it’s a viable way to improve your quality of life here. The lack of ambition to develop or put in extra work from some TEFL teachers is pretty poor.

Something for nothing

Throughout several TEFL jobs in Thailand it seems some teachers expect something for nothing. They feel that by merely doing what is expected of them they should be rewarded or automatically shoved up the career ladder. TEFL is like any job - people who put in effort will get something back and those who do the minimum or wait for something to fall into their laps won’t get anything. 

In some cases people have argued that poor pay means they don’t feel under any obligation to go the extra mile. It’s a shame that people have this negative view which will certainly impact them in the long run. 

You certainly shouldn't be expected to do many hours of unpaid work but a little here and there can make a difference. The problem is some TEFL teachers seem so bitter towards their employers that they’ll be out the door as soon as possible after class. 

When it’s OK to be unambitious 

I understand why some people are unambitious. If you’re here for a couple of years or doing a bit of part time TEFL work to make some spare cash, you don’t care too much if your salary goes up or if you can get a promotion. Also, if you’re already well off and TEFLing as purely something to do then no worries, enjoy the lazy teacher lifestyle. 

I know one TEFL teacher here who worked as a stockbroker in London and rocks up to work without a care in the world to his 55,000 baht a month job. He likes the work, gets his work permit and visas sorted and works around 30 hours a week. On days off he’s either in his condo in Phuket or dropping 7,000 baht playing at one of the most exclusive golf clubs in Bangkok.  He’s the type of person who has already had success and is happy being unambitious here in Thailand. Fair play to him.

If you are genuinely happy with your job and salary then that’s a good reason not to push further. However, I doubt there are many people out there who wouldn’t fancy an extra few baht in their back pockets and a chance to develop themselves. 

Checklist for change 

If you’ve been coasting for a few years and want to improve your lot, I’d recommend the following as real actionable points you can do to show ambition. 

Complete a training course. It could be a CELTA / DELTA or another course linked to teaching. Make sure it’s internationally recognized and discuss with your employer if they can help you with funding.  

Speak with your manager to see if there is anything you can do on top of your current role. This could be project work, materials writing or mentoring. All of these would be excellent skills to learn and practice which will make you a better teacher and give you further opportunities in the future.  

Always keep looking out for opportunities. Sure you might not find something straight away but there are lots of interesting jobs advertised throughout the year. Also speak to other teachers you know who’ve changed jobs to get their advice.  

Get on LinkedIn. There are lots of teacher recruiters looking for part time staff.  

Seriously consider online teaching. It could make you an extra 400-750 baht an hour.  

 If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country  

Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand. 

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There are unambitious or lazy people everywhere but there are more than just a winner who are "allowed" to take it easy such as the golfer.

1. The smart lazy guy. Work and do risky investments and not get the money back by doing a Masters for 4 years when you are not sure that teaching kids is where you will be. This could be because of the political situation, some random woman that has got you hanging around, a kid, so many factors outside of your control that make further investing just not worth it. Getting real serious means time / $ and not everyone has that on their side. Imagine someone going back doing an 8 year course PT while they work back home and then having 10-15 years left before retirement.
2. If you are in a position to get serious in your home country then you might as well not come back because you were already after the money.
Do the time and pay off your new piece of paper. Thailand is one of many places to go to too. You won't get to talk to the complainers who were successful because they left and found a better place. As a result, you are talking about those who didn't leave and have cast as coasters. I am sure there were many more complainers who A) didn't come to you in Thailand to hear the complaints B) Left the country and are more successful than you or C) had other reasons that weren't easily put into words.

I did enjoy the rant though, we are all bonded together by teaching in Thailand and the whole time I was there doing it, I never visited this site. I did before I taught and after I taught. It's fun to read more now considering whether I could ever return. If I did, I imagine it would be to kill time during the day to pay the lady down the road to make me some rice with her dirty pots and pans covered in dog hair.

I have a CELTA and don't think I'd find the 50k there from looking at the jobs today either. (might be wrong but 10k baht is not a game changer) I am also not sure only making a quarter of my salary I do here at home will ever be justified, that is ambition without borders.

In Australia, I make 4 times what I did in Thailand even while I work 3 days a week. That's 2 weekends per week. That's 14 teaching hours a week and with adults who I can actually enjoy communication with. All I have is a CELTA and a BA with teaching experience abroad.

In conclusion, I believe having no ambition in Thailand is normal. The school can suck sanity out of you while you were already taking a huge drop in salary. Investing more money into that totally depends on what you hope to get in returns. It is irrational actually to invest more than a holiday period there, unless your young and have already got a degree in teaching (at primary schools with a UK background being the most fortunate of accidental contenders.)

I am not sure about how many UK Teens are thinking their dream job is to study to work in Thailand either. It tends to be a place we discover in middle age....

Keep the articles coming, I love them. I would also love to try out this hot seat thingo...

By John B, Australia (2nd November 2018)

Teaching in public school Celta Delta you keep pushing is worthless.Its all about getting the kids up, engaged and using English. Leave the grammar for the Thai. They're not going to understand your explanation of the fourth conditional so don't bother.

'Teachers' here are lazy and incompetent. Some are literally functional illiterates. Many would be working at convenience stores or not at all back home.

Essentially, they are hanging out. Showing up to the school late, leaving early and avoiding students and teachers in between. They're not worth more than 35.

Anyone with serious ambition, that enjoys the work can easily make 50k with six weeks off a year. See the ads on ajarn all the time.

The only way you're going to make seriously more money is to jump to the intl schools. For this, pay 150k for PGCE. Give up your weekends. But you'll never jump to the cream of these schools, not will you make 80+
That will take going home and obtaining a license.

Still, you can bank 30k a month and have a life on 50k salary.

Most teachers I've met, not worth 32k. An embarrassment.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (12th October 2018)

There are a limited number of "high-paying" ESL jobs in Thailand, most English teaching (and other) jobs in the country do not pay well and encouraging every teacher to be more ambitious will likely not create many more new high-paying jobs, but will probably make competition for the few out there more intense.

I suspect your purpose here is to show how ambitious you are (in comparison to the "lower-level" ESL teachers), but in reality, if a person from a wealthy country was really ambitious, he or she would not become a life-long English teacher in the first place.

There are surely more appealing paths to riches than teaching your native language in an economically developing country.

Teaching English in Thailand has its perks, but making coin is not one of them, but of course getting paid more is always better than getting paid less, all other things being equal.

By Jack, Here and there (8th October 2018)

Non-b laws being what they are, you can only coast for so long (legally) before you're forced to get your Teaching Licence. This requires a university certificate, and probably warrants a mention in this article, since as far as I know a CELTA or TEFL certificate will not satisfy the Thai government. I think you get like 3 schools or 4 years of work visas before you need to get your Teaching Licence

By Guy, Bkk (30th September 2018)

Anyone without a simple TEFL certificate or without the desire to attain one should be nowhere near an English language teaching classroom. Regardless of the pittance they might be paid.

By SD, UK (27th September 2018)

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