Paul has spent many years teaching English as a foreign and second language. He has taught EFL in Taiwan and Thailand, and ESL in the U.S.
Primary Thai Students Putting on a Performance
Teaching English in Thailand Schools
For almost seven years, I taught English as a foreign language (EFL) in Thailand public and private schools K-12. Overall, this was a great experience and there are no real regrets. It was not an easy job, but rather very challenging and at times frustrating. This is because teaching EFL in Thailand was a lot different from my previous experiences of teaching EFL and ESL in Taiwan and the United States. In this article, I present the good, the bad, and the ugly of EFL teaching in "the Land of Smiles." Hopefully, it will be beneficial to teachers seeking positions teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) in Thailand.
Sixth Grade EFL Students in Thailand
What's Good About TEFL in Thailand?
In reflecting on my experiences from 2007 until 2014, I would have to conclude there is more good than bad or ugly in teaching in public and private schools K-12 in Thailand. Why else would I have stayed in this field? The good points include:
1. A Steady Job With Fixed Monthly Salary
Most foreign teachers in a primary or secondary school have a year-long contract with either their school or an agent who has secured their employment at a school. Teachers are often guaranteed 18-22 hours of teaching each week at a monthly salary, usually between 1,000 and 2,500 U.S. dollars. Most of the time, teachers don't have to rely on part-time employment at evening private adult TEFL schools to make ends meet.
2. Paid Thai National Holidays And School Breaks
If a teacher has signed a contract with a school, he or she will be given paid Thai national holidays and paid time off during the school break in October between semesters. The teacher will also be given two to three months of paid vacation during the Thai summer break between school years. This break usually runs from the beginning of March until the latter half of May. If a teacher has signed a contract with an agent, he or she will only be paid for national holidays.
3. Extra Benefits
In many schools, teachers receive free medical insurance and a free lunch. On the occasions of Christmas, New Year, and Teachers Day, teachers usually receive gifts from the schools, especially if they are private. Many students also give New Year gifts to their favorite teachers.
4. Free Seminar Training And Financial Support From Schools for Training in Education
Twenty hours of free seminar training in teaching and learning theory and application is provided to teachers in most schools each year. If a teacher decides to work towards a Bachelors's or Master's Degree in Education, the school will usually pay 50 percent of the tuition cost.
5. Special Satisfaction From Seeing Students Succeed
There is no better feeling than coaching students in public speaking and then seeing them win a speech contest. It is also quite rewarding in writing a letter of recommendation for an excellent model student who is accepted for studying abroad in either the United States or the United Kingdom.
Thailand English in Thailand Schools
Teaching EFL Students in Thailand
What's Bad About TEFL in Thailand?
TEFL teaching can be very tiring and frustrating. At times I was tempted to get out of it for the following reasons:
1. Long Hours
In many schools a teacher must be at work Monday through Friday from 7:20 A.M. until 4:30 P.M. During these nine hours, a teacher will normally have four or five hours of classroom instruction. When not teaching, a teacher must remain on the school campus in his or her faculty room to prepare lessons or grade student papers and tests.
2. Excessive Paperwork
Many schools require teachers to prepare detailed lesson plans along with evaluations after a unit is taught. Most teachers have seven or eight different classes with a total of 240-300 students. This certainly creates a lot of paperwork in grading workbooks and notebooks, tests, and preparing detailed students' evaluations.
3. Visa Runs
Most of the foreign teachers have work permits with a year-long non-immigrant visa. These teachers must go to the Immigration Bureau every three months to report their residence. The teachers who have no work permit or nonimmigrant visa must go on visa runs to neighboring countries like Laos, Cambodia, or Malaysia every two or three months to apply for new tourist visas.
4. There Is More Entertainment Than Teaching
When I first started EFL work in Thailand in 2007, I quickly found out that all schools want learning to be fun. To grab and maintain the attention of students, it is necessary in many cases to be more of an entertainer than an educator. During my first job at a public high school, I was frankly told by the head English teacher that I should be entertaining my students by singing or playing games with them!!
