I am going to give you some insight into teaching English, specifically in Thailand.
When you set off to teach English in Thailand, there are a few options you are faced with. It’s wise to consider these before going across. It will also help most placement agencies or your job hunt!
So What Are My Options?
You need to know where in Thailand you would like to be while teaching English. Start with the simplest: North, South, Northeast or Central.
North: Varying weather (still mostly hot), second most developed area boasting forests and mountains.
South: Hot and wet or hot and dry, beaches and islands, less developed and quieter.
Northeast (Isan): Hot and dry or hot and a little wet, least developed, farmlands, villages and open land.
Central: Hot, humid and stuffy. Focused towards the business world, very built-up.
Assuming you’re not teaching English primarily for the money, I’d suggest choosing a region and then not being too picky thereafter; the more picky and specific you are in one area the more likely another priority area will suffer.
If you are in it for the money – Bangkok or central Thailand is your number one choice!
Consider who you feel the most confident to be around every day. Where do you think you could make the biggest impact?
The younger age groups need a lot of love, time and playful energy; while the older age groups need understanding, guidance and sometimes more discipline.
Nursery school: ages 2 to 4
Anuban or Kindergarten 1 to 3: ages 4 to 6
Prathom 1 to 6: ages 7 to 12
Matthayom 1 to 3: ages 13 to 15
Matthayom 4 to 6: ages 16 to 18
Not every school has all age groups.
Nursery school is generally separate. Most anuban classes are also located in a separate part or building of the school.
Matthayom 3 is compulsory, but students have the option to leave school at this point and enter the working world. If they choose to continue, they need to choose an elective such as language, law, medicine, arts etc. that broadly guides them towards university. They also (usually) need to pass an interview process to be accepted
School or Learning Center
Vietnam, for example, considers English to be an ‘extra’ rather than a ‘necessary’. So there, most English is being taught from learning centres.
In Thailand, however, learning centres are usually for the more interested students or concerned parents.
This means that a learning centre may offer you more dedicated and eager students with higher proficiency…. Or rebellious children who are forced to learn when they’d rather be doing… well, anything else.
Our experience is that you often get both types of students. Learning center class sizes are much smaller and resources are much better.
Schools, on the other hand, have a much more structured learning system. The students are prepared to learn as they would in any other class and generally have a similar proficiency.
There’s not much of a spotlight on you in this case. However, you also don’t get to engage with the students as personally as you might like having large classes.
Private School or Public School
Which one pays you more? Pretty blatantly the private school. If that’s what you were looking for, averagely about 1.5 to 2 times more than a public school.
Public schools in Thailand are free, so you are being paid out of a municipal budget and that’s not very generous. In fact it’s hardly changed over the past 15 years.
Public schools are not going to offer you many resources. You often don’t have great class facilities, air-conditioning is a major luxury and sometimes all you have is a window and the hope of a breeze.
Private schools can have smart boards, projectors, sound systems, air-conditioning, science equipment, nice tables… The works.
Before you make your decision, consider the level of scrutiny you wish to undergo, the type of children you want to engage with, your qualifications, if you have a degree in anything and your desired term of employment.
English Program versus English Classes
Simply, English program is where students are paired with English and Thai homeroom teachers. They learn most of their subjects in English.
English classes are weekly or biweekly lessons and are the only lessons taught in English. In spite of the fact that there is often a Thai teacher teaching an English class or two in their schedule as well.
As an English Program teacher in Thailand, you will have a class ranging from 8 to 25 students. You will see them every day, all day – even if you only teach 3 or 4 lessons for the day. You may be expected to stand in for other teachers, assist other lessons and guide them in all school activities and excursions.
Inherently you will bond with your students quickly and very deeply over time; to the point where it becomes extremely difficult to leave. This is not something I initially dreamed I would have wanted, but am so glad I followed this path. Truly a life-changing experience.
Choosing English Program is choosing teaching as a lifestyle. 6 months in and the students were at my office every morning, at break and after school. They would do anything to spend as much time with me as they could. I went in as a non-child kind of person and came out of the experience… Changed.
