How Old is Too Old to Teach English in Thailand?

A good full time or part-time revenue source for expat Americans is teaching English, but we often hear feedback that semi-retired new residents are too old for this job.  Is that really true?  Or, are senior expats welcomed in teaching? 

This question has come up recently from a few people that would like to teach English in Thailand but have hit the roadblock of age.  Age is something that is impossible to control yourself, and unless one gets hit by a speeding bus, we will all be there sometime (so you young guys should not be so smug).  Understand that in Thailand there is not the protectionism found in the US for people of certain groups, including age groups.  A job opening can be limited to females (or males) or a certain age or a certain nationality in Thailand.  That’s the way it is.

Thailand is a great place for retirement, or just escaping the stress of life in America.  Many of these newer arrivals from the West into Thailand are in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and many of them want to teach English to supplement their retirement income, integrate into the Thai local community and to have some fun.  Kids in Thailand tend to be very polite, non-criminal (like they are in so many cities in America) and very cute.  They are also very eager to learn, and especially to learn English.

There is a huge demand for native English speaking teachers in Thailand that is not being fully met.  Being able to speak English for a Thai adult is a ticket to higher income, and everyone here knows it.  Since the demand for native English speaking teachers cannot be met, many from other parts of the world step in to try and fill the demand.  Years ago, my step daughter in a government school in Thailand had an English teacher from Kenya, and I would say he could not speak decent English.  I couldn’t understand him at all, and he knew virtually nothing about life in America (only what Hollywood has shown him).  But this is often the only level available for schools to hire sometimes.

The official retirement age for teachers in Thailand (and most other professions as well) is 60 years old, and many schools won’t hire a teacher over the age of 45.  So does that close the door to a person of mature age that wants to teach?  Not at all if one is flexible and works a little harder for the job than their younger teacher colleagues.

Maybe many of the opportunities open to younger English language speakers will not be available, so it will be a bit more of a challenge, but for those with the right upbeat attitude and “can-do” spirit without getting bogged down by negativity from others about things that cannot be changed, it is still “do-able”.  Even though much of what is out in the world are roadblocks to life, it is essential to be able to not let this get you down and stop you from finding a way through it.

First, however, teachers must meet the qualifications to teach, and this especially true for senior age teachers.  That means having a legitimate Bachelor’s degree from a real university or college in any subject and having a teacher’s certificate like a TEFL.  Having at least one year’s teaching experience also adds well to these qualifications.  It is easier for a good looking American in their 20s to slide through the system with a few things missing in the background, but not for us seniors.   It can be done, but it will be harder.

Getting a TEFL certificate is relatively easy for a college graduate that is a native English speaker.  Four week courses are offered in cities around Thailand, and many will have job placement after completion.  I can recommend a good one in Chiang Mai that has a cost of about USD $1400 (42,000 ฿), UniTEFL School.  You will be totally prepared at the end of this course to run a classroom and the school is confident that they can find anyone that completes their training a job teaching in Thailand.  The school is run by an American.  Complete the form below, and they will send you complete info about their school.

One good bet for a senior aged English teacher is to get out of Bangkok.  The best paying jobs are there, and the Bangkok lifestyle is very good for younger teachers, so a senior aged teacher will find fewer jobs available for them.  Living “upcountry” is a better lifestyle in any case, and the further out and remote you are, the more you will be appreciated as an teacher.  I particularly like the hills of the far north of Thailand around Chiang Rai, where English language speakers are few and far between but in great demand.  Your main competition up here as a teacher will be the Christian missionaries that teach people if they will go every Sunday to their church and the English they teach is from or about the Christian Bible (nice, but limiting for those looking for ways to increase their earning power with the language).

The one year celebration for a class at the Technical College that I teach English part time with. I am the one farang guy in the middle row with the faculty of the school.

I do a little teaching volunteer work for a small Technical College (a vocational training center that is an alternative to high school or an academic college).  The school is located in the hills southeast of Chiang Rai by about 100km, and a good percentage of the people there are Akha Hill Tribe people.  I just volunteer because I am not willing to tie myself down to the requirements of a real “job” (a paying job, that is).  But despite my age of 65, the owners of the tech college are practically begging me to teach English regularly for them.  I seem to be the only farang (foreigner) that has ever stepped into their school, and I feel very appreciated by the eager students and the Thai teachers.  I just do a little amount of teaching there on an infrequent basis because I enjoy it.   But I have proven to myself that jobs are definitely out there for seniors that want to go to these more remote areas.

Teacher salaries in the remote areas are less than in the big City for sure, but the cost of living and the quality of life (for those that like country life, anyway), makes up for that.  Often the schools will provide housing, albeit the accommodations may not be luxurious (which may not be available at all in the area), with perhaps no AC and few amenities.

Image is very important in Thailand.  If you are a scruffy, sweaty backpacker with untrimmed hair and a few body piercings, you are sending a message — one that is not always well received by Thai people (and school hiring personnel).  What is really sad is that schools in the big City often hire that scruffy young backpacker over you in your white shirt and tie and much more life experience.  They don’t always make the right choice.

A senior aged teacher that wants to get a teaching job in Thailand has to present themselves much better than the typical twenty-something job competitor.  That means showing up the job interview in dress slacks, a clean shirt and a conservative tie for guys and for ladies, a skirt at least knee-length and professional looking along with a clean, long-sleeved blouse (preferably white color).  And then, once a job is obtained, maintain a higher level of dress and image than the younger teachers.  And put on some cologne, be clean and be sharp.  Believe it or not, I have run into English teachers in shorts and T-shirts, and a young woman teacher with a tight skirt with Playboy bunnies all over it.  One’s age is often overlooked if you can project the right image for the school.