5. Everyone Must Pass
According to the Ministry of Education policies, no student can fail, even if they don't achieve the minimum passing score of 50 percent. For me, it is especially disturbing to pass a student who is lazy, unmotivated, and unwilling to try to do homework or participate in class.
6. Bad Communication Between School Administration and Foreign Teachers
It never fails that the foreign teacher is the last person in school to learn about canceled classes or an extra school holiday. My colleagues and I have wasted so much time showing up for scheduled classes that were canceled at the last minute without our knowledge.
What's Ugly About TEFL in Thailand?
Almost all of my ugly experiences teaching EFL in Thailand occurred while I was employed at a public school. They include the following:
1. No Air-Conditioning in Classrooms
During my first teaching assignment at a public school, there was no air-conditioning in any of the classrooms. Fortunately, it was approaching the cool season in Thailand, and I did not suffer from the heat and humidity as much as I would have had during the rainy season.
2. Ancient Chalkboards
I hated writing on the chalkboards because the surface of all of the old boards was very bad. Every time I used a piece of chalk it would break, and you wouldn't believe how much dirty chalk dusk I got on my clothes.
3. No Faculty Lounge or Teacher's Desk
There was no room for foreign teachers in the Thai teachers' faculty lounge, so my two colleagues and I operated out of the school's resource room. Sharing a seven-foot-long table, we were expected to prepare lesson plans, but there were no computers available for our use.
4. Large Classes Which Met Once a Week
I remember teaching 17 different ninth and twelfth-grade co-ed classes which met one hour a week. Sixty students were packed into a small classroom which afforded the teacher hardly any room to stand in front of the class.
5. Disrespectful Students
Most of the students were quite disrespectful and hardly ever greeted or acknowledged me outside of the classroom. In one instance, a student threw an eraser and hit me in the back while I was writing on the chalkboard.
Considering the good and the bad, teaching English in Thailand schools, especially in private schools, has been a very rewarding experience. What disturbs me the most is the emphasis on entertainment over education and the policy that all students must pass even if not deserving. Perhaps I shouldn't be disturbed because today's world is different from when I attended school more than 50 years ago.
Teaching English in Thailand
Teaching English in Thailand
Hubs Related to Teaching English in Thailand
- Who Are the Foreign English Language Teachers in Thailand?
The foreign English language teachers in Thailand are a blend of young and old male and female mostly from western countries. This hub examines the foreign English language teachers in Thailand.
- Surviving as a New Foreign English Teacher in Thailand
English teaching in Thailand is much different from that of western countries. Based on my seven years of teaching in Bangkok, learn how to survive as a new foreign English teacher in Thailand.
- How Do I Get EFL Teaching Jobs in Thailand?
The explosion of English Programs in an increasing number of schools across Thailand has presented English speaking foreigners with a great opportunity to teach EFL. Here are tips for getting jobs.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn
Joe on September 21, 2020:
This is great information Paul. I might go teach in Thailand after I retire from my current job in a year or so. I’ve been taking TESOL courses, and have begun teaching adult ESOL as a volunteer at night - and I love it. My current job is completely unrelated to teaching, but I think I have the teaching bug in me. You’ve made me realize how important it is to find the right fit. I’d want to be in a school where respect from the students is expected if I do pursue a position - so I’d heed your advice and stay away from the public schools. Have you taught any adults in Thailand? If so, what was that experience like. One thing I love about teaching ESOL to adults is that they are motivated and enthusiastic about learning. But I would also like to have the experience of teaching kids too.
Maxwell Kamlongera on August 17, 2019:
Yes, from the good it was the paid salary where at my school they have a policy of paying all teachers the same amount (other schools paid higher salaries if the teacher was from a native speaking country).
From the bad it was mainly being an entertainer more than a teacher, the no fail policy, and the terrible communication between the Thai teachers and foreign teachers. There would be days you come to school and find your students are not in class and you're told only then that they have some other activity so your class won't happen.
And from the ugly it was having a large group that met only once. I taught grades 11, 9, and 8 and each grade had about 9 different groups varying from 30 to 60 students. We only met once a week so the timetable was very tight and I really felt it wasn't a suitable way of solidifying English skills in the students. You could only give them material and hope they'd make the most out of it in their free time.
