When I first moved to Thailand I knew nothing about how to get a teaching job. I knew I wanted to teach English. But I also knew I wanted to stay out of the school system. And I definitely didn’t want to teach kids.
This meant I’d need to work at a place where teens and adults studied English. I knew about Wall Street English from previous visits to Thailand. But I never knew how many other language centers there were until I moved here and frequented the malls in Bangkok.
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- 1 Background
- 2 Qualifications
- 3 CVs and Resumes
- 4 Visas and Work Permits
- 5 Find a Teaching Job
- 6 Interview Process
- 7 Language Centers
- 8 Teaching Schedule
- 9 Teaching Contracts
- 10 Students
- 11 Responsibilities
- 12 Salary
- 13 Work Conditions
- 14 Challenges
- 15 Resources
- 16 Saying Goodbye
I’m not sure if I was one of the lucky ones, but when I applied for a job at a language center in Seacon Square Mall, I got the call the same night to start working that very weekend. And just like that, I was thrust into the sometimes crazy, mostly unorganized, but always exciting world of teaching English at language centers in Thailand.
You’re probably wondering what steps I took to land my teaching job, what followed afterward, and why I eventually left teaching. So let’s jump in.
I wasn’t a teacher before I moved to Thailand. I worked for one of America’s largest public utilities. I spent fifteen years wasting my life in a soul-sucking career.
Although the money was great, I needed adventure. I didn’t want to look back after giving over thirty years to the corporation and have any regrets. So I decided to move to Thailand and use teaching English as a way to support myself.
I had been to Thailand six times before making the permanent move with my family in 2014. So I knew what I was getting into—sort of.
Anyway, thinking I needed a degree in English to teach in Thailand, I put myself through school to get my BA in English. After I graduated, my family and I moved to Thailand. And for the next three years I taught English in Bangkok language centers and at some of the largest multinational corporations around Bangkok and Chonburi.
Although you’ll need different qualifications depending on where you want to teach in Thailand, below are the basic qualifications you’ll need to teach English at language centers.
To get a legit teaching job at a language center in Thailand, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Although I have a degree in English, I know plenty of teachers who have degrees in other subjects, like law or accounting. And besides, English degrees will not prepare you for teaching English as a foreign language. So don’t think it’s a necessity.
I remember teaching English at a logistics company in Bangkok, and I had to learn all the lingo and logistical systems so that I could teach the equivalent in English. I imagine if someone from a logistics background taught that class, they’d thrive in the classroom and be better able to help the students.
At a minimum, you’re going to need a TEFL or CELTA certificate from a reputable academy inside or outside of Thailand. If you want to teach English in Thailand, I highly recommend getting your TEFL in the country as well. You’ll learn tricks and tips specific to teaching English to Thais.
I’d also recommend getting your TEFL at Text & Talk Academy. I went there for my TEFL, and the school did an excellent job of preparing me for the world of teaching English in Thailand.
You do have other options for TEFLs or CELTAs in Thailand. Just make sure you pick an academy wisely. When you apply for a job, your TELF or CELTA is one of the qualifications the language center will scrutinize. And having a TEFL or CELTA from an academy with a longstanding, solid reputation in Thailand will benefit you.
Unlike applying for teaching positions at Thailand international schools and universities, when you apply to work at a language center, although it helps, experience isn’t always necessary. That’s what makes it a good “get your foot in the door” kind of job in Thailand.
You can work off all your nerves while teaching at language centers before going on to other work.
But this isn’t to say you shouldn’t take pride in your job. The better you do, the more fun you make your classes, the more work you’ll get. And besides, all of your experience will come from actual classroom time. That’s the best way to learn.
What I’ve found works best is honesty. I always told my students the truth about my experience. And being honest seemed to resonate with them. If you lie, you’ll be found out very quickly. Most Thais have been learning English since they were in grade school. And some of them know even more about grammar than we do.
Once you’re teaching in Thailand at language centers, you’d also be surprised to learn that some language centers hire English teachers without a degree or a TEFL or CELTA. I don’t recommend going this route. For one, not having a degree will make it impossible to get a visa and work permit (I’ll discuss these later). And teaching without either of those is against the law in Thailand. You may find yourself blacklisted from the country if you get caught.
CVs and Resumes
When you put together your resume, you shouldn’t worry about whether or not you have teaching experience. What I mean is, you shouldn’t lie if you’ve never taught before. Demand for English teachers at language schools is high. Just take a peak on Ajarn.com and you’ll see a laundry list of available positions.
