Richard McCully

Why I work in a language centre

Thai high schools? Never again buddy.

Teaching in a school in Thailand sounds fun right? You get to change your students' lives and become a real part of the school community.

You get long summer holidays to explore the country and in the evening you can relax in your peaceful rural village. Sounds perfect right? That's what I thought so I jumped at the chance to work in a local high school. However, I lasted just 3 months and changed to work in a language school and couldn't be happier.

So what is so good about a language school?

Salary - I guess this is something most people know about. When browsing job adverts you can see the salaries for language schools are higher than government schools. 40-55K a month allows you more spending money and the ability to save a bit more. Also you get paid 12 months a year unlike some government schools. Finally many offer an end of year bonus which can be up to a months extra pay

Students - It took me about a week in my high school job to realise 75% of students didn't care about learning English. Now I have motivated students who have chosen to learn English. Admittedly not all of them are super excited to be learning ( they are made to attend by their parents ) but I can't tell you how much better it is to have students who want to learn.

Work Conditions - " It's all part of the experience!" working in a high school classroom with 50 students and just a couple of old fans to keep you cool. Being a sweaty mess before 10am every day isn't fun. In a language centre you will get air conditioning and smaller classes.

Feeling comfortable at work should be a basic right and now I'm happy with the conditions. Also my maximum class size is 12. I can tell you teaching 50 students, the majority of whom don't want to study English, is a nightmare. Classroom management is taught in TEFL courses but nothing can prepare you for the reality.

Mature Students - For me I much prefer teaching adults over children. For some people teaching children is their dream but for others nothing could be worse. I get to have conversations with students about lots of different topics. I felt like an entertainer in the high school but now I feel valued and respected by my students.

Holidays - The dream of a 6 week summer holiday sounds great right? Well it would be but the problem is some high school jobs don't pay you during that time. Also it means taking time off when you're told to.

Your sister's wedding is in December - you can't go. You want to join your friends who are visiting Thailand for a break mid-term - you can't go. Now I get to choose my holidays.

I get around 24 days a year vacation plus national holidays which is about the same as my allowance in the UK. Next week my family are in Thailand I can hang out with them. If there is urgent need to travel back to the UK I can.

Colleagues - Maybe I am lucky but the people I work with now are great. A good mixture of staff both Thai and foreign. I get along with most people and as it's an English school everyone can and does speak English. In Thai high schools there can often be a big divide between Thai and foreign staff. Whilst some staff were nice, others were very petty and unfriendly - maybe I was unlucky though.

Sounds great right? So there must be some downsides - well there are such as:

Working Hours - Most language schools are busiest in the evenings and on weekends. This is when you will work. For me it's not a problem as my friends all have the same schedule and in Bangkok I can do the things I want any day of the week.

However, for some people it could mean a reduced social life and missing out on events at night and during the weekend. I finish work at 9pm most days so it is a problem if you don't want to work late in the day.

Contracted Hours - I'm lucky enough to have a guaranteed salary and work schedule but some language centres don't guarantee either. Maybe your monthly salary might alter by 5-10K per month. This means quiet months like April ( Songkran ) and October ( university exams and break ) might mean a much reduced pay packet.

Personally I wouldn't teach at a high school again. The benefits of a good language centre far outweigh those of a high school. The freedom, work conditions and financial package make it the best option for me.

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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Great post! How did you find the job at the language centers? Also, do you find that it's required to have teaching experience and/or TEFL certificates to get those roles?

Thanks in advance,

By Victoria, United States (11th March 2017)

Just to clarify...

My comments are directed to people who are stuck in the public school system... not those in any other kind of employment. It's thankless, difficult and frustrating in these trenches.

Also - I made it clear that what you do in the classroom is up to you... but has no bearing as to whether or not kids get a pass or a fail. They'll get a pass regardless of your (in)ability.

My point is that you can be a great teacher or an enthusiastic one or even one that doesn't care... you do your job the way you think works for you and give every kid a passing grade at the end.

The grade the student gets has absolutely zero effect on how you teach or what the kids learn... it's just a number or a letter.

You are paid to show up, be punctual and pass the students. That's why you are hired. Now... you can be a great teacher after that or not... that's up to you.

But let's be clear... people working within the Thai public school system are not graded on how well they perform. If they were then there would have failures in the classroom occasionally.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (4th November 2015)

Marko, it's not always about what your Thai directors and owners want and expect from you. Sometimes it's the satisfaction of walking out of your place of work at the end of a long day, and feeling as if you've made a difference. And of course that your efforts have been worthwhile.

I worked for over 13 years in the private language school system. If I had ever got to the point where I felt that my sole purpose was purely to turn up on time and just show up for classes, I would have quit in an instant and gone fishing instead.

I wouldn't and couldn't have wasted years of my life trying to function with that mindset.

I never gave a rat's ass what the Thai management felt I should or shouldn't do. Their opinions didn't matter to me. But admittedly I was lucky enough to nearly always teach students who actually wanted to be in the classroom and learn something.

By Phil (, Samut Prakarn (4th November 2015)

"Do you give them all a pass effectively teaching them nothing..."

What a strange question?

How does whether they 'pass' or not, have any impact on your performance as an educator?

You have done what you can throughout the year. Some will have picked up a little English and some won't have. Whatever grade you give them has nothing to do with what they have been taught or what they have learned in the past year or semester.

So, just pass them all. In other words just do your job.

If you continue to rage against the machine you're going to burn out and hate your job. As annoying as it may seem to you and as much of an affront to your dignity it is, your purpose is to pass the students, NOT just teach them.

Your place in the grand scheme of Thai education in public schools is about the same as the annoying gap year kids who come over and haven't got a clue what they're doing. And the subject you teach is not that high on the list of priorities for directors and teachers, either.

