Scott Hipsher

Are degrees required to teach?

Opinion continues to be divided

Three things which seem unavoidable are death, taxes and debates on about the requirement for teachers of having a degree. Those without degrees generally argue a degree is not necessary, while those with degrees will normally make the case a degree should be required. And of course those with a degree and a TEFL certificate will advocate the idea both credentials should be the minimum education required of a teacher, while those with degrees in education and graduate degrees will claim the qualifications they hold should be the minimum requirements. Reading these debates gives us a good idea of the educational qualifications of those involved in the debate, but usually little more.

One of the underlying assumptions of the debate is usually by "teacher" the individual is referring to the job he or she is holding or seeking, when in fact the word "teacher" applies to a wide range of positions. While it would be difficult to argue an advanced degree is not needed for a teacher advising doctoral students in nuclear physics, a pretty good case could be made any type of degree is not automatically required for a pre-school teacher who spends most of his or her time playing educational games with children. A university education would in nearly every case better prepare a teacher to teach academic writing, but may have less application as a requirement for a teacher teaching conversational or business English.

Another assumption would seem to be that one type of teaching or specific types of teacher are better than other types. But can there be multiple approaches to teaching a subject and multiple effective types of teacher?

Which would make a better English teacher, a professor of linguistics who could explain the roots of the language and purpose behind traditional language usage, or a young sharp street-smart traveler who is fluent in the language as well as being conversant in modern slang and conversation styles? Why would one automatically be better than the other? Wouldn't it be ideal to have classes with both teachers? While it is always best to learn the proper way to speak correctly, as a language learner I always find it extremely frustrating when after learning a phrase or word from a textbook to find out no one actually speaks the way taught in the textbook

The intensive language program I am currently studying in rotates teachers frequently so students experience different accents, speeds of speech, teaching approaches and ideas about the language. This approach appears to have merit. Should we assume there is only one way to teach or can language learning be obtained by using different approaches?

There is a definite financial advantage to higher education as the average income of those with university degrees is significantly higher than those without, and the gap grows. And as a professional educator with three degrees of my own, I place a lot of value on education and have found higher education has transformed my life for the better and it rarely makes a person a worse individual or worse teacher than he or she would have been without an education. However, having an education and a degree are not exactly the same thing and an education is only part of the total package a teacher brings into the classroom.

There are many teaching jobs which a degree, and often a specific degree, will almost always be a requirement. I cannot imagine there are many qualified teachers capable of teaching in medical school who do not have medical degrees, but there are many jobs, and conversational English teacher - if one is a native English speaker - is one of them, which motivated and talented individuals should be able to perform even without a four year degree or specific training.

My definition of a real teacher is someone who is accepted by the students and school administrators as a teacher, and gets paid to teach. Although I have quite a few years experience in the classroom and carry an academic title with the word professor in it, I would probably be a total disaster in a classroom of pre-school students. I suspect I would be fired within minutes and neither the students nor school officials would think I am a "real teacher" in that situation. I have a lot of respect for those who can manage and hold the attention of young learners, but this requires skills I never obtained. There are so many different types of teaching jobs it would seem impractical to assume each teacher should be required to hold the exact same types of qualifications.

In an ideal situation, every ESL teacher would be an expert in foreign language learning, be highly proficient in the use of the English language, speak multiple languages, have experience teaching, have both an undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, have enthusiasm and be totally committed to the teaching profession. But I can't see Thai schools finding enough teachers with these characteristics at prices which the schools can afford anytime soon. But that does not imply those with less than perfect qualifications cannot contribute to the education of others.

So relax, there are different types of teaching jobs for individuals with different backgrounds and levels of education. If the school administrators and students are satisfied with the work of a teacher, what gives any of us other teachers the right to pass judgment?

Whether teacher, manager, employee or business owner, in the end, we will get paid, hired and promoted by what we can, will, and do accomplish and not because of a paper attached to our wall or title we carry. While education has an impact on what we can, will and do accomplish, it is not the only factor influencing our skills and work performance.

Scott Hipsher is the author of a number of books, book chapters, academic journal articles, conference papers, magazine articles and newspaper pieces.