If you have experience you should list it, of course. But if not, just focus your strengths.
Your headshot is one of the most important pieces of your resume. In Thailand, much value is placed on appearance. You can’t only know the part, you have to look the part. If you teach at a language center you’ll probably teach in a room with glass walls. Parents love to watch their little ones learning from a smart-looking native speaker. Your headshot should help academic directors visualize your friendly appearance in the classroom.
If you want to teach English legally in Thailand, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree. The degree could be in any field, as long as it was issued by an accredited university or college. If you don’t have a degree, don’t lie on your resume. You may be asked for an official letter from the university or college, and if you can’t come up with one you’ll be found out.
There is a grey area with working at language centers in Thailand. I want to talk about it here not because I suggest doing it, but to let you know the realities of teaching English in Thailand.
I’ve worked with teachers who didn’t have degrees. Some teachers come and go so quickly that language centers are forced to pick up the next available person who walks through their doors. Sometimes, these people don’t have qualifications or degrees.
But keep in mind that although this happens, it’s illegal. If you get caught working in Thailand without the proper visa or work permit, you could be blacklisted from the country—or maybe even worse.
Again, if you don’t have experience as a teacher, don’t lie. Language centers know that teachers have to start out somewhere. As long as you present yourself in a respectable way, they’ll consider you for the job.
If you’ve had a job in the past where mentoring, teaching, or training others was part of your duties feel free to list it on your resume. They are valuable for the classroom. As a teacher in Thailand you’re a communicator first. You’re an English teacher second.
At the bottom of your resume you’ll want to list all the skills you have that are applicable to the classroom. Are you good with PowerPoint? List it. Do you know how to make a crowd laugh? State it. Are you punctual? Passionate? A self-learner? Add those too. (By the way, these are all very important skills for English teachers to have.)
Here’s a picture of my resume. Feel free to copy the format.
Visas and Work Permits
If you land a teaching job in Thailand, the language center should help you get the right visa and work permit.
But before you find a job, you’ll need to come to Thailand on a visa that gives you enough time to find a teaching job. The easiest way is to come to Thailand on a Multiple Entry Tourist Visa. That’ll give you up to 270 days in the kingdom—plenty of time to find a job and sort out your visa and work permit.
Find a Teaching Job
Finding a job at a language center in Thailand is fairly easy. You just have to know where to go—teaching websites and malls. On websites like Ajarn.com you’ll find hundreds of job postings. At malls, you’ll find language centers jammed together in one section or on one floor of the mall.
This means on any given day, you can apply to countless job postings online, or leave your resume with a half a dozen language centers in one trip to the mall.
But if it was up to me, I’d say show up at language centers if you want a job. Showing up in person gives staff the chance to see and interact with you. And it gives you the chance to scope out the language center before you commit to an interview or job.
And whatever you do, don’t submit your resume looking like you just walked off the beach. This doesn’t mean you have to show up in a three-piece suit either. Wear a pair of slacks and a button down shirt. Ladies, you can wear the same. If you prefer a dress, a long dress is better.
After you hand in your resume to language centers and they begin taking interest in you, you’ll want to prepare for the interview process. Interview processes at language centers tend to be very laid back. I was rarely asked about my teaching background.
In fact, most of the time the interview was like a “get-to-know-you-session.” I was asked questions like:
- Why did you come to Thailand?
- What are three things you don’t like about living in Thailand?
- What do you like to do in Thailand?
- How long do you plan on staying in Thailand?
The last question is probably the most important. Language centers lose teachers every month. These teachers work for a month and then go to one of the islands to spend their earnings. So academic directors at language centers want to be sure you’re going to show up for the work each day.
Below are just three of the dozens of the English language centers in Thailand. I’ve included them because they seem to be ahead of the curve with respect to how they manage and treat their teachers.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive list of language centers in Thailand, check out this resource from ESLBase.com.
Teaching at language centers is a great way to keep a flexible schedule. You can teach as many or as few classes as you’d like. And rarely will you work more than six hours in one day.
At first, I worked only on Saturdays and Sundays, taking classes that none of the other teachers wanted. Then, when I proved myself worthy, I started getting weekday work and weeknight work—mostly at corporations around Bangkok and Chonburi.
My schedule went something like this: Mondays and Wednesdays I’d work at one corporation during the day for two hours, and then another at night for two hours. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I’d work for another corporation during the day, and then another at night, both of those classes for two hours as well.
The longer I worked, the more classes I was asked to teach. Eventually, I had one morning class, one afternoon class, and one evening class. My weekdays had become so full that I was able to stop working working on the weekends.
