|Think of English teaching as a cultural adventure.|
Saturday, 24 May 2014
So you want to teach in Thailand? What you should learn first ...
Thailand is a seductive place. No wonder then I get asked fairly regularly about staying on in Thailand, finding a job and living here. And the common place to start is teaching English. Many long-termers have all been there before, and they'd be lying to you if they said they’d never put a tie on and stood in front of a classroom of kids.
I did this once, with a room full of nursing students in Chiang Mai teaching them relative pronouns and split infinitives. But this is not a letter to Penthouse.
Those who are young, carefree and looking for a bit of adventure certainly can find work in Thailand, thanks to a healthy demand (and urgent NEED) for foreign teachers. The blonder and more blue eyed, the better here! The world of TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language), as it’s commonly known here in Thailand, has helped travellers live and work abroad for a few decades now. Here in Thailand, with its reliance on the tourist dollar, everyone wants to learn English, and you shouldn’t have too much difficulty landing a job.
So, how do you become a TEFL teacher? Do you buy a certificate at the Khao San Road? Or step into a classroom and wing it with some youtube inspired games? Not quite. The local ministry of education actually take things quite seriously. Afterall, the Thai teachers all have teaching degrees and earn $500 a month, so a scruffy backpacker shouldn’t expect to waltz into the classroom and demand $1,000 plus perks.
For one, you’ll need a degree (in any subject) before you can get a temporary teaching licence. If you stay longer than four years – believe me, many get 'stuck' here for life – you’ll need to eventually study for a teaching diploma to get a permanent licence. This you can do online, apparently there are several courses offered by foreign universities.
Here’s the funny bit, you won’t need a TEFL certificate. That’s because there’s no central governing body in the TEFL world I’m told. Some TEFLs are good and some are ‘shophouse’, if you know what I mean. The Teacher’s Council don’t make it a requirement, but chaps (and ladies) do yourself a favour; lots of hard working middle-class moms have paid good money for their cherubs to sit in front of a ‘farang’ face. At least go to the trouble of getting properly trained. The recruiters will pay much more attention to your CV!
There’s some two dozen schools offering the standard one-month TEFL course in Thailand, this is the benchmark recognised the world over. The online courses don’t cut the mustard, apparently. If it costs less than $1,300 then it’s probably too good to be true. If you’re going to spend a month of your life studying, don’t skimp (save on the Beer Leo's instead).
There’s some rival accreditations, CELTA is a well known but intense one, but some of the other international networks are just as good. The main thing is to check out each centre, what their reviews are like, how established they are, and whether they are connected to recruiters who will offer you a job as a rookie teacher. Be warned, there’s lots of hubris out there about ‘accreditation’.
Here’s five things to look for in a good TEFL course
1. Well established with properly qualified staff, who have a track-record in training
2. An accreditation that is credible and backed by some international organisation, not local
3. Conducts proper class-room practicums and gives you a test at the end
4. Capable of setting you up with decent job interviews afterwards
5. Professional facilities, and accommodation assistance
Another consideration is where you wish to study. Remember, you’re coming over here for a month, the course is demanding, so choose a laid-back, comfortable place that doesn’t have too many distractions. And a ridiculously low cost of living. Chiang Mai - where I used to live and have blogged about lots - is clearly a good option for this. Uni-tefl Thailand is one school I’ve heard good things about (in fact I've used their training facilities before, for an unrelated workshop).
And finally, let’s not forget the most important part - where to find a job?
Jobs are numerous on Ajarn.com
As a rookie teacher you can expect to start on 30,000 baht a month ($1,000), with the tiger’s share of jobs in Bangkok. Forget a gig at the beach or in Chiang Mai. TEFL job vacancies in these places are as scarce as a Thai Prime Minister who survives full term. If you’re up for a cultural adventure consider one of the many provincial jobs on offer, you’ll earn the same but have far greater chance of saving. Think of it as an internship among the charming country towns you wouldn’t otherwise get to experience.
Tip of the Hat: Thanks to Andrew Bell for supplementary information and wisdom.