Sam Thompson

Par for the course

Inevitable Thai government school issues

Soapbox time.

Anyone who has ever worked in a school of any kind in Thailand can tell you that you're bound to run into a fair share of issues: getting work permits and visas, pay discrepancies, untruthful job descriptions, and the lot. That said, and correct me if I'm wrong, it seems that Thai government schools are the worst of the lot.

When I started at my current government school going on two years ago, I didn't know any better and was hired through a [terrible] agency that fired/hired people on a basically a weekly basis. Teachers weren't paid the correct amount (as in, ever), and even if they were paid at all, it certainly was never on time. Every teacher (myself included) at my school save maybe one was fired for one reason or another far before the semester ended, but because we liked (and like) the school, we were loyal and stayed on anyway; it wasn't fair to our students that their teachers were contracted out to a highly unprofessional agency.

Long story short, through strength in numbers and proving ourselves valuable teachers to the school, we got the school to hire us on directly the next term and have been ever since. In a perfect world, that would result in no further "major" problems, and for the most part, I'd say it's been relatively smooth sailing... well, as smooth as working at a Thai government school can be. That said, especially as a warning for you newbie teachers out there, problems still do arise.

Just this week, for example, the finance department at our school (one of many departments) decided that, since we didn't sign our names on a clipboard for the first six days of May, we were going to have said days' salary docked from our pay this month, even though our signed contracts say nothing of this and we were told to start coming to school during the second week of this month. Supposedly, the Thai teacher in charge of the foreign teachers has resolved this situation for the returning teachers, but because the new teachers haven't signed their contracts yet, they are going to make roughly half this month of what was verbally promised. ...And some other minor crisis is bound to pop up soon as it always does.

I can certainly understand Thai schools' mentalities towards foreign teachers; just because we are English speakers, we make often three times what teachers working there for years make. We often have lighter workloads (at least in terms of periods taught per week), and there are many duties that we are often excluded from.

That said, and I'm generalizing here based on my experiences and those of many other teachers I know here, schools feel that they are doing foreign teachers a favor. The reality, at least for most of the teachers at my particular school, is that we stay because we genuinely like the students, the people we work with, and the school in genera l- not due to the salary. If you're a teacher because you actually enjoy teaching and are in it for the long-haul, a 30-40,000 baht monthly salary is nothing, especially considering how relatively easy it is to find another similar job. I make twice as much working for a language school part time each month than my full-time school, but actually enjoy teaching at my government school. Call me crazy, but I certainly can account for the high turnover rate.

My point is this: if you allow a school (or any employer, for that matter) to treat you in a certain way, it will continue to do so. Especially if you're a new teacher, get everything promised IN WRITING so you at least have some legitimacy. Some things are unavoidable, and you obviously need to pick your battles.

One teacher I work with has been at our school close to ten years, and the school still causes the same issues with him, among many being the nickel-and-diming and seemingly weekly minor crises we all face. To me, the salary is honestly not that big of a deal; it's the [lack of] professionalism that drives most teachers out of government/public schools here in Thailand after only a very short time.

Am I saying all schools are like this? Absolutely not. I'm sure I speak for a lot of us [teachers] when I say that I genuinely like working with most of my students and colleagues, both Thai and foreign. I'm reminded of a tweet by a few months back that said something along the lines of, the longer a teacher is at a school, the less likely he/she is to put up with the bologna the school dishes out. Teachers get worn-down by the constant barrage of issues that shouldn't even be issues in the first place.

As unfortunate as it is, especially for the students facing constant teacher turnover, I couldn't agree more.


Someone tells me a certain school asked 'Farang' teachers to come back 2 weeks early at the beginning of May to prepare for new semester but they werent paid for those 2 weeks. All the teachers complained but not many had the 'guts' to say 'screw this'. and stayed. Although 1 or 2 have since done such,as the school has been ringing around in a desperate search for 2 new teachers. Seems the behavior of the school has been passed on from the previous agency.

By alan same, BANGKOK (8th June 2014)

I've been working at a government college for the last 5 months. While my school has kept good on the salary and pay me on time every month, the paperwork wasn't delivered on time as promised and I have had to do costly Visa runs. The school has covered some of the costs, but I still have to put in lengthy travel time, and pay for food and lodging. At first, this seemed like mini-vacations, but - as time goes on - I look forward to a Visa run like a meal of bugs. This, however, isn't the main issue. I have stuck it out as I love the students and most of my co-workers. The college has its strengths. The issues I have been dealing with are those few teachers (and my immediate supervisor) who don't bother to communicate when a class is cancelled or changed, or -even more recently - school cancelled for an entire day. The idea of co-teaching is a joke. My Thai co-teachers see it as a period off where they can rest. Often they don't even show. I have no books or materials. Sometimes the classes are over 40 students and the projector isn't working or I am in a room with no AC. While many teachers have been kind and caring, it is the few who aren't and usually the ones that matter the most. I don't care about the pay that much, but if you shortchange me on respect, I get frustrated and eventually resentful. I have my Masters Degree in Education. I don't expect to get treated better because of it, but I won't put up with being treated like a stray dog. I genuinely care about my students, and show up on time every time. At this point my school wants to give me a year contract, but I think it is Byeland to Thailand time.

By Brenda Jackson, Ubon Rachathani (28th May 2014)

I'd go along with Thomas and say that Bangkok (and some other big city locations) are the worst when it comes to treatment of staff. Where I am now (Ratchaburi) is an absolute dream to be at. Great pay, faculty, kids and conditions... I can't ever imagine doing the same thing at a school in Bangkok. It's just horrible.

Too many foreign teachers falling over themselves in a race to be the rudest, drunkest and socially inept. Too many pseudo 'educated' Thai staff with a massive grain of rice on their shoulders. Even the students are bloody awful compared to 'real' Thailand.

But I can't say that I'm sympathetic to anyone stuck in the rotten mango. There's a wealth of opportunity outside Bangkok where a career teacher can work and feel needed and respected by everyone they come into contact with.

Teaching (anything) is the hardest job in the world if you don't like doing it and maybe one of the easiest if you do!

By Mark Newman, Thailand (28th May 2014)

Generally what I hear from teachers is there is more BS and they are more uptight at urban government schools then the rural ones. I work at a rural government school about 1 hour from Khon Kaen and it is sabi, sabi.

By Thomas, Thailand (28th May 2014)

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