All the following contract lengths apply to teaching at language centers and corporations. But I use corporate contracts for sample reasons.
If, on the other hand, every company you teach at ends their program after thirty hours or requests another teacher, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
A 30-hour teaching contract will last you three months if you teach the standard two-day a week schedule and account for holidays and cancelled classes. Most companies who take out a contract with a language center will choose a 30-hour contract first. This is to make sure the program and teacher are right for the company.
At language centers, a 30-hour contract is the norm for students who want to take their first English program outside of a formal school setting.
A 60-hour teaching contract will last you six months if you teach at the company twice per week and account for holidays and cancelled classes. If you’ve done a good job with your 30-hour contract, you can expect the company to extend the contract another thirty hours if they have the budget.
A 90-hour contract will last you nine months with holidays and cancelled classes. Ninety-hour contracts are usually taken out by companies who have long-standing relationships with language centers. The companies know what they can expect from the English program, who will be teaching the English classes, and the results which should follow.
The companies that take out 120-hour contracts are usually government agencies or multinationals with big budgets. Getting a 120-hour contract means you’ll be teaching at that company for two days a week for at least a year. That could be either a good thing or a bad thing.
On one hand, you’re guaranteed work for one year. On the other hand, you’ll be working at the same place for an entire year. Although you’re only teaching there two days per week, burn out does happen. You’ll get bored of your students. They’ll get bored of you and all your tricks and games.
This is why when I was teaching English at corporations, I favored 90-hour contracts. That length of time was just enough to get to know everyone in the class, make some lasting connections, and yet get a break until the contract begins again the following year.
There may be times when you’re asked to work part-time for a company. This means for twenty hours a week, you’ll be the head of English at a company. You’ll be responsible for teaching English, proofreading and correcting company documents, and anything else related to English.
Working as a full-time English teacher in a company means you’ll be responsible for the same things I’ve just mentioned above. Except this time, your hours are doubled. You’ll find yourself working 40 hours a week at a company as the head of English.
When you work at language centers, they may ask you to accompany them to corporations to give presentations or demo lessons in English. When I worked for one language center in Pinklao, the lady had me go with her to companies all over Bangkok and Chonburi to be the “smart” looking English teacher.
Nevertheless, it was a fun day in which I got to see a part of Thailand I otherwise wouldn’t, and eat some free lunch—usually at a riverside restaurant.
One of the last forms of work you’ll find when working at language centers are English camps. English camps are usually two-day, all-intensive English training courses at places like hospitals, where basic English conversation skills are necessary.
But English camps may also be a lot of fun. Some camps might take place in Hua Hin or Kao Yai. And you’ll be asked to teach through music, games, and fun, while dressing in shorts and t-shirts.
Generally speaking, you’ll have two types of students when teaching at language centers: kids and teens who want/or were forced by their parents to take extra English classes; and adults who want/or were forced to learn English.
Kids and Teens
When I was teaching at language centers, I taught two types of young learners. The first type of young learners were forced to take the English classes by their parents. These young learners were hard to motivate. They often sat in class playing on their smartphones, which were probably given to them by their parents as a bribe to go to class in the first place.
The other type of young learners were the motivated type. They showed up to class every weekend because they wanted to be there for one reason or another. These students were always a joy to teach because they enthusiastically participated in class activities.
At language centers, most adults who show up to class are motivated to learn. After all, they paid for the course. They want to get the most out of it. But you’ll find a small percentage of adult students at language centers unmotivated. These students were probably forced to take the course by the companies they work for.
At corporations, adult students are split right down the middle. Half of them will be motivated to learn English and the other half will be unmotivated. These unmotivated students might take part in activities, but you could tell they’d rather be someplace else.
Most adult students usually take English courses for the following reasons:
- their job requires them to
- they want to speak English with their kids, who are also studying English
- they want to travel abroad
- they want to improve their chances of landing a better job by raising their TOEIC score
You might think that teaching English would be your only responsibility as an English teacher. But depending on the language center or corporation you work for, you’ll have a whole list of tasks you’ll be responsible for.
Teaching English is the most obvious task you’ll be responsible for. But the subjects you teach could vary depending on the needs of the students or company. Over three years, I’ve found the most popular English courses are:
- conversational English
- email writing
- technical writing
- business English
This is one of the most common courses. It revolves around students practicing everyday English for eating, making reservations, talking to friends, traveling, and so on. These courses focus on speaking, with bits and pieces of writing and reading added on.