Be warned though, it is a lot more work. The curriculum is more challenging, you will need to make multiple lessons plans a day or week (and prepare for those lessons) at minimum and weekends can sometimes be a luxury. With English Program classes, you often do more activities than regular classes, go on more excursions and compete in competitions that you will graciously host and organise.
Now, English Classes, on the other hand, are a lot more relaxed in terms of admin, demanding only one lesson plan for up to 4 weeks and the lesson preparation for that is far less. You have more weekends and afternoons to yourself, you get more free periods and get paid a little less to match.
Although you only have to teach one lesson up to 20 times, you also have to teach one lesson up to 20 times. It can feel redundant and frustrating, there may be classes and students you are very fond of that you only see once a week and you will have to do a lot of walking around the school!
Even though you spend comparably minimal time with your students, you will still bond with them and grow to know them. Leaving is by no means easier, but it may take a while longer to build as deep a connection doing this as compared to English Program classes.
Another factor worth mentioning is that English Classes is the chosen structure for many of the poorer schools in Thailand, which can, in turn, lead to you teaching at multiple schools (as Tammy did). Setting roots and getting comfortable in this is more challenging, but still very possible.
How Should I Choose?
Teaching English in Thailand is a personal journey.
Everything written above is merely showing you what there is, but not giving you any indication of what’s better or what to choose. Well, obviously I can’t make those decisions for you, but I can give you my advice.
I reiterate. The more picky or specific you are in one aspect, the more every other aspect will suffer. For example, if you are adamant about teaching English in the South of Thailand and are also determined to teach at an International school there may be no positions available. If you take out your dictation towards the South of Thailand, suddenly the offers could come flowing in!
Choosing A Location
I’d argue that this is the most important decision to make. There are various kinds of schools all over Thailand, many ways to make extra money if you need it and you can obviously find all ages groups throughout the country.
The regions of Thailand are quite different and you’ll want to make sure you make the right decision if you’re living there!
Central Thailand is for you if your heart is in the city-life and mind is on the money. Northeast (Isan) is the exact opposite, with authentic Thai experiences. I’d suggest the south for a healthier mix, leaning towards a better lifestyle for less pay. Whereas the north boasts a great lifestyle with better wages in a more densely populated setting.
The North of Thailand has a good mix of business and country. There are places to make decent money as well as areas of local beauty. It’s the only place in Thailand that gets cold enough to call it winter but still shares the generally blistering heat. Air used to be the cleanest here, but is now arguable.
Many foreigners call the north their home and thus a large community has developed with shopping and eating being tailored towards a more western market. Amenities you may be used to in the western world are available here, not to the extent of central, but way more than the northeast or south.
There’s enough space to breathe and you aren’t left missing your comforts from back home.
The South is famous for its idyllic beaches and paradise islands. So why not live where the rest of the world aims to go on holiday? That’s what we did!
Chances are you won’t live on an island or the doorstep of a beach, but you are close enough to make it a day trip and the lifestyle extends all the way. It boasts a very relaxed way of life with very delicious food, which is often inspired by Malay style being so close to Malaysia.
With all of this natural beauty, something has to be sacrificed and that would be amenities and western comfort. You don’t really get many malls or western-styled anythings, so you’d need to be willing to embrace a more local way of living.
Northeastern Thailand (Isan)
The Northeastern (sometimes called Isan) region is definitely the most authentic Thai area to live in. There are far less western comforts and far more tropical beauties. The foreign concentration is minimal here and you get to truly feel like you understand what it means to live in Thailand.
Language would be a key factor here. Even in the south, English isn’t always easy to come by, but it’s even harder in Isan. You will find the most authentic Thai food here, meaning you best love your spicy food!
I think that moving here is a choice that you should make after living somewhere else first. If you feel compelled to immerse yourself in the wonderful country, language and country even more then you can take the plunge. It’ll help to learn some of the lingo first too!
