ESL teachers have options in Thailand; those with English degrees and/or impressive teaching resumes should look into university teaching jobs where the students are keener and the holidays are usually paid.
Teachers who work for language schools can expect evening and weekend classes with good resources but a wide range of levels. A typical teacher's schedule may include private lessons with a 5-year-old, advanced business English for adults, and anything in between.
Teachers who work in public elementary or high schools have lighter schedules but bigger classes; often 40 or more kids per class. These teachers might also participate in school events like sports days or campus television shows.
Some language schools give you a fantastic course textbook and a library full of additional resources, and all you need to do is teach from the book and add extra activities as you see fit. With other classes, you may find yourself in a room full of students with one pen between them, and you're forced to design every lesson plan and write up your own tests. You should figure out how much input you want in course outlines, and find a school to meet your expectations.
As far as teaching jobs go, you may be told with a few days notice of a new class to teach, a test that's to be given, or a school holiday. This may be the mark of a disorganized company, but it's most likely just another difference between western jobs and Thailand jobs. Your best bet is to try and adopt the "mai pen rai," attitude and not get stressed over small matters.
Expect Visa Hassles
The Thai policies regarding non-immigrant work visas seem to be ever-changing. While your school will handle the application process, you may be asked to produce documents that weren't required two months ago, like a letter of confirmation from your university, or a letter from your TEFL instructor.
For the many teachers working in Thailand on tourist visas, monthly border runs are a necessary while their paperwork comes through. If you're close to the embassy in Bangkok, a 2-month visa from Cambodia or Laos can be arranged in advance. If you're crossing the border once a month, ask your school about their policy on refunding your travel costs, as many will comply and remember - new visa regulations suggest you can only do this for 90 days in any 6 months. All details regarding your work visa should be addressed before any contract is signed. In addition, remember that you can…
Expect the Taboo
If you're teaching children, it can be difficult to control a classroom. Public schools often have classes of 50-plus students, and Thai co-teachers might treat your class as an optional commitment. It's said that Thai classrooms are sometimes a bit unruly so even seasoned ESL teachers will have to figure out the best way to keep order. Never touch a student in any way to discipline him or her. It's best to discuss discipline techniques with Thai teachers before starting and they are likely offer some good tips.
Expect to Make Connections
To live in Thailand, a teacher will see up-close how different things can be for tourists. A smart newcomer will learn the "Thai price" for taxi rides, food stall dishes, and admission costs, and learn enough Thai to haggle it down. Even if you're living as a local, you'll still be met with the inflated tourist prices on some goods. It's smart to master how to count in Thai so that price-bargaining goes smoothly.
You'll likely be approached for private lessons from many people, and many teachers find it useful to swap Thai lessons with English lessons in order to best pick up the language. If your schedule is full, politely refer the person to your language school, and they can arrange one-on-one classes from there.
Unless you're living in Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket, your arrival in town will be discussed and scrutinized. Most teachers don't realize how much they're talked about, but the truth is that foreigners stand out a mile away and for Thai people, make great fodder for gossip. Whether you're arguing with someone at the market or drunk at the pub, don't forget that people talk. Some discretion on your part will make life much easier. Schools have been known to fire teachers if their public reputations start concerning parents and students.
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.