Tomorrow morning, I start my new job teaching Mathematics and Science to first graders in a private school here in Chiang Mai. Just a little over five months in Thailand, and I am embarking on a whole new career far different from anything I have ever done in the past. Back in the USA, I sold new cars, I sold used cars, supervised bank tellers, done a bit of waitressing, but never before teaching, and I am so pleased with myself to have now found my niche. My old friends back in the US and family are going to be quite surprised, and actually so am I. This looks like it is going to be the job shift that I will stay with till the end, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
Back about a year ago, the husband and I decided we needed to make some big changes. We weren’t happy the way the economy was going in the US, wasn’t happy about much of the direction the country seemed headed towards, wasn’t happy stressing out with the pressures of living in America. After a little investigation and a lot of thought, we decided to uproot ourselves and move to the other side of the planet to Northern Thailand. Neither of us had been there before, so this truly going to be a major transformation. Some people thought we were crazy, and maybe they were right.
After selling most of our personal possessions on craigslist, and giving away the rest, we hopped on a plane with a one way ticket to Chiang Mai. It was a major culture shock. Did we do the right thing? Yes, we had plenty of doubts. This was a completely different world. It took a good couple of months just to start to feel a little comfortable in our newly adopted home town. The husband continued to work on his online business and eke out just enough to keep us going, but I needed to find something for myself. I needed to build a foundation for myself. I decided to attend a local Chiang Mai training school for the TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certificate which held some promise of employment in Thailand.
The course taught by UniTEFL in Chiang Mai was more rigorous than I thought it would be. It was intensive and thorough, and a lot tougher than I imagined before. Some of the students in our class dropped out or just could not pass the progressive tests. But for those that were committed and determined and had an inclination towards teaching, the course prepared us well. For me, teaching kids seemed like a natural fit. During the course, we had hands-on teaching in some local schools and were evaluated by their administrators. After completing the program after four very comprehensive weeks, I felt prepared to go the next step, which was getting a job.
So here I am with certificates in hand but unable to speak the local language out trying to look for work. This was a scary moment. What in the hell am I doing here?
Fortunately, the UniTEFL school lined me up for some interviews at some local schools. They do that for most of their graduates. In this process of interviews, I learned how so different getting a job in Thailand is from back home.
In the US, there are protections against discrimination of any kind. That doesn’t exist in Thailand. There is no such thing as saying something politically correct (PC). Employers can specify whether they want a man or a woman, what their age is, how they look, ethnicity, nationality, what their religion is, how much they weigh, how tall are they — anything that comes to their mind, which has no limits as in the US.
“You ARE Christian, Right?” asks one private school interviewer for a job teaching kindergarten kids. To me that was a bit of an odd question in a country that is almost entirely Buddhist. Every job interview at the different schools had an enormously long application form asking a lot of personal questions, plus we had to give them a picture of our self that they can later evaluate along with our application. This was not foreseen by me at all.
I did manage to pick up a temporary part time job teaching kids in one school over the current vacation period with the promise of a permanent and better paying job in July. But July is long way away, and I was starting to get nervous.
And thanks to the neighbors. I also managed to get a weekend gig teaching a couple of kids from my community, with the promise of a few more a little later. One neighbor had a friend of a friend that ran a local private school, and she arranged for an interview for me.
Eureka! After a long application and a very short interview, I hit pay dirt. A job offer came through at a pretty good starting pay — more than enough to pay the rent and food. Just a tiny bit past 5 months after arriving in Chiang Mai, I crossed a major milestone.
The husband and I also joined a school to learn to speak Thai, so now I feel like Thailand is really becoming a home for me. I am starting to communicate with the locals, got myself a job, and developed quite a few friends here in Chiang Mai, both expats and Thai. I found that the most important ingredient for progressing in a foreign home is to be very friendly and make friends.
There are lots of other Americans that are considering becoming English teachers in Thailand, and I can offer some tips that might clear up any misconceptions:
“Is it a requirement to have a 4-year university degree to teach English in Thailand?” No. It certainly helps when going out on the job interview circuit, especially for the first time. I have only an Associates’ Degree (2 year), but other factors seem to be more important than academic background.
“Do you have to know how to speak Thai to teach English in Thailand?” No. There are lots of private schools that teach every class entirely in English and knowing Thai is not necessary. However, it is certainly a good idea to start learning Thai once you are here to get along with others, work in a Thai school and feel comfortable about where you are living.
“Are there plenty of jobs available teaching English?” Yes. Right now there seems to be a big demand for TEFL teachers and not enough of them to fill the demand. Thailand is on an economic fast-track, and having English language skills for a Thai is a ticket for a better income. Also there is a big demand for English language teachers in nearby countries, especially China, where the pay is higher than in Thailand.
“Can someone support themselves on a teacher’s pay?” Yes. The pay for teaching English is substantially higher than the average Thai wage and should easily cover living expenses. There is also opportunity to almost double the pay by offering private English tutoring in the evenings and weekends.
“Do you have to renew your teaching certificate every year?” No. The certificate is good for life.
“Can you use the TEFL certificate in other countries?” Yes. The certificate is good worldwide, including in the US.
“Is it expensive to attend a TEFL school in Thailand?” My school has a cost of about USD $1400, which is paid off quickly with a permanent job (in about a month).
“Is it better to go to a TEFL course in the US or in Thailand?” My opinion is that it is better (all other things being equal) to take the course in Thailand because a good school here will also give a lot of help and support in landing that first job.
“Do I have to be a native English speaker to get a job teaching English?” It certainly gives you an advantage to be a native English speaker, but I have seen others — classmates at the UniTEFL School — that are originally speakers of another European language and speak English well, that have completed the courses and landed a teaching job.
“What kind of attributes should a TEFL teacher have?” You need a great amount of patience, and the ability to speak slowly and clearly, plus the interest and enthusiasm to become a teacher. And in Thailand, it is always helpful to have a smile on your face just about all the time.
After I am settled in a little bit with my new job, I will be posting about my experience in front of my class and how it is progressing. If you have any questions about teaching English in Thailand, I welcome your inquiries. Just pop me your questions in the comments at the very bottom of this page, and I will do my best to give you an honest straight answer.
Want more info on the UniTEFL program to get your English language teacher certificate? Complete the form below and information will be sent to you via email.