Bankok and Central Thailand is where you go to make money and live amongst constant buzz of activity. There are experiences, shopping and amenities that may even exceed what you are used to at home, but it has a price to match.
Living in central Thailand is also substantially more expensive. For example, the living allowance subsidy in the south is 2000THB a month whereas it’s 10,000THB in Bangkok and that’s just a contribution, not nearly enough for a months rent (depending on your standards of course).
Air pollution is a definite factor to consider as well as the humidity that is paired with it. Finding a road without traffic or a train where you can sit down are massive luxuries, but it also adds to the vibrant city life.
Life here seems overwhelming at first, but you start to grow accustomed to it and realise its a lot less dangerous than major cities elsewhere around the world. So if you’re a city slicker, here’s a good opportunity to feel comfortable while fulfilling that desire.
Choosing An Age Group
I’d suggest using the game test to see where you should teach. Proficiency, dedication, and circumstances will change from school to school, but the amount of energy you will need remains the same.
Nursery school requires endless energy and very little teaching. You can spend a year singing songs, dancing and changing nappies (diapers).
Anuban is one step up from this, but you’ll want to drill in the basics of the alphabet, colours and perhaps shapes. If you can manage those in and amongst your singing and dancing, you’re golden!
Prathom 1 to 3 are usually grouped together and are about simple sentence exchanges. Identify what everyday items are, explain simple feelings and ideas and then express yourself simplistically. Sprinkled with a game or activity per lesson.
Prathom 4 to 6 are also grouped together and delve more into conversations and the beginnings of grammar and punctuation. Games happen once a week or once a unit perhaps.
Matthayom 1 to 3 could be the final years of their schooling and are often focused in many other places, not English. They expect a high level of grammar and language usage but haven’t developed comprehension yet. Games are out of the question.
Matthayom 4 to 6 should be a little better as the students who choose English as part of their studies have a predilection towards it and are usually more proficient and dedicated. The goal would be to have clear conversation. Games can be implemented to test comprehension from time to time.
If you love teaching and can’t imagine dwindling time with games, then Matthayom 1 to 3 is for you. If you are the complete opposite you should find yourself happy in Nursery school. You can just work out the rest yourself.
Choosing Between A School or Learning Center
I’d suggest going for a school if you are coming for a minimum of 6 months and are planning on travelling further or teaching for longer afterward.
A learning center is more suited to you if you are looking to work yourself to the bone to make the extra cash or you’re only stopping by for a month or two and want to make a quick buck.
In Thailand, you can choose either. Schools and centres both exist all over the place and English teachers come and go with the seasons, so finding a position won’t be too difficult.
That makes this option one you can pretty much be guaranteed to fulfil (unless you get signed with an agency, then they will dictate this to you depending on their contract with the municipality).
Learning centres have erratic hours, smaller classes, better resources and a more personal teaching environment. Schools have the exact opposite, a regular schedule, probably fewer contact hours, more students and fewer resources.
If you are here to make friends and travel, the hold that a learning centre has on your time doesn’t accommodate that very well. While your friends enjoy cocktails on the beach, you could be teaching a 5-year-old the difference between a square and triangle.
That doesn’t bother you? You like the random nature? Great! You could even apply for more hours and maybe get a little more money at the end of the month. Some centres have camps, outings and overseas trips that they will happily take you on.
Schools provide safety and stability. A reliable salary, clear expectations, and a comfortable environment – routine can be very welcoming when you are brand new in a country!
They are a great place to make friends with foreigners and locals alike and you get weekends and holidays off! (Holidays are the months of April and October.)
Choosing Between A Private or Public School
If you are going at it solo, definitely head for a private school. Public schools are more likely your choice if you are heading into in with a placement agency.
This is not often a decision you get to make unless you are opting to make the leap and teach English in Thailand without an agency. In that case, a private school will probably be your best bet for two major reasons.
Firstly, they are more likely to be willing to organise a work-permit for you. They are an expensive and tedious process to undergo and private schools are more likely to demand it as well as have the means to make it happen.
