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TEFL in the Land of Smiles: How to Teach English in Thailand

The writer, Kelly, with some of her students in Thailand. Kelly Iverson

By  December 14, 2017

A veteran TEFL teacher's best tips for getting work in Thailand.

Since I started teaching English in Thailand in 2015, I’ve discovered that the country lives up to its nickname “the Land of Smiles.” Weekends and school holidays can be spent doing everything from exploring majestic Buddhist temples and beaches, to relaxing in the evenings at rooftop bars. It doesn’t hurt that Thai food is aroi mak mak (“very delicious”).

But there are plenty of countries that gladly accept native English speakers with open arms to work as teachers. So—apart from sunshine and smiles—why should potential teachers consider Thailand?

For one, you’re needed. The Kingdom has one of the lowest English proficiency scores in Asia. Of the 80 countries included in the EF English Proficiency Index ranking, Thailand came in at a disappointing 53 in 2017—despite spending higher than the average amount on education compared to other countries on the index.

If you’re ready to start your own TEFL career in this Southeast Asian country, read on.

Visas and work permits

Before American and Canadian teachers arrive in Thailand, they should apply for a 90-day non-immigrant B visa. Although single-entry visas are available, those with multiple-entry visas are ideal for those who wish to travel while they teach.

Requirements vary, but generally you’ll need a valid passport, a letter of employment from your school, two passport photos, a medical certificate, a certificate of degree, and a bank statement showing at least $700 USD. Be aware that these requirements can change; it’s best to double-check with the Thai consulate in your country of residence prior to departure.

Only after teachers receive this 90-day visa can they get a work permit. Most schools will provide a work permit for their teachers and if a school or agency denies you a work permit, it’s best to find a different place of employment.

Once you’ve received your work permit, you can then apply for a one-year non-immigrant B visa. However, you will still have to report to immigration every 90 days. You can do this in-person, send someone on your behalf or even send a report by mail. You can also leave the country before the report is due, and the day you arrive back to Thailand will start the 90 days over again.

Where to work and live

Thailand is often divided into four different and diverse regions: the mountainous north; the hot,dry northeast (Isaan); the central region where Bangkok is located, and southern region with its beaches and resorts. Each one comes with its own list of pros and cons, but differing salaries from region to region will definitely be a consideration for most prospective teachers.

Schools in Thailand are almost always hiring. Foreign teachers come and go, making it possible for hopefuls to apply almost any time of the year and still find work.

Those working in the north or northeast of Thailand should not expect to make as much as teachers working in central or southern Thailand. Teachers in the north usually make under ฿30,000 (about $880 USD) per month, compared to those in Bangkok, who pull in around ฿30,000-40,000 per month. (For some reason, female kindergarten teachers seem to make the most, some raking in over ฿70,000 per month.) However, the northern regions of Thailand have a lower cost of living.

Social life is another consideration. There are more foreigners in the southern and central regions, but if you want leave the expat bubble behind for an authentic (although potentially more challenging) experience, head to the northern regions.

Hiring requirements and certification

Every school has different requirements. For example, some only hire teachers who are native English speakers and others require you to be under the age of 50. Meanwhile some could care less if you are pre-historic, provided that you have a CELTA, TEFL or TESOL certificate. Having a bachelor’s degree also raises your chances of getting a better-paying job faster.

At the very least, new teachers should have an English-teaching certification. You can get this online, but I suggest getting a certificate in Thailand, which will allow you to become more comfortable in the country before being thrown into a classroom on your own. For example, XploreAsia and TEFL Heaven both offer month-long courses in some of the most popular tourist destinations.

When to apply

Unfortunately for the students, schools in Thailand are almost always hiring. Foreign teachers come and go, making it possible for hopefuls to apply almost any time of the year and still find work. That being said, the school year usually wraps up in late September, before starting up again in late October or early November. Most schools hire in March, but you’re likely to find openings across the country at any time.

