After a few years working in TEFL many people get to the point where they have to decide if they will try work their way further up the TEFL ladder or if they want to become licensed in their home country and then take on the international school route.
It’s a big decision to make and could dramatically change your job role and career path. So how do you make this choice? What do you need to do to progress in either field? What are your future job prospects? Is it worth it?
TEFL or licensed teacher?
A lot of teachers I know in Thailand started here in TEFL. A few arrived as licensed teachers. There are definite positives and negatives to both, I’ve put my views below along with some ideas friends have put across to me.
Easier to begin and low startup cost
Lots of job options in Thailand and worldwide
Different types of schools (high schools, language centers, bi-lingual schools, teaching assistants)
Sometimes flexible yearly leave
Some jobs don’t pay every month
Sometimes monthly hours and salary aren’t guaranteed
TCT license required for some teachers after two years in Thailand.
Lower salary in general
Less chance of professional development
Sometimes non-western management
Higher salary in general
Qualification to use in your home country
More international working environment and foreign management system
Free schooling for children
Many perks and benefits besides salary
Many options worldwide.
Good holiday allowance
Possible higher expectations
Dealing with parents of students
Fixed term times
Lots of out of school activities
More training and qualifications required.
Takes time and money to train to be qualified
How to get qualified
For both TEFL and licensed teachers there are a number of differences in how to get qualified which you can see below. However, many licensed teachers may choose to do a TEFL course such as the DELTA or Trinity Dip as it will help them to teach to students using L2.
TEFL in Thailand is pretty easy to get into. These days all you need is a degree. If you are a native speaker you can get a job with an agency at a Thai high school pretty simply.
If you start off without any teaching qualifications then your next step should be getting a TEFL certificate. There are a wide range of courses at different price levels.
An online course might cost $200 but it isn’t worthwhile for anyone who wants to build a career in the industry.
4-week classroom based TEFL courses are the industry standard. They involve at least 6 hours of observed teaching practice and many hours of peer observation and input sessions. There are many of these run in Thailand by a range of schools. Courses start from around $1,000 and these are a good start for someone looking to work in a government high school or perhaps a low-level language center. The downside to some of these courses is that they are not internationally recognized and are not accepted by every school in Thailand.
The next step up from these TEFL programs is to look for an internationally known course such as CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL. These internationally recognized TEFL courses are the minimum requirements for a lot of mid-level TEFL jobs. Bi-lingual schools or good language schools often ask for a CELTA or equivalent (which the Trinity is) to apply for a job. The cost for these is roughly $2,000. Both last around a month but there is a 9-month distance-based option available too.
After a couple of years’ post CELTA / Trinity experience many people look at the next qualification which would be either the DELTA or Trinity Dip. Again, both are internationally recognized and can be done as a 4-week intensive course or one-year distance-based learning course. The DELTA can cost around $4-5,000 whilst the Trinity Dip is closer to $3,000. Prices vary based on whether you do the intensive or distance-based course.
The Trinity Dip and DELTA are viewed as qualifications level with Master degrees. Some people do choose to do a Masters instead in subjects such as MA TESOL or MA Linguistics which can be done online.
Licensed teacher route
Country by country there are different routes you need to take to become a licensed teacher. It is also worth noting that although you may gain a qualification as a licensed teacher many international schools will also want at least one or two years’ experience in your home country along with your qualification.
The good news is that in a lot of countries there are grants and bursaries available for those who want to be teachers. A lot of countries are experiencing teacher shortages but be aware that by getting a bursary you might be committing yourself to your home country for a period of time as part of the conditions.
In the UK you can do a PGCE which allows you to study for a year to become a qualified teacher if your bachelors degree was in a different subject. As such you could technically be out of Thailand only a year or so before being qualified (although lacking in classroom experience which is often needed).
In the US teachers also need to complete a special education program and get background checks to get a teaching license. This includes mandatory placements at schools in America.
Australia is the same, a 4-year degree which must include a special education program.
In the last few years some UK universities have started offering an online version of the PGCE, the IPGCSE or PGCSEI. I know of a few teachers based in Thailand who have done it as a way to stay here and still be qualified. However, a lot of international schools do not accept it as an equal to a classroom based PGCE. I would be very wary of paying for a PGCEI in the hopes of getting a top job in an international school. You also will obviously not have any home country teaching experience.
Outside of the obvious benefits of becoming a licensed teacher you can still do TEFL work. Indeed, I know a couple of teachers who are licensed in the UK and USA but do TEFL work as they prefer it and can get some of the top, highest paid positions as they are well qualified. This shows that even if you become a licensed teacher you can still dip back into TEFL if you wish.
How to choose?
Many teachers in the TEFL industry get to a point where they seriously consider becoming licensed. Personally, I looked into it after 3 or so years working in a language school. Many teachers do go to their home country for a year or two and get qualified and walk into an international school. I also know of at least 3 licensed teachers who moved into TEFL after working in international schools in Thailand. The change happens both ways.
In the end I think there are six key factors to consider when making a choice about going home to become a licensed teacher.
The problem that many TEFL teachers have is they complain about 30-40,000 baht salaries but just by doing a CELTA they would be able to walk into a job paying 50,000 baht per month without a problem. If TEFL teachers aren’t prepared to do TEFL training courses then in my opinion they have no right to complain about salaries or look enviously at international school teachers.