Some people who post their whining on the internet have clearly no understanding of what their employers want from them.... so let me spell it out for you...

Your sole purpose in life is to be on time and show up for classes. Anything else you do is down to you and is of little interest to the people who hired you.

What is so hard to understand about this?

Show up, do your job and pass the students. Job done!

By Mark Newman, Thailand (4th November 2015)

I can understand exactly what you mean about the government schools. I'm just beginning my second year and teaching here definitely isn't what I either expected or wanted.
I did do some extra work at a language school for a few weeks helping someone out. Wow, what a difference as you said. Keen kids actually interested in learning.
After being told I 'had' to pass all my students my disillusion with the system here was complete. I still want to teach English but will eventually move to private lessons with students who actually want to learn without having to battle for control with uninterested kids, little support, resources or enthusiasm. The shame is that the kids who really do try have their effort obiterated by stupid directors thinking they are doing them a service by passing the losers who do nothing.
I'll finish with a philosophical question. I understand the 'no child left behind' policy - similar to my home of Australia. So how to achieve this. Do you give them all a pass effectively teaching them nothing and letting them think that life is all rainbows and puppy dogs?
Do you do as Australia and the U.S. and simplify the tests so more kids can pass?
Do you train better teachers, provide a disciplined evironment and actually teach the kids better?

By Darron, Chiang Rai (4th November 2015)

Lloyd - good point I'm sure there are a number of people working lots of jobs who aren't getting the permits and papers they need. This applies to many types of jobs, language schools, government schools, scuba diving instructors, models. If you meet the requirements to get a work permit you shouldn't need to work for a school or company who won't register your employment with the authorities.

I have an immigration team from my company who do all the work in terms of my permit and stay - I just go to immigration once a year to get an extra year stamp.

By Richard, Nawamin (1st November 2015)

No mention of work permits and extensions of stay. Many language center teachers will have neither.

By Lloyd, Bangkok (1st November 2015)

I've said it before and I'll say it again - everyone coming to Thailand should work at a language center for a while.

This holds especially true if you are not an experienced teacher or are new to Thailand.

You can work as little or as much as you want to.
They are well resourced.
You'll never have to buy another Bangkok Post again!
Free coffee and banana cake!
Air conditioned classes.
Small classes.
Varied classes.
Always easy to get to, with buses and taxis right outside the door.
Valuable on the job, paid training and learning.

The downsides...

The money is rubbish compared to a salaried job.
If you don't work, you don't get paid.
The atmosphere is cliquey and you'll often get the Thai 'Flavor of the Month' syndrome to deal with.
Students can easily say that they want to change teacher if they don't like you for any reason.
It's just depressing working at a language center after a while.

But as an apprenticeship, it can't be beaten.
Do it for six months, learn everything you can, steal all their resources onto your laptop and run... run as fast as you can!

By Mark Newman, Thailand (24th October 2015)

Sam - That's an interesting article you linked to. I'm lucky that I work a schedule where I just go in teach and leave, no hanging around. If I had to wait around all day I would probably have left by now. The food court workers already know what I want when I go there, it's not the same feeling as the barman automatically pouring your favourite pint in your local pub....

Is it possible to do full time for many years? I'm not sure but now I'm 2 years in and still feeling good.

Trevor - I agree its an easier step into teaching and living in Thailand than the high school route. However I'm sure there are many people who have a great school to work at and have been there many years.

By Richard, Nawamin (23rd October 2015)

Nice article, I suspect one's choice depends on the desires and opportunities an individual has, Thai HS or language center? I never worked in a Thai HS, and never wanted to. My first job in Thailand was at a famous three letter language school.

It worked for me at the time as a first step to life in Thailand, although it was not something I wanted to make a career out of. While I enjoyed it for the six months or so I worked there, but those who had worked there for years seemed extremely jaded and bitter, and like so many long term ESLers seemed extremely disappointed in their lot in life. .

I like children, but I have neither the desire nor aptitude to be an effective teacher of youngsters. Those with the skills and desire are of immense value to schools. So if I had to choose between these two choices, I would, like you pick the language center, but I can see why others would make a different choice.

But I am not sure if working at a language school is something most people should consider making a career out of. At least this seems the case from my limited experience.


Having a bad day?

By Jack, At home (23rd October 2015)

Great article; I've worked part time with language schools for years, but have always wondered about what the full-timers think of it. Sounds good for the most part... and I'd say you're lucky with the people you're working with; I've worked with a few language schools that screamed animosity.

Still, I'm reminded of an article here on that Phil re-posted awhile back about "the shopping mall teacher"... ( ...if links are allowed) definitely have a read of that once you've got some time under your belt and see how you compare; I could certainly relate.

Good luck!

By Sam, Chatuchak, Bangkok (23rd October 2015)

Whatever levels your teach, wherever you teach, it's all the same shit!
It's all pathetic!
KG to Adults, to even lowering yourself to teaching Thai Teachers!
They don't want to learn, to shy to speak, just want to copy so they have an easy lesson.
Why waste your time!

By Trevor Bailey, Bangkok (22nd October 2015)

Yep, I understand but i think you will find in time the best students are below grade 3.

The expectations on you are low and the kids are not institutionalised. It is really good fun.

I think that by looking at the current discussions around the movie Arbark (Yes i know i spelt it wrong). The Thai movie portraying Monks as they really are is giving us a true indication of the youth we are teaching and there beliefs. They know the line "Please do not Thai to me".

Oh and the next commentator of science who says the phrase "We know" is just adding the problem.

I just realised that i no longer wish to experience anything. i would much prefer encounters.

By Asian Aussie, Chantaburi (21st October 2015)

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