When it comes to work and travel, this is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Teaching English in a great environment with friendly people and at the same time living in one of the most comfortable countries on earth, that’s the life.
I was blessed enough to actually call that my life for a full year, teaching English in the North Eastern region of Isaan. So here’s my guide for you on how to jump into the action yourself.
Finding a job
That is the first step on the way and to be honest also the most difficult one. There are a few essentials to consider. It is not always necessary for a foreign teacher in Thailand to hold a bachelor’s degree. If it is required, any degree will do most of the times. However some schools will take you on without it. Like mine for example. Instead they will require you to provide a TEFL or CELTA certificate. It essentially proves that you have done a course online or in a classroom to teach English as a foreign language. To do this course you don’t need to be a native speaker in English but your language proficiency should be fairly high. Check out this company for example : Online TEFL Courses
The “in class” certificate will provide you obviously with a higher chance at securing a job in Thailand since the schools see you as having at least some experience in a class room. Also mention in your CV any other experiences you have with teaching, be it in sunday school, private tutoring or even teaching some time in another country already. (Side note: contact me if you would like to teach voluntarily in Kenya) With a real degree in teaching and experience in a school in your home country, you almost have a job guaranteed.
To look for jobs head to www.ajarn.com first. This site has the biggest number of jobs available with estimated salaries. Most of the jobs are in the bigger cities however, like Bangkok and Phuket which makes competition quite high. If you are a bit more adventurous, try to locate schools in the country side. The atmosphere will be more relaxed and there is a higher chance of securing a job there. Salaries might be a bit lower but then cost of living is as well. To find a position outside of Bangkok, it is a good idea to contact schools directly. Search for them on google and send them your application. Follow Facebook groups like this one Teaching Jobs in Thailand.
Some countries will also offer programms sending young people abroad to do social services. In that case you might even end up in a local Thai host family which was how I got the first job.
Once your application has been accepted you will be invited to come in for an interview. Dress smart, have some thoughts ready about how you want to teach and don’t forget that Thailand is the land of smile. There is no need to persuade them or be too confident, just be friendly.
Following all those steps there is a big chance you will land a teaching job in Thailand. For countries like Cambodia, China, Korea and Myanmar there are only slight differences to this process.
What next? You have signed a contract and agreed on a decent salary. Don’t settle for less than 35.000 THB in Bangkok, and 25.000 THB in the country side. You will be working full time most probably and have to pay all living expenses by yourself. 25.000 THB are around 800USD. The visa process will be done by the school. Don’t accept jobs without work visas as this might lead to your deportation out of Thailand. They might never let you in again.
The school will help you in finding accommodation. On some school grounds there are even apartments for the teachers, rented out for not more than 5000 THB a month if in the country side. Living right next to school you wouldn’t need a scooter which saves some costs. If you don’t want to live in the school, ask your local colleagues where to rent a studio or apartment. Somebody will definitely know a cousin or aunt who’s renting and prices will be fair. In my village, called Prakhon Chai, I was living around 1 km away from school and mostly took the bus. Since I was part of the government program my salary was only 20.000 THB but I was living with a host family which saved paying rent and food.
Make sure to get yourself a Thai sim card to be reachable for colleagues, friends and to be able to build up your social circle there. Also don’t forget to do all necessary vaccinations before coming to Thailand especially if you are going to stay in the country side.
Even if you have never really taught before but somehow got the job, they will after a while give you your own classes. They are paying you for that after all. The classes in Thailand can have a size of up to 55 students. The high schools go from class 1 to class 6. Each year is divided into several class rooms, depending on the student’s performances. So class 1/1 would be the 11 year-olds that get good grades and will be much further in the study materials than for example 1/8. A class year is called ‘Matayom’. Class 3/3 would be called ‘Matayom Sam slad Sam’. You will probably teach all kinds of classes. I was teaching everything from Class 1/1 to 6/9 and there is a big difference. But it was a pleasure to teach all of them and switching from further advanced students to more ‘relaxed’ ones was really interesting.
When you first arrive, you will be given your own desk, official text books and dates for the next exams. Then they either decide that you teach listening and speaking, writing and reading or both categories. In general you will have about 4 classes a day with a big lunch break in the middle. The school cantines offer delicious Thai food for amazing prices so don’t bother bringing a lunch box. That whole year I was pretty much eating the same delicious soup called ‘Kwitiau Sen Lek’ every day, for around 50 cents.
