Updated: Mar 7
Are you curious about what it is like to be a teacher in Thailand? Or are you wanting to maybe teach in Thailand someday? I bet you are wondering, "what is it really like being a teacher in Thailand"? I have been here for a year now and I can tell you just some things you need to know about Thailand and being a teacher. I have had quite a journey in Thailand; I have taught briefly in a language school with all age groups, elementary kids aged 5-9, and as a private English tutor in an International school. It wasn't my intention to change schools so many times, but with an experience with a broken trust of contract from an employer, visa issues, and then the 2020 pandemic.. I have gone through three schools and am back at the (elementary school) Anuban school. The main reason I persevered through all of this is the tropical lifestyle here and low cost of living.
What is it that you should know about teaching in Thailand...
1. Teachers are respected and have a high social status in Thai culture.
I can say that teachers a well respected among the community and from your students. This is a cultural thing and being a teacher is looked with respect from the community. You are a role model for the kids and also viewed as being "good character" and more of a goody goody.
2. Thailand really wants English teachers in their schools.
The need for English teachers in Thailand is high. English is becoming more and more widespread, thus making the need for English teachers a hot commodity. Not only is it needed, but Thailand has a high number of expats (foreigners living abroad). There are some well known expat hot spots such as Bangkok, Pattaya, Krabi, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Phuket, and Koh Samui.
I lived in Koh Samui a tropical island paradise and taught at an international school. While living in a place with many expats is familiar, in most of these places it is more expensive, less Thai locals, and a lot of tourism there. This was true for Koh Samui, it is much more expensive compared to the rest of Thailand.
Please do your research beforehand about the town, the school, cultural things, and the agency to get an in depth look at what you are getting yourself into. As a native speaker your pay should be about 30,000 baht per month, don’t accept much lower than that.. also they should pay for your work permit and/or your work visa. If you are not a native English speaker you can still work in Thailand, you will have to take a proficiency exam, and if you pass you will be good to go.
When coming to teach bring all of your documents. The standard requirements are proficient in English, a bachelors degree, a TEFL or ESL teaching certificate. Experience with kids or teaching can help you too. Bring your documents of certificates, original degree, verification of your degree (look up your country requirement.. some you have to verify in your home country and cannot verify your degree in Thailand), original transcripts, and resume /CV.
3. Long work hours
The reality is the work hours as a teacher are long. I start my day at anywhere from 7.00 am to 8.00 am. School is in session from 8.30 - 16.30. As teachers we are expected to arrive early for the assembly and to prepare for our day. On some days we are expected to do gate duty to greet the students. I do not teach every hour of the day, however I teach about 20 hours and most teachers will teach 15-20 hours per week. In our downtime, we are preparing lessons, printing materials, or grading assignments. Some schools will allow you to leave early if you are finished, while others want you to stay the full time. It is okay if you wish to grab some street food or go for a bubble tea run. I might add at my school all of the street food is less than 5 minutes away, so that is probably why we have the flexibility to do this.
4. Respect your elders in the school system
This is extremely important. Elders are very important and highly respected in Thai culture. If you forget to abide by this cultural practice, then you will leave a bad impression to start. Anyone in high position you must always "wai" (thai bow). The correct way to wai to someone whom you respect and is older than you is to wai with your hands to your nose. For someone of very high rank such as a monk, your wai will have your hands equal to your forehead. If you want to act extra Thai then when passing a an elder you will slightly duck, so you are not higher than them. If you want to learn more about the specifics you can watch how to properly wai here.
A cultural tip is if you have a suggestion or constructive criticism I suggest you keep it to yourself. Of course share with your equal peers, however if it is something that questions authority this is viewed as highly disrespectful in Thai culture. This is a big difference and it is something to keep in mind. Elders make the decisions in Thai community. This goes for the school system as well.
5. No fail school system
This is something that is extremely different and I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. The reality is that there is a no fail system. Also, students cannot be promoted to a higher grade either. As teachers you are still expected to grade their work, however everyone already knows what the outcome will be in the end -pass. The thing is with this if you do not agree with it and feel strongly against it, then maybe don't be a teacher here. It is their policy. Also, if a student is failing and you don't allow them to pass there will be many quarrels and you will be viewed as the one who failed them. Just follow the protocol and there will be no problems.
6. No problem attitude "Mai bpen rai"
Speaking of no problems, Thai people often say the phrase "mai bpen rai" which means no problem. A simple piece of advice is to just have a no problem attitude and don't worry. In Thai culture it is very common to say this and also be polite always. Sure people are not polite sometimes, but more times then not politeness is key. If class is cancelled, mai bpen rai, if theres a Buddhist ceremony during school mai bpen rai. If monks come to teach for the day mai bpen rai. If your schedule often changes mai bpen rai. If you weren't informed about a special themed assembly mai bpen rai. Communication is different than the West and it also could be a mixture of language barrier issues on top of that too.
These are some of the key things I have learned along the way of teaching in Thailand and by getting used to these cultural differences I have had an enjoyable time. Being a teacher isn't all fun and games, but there are cultural things to learn and long hours you put in. If you have a heart for teaching, it will all be worth it.