Richard McCully

Is TEFL management the right choice?

What exactly would I be giving up if I became a manager?


It’s coming up to seven years since I started in TEFL and I’ve had a number of great experiences with the many schools / companies I’ve worked with. 

Of course there have been some downs too but that’s to be expected in any job. During the years I’ve been lucky enough to move up the pay ladder, starting from 38,000 a month to over double that now. However, I’m probably at a point where I need to decide if I want to become a TEFL manager in terms of career development and making money.

I previously wrote about the differences between a teacher working in TEFL and the international school route and see that as a standard TEFL teacher I can probably get up to 100,000 baht a month for a 20-hour teaching week. There’s obviously overtime and other jobs which could push up income but then there’s the alternative of managing which means that rates of 120,000 + would be achievable at the right schools. 

Of course international school teachers can make similar money from teaching but I explained in the above mentioned article why I’m sticking to TEFL. 

The question is, would I really want to work in management? 

Why I came here

I certainly didn’t come to Thailand to become involved in some kind of rat race. I’m not afraid of hard work but I need to be sure that I have plenty of time for myself. Something I love about TEFL work is that as soon as I walk out of the door each day, I don’t have to think about my job. That’s certainly not true as a manager.

I used to work in sales and hated having to check emails in the evening at home and on weekends, I wouldn’t want to go back to that again. TEFL is also a seven days a week job which means managers are usually always on call. You never know when you’ll get a call or email which needs to be actioned straight away. That doesn’t sound too relaxing to me. 

Responsibilities

There’s nothing wrong with having certain responsibilities, in fact I enjoy looking after certain projects and working in different areas, not just in the classroom. However, I imagine a TEFL manager can often be overworked and have to deal with a lot of things which aren’t too much fun. It doesn’t always come down to money, but if I looked at the responsibilities and workload compared to salary, I’d need a hefty bump to consider it. 

In many schools the manager is also the designated cover teacher. This means that you may have to teach a full day, or at least a few classes whilst you arrange cover, and then deal with management duties. 

I worked in a school ages ago where absenteeism was ridiculous. One teacher called in twenty minutes before class to say he wasn’t coming in as he couldn’t get hot water in his shower so wasn’t clean enough. Another teacher had been out all night and vomited in the bin in the classroom. In both cases the manager had to cover all day. 

Often being a TEFL manager means you aren’t really the person in charge. There will be an owner or someone else higher up the chain who you have to report to and deal with. You might have all these great ideas and then they’re either stolen by your manager or not even listened to. In the end, you may find yourself doing a lot of mundane duties just to please your new boss. 

Often the role of management can be lonely in the sense that you’re between the teachers and the owners. You have to play both sides carefully and often have opposing thoughts to deal with. I can only imagine this must become very stressful at certain times. 

Tired of teaching

A lot of people talk about being tired of teaching and see management as a way of cutting down (or out) hours in the classroom. I’m sure all of us have days where we never want to see the inside of a classroom but I’m sure managers do miss it in some sense. 

The strange thing is that often TEFL managers are required to have advanced qualifications which should, in theory, make them better teachers. With these qualifications and experience these teachers are then taken out of the classroom and it seems a little counter-productive to me. 

Of course managers are often responsible for training and development. However, as managers have been out of the classroom for, potentially, a long time, they may be a little rusty when it comes to teaching or not up with the latest theories etc. 

On the other hand, it is of course possible that managers do teach a lot, particularly if their teachers are fond of a night out before early classes the next day… 

Becoming a TEFL manager

So there must be a few reasons why people move into TEFL management. Well, the money is better and for some it’s worth it if they have higher living costs etc. 

There are obviously people who want to live in Thailand but don’t fancy teaching more than a few years so management becomes attractive to them. I used to work with one teacher who moved into management because he wanted a few years experience running a team before moving back to the UK to work there. Then there’s the fact that some people just enjoy it. Perhaps they didn’t come here for a laid-back life and they enjoy throwing themselves into their work. 

Personally, I believe I’ll try it one day but not for the next couple of years. I’m keen to develop my teaching and see what the future holds from there. 


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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Settling in Thailand takes a broad, insightful and balanced approach – neither too cynical nor evangelical, this book sets a precedent in terms of presenting a positive but realistic and non-judgemental description of Thailand life for foreign residents. 

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Comments

Richard having read your previous posts about teaching in Thailand I would say you have all the character traits to be a manager.

By Matt, London (23rd November 2019)

You work in a school and make over 76k a month. Walk out the door and not think again about school or your kids. Your career has skyrocketed considering. "International" school as well. Fancy that. Yeah, I'd just stay put. Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

I gotta get me one of them jobs.

By JiM BeAm, tHe BiG sMoKE (23rd November 2019)

In all careers so many people presume that becoming a manager is the obvious next step for them without realising that successful management requires a separate skill set of it's own. Alex Ferguson wasn't all that as a football player while Diego Maradona was.

Establishments / teaching centres who often promote from within by relying on a certain level of nepotism are not always making the wisest choices.

By Joris Bohnson, Stoke on Trent (22nd November 2019)

Richard, I had been a teacher at a private language school chain for about six years when I got the offer to take over as the academic director. I ended up taking care of two busy branches and about 20-25 teachers. I did the job for six months and I can honestly say that I HATED every single second. There were many reasons but here are the main ones.

1) With so many new teachers coming and going, I ended up playing the role of 'agony aunt' more than academic director. The teacher who couldn't afford to pay the rent, the guy who was having problems with his landlord, the teacher who was suffering from burnout, the teacher who had overstayed his visa, the guy who clearly had a drink problem, the teacher who wasn't getting enough hours. This was just a fraction of the shit that would land at my door on a daily basis. It became ridiculously overwhelming at times.

2) As you say, you are often caught between the teachers and the Thai owner. It was nigh on impossible to keep both camps happy. If you did something to make the teachers' lives more comfortable, that same decision would often by frowned upon by those above you. It was a constant no-win situation.

3) Substituting other teacher's lessons due to a last-minute absence is never any fun but something the academic director is expected to do. You get little or no time to prepare so you find yourself 'winging' lessons. In addition, every class is new to you. You haven't had the opportunity to get to know the students and to form a bond with them.

4) Again as you rightly say, the job of TEFL manager is a 7-days-a-week gig. I remember I would get phone calls on a Sunday morning (my only day off) to tell me that a new teacher hadn't turned up and his class of eight new enrollments were sitting in the classroom with nothing to do. Worse still, I was expected to do something about it, despite being sat at home 10 miles away dressed in my boxer shorts.

5) Don't get me started on recruiting teachers to work for 220 baht an hour. My God, how much of my day did that waste?

It was one of the best days of my life when I handed in my notice, told them I couldn't do this anymore and went back to being a plain old teacher again.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (22nd November 2019)

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