Thais adore people that are positive and smile a lot.  They like friendly farangs, and don’t like ones that are not.  Also being more dependable (like showing up for the appointment on time and to classes on time) is something senior teachers seem to be able to do much better than their younger teaching contemporaries.  Believe me, this is noticed.  It may be a laid-back country (OK, it is laid-back for sure), but Northern European style punctuality is appreciated.

It is also important for a senior teacher to be more flexible — perhaps have two or three part time jobs as opposed to a regular day-to-day gig.  Part time teaching jobs are often easier to find, and the younger teachers will always run for the (often false) security of a full time job.  That’s one of the advantages of an older teacher:  we have more life experiences and are able to adapt easier to the job realities.  Because of our age, we have finally realized that the only true security is within ourselves, not what someone else can give us.  The younger set will learn this eventually.

Work on the weekends?  The younger teachers will say absolutely not.  The senior teacher probably won’t have a problem with it, and that gives us another advantage.

Find a specialty.  Not just schools for kids are looking for English teachers, many big companies are looking as well to teach their employees.  If you have a heavy background in a particular industry — say, like Banking —- you are able to relate to Bankers and provide them English language lessons geared to their business.  That makes you more valuable than an inexperienced younger person.  But to find these kinds of jobs may require some gutsy job searching, something an older person is probably more adapt at doing.

I have a friend retired in Seim Reap, Cambodia, that is a retired commercial airline pilot that makes a nice living teaching “aviation English” to Thai and Cambodian air crews.  Pilots from all countries are required to know English, as that is the language of air control, so my resourceful friend found a lucrative niche that he understands.  That is the kind of creativity and flexibility that makes for a very good extra income during retirement.

What is really fun for a retiree is to be able to live on your income from teaching and not even touch your retirement income from pensions or social security.  Letting it build up and watching it accumulate for some big purchase (or emergency) in the future is very comforting.

The best way to keep a job once you have it is to do a good job — better than the other younger teachers.  You will be recognized as an asset to the school, and age will no longer be a factor.  They won’t want to let you go.  It is often not difficult to do better than the younger teachers that are single, holidaying and partying heavily in Thailand.  You have to be serious about the teaching responsibility.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not possible to teach at a senior age. Of course it is.


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5 thoughts on “How Old is Too Old to Teach English in Thailand?

  1. Another good post.

    I have considered teaching here just as a way to earn a little & have something to do.
    But two things have kept me from pursuing it.
    1) The heat .. I am not sure I can handle most schools having no air con & having to dress with a tie for many. I think I would just be a mess. I do not handle heat so well & perhaps I will acclimate more after living here.

    2) I have been self employed all my life so never did obtain a college degree. when I look into it now I see the costs outweigh anything I would get back from teaching financially. Given that I now hear a lot more about them tightening up the rules of teaching without a degree I wonder as to whether or not if I went through a TEFL how long I would be allowed to teach. I am hearing you can get waivers for lack of degree for two years only. Of course the TEFL schools say no problem we will find you work.
    I would not attempt teaching if I did not think I would be a good teacher & I do think I would be. While not having a degree I ran my own business for decades & have taught many folks many things in that business. I communicate well & can get ideas across. I can now speak,read & write Thai a decent amount & continue to learn.
    I always felt a good English teacher should be able to answer questions Thai students would ask. After all I know how many questions I have while learning Thai

    This last one about age I never considered till I read your post. I just turned 56 but by all accounts look 46. I am not bragging it is just in the genes I was given. Folks never believe me when I tell them my age. So maybe that would not be such a problem? I have no idea.

    Given all those reasons I have decided for now to seek other ways to make some income here. Because I feel / am too young to just sit still

    • Interesting comments. I agree with you about the lack of AC in the classroom, but the teacher must maintain a dress decorum that is not comfortable in the heat. That’s a problem. Regarding a college degree: if I had a kid in the USA right this moment that was 18 year old and just out of high school, I think that I would advise him against going to a university in the US. It is no longer a ticket to the American dream (which has pretty much shattered anyway) and there are better investments for that kid’s time and (probably) parent’s money. For sure student debt is also a looming disaster. But Thai schools seemed hung up on the idea that teachers need a college degree — and it can be in women’s studies for all they care. Thai kids, of course, are so fun to work with, though. They really seem to want to learn, and always seem eager for you to show ‘em new stuff, like more English words. I love them all, and it can be very fun to teach them English.
      And at 56, age isn’t even a factor for you at all yet, but I do have to tell you that the next ten years will go extremely fast (like a blink of an eye), so enjoy everyday right now.

      • Thanks for the reply Greg

        I find I tend to always agree with pretty much everything you post. Same goes for college today in the US.
        Actually, when I graduated, I had my choice of a couple of good colleges but I had already been working for the last two years of High School & had a good idea of what I wanted to do, so I just went ahead with life.

        Also whenever I visit my in-laws in the country I teach a bit to the village kids & agree the Thai kids are very eager to learn & respectful compared to kids back home
        ( just my opinion ) They can be a bit shy about practicing with me but other than that they love when I speak with the & teach them the English equivalent of what we are saying word by word etc.

        Also I know what you mean about age picking up speed.
        Each decade goes faster than the last it seems :)

        Thanks for the reminder
        Take Care & Enjoy
        Mike

  2. Total agreement about the diminished importance of college. I work at a state university and I see loads of 18 to 22 year olds take out academic loans and have no idea of direction they want to go in life, change majors, then the university (the government) writes them a check for the portion of the loan they did not use each term. They get new rims for their cars, or go on holiday with the “found money”. Nobody at any level of education is teaching personal finances.

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Making Money in Thailand — Live and Work in Thailand – a Retiree’s Guide | American Expat in Chiang Mai

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