Secondly, private schools are known to hire individuals more than agencies. Agencies often accept anyone, whereas private schools demand a certain level and like to vet candidates themselves.
Public schools are more often linked to an agency already, so getting in there wouldn’t be too difficult unless you plan to go without an agency. If that’s the case, a public school with an agency wouldn’t be allowed to hire you.
Outside of being with or without an agency, chances are you won’t have much say on the matter, but it’s nice to think about at any rate. I must mention that students in Thailand are very respectful and well behaved (to the larger scale) so that shouldn’t persuade you or dissuade you in this toss-up. Private schools in the western world are known to host the snobby and arrogant children, but in this case, it’s to a much lesser degree.
Choosing English Program or English Classes
English Program is more education intensive, where you spend all of your time with one class of students. English Classes have a much wider reach and are more focused on learning English!
Tammy chose English classes and I (Byron) chose English Program, so we will quickly cover our pros and cons for each.
For English Program you will need to have some sort of proficiency in Maths and Science. You don’t teach very complicated subject matter and there are sometimes textbooks to help, but it is in the explanation that proficiency helps. You need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each student and be able to explain a concept to them in a way that fits their learning style. Remember, you are their teacher for this… You’re not just an added extra.
English classes on the other hand focus on English conversation. You’re reading this? You’re fine! You must, however, consider things like your accent, annunciation and word choice: diapers or nappies? Ice-cream or lollie? Chips or fries?
For English Classes, you will be teaching the same lesson multiple times and stay on the same topic for weeks at a time. It gets tedious. English Program is a lost more fast-paced so half of your life will be spent planning.
You can make further extrapolations for the comparisons based on the above and the generalisation generally holds true.
Making The Choice
Probably the biggest deciding factor should be your intentions and dispositions. English Program is going to demand a lot from you. Teaching becomes most of your life and the students do too. You will be majorly responsible for their education and will see the same faces day-in-day-out.
English classes are far less demanding and can be a lot more boring, but, and this is the big one, you have the capacity to make a BIGGER change. Paradoxical at first, but it’s true.
Being responsible for an entire school (or a large portion at least) you set the standard. Tammy came in where students at age 13 weren’t able to say their name and left with her students bidding her farewell in English. That’s a massive impact that helps a lot of students. The flipside is, of course, you could merely maintain the standard with very little effort.
A small, but noteworthy, mention would be that the English Program is new in some areas meaning that there is very little reference. I had no curriculum. After much ado, I eventually made it myself with tonnes of research and reading frustratingly long government standardisations for English and regular learning. You may not be found in such a tight situation, but small hiccups are prevalent in the new system.
The intention of this article is merely to make you aware of some major decisions you may face when deciding to teach English in Thailand. Alerting you to these schools of thought should hopefully enable you to make a more effective and exciting decision.
You are often only asked these questions at the final step of filling in a form that dictates your life for the next few months! So if you take the time in ponderment now you can rest easy when it comes time to make the call.
The final piece of advice we can offer is our personal priority order, which is as follows:
2. School or Learning Center
3. English Program or English Classes
4. Age Group
5. Private School or Public School
If any of this, even in a small way, aids you in making the decision to go or how to go about teaching English in Thailand, please let us know. We would really love to hear your travel stories!
Do you have questions about teaching English in Thailand? Please feel free to ask them in the comments below and we will help you out however we can!
Extra Resources For Teaching English In Thailand
We also have a few resources that might help you further along the journey, such as:
How to become an English teacher in Thailand which covers the steps we took from making the decision, all the way up to landing in Thailand.
How to send money from Thailand to South Africa which was a whole lot of research, but really paid off!
We also have an honest recount of our experience Teaching English in Thailand which is shown below:
Travelling While Teaching
If you watched our video above you will know that it’s not very easy to embark on massive travels while teaching English in Thailand. What made our travels a lot easier was using 12Go Asia.
Securing all of our transport before we set foot out the door always provided us peace of mind.
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