Fortunately I never had to deal with rude students but I heard a lot of horror stories from other school teachers about the behavior of their students.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 15, 2019:
Just out of curiosity, was your experience at the government school in Thailand a mixture of the good, bad, and ugly which I described in my article?
Maxwell Kamlongera on August 14, 2019:
Hi Paul, I taught at a government school just outside of Bangkok. The area I lived at had a few other schools and it was great for meeting other teachers both local and foreign.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 13, 2019:
Were you teaching in a government or private school in Thailand? Thanks for your good comments.
Maxwell Kamlongera on August 12, 2019:
Having taught university students in South Africa and changing to high school students in Thailand it was a bit of an adjustment for me mainly due to the difference in how students are taught (especially the no fail policy).
You've got a great and informative article that captures the core experience of teaching abroad in Thailand and it's great you've also linked to other Hubs on the topic for further information.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on September 15, 2016:
I have taught EFL and ESL in only two countries in Asia- Taiwan and Thailand. Most of my teaching in Taiwan was during the 1970s and my students were mostly adults. They were extremely respectful. As to teaching kids, I only taught EFL to Taiwan secondary students for one week in 2007. The kids were respectful and I had no discipline problems. As to Thailand, most of my discipline problems and lack of teacher respect were found when I was teaching in a government school. When I taught in a private all-girls Catholic school, at least 90 percent of the girls were extremely respectful. Thanks for commenting!
wiserworld on September 15, 2016:
Thanks for sharing the tips for teaching in Thailand. Do you find kids to be more respectful in the country towards teachers compared to other countries in Asia?
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on June 27, 2015:
I appreciate your comments about international schools in Thailand. Since I have never taught in an international school in Thailand, I did not include any observations or opinions about them. I agree with what you say because I used to live not too far from Bangkok Pattana School.
Palis Pisuttisarun from Bangkok, Thailand on June 27, 2015:
When you started writing about "The Ugly", I think you should think about who you are addressing this to.
I studied at Bangkok Patana School - the most expensive international school in Thailand. It costs $30,000 to send one child there for an academic year. "No Air Conditioner" and "ancient chalkboards" are quite inaccurate descriptions. In this school, the school doesn't have any chalkboards. Instead, we have a $15,000 HD touchscreen smartboard. In addition to this, every student is provided with a personal iPad Mini and a MacBook Pro for all students, as well as a Kindle Fire HD for reading eBooks.
Not only is there good-quality air-conditioning in the classrooms but also in the cafeteria, lounge, sports hall, indoor swimming pool and the tennis courts. The facilities here are amazing, our lockers have fingerprint scanners and stuff like that. The school spends about 40 million baht every year on new technologies.
Of course this wouldn't be true in a government school or a Thai school but definitely rethink what you said because there are International schools where the super rich send their kids there.
However, most English teachers in Thailand don't get to experience it because you would need to have graduated from a Top 20 school like Harvard, MIT, CalTech, Stanford, UCLA, Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge or at least UCL or Imperial. If you graduated from a really famous school, I serious suggest applying for a job here so you can experience all the amazing facilities.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 26, 2014:
Stuart, I appreciate your comments and can empathize with everything you say. Lack of communication is Thai schools is a big problem which irritated me much while I was teaching. You are correct in stating that behavior is a problem in all Thai schools, especially the government schools where you probably worked. You probably noticed that the Caucasian teacher is mostly viewed as a "white monkey" since "edutainment" is really important in Thailand.
Stuart on July 16, 2014:
I lasted half a month in a Thai High School, no thank you the experience was awful, the children unruly and I have taught in a Black township school in South Africa where the students were much more behaved. Lack of communication infuriated me and I had to do lesson plans over again because of the lack of clarrification from the syllabus that was given to me. One of my Thai co teachers was a pain in the neck and was a perfectionist. She wanted us to come up with materials that would have to cost us quite a bit from our wallets so I ended up creating power point presentations but unfortunately my computer never had the correct cable so they said I had to come to them in advance because they had computers. When I did so they would get angry and irritated with me. Everything had to be printed in advance. When I arrived at the school they said all lesson plans had to be complete over a period of 2 weeks for the semester. I thought to myself working all these hours under this much pressure for a measly $1000, sorry I woud rather go back to South Africa and earn less and have a better quality of life budgeting tightly. Thailand is a great place for vocation and has some of the most friendly people but to work in a school here, NO THANK YOU!
