On my last day of work as a teacher in Phuket, I’m taking the time to reflect back on the past year: the good, the bad, the funny, the kids, the islands, the adventure. It really has been an amazing 12 months.
But I would be lying if I told you that 12 months ago I knew everything would turn out this well.
When first contemplating the idea of coming to teach English in Thailand, I was nervous. I’m not a teacher and I’ve never been to Asia before. Would I adapt to the culture? Where would I live? Would I actually find a job? Within weeks of being in Thailand, all of these questions answered themselves. Naturally, however, I’ve seen these same worries expressed in the emails and facebook messages of friends contemplating the experience of teaching here. For these friends and others, this post is dedicated to guiding you onto the plane, past the TEFL scams and safely into a teaching position in the Land of Smiles.
First things first: make the decision to come to Thailand. It sounds like it’s the easiest part, but for many, it can be the hardest. Many of the people that come to teach (like myself) aren’t career teachers and the thought of breaking from your career path, even for a few months, can be scary. Others that come have never been away from friends or family for more than a few days. Whatever it might be that is holding you back, you have to make a decision. An old-fashioned ‘Pros vs. Cons’ list can never be overrated.
Great! You’ve decided to come. Now, you need to review your qualifications. In order to obtain a work permit to teach English in Thailand, you must have a bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t matter what you studied in college, but it does matter that you be able to provide a copy of your degree and college transcript. While you’re at it, make sure you have an up-to-date resume to hand potential employers upon arriving. Copies of relevant certificates and a police clearance form from your local police station stating that you have a clean record are also big pluses!
Another big plus is having a degree and/or certificate in teaching OR having a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. While it’s not necessary to have a TEFL certificate in addition to your bachelor’s, it is looked favorably upon, particularly for those with no prior teaching experience. You can complete a TEFL course online, but as with most things, you gain more from a TEFL course conducted in a traditional classroom setting. A TEFL course can be completed in your home country or once you arrive in Thailand. If you’re looking to do your TEFL course in here in Thailand, I’d recommend Island TEFL, based in Ko Samui. It’s a trust-worthy organization based on a beautiful island and they usually offer several promotions to make enrolling more cost-effective.
If you do choose to enroll in a TEFL course, beware of courses or companies that guarantee you job placement. From my own experience and those of friends currently teaching with me, this is one of the biggest scams out there with regards to teaching in Thailand. As I stated previously that a TEFL certificate is only a plus, you don’t need a company to set you up with a job. In fact, schools here only hire foreign staff by way of an interview with one of their in-house staff members – not a contracted company. Beware.
So what’s left to do? Get up and go! While I have heard of people being hired as teachers in Thailand prior to their arrival, many schools refrain from doing this out of fear that the teachers might never show. Your best bet is to get here first and start the job hunt. A great first step in your search for a teaching position in Thailand is to create a profile on ajarn.com. You can upload a picture, your resume and any other qualifications you might have. Include your email and phone number in Thailand and – speaking from experience – you will have schools from all over the country contacting you in a matter of hours!
Once schools start contacting you, you’ll have to decide where in Thailand you would like to call home. During our job hunt, Morgan and I knew that we wanted to teach in Phuket. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive any responses from schools in Phuket based on our ajarn.com profiles. So what did we do? We got on a bus, arrived in Phuket, rented a motorbike and took the job hunt into our own hands. Dressed in business casual attire and with copies of our resumes in hand, we drove all over the island… for about a week until we both secured jobs. (*See earlier post, Motorcycle Diaries from Phuket to read about our first days looking for work.)
More useful information when considering teaching in Thailand:
- The Thai school year starts in May and ends in March, so the best time to come is March/April. There is also a mid-year break in October, so this is another great time to come looking for work as many foreign teachers leave after the first semester.
- An average English teacher salary in Thailand is 30,000 baht per month, which is equivalent to $1,000. Schools in rural areas might pay a bit less while schools in areas popular with foreigners (such as Bangkok or Phuket) generally pay a bit more. While this doesn’t seem like much compared to salaries back home, the cost of living in Thailand is also much lower than in other countries. In how many other countries can you pay $1 for an entire meal?
- If you’re looking for work in Phuket, try Satree Phuket School or Kajonkietsuksa School. Both schools have large English-teacher staffs (Satree has about 30 English teachers; Kajonkietsuksa has over 100 English teachers) and are almost always in need of new teachers.
- The work week for English teachers is generally 7:45 am – 4:30 pm Monday through Friday.
The best piece of advice I can give is to try to be the best teacher you can be because to your kids, you are the most qualified teacher they know. Life in Thailand is different, but adapt! Take time to get to know the kids in your class, travel and eat lots of Thai food. I can guarantee you that you won’t regret a minute of it.