His books include

The Nature of Asian Firms: An evolutionary perspective
Expatriates in Asia: Breaking free from the colonial paradigm
Business Practices in Southeast Asia: An interdisciplinary analysis of Theravada Buddhist countries

And Scott's latest book The Private Sector's Role in Poverty Reduction in Asia


The thing about a degree, regardless of your major, is that you've had to prove your written communication skills at a university level, and you've demonstrated, hopefully, a degree of diligence and intelligence, which means someone with a degree is more likely to have the background to make a good ESL teacher than someone without. That being said, I see no reason why someone without a degree couldn't do the job just as well, or better, if they have the right background and attitude. The right life experience can be more valuable than any education,

During my experience as a swimming teacher (just an example, I know it's not the same), mothers tended to pick up certain aspects of the job a lot more quickly, regardless of the training, practice and experience younger girls had because they were used to being alert regarding their own children.

That said, I don't think I would have had the personal maturity to teach here before I completed my degree.

Tom, I'm working in a small village at the moment. Although the pay is less, the cost of living is also significantly less. I probably spend about 8000 baht/month, including weekend trips to the city etc. The other 17000 baht I get to save.

By Angela, Thailand (16th September 2013)

As a Cambridge CELTA teacher with 1,800 hours EFL teaching experience as well as a TEFL certificate, but no degree, having met recruiters this year I know I could do their job and their arrogance regards degrees stops them from doing theirs.... happily enjoying semi-retirement in Thailand at 38 years old....

not interested in working for 300 baht an hour...

By Robert McGee, Bangkok (30th April 2013)

This article is about not having and having a degree for teaching.
There is no mention of having a fake degree in the article.
The article is well written and it gives a fresh outlook regarding the usual argument.

By saknat, The North (10th April 2013)

I appreciate all of these great replies to this question. I do hold a degree in education from a university in Florida and I have taught for many years in the USA (elementary education) I have taught with people in Thailand that have degrees and some that have no degree. I have found the ones with degrees have a better understanding on how to use and apply the basic curriculum standards for their grade level. Most of the ones that do not have a degree did not do a satisfactory job. I suggested to them to go back to the university and pick up a degree in education. He just needed to learn the finer points of education. My understanding is did just and is not teaching somewhere in Thailand.

I would love to teach in a small village school but I can not do that because the working conditions and pay scale is too low for me at this time. I wish that all schools would raise their pay standards and hire only qualified educators to fill teaching positions. Just keep in mind we are here to do the best teaching job possible. Its the job of the schools to be smart enough to hire the best qualified
If you really want to stay in Thailand and teach then I suggest you complete one of the teaching programs offered by some of the local International schools in Bangkok. These programs will earn you a degree in elementary education and you can possibly land a job in one of the local international schools. These universities/International schools bring highly qualified University professors from the USA to Bangkok and teach classes that will earn you the necessary degree. The one that I know about offers a degree in elementary education over a period of two summers. It is offered at Ramrudee

By Tom, Bangkok (24th March 2013)