These classes are a lot of fun, and depending on the age of the students, you could really have some fun with the topics.
This one is self-explanatory. In email writing courses, you’ll teach students how to write emails in English. I’ve found that most books want learners to adapt easy language into a difficult language, like using assist instead of help and require instead of need.
For this reason, I used email writing books as a road map. Because Thai language is mostly monosyllabic, the shorter the English word, the better. Especially for beginner students. I would teach my students the meaning of the longer words. But I always told them to use words they felt comfortable using.
Technical writing focuses on writing for very specific jobs. You might teach engineers how to write a report in English about their findings of a malfunctioning manufacturing machine. You might teach students how to write about electrical problems in English. You might even walk students through the process of logistics. Because I came from a blue-collar background, these were some of my favorite courses to teach.
Business English is similar to technical writing in that it focuses on a specific topic in the students’ line of businesses. But the subject also focuses on speaking and reading English for business. In these courses, you might work with human resources in multinational corporations, teaching them how to write reports or speak on the phone.
After teaching English to your students, you’ll be responsible for testing them on what they’ve learned. To be honest, these tests are somewhat of a joke. Let me explain.
Most of the time, the language center who hired you to teach at a corporation wants to make sure that the company buys another contract from them. If you test and fail half of the students, it’s going to look really bad for the language center—even if the students who failed wanted absolutely nothing to do with the course and didn’t participate.
So the language center will tell you in a roundabout way not to give anyone a bad grade. And if you do, some language centers will change your grade so that the student looks as if they improved over the course.
In one case, I taught English at a shipping company. And before I gave them their first test, they humbly confided in me that if they failed, their boss would make them pay for the course out of pocket (the course was their idea and they had to prove the course was a valuable investment by passing).
These students were some of the best I’ve ever had. They all loved to be in class. But a few of them still struggled to get some of the concepts, and they failed the test. But I couldn’t, in good faith, give them a failing grade. So I took into account how hard they tried and passed them so they wouldn’t have to pay for the course.
After you test your students at the end of every 30-hour course, you’ll have to write a short report about each of your students. Usually, the report includes their grades, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Although you’ll only be writing reports every few months, you might want to brush up on some report writing skills.
You have to think about it this way. No one wants to finish their work day extra late, or start their work day extra early, just to sit in a boring English class for two hours. I used to think of myself as the interrupter of the corporate world. I not only taught English, but I gave my students two hours of fun to break up the corporate drudgery.
Even if you teach adults, you need to keep it light and fun. Thais love to have fun—or sanook. I brought music into the class. I brought games into the class. I did a lot of things I’d be uncomfortable doing in everyday life in the classroom. But in the end, I shared some great laughs and bonded with my students in ways I wouldn’t have if I was the distant and serious English teacher.
At first, I was getting paid 350 baht per hour in house (at language centers) and 600 baht per hour at corporations. I was able to negotiate my pay after sticking around for a few months. My pay was raised to 450 baht per hour for in-house courses and 800 baht per hour for corporate contracts. When I went to give presentations for language centers, I made 600 baht per hour.
Let’s take a closer look at how much you’ll make per contract and why it’s important to get more than one contract.
Over three months, a 30-hour contract at a language center will net you about 10,500 to 13,500 baht. While the same contract at a corporation will net you about 18,000 to 24,000 baht. If you break that down by the month, that’s not a lot of money.
There’s no way you can survive on the salary of one contract. So you’ll have to stagger your contracts so you’re working everyday of the week. On Mondays and Wednesdays you might teach at one company, while on Tuesdays and Thursdays you’ll teach at another.
If you can get one morning, one afternoon, and one evening contract four days a week, that will net you between 31,500 baht to 40,500 baht at language centers and between 54,000 baht and 72,000 baht at corporations each month.
Add in some privates, which you can easily charge 500 baht per hour for, and you’ll have yourself a nice chunk of cash. But remember, teaching privates is considered illegal. Whether anyone will ever find out, that’s another story.
I’ve worked at some well known corporations in Thailand, such as Office Mate, and I’ve worked for some lesser-known companies, like the Japanese welding supply company, Kobe. And everything in between.
It’s safe to say I’ve seen the inside of a lot of different corporations in Thailand and have come to learn what to expect and what not to expect when teaching English at them.
Sometimes you’ll be given a whiteboard and set of markers—and that’s it. Other times you might get a projector, mic, and loud speaker (although I never used one as my voice carries).
At language centers you’ll have access to many teaching materials, TVs, classrooms, games, and more. You shouldn’t worry about bringing your own stuff. But if you teach at corporations, here’s a list f things you many want in your teaching bag.
