The following post is a chapter from our book, Working in Thailand: How to Ditch the Desk, Board the Flight, and Land the Job, written by Patrick Taylor and Karsten Aichholz.
Each Thursday over the next few months we’ll be releasing one chapter for free. If you don’t want to wait for us to release each chapter, you can pick up the book in its entirety on Amazon.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes by David and Paeng (last names withheld for privacy), international school teachers.
International schools are the big leagues when it comes to teaching in Thailand. As opposed to local schools (either government or private), international schools do not follow the curriculum of the host state, instead following either a dedicated international curriculum (such as the International Baccalaureate or Edexcel) or the national curriculum of a different country (such as the US or UK).
As a result, the majority of their students are the children of the staff of international businesses, foreign embassies, or other expats who move around a lot and would prefer their children to maintain a fairly consistent education.
They also appeal to students from the host country keen to gain an international education in order to study or work abroad later, or those simply hoping to cash in on the prestige of receiving an international education.
Despite the august reputation of international schools—particularly in countries like Thailand—quality can vary, and some of the lower-quality schools rank below some local private schools in terms of quality of education or pay and conditions offered to their employees.
A loose tier system is used to categorize international schools, with Tier 3 schools considered the worst, Tier 2 considered average, and Tier 1 considered the best.
Debate rages within the international school community over what specifically constitutes a Tier 1, 2 or 3 school, although like Justice Stewart’s views on pornography, the consensus seems to be that you’ll know one when you see one.
Traditionally, the international school community was somewhat closed off from the rest of the teaching community in Thailand, with many schools preferring to hire professional, experienced teachers from abroad rather than locally.
However, working at an international school is increasingly becoming the end-goal of many local school teachers hoping to make a career in education in Thailand, particularly with the growth of accredited online teaching qualifications such as Nottingham University’s PGCEi.
One teacher who took the less traditional path is David. Arriving in Thailand around a decade ago as a traveler, he spent several years honing his teaching skills at a well-regarded Thai government school before gaining a teaching qualification and making the jump up to a prominent international school.
For those hoping to follow his lead, his advice is clear:
Get a western teaching qualification, join headhunting organizations, network, be ready to start in less paid positions/low-tier international schools to build your resume.”
For non-native speakers, having a solid TOEIC score is another vital addition. TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) is a method for evaluating the everyday English ability of those working in an international environment, and is considered the gold standard by many employers when it comes to assessing English ability.
Paeng is a non-native science teacher at an international primary school in Thailand. He describes the basic hard requirements for his job as:
at least a bachelor’s degree. Better to have masters or teaching units if you do not have a degree in teaching. You should [also] have at least a very high TOEIC score, too, to be eligible to teach in an international school.”
Besides the basics—a degree, a teaching qualification and (potentially) a good TOEIC score, networking (as David states) is one of the biggest factors in securing a good position at an international school. David himself admits that he found out about his job
through personal contacts.”
And Paeng adds that he
was referred by [his] sister to apply to [the] school.”
How you set about making contacts will be largely dependent on your position, of course. If you’re a qualified teacher hoping to make the move from your own country, then a good place to start is at the many international school job fairs we mentioned back in the first chapter, such as Search Associates or ISS (International School Services).
You can also contact the schools directly—a great place to start is the US State Department’s Office of Overseas Schools, which contains a fairly comprehensive list of the larger schools. If you’re already in Thailand, groups like iTeach, which largely consists of international school teachers, hold frequent meetups and events.
The Difference Between Working at International Schools and Local Schools
So how does the work at an international school differ from the work at a local school? Many teachers in the lower-ends of the education system have a somewhat rose-tinted view of international schools as bastions of academic brilliance and tolerance.
A quick glance at any international school forum will, of course, bring up no shortage of contradictions to this view, and there are plenty of tales of spoiled, entitled students, unethical administrators, and substandard facilities.
However, others insist that the job can be deeply rewarding, and that the students themselves are a pleasure to teach.
Corey Scott, a teacher at the American International School in Dhaka (Bangladesh), echoes this sentiment in his article Taking the International School Route: What You Need to Know to Get Started on an Overseas Teaching Career:
As sons and daughters of diplomats, aid workers, missionaries, and/or successful business people, the students tend to be well informed, motivated, and exceptionally tolerant. Many have lived all over the world and most speak several languages. Their exposure to new cultures and different people leave students from international schools open to new ideas. Simply put, they are a delight to teach.”
David echoes this sentiment. For him, the best part of the job is
when students enjoy their class and learn something new, have a realization about something, maybe a breakthrough in their learning.”
An average day at a standard international school appears, on the face of it, to be similar to any other kind of school. For David, on an average day he
arrives at work around 7 o’clock and leaves around 5 o’clock. [I] teach students of most year levels for four to five periods per day.”
However, the workload can be pretty hefty, even when compared to many Western schools (and particularly compared to the majority of Thai schools).
While the general components of the job are similar (lesson planning, preparing materials, contact teaching hours), standards are generally much higher.
At a conference of international school teachers, one teacher complained that “I have a larger workload here than I did in the UK.” However, he was quick to add that, “It [also] comes with a lifestyle that I wouldn’t have had in the UK.”
Thankfully, this work is often generously rewarded financially, particularly compared to local schools.
International School Teachers’ Salaries
Salaries vary a lot depending on your level of experience, qualifications and nationality, but a qualified, experienced NES teacher can expect to start out on around 50,000 baht per month at a third-tier international school, shooting all the way up to as much as 250,000 baht at the top-tiers.
David states that it should
be possible for qualified teachers to get 100,000 baht up, plus benefits.”
The situation is slightly different for NNES teachers—as Paeng states:
depending on your race and educational attainment, salaries range from 18,000 baht to 60,000 baht for starters.”
Many international school teachers also benefit from generous holiday allowances—as it’s common for them to follow the academic calendars of their overseeing countries, teachers can expect to enjoy both local and international holidays—so not only do you get a generous break for Christmas and summer, but you also get to spend some time off during Songkran and Asalha Puja Day to boot.
Working at the big leagues is, of course, not for everyone. Securing a position takes years of work and dedication, and the pressure on you to deliver once you’ve been hired is strong.
In short, it’s not a good choice for those looking for an extended beach holiday. However, for those who are passionate about teaching and keen to put the work in, it’s one of the few fields that provides a real career path for expats in Thailand.
Now, on to You
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