For teachers in Thailand the rules of the game keep changing. Susan Griffith provides the latest information about this popular TEFL destination.
Seduced by images of powdery beaches, swaying coconut palms and smiling people, English teachers in search of adventure often look to Thailand. For a long time, anyone who wanted to teach English to Thai children or business people needed only English-speaking parents and a pulse, but things have changed.
The government is trying to improve the quality of English teaching in Thailand and, according to the Ministry of Education, to ensure that "fake" teachers cannot easily infiltrate the expat community. Stories no longer abound of semi-literate or perpetually hungover candidates working as "conversation teachers." A university degree has become compulsory—a TEFL certificate alone is generally not enough.
At the same time, the government wants to extend the instruction of English in state schools. A percentage of government schools has introduced “EP” or English Program, a bilingual stream within Thai schools which involves the teaching of English and other subjects, preferably by native-speaking teachers.
According to a March 2009 article in the Bangkok Post, Thai schoolchildren are now entitled to 15 years of free education, which means that schools are no longer allowed to charge parents for additional English classes. This has naturally depressed wages for teachers, and schools in some regions are finding it more difficult to attract foreign teachers willing to work for around 30,000 baht per month (CAD$950). Potential teachers have been further discouraged by Thailand’s political turmoil, the ongoing instability that resulted in the week-long closure of the main Bangkok airport at the end of 2008.
There are many teaching vacancies, especially with children aged 7 to 11 and 12 to 16. The busy recruitment season falls in March and April—in time for the new term, which begins around mid-May and lasts until the end of September. The second term starts in November and goes until late February or early March. With luck, vacation periods will be paid.
Stories no longer abound of semi-literate or perpetually hungover candidates working as "conversation teachers."
Competition for work is much less intense in provincial cities like Nakhon Sawan, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani and Pathum Thani; it's harder to get work in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and the islands.
While the government has been endeavouring to raise standards, learners of all ages are more concerned with personality than professional qualifications. Thais tend to be exuberant and fun-loving people. The Thai word sanuk means to have a good time, to enjoy oneself and to derive pleasure and joy from something, and this is what they expect in their lessons: fun and games rather than drills and grammar.
The complex rules for visas and teacher licensing change frequently and are enforced inconsistently—always check with reputable employers as well as your local embassy. At the time of writing, the official procedure for people who have already obtained a job offer is to apply for a Non-Immigrant "B" Visa from any Thai Embassy. For this you'll be asked to provide, among other things, a copy of your degree certificate, various documents from your prospective employer in Thailand and police clearance.While the government has been endeavouring to raise standards, learners of all ages are more concerned with personality than professional qualifications.
With this visa, you can enter Thailand for 90 days and obtain your teacher's license and work permit. In order to stay longer you need to bring your documents to Immigration to request an extension.
For a teacher's license you'll likely need a four-year university degree plus a TEFL certificate. A new requirement is to attend a 20-hour course on Thai culture and professional teaching ethics.
Some job-seekers have been choosing to arrive on a double-entry tourist visa valid for 60 days, renewable at a Thai embassy in a neighbouring country. Though it's technically against the rules, this gives them time to find employment and start the paperwork. It's more difficult to teach illegally now because visa runs at land borders only get you a 15-day extension. Penalties for teaching illegally range from fines to jail time.
For those who do not qualify for a salaried teaching position, volunteering is an option. Theoretically, a Non-Immigrant Visa and work permit are required to volunteer—ask the volunteer agency for advice.
Many worthy agencies operating internationally or at a grassroots level supply volunteer teachers to local schools who would otherwise not be exposed to native speakers of English. For example Volunthai, which was founded 10 years ago by a University of Texas graduate, runs a teaching program in rural northeastern Thailand.
Small-scale charities like this can respond flexibly to individual requirements. Volunthai accommodated an American family with four children aged 3 to 13, all of whom participated in school activities. Looking back on their experiences of travelling around the world, the Battye family concluded that becoming part of a rural Thai village was the highlight of their year abroad.Add this article to your reading list