Invest in a quality speaker. It’s going to be one of your most used tools in the classroom. From playing videos and songs to watching short movie clips to sound bites, your speaker is your best friend.
Not every company will give you markers. And it looks more professional when you have your own. Keep an assortment of colors with you. But whatever you do, don’t write anyone’s name on the board in red marker. That practice is reserved for the dead.
If the corporation you’re hired to work for has a projector, you’re going to need a way to hook it up to your smartphone or tablet or laptop. Keep a variety of cables and adapters with you.
Get yourself a laptop. I loved using technology in the classroom. Videos. Movie clips. You name it. Although I taught without a laptop, I preferred to have one. Most of my lessons were on my laptop, as were my presentations, videos, and music.
A lot of people have this romantic idea that they’re going to come to Thailand, teach English, and somehow be rewarded for their soul-seeking experience. One of the most important things to consider is this: Teaching English in Thailand is a job. You’re hired to do a job. If you can’t, then you’ll be passed up for someone who could.
Here are a few challenges you’ll face as an English teacher at language centers and corporations in Thailand.
Finding Regular Work
When you first start working for a language center, you might only be teaching four hours a week—definitely not enough time to bring home a living wage. But the longer you stay, the more you show your face, the better you get at teaching, the more work you’ll get.
Getting to that point takes time though. At least one year. Before I stopped taking anymore contracts, I worked six hours a day (three contracts per day), four days a week. And I had two classes on the weekends. My schedule was maxed out and I was feeling the effects of burnout.
Students May Lack Motivation
Teaching English in Thailand is a funny thing. On one hand, you’re teaching adults who tend to be very open to the idea of learning English late in life. I used to think about what it would be like for my blue-collar co-workers and me back home if we were forced to sit in an office and learn Thai. I’m sure we’d be very closed off to the idea.
But on the other hand you’re teaching English to adults who just don’t want to be in the class. It’s their way of escaping work for four hours a week. And they just don’t care to improve.
Language Centers May Not Value You
You might work for language centers that just don’t respect the value you bring to the classroom. You might spend hours trying to plan the perfect lesson when you first start out. You might go above and beyond and buy your own books to teach from. You might give students extra time at the beginning or ending of class.
But language centers don’t see you in action and might not know how much you put into your classes. And sometimes, even though you’re a good teacher, you’ll be passed up for the better jobs for teachers who are closer to the staff.
Luckily, I had a car when I was teaching. So getting from point A in the morning to point B in the afternoon to point C in the evening was easier than if I didn’t have a car. (Having a car probably was the reason I got so much work.)
But there were some times when the companies I was teaching at were an hour to an hour-and-half away from each other. I spent a lot time driving. It was good because I got to catch up on my podcasts. But the wear and tear on my car and body (I’m tall and sitting for long periods bothers my back) was taking its toll.
When you teach English at language centers in Thailand, the center usually gives you teaching material. But it’s very generic stuff. You’ll want to use the books as guides, while adding your own fun and exciting lessons. Here are some of my favorite ESL teaching resources.
- Film English: Helps you incorporate films in your classroom and comes with readymade lessons.
- Breaking News English: Covers a wide range of topics, includes lessons plans, audio, and games.
- Dave’s ESL Cafe: Offers readymade lessons, warmups, and countless classroom activities.
It’s because of the challenges listed above that I slowly began stepping away from teaching English at language centers and corporations in Thailand. Although I had a great time, made some lifelong friendships, and grew as a person, I started experiencing classroom burnout.
For the amount of time I was putting into my lessons, I felt like I wasn’t getting the same in return. So I began looking for other work.
But when people ask me if they should do what I did, which was give up my comfy career and move to Thailand to teach English, I tell them to do it, without hesitation. Teaching English in Thailand has given me a broader perspective on the world and has given me experiences that I would’ve never had if I was tied down to an office all day.
I know I said earlier that teaching English is a job, first and foremost. But you really do learn something about yourself and other people along the way.
I used to leave my students with a message at the end of every one of my courses. After I gave each of them their final results and just before we said our goodbyes, I’d tell them this:
“English isn’t the easiest or best language in the world. But it is the language of business. So it’s important to learn. But for me, teaching English is secondary. What is more important to me are the laughs we shared and the cultural boundaries we crossed.”
So if you’re thinking about crossing your own cultural boundaries and sharing laughs with people who you’ll come to learn aren’t much different from you, then get to Thailand and start teaching English.