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on December 03, 2012:
Thank you very much for reading my hub and your very insightful comments. It took a while to get used to teaching kids after having spent my earlier years teaching mainly adults in Taiwan.
Kymberly Fergusson from Germany on December 02, 2012:
Many of these points are quite similar to teaching in Japan, at least for the English ALTs that take their teaching/entertaining seriously and are acknowledged by their co-teachers (where acknowledgement == marking and assessment, plus 5-6 lessons per day).
I know many JETs co-taught 2-3 classes per day, and were terribly bored, but my co-teachers had me teaching 5-6, with many of these planned and run mostly by me, plus assessment. Apparently it's not a typical JET Programme experience.
The lack of air conditioning, kerosene heating and old blackboards were definitely tough to get used to after Australian heated/cooled classrooms with whiteboards. Most of my classes/students were well behaved, only a couple were ones I dreaded.
Lack of interest and motivation is a problem in all schools, everywhere around the world.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 14, 2012:
Thanks for reading my hub and your comments. Right now you don't need certification in education to get an ESL/EFL job in a tier two school, which is a step down from the international schools which hire only teachers with certification from western countries. Your degrees and IDELT are more than sufficient to get a job in a private school similar to the one where I am now teaching. You definitely want to avoid getting a job in a public school. I have never worked in a chain school like AUA or Language Express. If you get a job in the school where I am teaching you would start out at 35,000 baht a month and after a six month probationary period be up to 40,000. After every year with a contract from the school, your salary would increase 5,000 baht. If you earned at 35,000 and really watched your living and entertainment expenses, you could save some money. If you have more questions email me at email@example.com
Vince P. from New York, USA on October 13, 2012:
Hi, Paul --
I’m considering going to Thailand to look for an ESL teacher job. I have a B.S. and an M.A., but in areas unrelated to education. I have an IDELT certificate from Bridge and six months experience teaching business English in Santiago, Chile. With my limited experience teaching ESL and lack of an education degree and license from my home country, would I have any shot at getting a job at a private school? I doubt that I could survive a year there teaching in a classroom without AC. So public schools would be out for me.
Have you ever worked at a one of the chain schools such as AUA or Language Express?
Can you really save any money there earning $30,000 baht/month? This is the average salary I see on ajarn. It doesn’t seem like very much money. I’m in my forties, and I prefer to put away a little money every year. At this stage, I’m not sure I’d want to live hand to mouth every month.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on September 23, 2012:
Thanks for reading this hub and your great comments! I don't have a problem with the students taking I-pads to class, however at times they have had phones and MP3 players which I have had to take away.
Richard J ONeill from Bangkok, Thailand on September 23, 2012:
This is an excellent hub and I have gone through all the experiences you mentioned above, good, bad and ugly!!
But as you say, there is more good than otherwise. Enough to make us want to stay in this country and continue on our sometimes almost impossible mission to encourage these Thai children to actually take English seriously.
One of the biggest problems I face these days is those little I-pads, phones, I-phones etc being used in the classroom ALL the time. I waste half my class time disciplining and confiscating these annoynances. Technology is taking us backwards in terms of social skills and actual thinking skills because if all you have to do is stare at a screen and tap it all day, there won't be as much happening up there.
Oh well. We strive onwards and enjoy regardless because when it does go right, it is wonderful!
Good job Paul.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 31, 2012:
Thank you very much for your interesting comments about being an edutainer.
Jenniferteacher from Seoul on August 31, 2012:
The amount of entertainment varies by job, but earlier today, a friend teaching at a top 5 uni's grad program complained about being an "edutainer". So, at least a little seems to be expected everywhere, and a lot is expected at most academies.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 31, 2012:
Thanks for stopping by and your comments. My son is teaching in Taiwan, and he tells me that some entertainment is also expected in Taiwan schools, but not on the scale that it is in Thailand.
