For almost seven years, I taught English as a foreign language (EFL) in Thailand's public and private schools K-12. Overall, this was a great experience and there are no real regrets. It was not an easy job, but rather very challenging and at times frustrating. This is because teaching EFL in Thailand was a lot different from my previous experiences of teaching EFL and ESL in China and the United States. In this article, I present the good, the bad, and the ugly of EFL teaching in "the Land of Smiles." Hopefully, it will be beneficial to teachers seeking positions teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) in Thailand.
What's Good About TEFL in Thailand?
In reflecting on my experiences from 2012 until 2019, I would have to conclude there is more good than bad or ugly in teaching in public and private schools K-12 in Thailand. Why else would I have stayed in this field? The good points include:
1. A Steady Job With a Fixed Monthly Salary
Most foreign teachers in a primary or secondary school have a year-long contract with either their school or an agent who has secured their employment at a school. Teachers are often guaranteed 18-22 hours of teaching each week at a monthly salary, usually between 1,000 and 2,500 U.S. dollars. Most of the time, teachers don't have to rely on part-time employment at evening private adult TEFL schools to make ends meet.
2. Paid Thai National Holidays And School Breaks
If a teacher has signed a contract with a school, he or she will be given paid Thai national holidays and paid time off during the school break in October between semesters. The teacher will also be given two to three months of paid vacation during the Thai summer break between school years. This break usually runs from the beginning of March until the latter half of May.
3. Extra Benefits
In many schools, teachers receive free medical insurance and a free lunch. On the occasions of Christmas, New Year, and Teachers Day, teachers usually receive gifts from the schools, especially if they are private. Many students also give New Year gifts to their favorite teachers.
4. Free Seminar Training And Financial Support From Schools for Training in Education
Twenty hours of free seminar training in teaching and learning theory and application is provided to teachers in most schools each year. If a teacher decides to work towards a Bachelors's or Master's Degree in Education, the school will usually pay 50 percent of the tuition cost.
5. Special Satisfaction From Seeing Students Succeed
There is no better feeling than coaching students in public speaking and then seeing them win a speech contest. It is also quite rewarding in writing a letter of recommendation for an excellent model student who is accepted for studying abroad in either the United States or the United Kingdom.
The author in his office at Saint Joseph Bangna School in Samut Prakarn
What's Bad About TEFL in Thailand?
TEFL teaching can be very tiring and frustrating. At times I was tempted to get out of it for the following reasons:
1. Long Hours
In many schools, a teacher must be at work Monday through Friday from 7:20 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. During these nine hours, a teacher will normally have four or five hours of classroom instruction. When not teaching, a teacher must remain on the school campus in his or her faculty room to prepare lessons or grade student papers and tests.
2. Excessive Paperwork
Many schools require teachers to prepare detailed lesson plans along with evaluations after a unit is taught. Most teachers have seven or eight different classes with a total of 240-300 students. This certainly creates a lot of paperwork in grading workbooks and notebooks, tests, and preparing detailed student evaluations.
3. Visa Runs
Most of the foreign teachers have work permits with a year-long non-immigrant visa. These teachers must go to the Immigration Bureau every three months to report their residence. The teachers who have no work permit or non-immigrant visa must go on visa runs to neighboring countries like Laos, Cambodia, or Malaysia every two or three months to apply for new tourist visas.
4. There Is More Entertainment Than Teaching
When I first started EFL work in Thailand in 2012, I quickly found out that all schools want to learn to be fun. To grab and maintain the attention of students, it is necessary in many cases to be more of an entertainer than an educator. During my first job at a public high school, I was frankly told by the head English teacher that I should be entertaining my students by singing or playing games with them!!
5. Everyone Must Pass
According to the Ministry of Education policies, no student can fail, even if they don't achieve the minimum passing score of 50 percent. For me, it is especially disturbing to pass a student who is lazy, unmotivated, and unwilling to try to do homework or participate in class.
6. Bad Communication Between School Administration and Foreign Teachers
It never fails that the foreign teacher is the last person in school to learn about canceled classes or an extra school holiday. My colleagues and I have wasted so much time showing up for scheduled classes that were canceled at the last minute without our knowledge.
What's Ugly About TEFL in Thailand?
Almost all of my ugly experiences teaching EFL in Thailand occurred while I was employed at a public school. They include the following:
1. No Air-Conditioning in Classrooms
During my first teaching assignment at a public school, there was no air-conditioning in any of the classrooms. Fortunately, it was approaching the cool season in Thailand, and I did not suffer from the heat and humidity as much as I would have had during the rainy season.
2. Ancient Chalkboards
I hated writing on the chalkboards because the surface of all of the old boards was very bad. Every time I used a piece of chalk it would break, and you wouldn't believe how much dirty chalk dusk I got on my clothes.
3. No Faculty Lounge or Teacher's Desk
There was no room for foreign teachers in the Thai teachers' faculty lounge, so my two colleagues and I operated out of the school's resource room. Sharing a seven-foot-long table, we were expected to prepare lesson plans, but there were no computers available for our use.
4. Large Classes Which Met Once a Week
I remember teaching 17 different ninth and twelfth-grade co-ed classes which met one hour a week. Sixty students were packed into a small classroom which afforded the teacher hardly any room to stand in front of the class.
5. Disrespectful Students
Most of the students were quite disrespectful and hardly ever greeted or acknowledged me outside of the classroom. In one instance, a student threw an eraser and hit me in the back while I was writing on the chalkboard.
Considering the good and the bad, teaching English in Thailand schools, especially in private schools, has been a very rewarding experience. What disturbs me the most is the emphasis on entertainment over education and the policy that all students must pass even if not deserving. Perhaps I shouldn't be disturbed because today's world is different from when I attended school in the 1960s and 1970s.