Sam Thompson

Teaching one-on-one and agency issues

Preparing a student for an important exam and the joys of being paid late

It's been a busy week! I've just finished my classes for Saturday, and I'm killing time before going to see The Hobbit in IMAX. I just love how even the most expensive IMAX ticket is only about $6.

This week, I've had the pleasure of helping a student prepare one-on-one for the IELTS test, one of many English competency tests. This particular student has just finished a Master's degree in law, so needless to say she's quite sharp. I feel quite dumb in comparison. Having not taught one-on-one before, this is a new experience for me. I must say, I quite enjoy it. I feel like so much more can be accomplished than what I'm used to in typical classes. Duh.

I'm also quite a fan of teaching for the IELTS, specifically the speaking section. I feel right at home; the speaking portion of the test is, essentially, giving an extemporaneous speech after a question-and-answer session. Impromptu or extemporaneous speaking was always one of my favorite (and most successful) extra-curricular activities, and I feel like I can really be of value to my student.

The week has also consisted of after school tutoring daily after school. I am continued to be amazed by the level of vocabulary that students have in Thailand, even if they can't quite formulate the words into cohesive sentences. This is especially true of the students I tutor who aren't in the English program that I teach in; they don't have native English teachers daily in most cases, yet still manage to generally understand what I'm rattling on about. I've also started teaching another one-on-one class on the weekends, and it is quite challenging; it's difficult to teach someone who is already quite good at English something new!

I insist that my students watch English speaking films whenever possible (and actually assign them to do so); in my mind, it's one of the easiest ways to learn and absorb English, subconsciously or not. I think I'm going to buy a few DVDs to loan to some of the kids to help guide them to movies that are easier to understand due to slower speaking rates. We shall see.

One other thing I like to do with all of my extra classes is this tongue twister: Ross ran rampantly around the wrestling ring. It forces them to practice differentiating between "R" and "L," even inside the same word. It especially helps to show the different ways "R" can be used. The kids typically get a big kick out of it, and so do I.

I must say, as much as I hated homework in school, I certainly can understand its purpose when trying to learn another language. I typically don't assign a lot, but I do like to think they at least watch an English film or listen to some English music from time to time to keep it fresh on their minds...

Aside from keeping busy with school and extra lessons, it's been an interesting week. There's no point in going into details, but I will say this: do be careful what agency you sign up with. Things can easily go wrong. Our salaries were paid to us several days late, and this is after the agency changed the pay date stated on our contracts AFTER we had already signed them. Of the six or so teachers working for this particular agency at my school, one finally got full payment, two of us got payments, but less than what we were due, and the other three have still either received no payment at all or only a small fraction of what is due. To say the business is a bit dodgy would be an understatement.

Even though I personally asked about possible taxes and/or fees that would come out of my salary, and even though my contract reflects what should actually be paid, that's not what I have thus received. I humbly suggest that, if you ever sign a contract, you make absolutely clear as to its terms. This is common sense, but if you get in a situation like this, it's good to know exactly where you stand.

It's too bad, too; the school we all work at is really great. The students and teachers are all about as wonderful as you can find, so it's too bad that we must work through an agency in the first place. I can understand the idea behind the agency, though; the school doesn't want to have to hire a full-time coordinator to deal with teachers missing school and/or moving, and I can't blame them. Still, it's a shame, especially considering that bad business practices cause an unusually high teacher turnover which isn't ideal for students.

The fact that the school pays far more for its foreign teachers than what the teachers actually get is a bit upsetting too, especially if the agency isn't providing any true service to the teacher. For example, for one of the two days that I had to do my visa run a few weeks ago, I did not even have a substitute teacher fill in for me even after ample warning to my company. It's ludicrous to me that I should be deducted salary for days I miss if no one covers for me anyway. I can understand paying the "middle man" if a service is provided, but that's not the case in our situation.

The bottom line: watch out. I'm not saying that other agencies operate unethically like this, but like in any profession, you must keep on top of your own affairs and "watch your back," so to say. That said, it's all quite meaningless, really, considering that the world is ending at the end of the week anyway... three cheers for the Mayans!