Jenniferteacher from Seoul on August 30, 2012:
There are a lot of similarities between teaching in Thailand and S Korea-- overall it's good, but there is still much room for improvement. I don't recall entertainment being a priority when I was in school, either, but times have changed, I suppose.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 23, 2012:
Thanks for reading this hub and your insightful comments. If you plan on teaching English as a foreign language in Thailand for a year or two it would be wise to get a non-immigrant B visa. With this visa renewable every year, you will be able to get a work permit if sponsored by a school. With the non-immigrant B you only need to report to immigration once every 90 days. If you don't have a non-immigrant B, you can still teach in Thailand with a tourist visa, but you won't be able to get a work permit. The work permit makes you legal in Thailand, but I know of a lot of teachers here who only are working with a tourist visa. The problem with the tourist visa is that it is only good for 2-3 months and then you have to make a visa run to either Malyasia or Laos to apply for another tourist visa. There is a demand for EFL teachers now, It would be best to have a degree, but there are people teaching her without any or with bogus degrees. Read some of the hubs I have written on this subject. If you still have questions, let me know.
Brittany from Buffalo, NY on August 22, 2012:
Great hub! I hate to say it, but I don't think Thai schools are alone in their desire to pass all students, whether they deserve it or not. At least here in New York, where the education system is renowned for being tough (at least for educators who want to work in it), I've heard countless times of high school teachers fudging grades or just flat out giving students high grades just so that they can pass to the next level. It's sad, and part of the reason I'm continuing to focus on teaching ESL at the college level. Granted, some students of course don't take classes seriously; but I find that most of my students are here to learn. They don't want to waste the time and money they're investing in themselves by focusing on entertainment over education in the classroom.
Is the visa situation different for a person who, like you, is living in Thailand, versus someone who wants to teach there for just a year or two? Also, is it easy to get a job teaching overseas? It's something I've been thinking about and would like to do, but I honestly have no idea where to start.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 16, 2012:
The hidden agenda of education in many Thailand schools is to make money. Yes, most schools, especially private, are run as businesses. If the students don't receive good grades (i.e. fail or get close to failing) their parents will send them to another school that will give them good grades. No, all jobs in Thailand are not fun. I still can't understand why a student only needs 50 percent to pass a course. A few years ago I got a Thai driver's license and had to score at least 80 percent on the written test to get a license!!! As students go up through the ranks they generally remain a mixed bag in every class making it very challenging for teachers. Thanks for reading and your comments.
ESLTeachersTales on August 15, 2012:
Wow, I would be disturbed by 4 & 5 of the bad too. Yes, there needs to be room for fun but there also still needs to be a place for discipline. Can everything we need to know be learned and retained through games alone? Perhaps the answer is yes. I don't know. There's also the "hidden" agenda of education, which is preparing the young to be productive members of society after the school years. Are all the jobs in Thailand fun? If not, what happens when the perpetually entertained student encounters the un-fun job?
And of course passing every student is just ridiculous. I assume it's self-serving to make the schools look good. As students go up through the ranks, do they begin to group them according to ability or does it remain a mixed bag in every class up through high school?
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 14, 2012:
Thanks for reading this hub and your comments. Yes, every teacher needs to entertain today, but has teaching today everywhere in the world come down to being more of an entertainer than an educator?
Mary Craig from New York on August 14, 2012:
Considering the good, the bad, and the ugly I would vote you felt more of the good. This was an interesting hub about education in Thailand from a teacher's perspective. I think every teacher needs to entertain today, with all the technology kids live with every day they see life as being fast paced!
Enjoyed this hub and voted up and interesting.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 13, 2012:
Thanks for reading and your encouraging comments.
maddot from Northern NSW, Australia on August 13, 2012:
Great hub! Very informative for ESL teachers, thanks.
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 13, 2012:
Thank you for reading and your comments.
Andrew Spacey from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on August 13, 2012:
You had to be an entertainer in class! How novel. You sound as if on the whole you've had a great five years entertaining your pupils - sorry, educating them!
Some useful information,first hand, always the best. Thanks for this hub, full of insights and solid experience.