Where to find work

• Apply directly to schools

Depending on their qualifications, prospective teachers can apply directly to private, government and public schools, as well as higher education institutions. One of the most popular websites to find jobs is ajarn.com. (Ajarn means teacher). There are also many Facebook groups geared towards foreign teachers looking for work. (See "online resources" below.) 

International schools pay their teachers some of the highest salaries and typically have small class sizes, but they are also the most competitive in terms of hiring. Many international schools require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in education and a post-graduate teaching certificate. Private schools also sometimes require a degree in education.

• Work with an agency

Agencies are third-party entities that work for schools to recruit teachers.

Once a teacher is hired by an agency, they will decide which school a teacher will be placed at. If a teacher is unhappy with their placement, the company will usually work with the teacher to find a different school.

A teacher working for an agency receives paycheques directly from the agency—which takes a percentage of the teachers' salary—instead of the school. Agencies can offer teachers teaching resources and some even go as far as to create lesson plans for entire semesters for their employees.

As great as some agencies are, others are less than reputable. There are plenty of horror stories regarding agencies, so be sure to do your homework before signing with one. Obtain a copy of the proposed contract. Does the agency assist in getting you a work permit? Do you get a reasonable amount of time off? Is the company well known in the area? Are the working hours standard and in keeping with the proposed salary? You can also ask the agency for the contact information of a teacher currently working for them to answer basic questions. 

What to expect

• Working hours

Regardless of what type of school you work in, expect your day to start at about 7 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. Some schools will have teachers with the same group of kids every day, while other teachers will see their students only once a week. Class sizes vary from school to school, and can range from 15 to 50 kids.

• Age groups

Being flexible about what age group you teach is key to making your life easier. Those bent on teaching kindergarten (ages 2 to 7) may end up teaching teenagers (“practicum” is ages 8 to 12; “matium” is ages 13 to 18) and often, schools will change the age group you’re teaching at the drop of a hat and for no apparent reason. Long story short: go with the flow.

•  No fail policy

If you’re weighing Thailand against another destination, one consideration is the country’s “no fail” policy. Although policies of this nature exist elsewhere (including some in school districts in the United States and Canada), it’s implemented nationwide in Thailand.

This policy is sure to push many teachers to their breaking point. It's long been a controversial matter, especially for foreign teachers. The idea that a child could skip an entire semester of class and still pass may seem ridiculous, but this is often the case. Try to remember that you are there to do a job, even if only one student shows up for class.

• Dress code

Men have it easy when it comes to work attire in a Thai classroom. Slacks and a nice button-up shirt will do just fine.

Females, however, must follow a slightly stricter dress code. Ladies, leave the pants at home. There are few classrooms that allow women to wear anything but skirts, and even those must be at least knee-length.

Remember that the heat in Thailand can be unbearable, so light blouses and shirts are best to survive the brutal weather. Also, many Thai classrooms require that tattoos be covered.

Online resources

Online communities are helpful when it comes to finding teaching jobs, creating new lesson plans, and anything else pertaining to classrooms in Thailand. Below is a list of the most helpful resources. Some are private communities, so be sure to ask to join them before you jet off across the world.

Teachers in Thailand Facebook Group: Public forum where people post jobs openings, questions and concerns about teaching.

Teachers in Thailand Facebook Page: Facebook page displaying teaching job applications and openings across the country.

• Jobs in Thailand for Farang: Facebook groups with jobs postings, many specific to teaching English at schools or private tutoring opportunities. Members can also post their own profiles if they are looking for work.

Teaching Jobs in Thailand: Private Facebook group with over 36,500 members posting job opportunities across Thailand.

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Published in Work Abroad
Kelly Iverson

Although Dorothy was quite content, Kansas was no place like home for native Kelly Iverson. After studying abroad, she returned with an itch for travel no amount of scratching could alleviate. She lives in Bangkok, Thailand, where she teaches English.

Website: https://www.facebook.com/KellyJIverson/

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