Tips for the Thai classroom

How to survive it

1. Start of class

At the start of every English class, the students will rise and say in unison "Good morning (or afternoon), Teacher". It is your duty to respond with "Good morning (or afternoon) students, how are you?" which will elicit the rote response of "Fine, thank you, and you?" Say "fine, thank you, please sit down" and then get on with the business of your lesson.

As part of Thai culture, the students are required to show their respect for their teacher, and somewhere along the line they came up with the previous exchange. While it is a bit ridiculous to have a large group inquire together about your well-being, this phrase has been beaten (sometimes literally) into every Thai student from an early age, and thus is impossible to change. The aim is to mimic the Thai custom of simultaneously praising and thanking the teacher at the start of class, and, while certainly not an exact translation in meaning, it is best to simply accept the intention.

2. Wais

The Thai wai can be a tricky business for the incoming foreign teacher. This prayerlike gesture of respect is ubiquitous in Thailand, and has a different convolution for each type of encounter. Through LanguageCorps, I found a Thai host family, who gave me the lowdown on proper wai etiquette. The younger, or lower-status, individual must initiate the wai, with hands at a different level according to the relative social prestige. Sound confusing? Damn straight, but luckily the Thais accept that you most likely don't have a clue about it, and thus appreciate any effort with the classic Thai bemused smile.

Due to several superstitions, it is better to simply nod when a student gives you a wai, as you could inadvertently take seven years off his life. However, it goes a long way with older Thai folk if you give them any form of wai. In particular, you should be sure to wai the principal of your school, no matter what you may think of him personally. At my school, nearly everyone talks behind the principal's back but pays him the utmost respect to his face, a form of ingrained politeness that has its roots at the very foundations of Thai society.

3. Classrooms of bad students.

The Thai educational system stresses grouping students into classrooms of like ability, and then paradoxically gives them all the same lessons and tests. For the farang teacher, this can mean going from room of forty eager young learners to forty who can't yet read English, and certainly don't appreciate you trying to teach them.

The Thais place great emphasis on maintaining a jai yen literally a "cool heart", so losing your temper with an unruly class is virtually unheard of. Be aware that the Thai educational system places the responsibility for learning on the students, so that teachers are not held accountable for their pupils' failures. Instead, teachers will complain that the students are lazy or naughty, removing any possibility of poor teaching from the equation. This cuts both ways, as you are absolved of most blame for a poor lesson, but any successes can also be attributed to the strengths of the students.

In general, the best method is to take it easy, maintain good humor and not take it personally when a class isn't interested in English. This is much, much easier said than done, but your Thai colleagues will quite frankly be bewildered if you as a teacher worry over or take great responsibility for your students' grasping the subject.

4. Late Students.

This is what Thai people do, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. The Thais have what may be generously described as a "flexible" sense of time, meaning that nearly everything outside of Bangkok, from buses to meetings, are ten minutes behind schedule. If the students coming late really screws up your lesson, then you simply teach a bit past the bell, as most Thai teachers do that already (making students late for their next class, and perpetuating the whole damn scene)

5. Unique student-teacher relationship

For starters, when asking a teacher a question outside of class, the student will sit on the floor, almost prostrating himself. If a student walks by a seated teacher, he will bow his head and shoulders slightly. This stems from a Buddhist urge not to be higher than anyone else's head, and is actually done by most Thais without thinking, as automatic as breathing. Students are taught to revere their teachers as second parents, and there is an entire ceremony known as Wun Wai Kroo that enhances this relationship.

Most Thai teachers treat their students with a mixture of affection and condescension, accepting their role as both educator and parent. The typical Thai teacher thinks nothing of telling a student to erase the board, carry books and bags, and even to run simple errands. Despite the insistence of my colleagues, I haven't been able to bring myself to do this, and thus end up doing most of my menial tasks myself.

6. Kreng Jai

Don't be naïve, but keep open the possibility that, Thai people want to help you. The concept of kreng jai (being considerate) is a key facet of Thai culture, and many Thais will consider it their duty to help a foreigner in their care however possible. I already had LanguageCorps providing additional in-country support, so I turned down far more offers of help than I accepted.

For a new teacher, this can seem a bit overbearing at times, as many of your colleagues will feel obligated to tell you to eat at this restaurant or stay at this hotel, no matter what you might think. A balance must be found between showing appreciation for the advice and making your own decisions, but an open heart can often lead to new adventures and untold rewards.


I enjoyed reading your script on everyday teaching, and was most pleased by your ability to conjure an attitude amongst yourself and the Thai people that made me very relaxed about this experience. Don't get me wrong, I am having a whirlwind of emotions, but I truly appreciated your antics and casualness of the situation at hand.


By Dani Abate, Connecticut (6 years ago)

Post your comment

Comments are moderated and will not appear instantly.

Featured Jobs

English Conversation Teachers

1 day, 7 hours ago

฿35,000+ /month


Male NES ESL Teachers for Saudi Arabia

2 days ago

฿80,000+ /month

Various locations

Head Librarian (Beijing)

2 days, 9 hours ago

฿80,000+ /month

Various locations

AP Courses Teachers for Beijing

2 days, 9 hours ago

฿90,000+ /month

Various locations

English Teacher Position for Beijing

2 days, 9 hours ago

฿90,000+ /month

Various locations

Qualified NES Teachers

3 days, 5 hours ago

฿40,000+ /month


TEFL Courses & Training

Get off to a good start...

Take your course
in Thailand!

Training Directory

Featured Teachers

  • Serhii


    Ukrainian, 37 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Edward


    American, 62 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Dr. Frank


    British, 66 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Frans


    Dutch, 56 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Zowee


    British, 40 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Francois


    South African, 33 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Timothy John


    Australian, 49 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Mylem


    Filipino, 26 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Mpho


    Mosotho, 27 years old. Currently living in South Africa

  • Jenna


    South African, 22 years old. Currently living in South Africa


Sine Education

No TEFL required.

Mediakids Academy

Top TEFL job placement provider with competitive benefits and an unforgettable experience.

English Planet

To be internationally recognized as the leader in quality English language training.


Vacancies for in-house and corporate teachers at the finest schools in Suphanburi City


We get you a job! Options for school placements all over Thailand

BSI Broker

Brokers for ajarn health insurance and for all your Thailand insurance needs.

Siam Computer & Language

Competitive teacher packages with benefits and bonus incentives

Kajonkietsuksa School

First bilingual school in Phuket. Vacancies for kindergarten, primary and secondary teachers.

Kasintorn St Peter School

Progressive English program school near Bangkok employing NES and Filipino teachers

Inlingua Thailand

Premier language school with many branches and corporate training.

The Hot Spot

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.

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?

Renting an apartment?

Renting an apartment?

Before you go pounding the streets, check out our guide and know what to look out for.

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.

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!

Can you hear me OK?

Can you hear me OK?

In today's modern world, the on-line interview is becoming more and more popular. How do you prepare for it?