If you follow the TEFL route and get qualified to DELTA / Trinity Dip levels and get 5+ years’ experience there are TEFL jobs paying over 90,000 baht a month here in Thailand. These jobs aren’t easy to come by but walking into one of the top international schools isn’t simple either. Many people I know working in international schools here in Thailand are on 80-110,000 baht a month. Take a look on Ajarn.com and you will see adverts for many “international schools” where salaries are between 50-70k per month. This kind of salary is definitely attainable in the TEFL environment and over half my colleagues at my current language school make over 80k a month.
However, International schools will always offer better benefits and perks like an accommodation allowance or free schooling for children which is worth a lot to some people. TEFL jobs can’t really compete in terms of perks so I understand people looking at the monetary value of these extras and choosing the international school route over TEFL. It is also worth noting that a lot of the best paid international school teachers were recruited in their home country, not in Thailand. If you go back to your home country for a few years and get qualified and teach there too you do have the chance of walking into a job where salary + benefits are worth well over 150,000 baht per month.
As we have seen to become fully licensed and work at an international school you will need to go home for at least a year. Add on another two years classroom experience and you could be looking at over three years away from Thailand. Whilst this is not a problem for some people many would struggle to be back home for that long. If you have a family or are in a relationship already it can be hard to arrange for your dependents to come to your home country and being apart is difficult for a long period.
You also need to consider the cost of going home and living in a more expensive western country again. In all likelihood you will need to do some saving before making the trip home to complete your teacher training.
With online training courses such as the PGCEI not being accepted by many top schools there isn’t an option to remain in Thailand and secure a qualification and position at a top school. Sure, you could follow this route and end up in a tier 2 international school or perhaps as a ESL assistant at a top international school but you will not hit the top salaries and perks that are available.
TEFL offers more flexibility when it comes to training. The CELTA, DELTA and Trinity Dip all offer distance-based learning options in Thailand which means you can stay here and work at the same time.
You have to admit that some workplace environments in TEFL jobs are nothing short of a joke. Whilst Thai high schools might feel quaint and traditional they aren’t the best environment to work in. Maybe there is no AC, perhaps you have to use chalk and there is most likely a lack of supplies. Some language schools look like a creche as parents leave their children whilst they shop in the mall on the weekend.
I was recently invited to play football at an international school in Bangkok. The facilities and rooms were so much better than my own secondary school in England. When you drive past an international school you get the feeling that these would be great places to work in. All the technology you could ever need, great facilities and climate control everywhere.
In the top language schools and bilingual schools you get very good facilities but not to the level of international schools. That is to say you could work well in these environments but you will know that the international school teachers have it better than you.
In general, my friends working at international schools get a lot of support in developing as a teacher. They are funded for distance Masters programs and given time off to complete courses. They are also able to do other useful courses for free such as first aid and sports coaching. They get comprehensive observations and feedback monthly and must undergo yearly appraisals.
In TEFL this level of assistance is very rare. Some schools will offer assistance towards the cost of training courses and perhaps Masters / DELTA but a lot will refuse. If you are keen to keep learning then international schools are your best option for getting assistance towards developing as a teacher.
Workload and Responsibilities
I can see how some people could say having more work and responsibility is a good thing whilst others totally disagree. I know I work hard as a TEFL teacher but I am well aware that international school teachers have much more responsibility and need to spend a lot of their free time doing work at home.
TEFL is great as 99% of the time you can pretty much forget about work when you walk out of the school. Your free time is yours unless you get into a management position. You might have to write tests or grade things in a TEFL school but you normally have enough time during the day to do this. My international school teacher friends spend a lot of their weekends lesson planning, preparing materials and grading as there aren’t enough hours at work to do this.
If you have the passion and devotion to teaching that you don’t mind giving up your free time towards working then the international school route could be for you.
If you know you are only going to be in Thailand (or teaching general) for a few years then it probably isn’t worth getting a teaching license from your home country. If you are planning to make a career of teaching then it does make sense to seriously consider getting qualified if you want to be in the classroom.
If you feel your life in Thailand won’t be limited to the classroom then TEFL offers more opportunities in terms of management jobs and positions within the industry. A DELTA level qualification and a few years’ experience opens up doors in terms of moving out of the classroom into management in language schools. This might be managing a team of teachers or becoming a recruiter or content creator.
In the end a lot of teachers know after a few years if they have a passion to be in a classroom. As I said in the previous section if you have a passion and devotion to teaching then international school teaching will suit you well.
In the end….
The job of a TEFL teacher and licensed teacher is quite different. Speaking to three friends who have done both jobs they all had similar advice. TEFL is an easier job, less stress and fewer commitments. International school teaching allows you to develop as a teacher and to continue your learning in an environment that constantly challenges you whilst potentially making a great salary.
In the end the feeling I got from them is that if teaching is your passion then the international school route is one you should seriously consider. If you see yourself in the classroom for a few years and then are looking to move into a management position or another non-teaching role then TEFL is the way to go.
Most people I talk to about becoming a licensed teacher are thinking about the money. TEFL does give you the chance to make 100,000 baht per month but you need to get qualified. If you have a four-week TEFL qualification from Joe Bloggs’ school then you can’t compare yourself to a licensed teacher in terms of salary. If you have done the CELTA and DELTA (or trinity equivalents) and have a few years’ experience then yes, your salary expectations should be around those of tier two international schools – 80-100,000 baht per month.
In the end you should know in your heart if you want to be an international school teacher. It should be a passion at that level of teaching. Lots of people do a job just because of the salary but to have the desire to put your life on hold for a few years to qualify should be something you want to do, not something you feel you should do.
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