Teaching in Thailand was a joke. The school in which I taught at could barely be described as an educational institution. Its last priority was actually teaching math, science, or history. Its number priority one was to proselytize to the students to be narrowminded unquestioning robots, which creates fewer problems for the authority systems now and down the line when they get older.

Apologists, you are welcome to disagree. Many of you will surely agree, not respond because you are still in Thailand, and move on to something else on the internet thats more enjoyable to contemplate.

By Jean-Michel Marcus, Baltimore (24th December 2012)

This is all related to the big problem in Thailand which is corruption and for the most part it is socially acceptable or just brushed under the rug so it is not going to change. If anything it has gotten worse while those in power just say corruption, what corruption? I teach in China now and there is a lot less corruption here then in Thailand. Of course it does go on here just like it does in most other countries but at least here it is not so socially acceptable like it is in Thailand.

By Thomas, Thailand (21st December 2012)

Sam must know there is no work permit "in the works" You would be involved with the process, You dont just get a work permit arrive at your address or school.
It;s clear at this school there is something going on namely, corruption.
The school's head of English who is involved with the process when an agency is selected in a bidding process to get the contract and this individual is not willing to put pressure on the agency to get a teacher's month salary. I have huge suspicions that those involved who expressed concern at my predicament now give a blank look and shrug their shoulders, Lets be clear, for an agency to get a contract it needs to "do favours, etc" to people who choose who gets the contract, it's the way it is in a country that lives and breathes corruption

By Cheat Agency, Bangkok (21st December 2012)

Thomas, I'll answer your question for you.

Things clearly work differently in Thailand compared to China as regards teacher placement agencies - and that's really down to the schools themselves.

Many of the schools in Thailand want to wash their hands of all the responsibility that goes along with organising teachers' work permits, visas, teaching licences, etc as well as keeping an eye on the teacher to make sure they turn up for work, follow the course outline, prepare lessons, etc, etc. The school wants nothing to do with all that stuff. So they hand over the responsibilities to an agent.

And if the school doesn't like a particular teacher, they just call the agency and say "please get rid of this guy!"

For some excellent further reading on agencies in Thailand, I heartily recommend that you look in the ajarn blog archives for a couple of blogs written by Jason Alavi. He's an agent himself and writes extensively about the pros and the cons of being employed through an agency and more on how the whole syatem works here.

By philip, (21st December 2012)

Okay I have a question, I use to teach in Thailand and I never used an agency to get a job. Now I teach in China at a University and got the job through an agency which is pretty normal here, at least for first time jobs. The agency only worked as a middle man and once I got the job I had nothing more to do with the agency as my school was totally responsible for my pay, visa, work permit and so on not the agency. Chines agencies, unlike Thailand, generally have a good reputation and you rarely hear anyone having problems with them. Also this is also how it usually works in the corporate world with headhunters who place executives, they get a fee for placing them and that is it. So why in Thailand do these agencies then end up getting involved with paying the teachers along with doing the visas and work permits? This type of system is just ripe for abuse and rip offs which happen all the time in Thailand. So does anyone know why don't the agencies in Thailand just be the middleman like say the agencies are in China? Of course in China if any agencies did the type of BS the Thai agencies do all the time they would be shut down pretty quickly. So maybe in Thailand they just do it that way because they can get away with ripping people off and of course nothing is ever done about it.

By Thomas, Thailand (21st December 2012)

"I wish teachers would just boycott these crooked agencies and put them out of business!"

It's easier said than done though Thomas isn't it because so much of the recruitment nowadays is done through teacher agencies?

And as I've said before - painful though it may be to hear - teachers themselves are partly to blame for how the whole recruitment situation has developed. Schools just got tired of having to deal with the slackers and the alcoholics and the druggies and the chancers.

That comment isn't aimed at the good teachers of course. But fact remains that the minority have spoiled things for the majority.

By philip, (20th December 2012)

I wish teachers would just boycott these crooked agencies and put them out of business!

By Thomas, Thailand (20th December 2012)

The agency Sam refers to has just failed to pay a teacher a whole month salary with some lame excuse, The worst of the situation is the schools are complicit with all of this by hiring the cheapest agency in the bidding process, This particular agency is paid only 45000 bht for each teacher, incredibly low when the teacher is paid 30-32000, incredibly, normally the agency gets near 60,000 bht for each teacher. So this agency finds other ways to make more money , and that is "Take it from teachers salaries" Watch this space for more later.

