Whether you’re a first-time English teacher in Thailand or you’ve taught here for years, when you start a new job and arrive for your first day of work, the problems you may encounter are many. Thailand is one of the worst countries in Asia to teach English in, so if you show up for your new job and some of these problems happen to you, don’t be surprised. Instead, figure out a solution.
Problem 1 – School Doesn’t Need You Anymore – I’ve lost count of the number of English teachers I’ve heard of who show up at a new school on the first day of term, nicely dressed and ready to work, only to be told they’re no longer needed and “Oh, sorry, we forgot to tell you.” Some of these teachers are desperate for money, aren’t as qualified as other teachers or simply don’t have a university degree. Other teachers are perfectly qualified, with years of experience and have no money worries at all. It happens to all of them.
Thai schools are notorious for changing their minds about hiring teachers, suddenly realizing they can’t afford to pay the teachers, or simply didn’t get the number of new students they thought they’d get. The result is the same. They no longer need you. But, this being Thailand, half the time it never crosses their minds to call you and tell you.
Solution – Don’t waste your time hanging around trying to get them to change their minds, or giving them a piece of yours. The situation won’t change. Instead, go to an internet cafe or back home, get online and immediately start looking for another job on Ajarn.com. There are thousands of teaching jobs in Thailand, every week of the year. Forget about the idiots who didn’t hire you, and look for someone who will. In many cases, the teachers I know who arrived at school to find there was no job ended up getting a far better job than the first one. With more money.
Problem 2 – You Discover The School Has Lied to You About Salary/Vacation/Benefit – Thai schools are notorious for lying to foreign English teachers. They lie about salaries, they lie about benefits, holidays, and just about anything else you can think of. You’ll often discover this on your first day at a new school, when the country they give you to sign shows a salary 10,000 baht a month ($333) less than what they offered you, your six weeks vacation has suddenly change to two, and the free health insurance they promised you is suddenly going to cost you $50 a month.
Solution – If the lies include salary, first talk to the head administrator and find out why. If it’s not possible to get an agreement (with a signed contract) for the original agreed-upon salary by the end of the first day, simply leave, telling them the reason why, and follow the solution for problem 1.
If the lies include vacations, benefits etc., factor in how much this means to you. For me, I want my vacations and I want them paid and I also want health insurance. Teaching is a difficult profession so you need time off and you need to be healthy and, if the school isn’t going to pay me or give me holidays and health insurance, I’m the first one out the door at the end of the day. Off to follow the solution to problem no 1.
Problem 3 – Lies About Number of Students and Workload – You show up on your first day at a new school to discover the 20 students you were supposed to teach per class has miraculously ballooned to 55, and you’ll be teaching 32 hours a week instead of the 22 they promised.
Solution – For lies that include a huge difference in number of students, there’s not always a lot you can do. Thai schools will sometimes draw you in with promises of small class sizes but the sad fact of Thai government education is most schools have 50-plus students in each class. Teaching a big class isn’t always that much different than teaching a small one, only that the kids will get less individual attention.
I look at it this way though, they’re better off with less attention but a good teacher like me or you, than more attention from a bad one. In this circumstance, if everything else was satisfactory at the school I would stay but ask the school for a occasional help from a Thai co-teacher to manage the extra students.
Lying about number of teaching hours though, if it requires a lot of extra work for the same money, that’s a deal breaker. Few teachers can teach more than 22 hours a week without being absolutely exhausted. When a school suddenly wants you to teach 32 hours a week, unless you’re salary goes up exponentially, leave the school at the end of the day and……yep, solution for problem no 1.
Problem 4 – No Teaching Supplies, No Internet Access – You’ll often arrive on your first day at a new Thai school to discover teaching supplies are non-existent and the internet access they promised you is never going to happen as they don’t have computers in the staffroom.
Solution – For smaller things like that, you can often negotiate with the school to get them to get you what you want. At one of the schools I taught at, I told them I would struggle along for the first month without the supplies I expected if they would promise me I’d get them in month two. Sure, they were a few weeks late and I didn’t get new teaching supplies until six weeks into the semester but, at least they got them, and I was then set up for semester two.
Also don’t forget, if it’s small teaching supplies like whiteboard markers, notebooks, colored pencils etc,. for yourself and the kids to use, buying things like this in Thailand is cheap. You can set yourself up for the semester for only 500 baht ($16), so if everything else looks good at the school, accept the job, sign the contract and at the end of the day head to the office supply store and start buying.
Internet access is a deal-breaker for me. If the school doesn’t have it and can’t get it for me, in this day and age, I’m sorry but I’m not going to work there. You may think differently. Sometimes however, it’s possible to get internet access for an hour a day in an admin office at the school or in the students’ computer lab. If I could negotiate that, fine. If not, I would immediately be looking for another job. One with internet.
Problem 5 – The School is Closed – Yes, this does happen. You show up for your first day and the school gates are locked and the place is deserted. It’s a Thai holiday, there’s been a military coup, or the school suddenly decided to start the new semester tomorrow. But……they forgot to tell you.
Solution – No worries. Go home. Turn on the TV, crack a beer and relax. Go back to school again tomorrow.
There are many excellent Thai schools out there. I’ve worked at two of them. But, if you arrive on your first day and there are already mammoth problems, think about it, it’s only going to get worse.
Ajarn.com Job Board – If your new teaching job doesn’t work out, there are plenty more where that came from
Photo copyright – Children in Thailand at a school assembly – Mot the barber, Creative Commons License