Every morning all students and teacher assemble on the big field where some honored students raise the Thai flag and sing the anthem. Then you might be asked to play a little game on stage with them, in English of course. Eventually everyone heads to their class room. When I first had to come on stage in front of 3000 students, it was a real nerve wrecker. But you get used to it and after a while it becomes really enjoyable since the Thai students are usually very enthusiastic about games and jokes.
That is also how it went in classes. They are in general very respectful and well behaved but if you feel the class is drifting off just throw in a game like hangman. If you see only a few students being distracted call them to the front to answer some questions. The whole class will be entertained and the naughty ones might learn something.
Life in the Isaan moves much slower than in Bangkok. You are close to nature, ancient temples and farmers selling their goods at the markets. After school is out, there are still a lot of things you can do though. Thailand is famous for 2 sports: Muay Thai and Takraw. If you don’t know the second one, watch this video. It is some kind of artistic football tennis and I for sure gave it a try. And a second. And a third. Until I decided to learn Muay Thai instead. My teacher was running the gym with a few others who had all done their few hundred fights in their career, as is the norm for a Muay Thai fighter in Thailand. Since such a career usually ends in their mid to late twenties, they have to start early to reach that number. Where I trained many others were still quite young but were having fights on the weekend nevertheless.
All of us from the gym would go in the back of a pickup truck to the next village and prepare our team mates. Some people would also bet money, and the one time I did too I actually won a few Baht. Usually it is near a temple on a field and little food stands offer nice little snacks for very little money. It’s mostly on the weekend nights so a lot of students from that towns school hang out there too. Some you might even recognize from one of your excursions.
While living in the country side you will also have great chances to improve your Thai. Often people speak no English at all and you will quickly learn the first essential phrases. And the more you learn and can interact with all kinds of locals in your town or village, the better an experience you will have. Thais are very social and there were more days where I was invited to an event than days where I simply stayed at home. Funerals, weddings, temple ceremonies, just fun BBQ dinners or English camps.
Those are a specialty of Thailand where your school will send all students to a country resort for a weekend and play games and focus on English. As a foreigner you will definitely be asked to go. Since not all schools in the Isaan can afford foreign teachers, they also will contact you about joining their English camps. In one year I went to at least 7 or 8 different ones and always loved them. Sometimes you sleep in nice hotel rooms, sometimes on a matt in a class room with mosquitos buzzing around. This treat I got to experience in Udon Thani, where I would end up travelling through again on my way to China.
Another special thing about the Isaan are its cool festivals. Like everywhere in Thailand we celebrated Song Kran and Loy Krathong (the water festival and moon festival which are especially fun in Chiang Mai) . But in Buriram where I lived we had much less tourists and therefore a more traditional feel. I was even asked to participate and did my best in a version of Muay Thai. But instead my opponent and me were sitting on a tree over the water trying not to fall down. Khao Pansa is another yearly festival where all students with artistic talents, locals of importance and of course the westerners parade through the city with festival wagons made out of bee wax.
And the most fun festival of all was in Surin. When the water stands high in the rice fields, a huge eel population develops there. The farmers catch them and enjoy tasty meals. During the eel catching competition a group of around 7 people jumps into a knee high pool of muddy water filled with eels. I actually caught 7 eels in 3 minutes and won the farang competition. (Farangs are westerners in Thai). It’s such a cool game to splash around there and later eat the eels.
While you are in South East Asia, you should definitely make use of the closeness of places. And the cheap prices. From my below average salary I was able to do little trips on the weekend quite often. I went to all sides of Thailand and then there are still the summer holidays. Students are off from the beginning of March to the end of April. Almost two months and us teachers get the whole April as well. If you have to work in March depends on your school so check with them about that. Also the teachers went on many trips to the sea side and I was always invited to go. Most of them were even paid for by the school.
Teaching English in Thailand is the ultimate work and travel experience. It is the perfect place to settle down for a while and if you can live without big city life then try the Isaan. That place and its people alone deserve its own travel article. I encourage everyone to travel there at least once while in Thailand.