By Cheat Agency, Bangkok (20th December 2012)

Yep - agree completely with David, there's no way anybody can be deducting taxes when you don't have a work permit yet (ever?).
It does rather sound like a dodgy agency you're working with, although things can of course suddenly fall in place and you're then quite legal.
Your one-on-one experience was good to read. Can't say I'd fancy the same thing - but happily we're all different, so there's room for every combination. I did do a one-on-one a few years back, but (to me) it was rather a waste of time - what with the student 'forgetting' to turn up, constant phone interruptions - and even eating food during the 'lesson'. Mind you, she took positively towards the teaching, so that was at least a plus.
Good luck with your further teaching - and do keep us up to date about your experiences with your agency - I'm sure people would like to know how things turn out - and how long it takes.

By Peter, Thailand (20th December 2012)

You should absolutely not be paying tax working on a tourist visa. Only problem is - you don't pay tax and they just get rid of you and replace you with someone else. (It's all illegal anyway)

There's plenty of people here who are willing to take s*** and work for less than 35k a month. Agencies know this and simply take advantage.

As bad as the agencies are for doing it, the teacher who accepts it must also take responsibility as well.

It's just one big vicious cycle with bad agencies.

By Liam Gallagher, Manchester (17th December 2012)

I completely agree. Supposedly my permit is in the works, but I still haven't actually seen it yet...

You're both right: agencies are hit and miss. Leave it to human nature, eh? :)

By Sam, Bangkok, Thailand (16th December 2012)

Sam, you should be paying NO tax. If your agency says you must, they are lying. Here's why:

A. You're on a tourist visa and have no work permit
B. You don't have a tax card and tax ID number (need a work permit to do this)
C. Your income can't be reported (see A and B) so there's no way you can file a return.

This is one of the oldest agency scams out there; agency holds money for taxes on teacher who has no work permit and/or tax card. Agency pockets the money and you're none the wiser.

By David, Phuket (16th December 2012)

" I'm not saying that other agencies operate unethically like this." Actually what I've been hearing is most do, not all but most so beware!

By Thomas, Thailand (16th December 2012)

Post your comment

Comments are moderated and will not appear instantly.

Featured Jobs

English and Science Secondary Specialist Teachers

฿75,000+ / month


Fun Native English Teachers

฿44,000+ / month


Kindergarten Teacher

฿45,000+ / month


English Conversation Teachers

฿35,000+ / month


English, Science and Math Teachers

฿42,300+ / month


Female European Kindergarten Teacher

฿35,000+ / month


Featured Teachers

  • Don

    American, 61 years old. Currently living in USA

  • Robert

    American, 60 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Barry

    Australian, 59 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Svetlana

    Belarusian, 39 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Nevraisa

    Filipino, 35 years old. Currently living in Philippines

  • Rylan

    Myanmarese, 26 years old. Currently living in Thailand

The Hot Spot

Teacher mistakes

Teacher mistakes

What are the most common mistakes that teachers make when they are about to embark on a teaching career in Thailand? We've got them all covered.

Will I find work in Thailand?

Will I find work in Thailand?

It's one of the most common questions we get e-mailed to us. So find out exactly where you stand.

Need Thailand insurance?

Need Thailand insurance?

Have a question about health or travel insurance in Thailand? Ricky Batten from Pacific Prime is Ajarn's resident expert.

The Region Guides

The Region Guides

Fancy working in Thailand but not in Bangkok? Our region guides are written by teachers who actually live and work in the provinces.

The cost of living

The cost of living

How much money does a teacher need to earn in order to survive in Thailand? We analyze the facts.

Contributions welcome

Contributions welcome

If you like visiting and reading the content, why not get involved yourself and keep us up to date?

The dreaded demo

The dreaded demo

Many schools ask for demo lessons before they hire. What should you the teacher be aware of?

Air your views

Air your views

Got something to say on the topic of teaching, working or living in Thailand? The Ajarn Postbox is the place. Send us your letters!