I think it is all relative as most people seem to be agreeing on. James had a pop at me assuming I didn't have a degree and held a grudge against anyone who has one. That wasn't the case and James in general missed the point of the discussion anyway.
The sad fact is that the salaries here unless you work within the International school arena are very low and by and large a lot of good teachers are moving out of Thailand to better pastures.
A degree shows you have done an element of study certainly but, as already stated it doesn't make you a good teacher if that's your field.
I have a friend who is a mechanic in the UK, he has been for 25 + years. He has always know the workings of the internal combustion engine and how a car is put together. He doesn't have a degree and for many years he has provided a sterling service to everyone. What he does have now is a wall full of certificates that Brussels require him to have to tell people he knows how to change a spark plug etc.
Most of our language skills are born from our parents we use them automatically, if you are that certain kind of person you can teach and instruct someone how to use the language, how to write a letter and how to pronounce a word. In a lot of cases that's what is needed here. A degree helps you if you want to earn an International School wage.
Another big problem here is the books used in Thai schools. I really wish they wold go out of their way and employ an English speaker to proof read their master's before printing.
I looked at a Pailin book which was proudly presented to me by a Thai gentleman who seriously wants to improve his English. I had a quiet bet with my colleague as to how far in the first mistake would be, because there will be several, it was page 4, page 1 was the Preface and pages 2 & 3 were the contents pages.
This is so wide spread, my Prathom students were being taught by Thai teachers using the Advanced English series, the mistakes in basic grammar are amazing, but if they employed a farang to proof read all those mistakes would be picked up and corrected.
I've digressed a little here but in the main I believe that whether a teacher has a degree or not is largely irrelevant. What is important is whether they have the knowledge to teach grammar and the ability to impart that knowledge to children of any age and a degree doesn't automatically mean you can.
One final point James seemed quite keen on was who could teach English and based on his statements, for example, an ex-police officer with a degree in Law would be able to teach English because he has a degree and is educated, well there is one working in an International school, and I have to say his grasp of grammar is terrible. So this just goes to show that a degree is not necessarily the be all and end all of teaching. Much as we hate the idea of teachers without degrees teaching here or with fake degrees from that famous road or with lesser qualifications. If those people can teach a child or teenager how to speak, how to write and when to use parts of the language then that's the important thing.

By Jonathan, Thailand (9th March 2013)


Interesting comments.

But if a teacher can “get away” with working on a fake degree and still do work that is satisfactory to the students and the school, isn’t that proof that a degree was not a necessary requirement for that particular teaching job? If a degree is a real requirement, how could the individual do a good job without one?

There are ways schools can ensure the degrees one holds are real, but if the school does not bother to ensure the teachers have valid degrees, does that indicate the school doesn’t really care? Is presenting a fake degree to an employer who most likely knows it is fake, fraud or is it a bit of “stretching” the truth to meet a legal requirement?

I have read that around 70% of all resumes (CVs) used by those seeking work include questionable facts. If this is true, the morals of teachers using fake degrees (which schools turn a blind eye to) is not much different than the morals of others seeking employment.

A good English teacher doing a quality job who got his or her job through submitting a fake degree is not a good example of an individual with a high moral standard, but I would have a hard time thinking this was the crime of the century.

By Scott, Bangkok (8th March 2013)

I don't think that 'just' having a degree makes you a good teacher but I do think that it shows that you have reached a 'certain standard' or 'level' of education.

If a school is happy to employ you without one then that is fair enough. What really bothers me though is when a school requires one and teachers are encouraged by agencies or other teachers to just get a fake one. They do this and then are employed. I feel that they have then cheated the school and untimately the children they have been employed to teach.

Also Thai teachers are required to hold degrees in order to be able to teach, so shouldn't the same standards be expected of us 'farangs' who are earning 3 times their salaries?

By sammy, South of Thailand (7th March 2013)

I agree and it's nice to see a fair and balanced opinion rather than a rant on those with or without a degree.

By Dave, Bangkok (6th March 2013)

For the most part, it's all relative. I see job recruiters 'asking' for degree holders and saying 'having a PGCE would be a plus' offering 35k a month. (45k if you have a master's or PGCE)

The salaries are very low here and they're getting lower. There are a lot of 'teachers' in Thailand who will work for 30-35k a month. Unless I had just finished university and wanted to take a year out, I wouldn't accept that.

Most of us are not that well versed on the rules of our grammar. We have to learn as we go along. It's actually not that difficult. For the money school's are offering, it's no surprise they're not getting the people they want.

I have a degree in English literature. I didn't take my degree to be a TEFL teacher but this is how it is. It helps in as much as I can get my work permit and earn 50k a month basic - but this is still poor money.

For the money schools are offering, the most realistic qualifications they can expect are; teachers are normal, they're punctual and they actually try to improve themselves and their students.

P.s I found James' comments about non degree holders probably only finding work in their home countries as checkout operators and factory workers extremely offensive and ignorant.

By Liam Gallagher, Republic of Mancunia (6th March 2013)

Well said and completely agree

By Jonathan, Thailand (6th March 2013)

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