Most of the western teachers who come to teach English in Thailand are men. With not many western women coming to teach each year, for any western woman who arrives in Thailand to look for a teaching job, it can be a lonely affair. Teaching websites in Thailand are populated mainly by men, you’ll rarely find another western woman in a Thai staff room, and on weekends when all the male teachers are out with their Thai girlfriends, you may find yourself alone wondering what to do. That’s why, before you come to teach English in Thailand, there are several important things you should know. That way, when you get here, your experience will be just that little bit easier.
Don’t Accept the First Job – One mistake many western women do when they arrive in Thailand to teach, is accept the first job they’re offered. Worrying about being unemployed in a foreign country, when the first job presents itself, they grab it. Regardless that the salary is low and the working conditions poor.
As a western women in Thailand, you never have any need to take the first job. Thousands of Thai schools are specifically looking for western women to teach English to Thai kids and, with an extremely limited supply of western women, you are already in demand. Thai parents often prefer female teachers to teach young children so if you walk into a school offering to teach kindergarten, and that school hasn’t been able to find one western female teacher to interview but 15 men want the job, who do you think they’ll pick? In the world of supply and demand in many schools – you’re the number one prize. So wait until the right job comes along. If not today, it will be tomorrow.
Expect School Dress Code to be Strict – Unlike in the west, where in many schools teachers can go to school wearing casual clothes and sometimes even jeans, that’s rare in Thailand. Dress code for teachers is strict and, even as a western woman teacher, you’ll be expected to follow it.
n most Thai schools, skirts are acceptable, pants are not, and they must be at least knee-level. Dress shirts must be worn with at least three quarter sleeves (no short sleeves or sleeveless shirts, even if it is hot) and in one school I worked at shirts had to have long sleeves. You cannot wear flip-flops and, in most Thais schools, sandals are also outlawed, even if they’re high-heeled and professional. Full shoes are the norm and, no, in Thailand’s heat they’re not comfortable. Unfortunately, it’s just part of the job.
At my first Thai school we were once informed Friday would be casual day. The week after the first casual Friday, I decided I would wear a pair of smart jeans to school as all of the students had been wearing them the week before. I barely managed to get onto school grounds before I was pulled into the assistant principal’s office and read the riot act. “Teachers do not wear jeans in Thailand. Not acceptable.” Needless to say, I didn’t wear them again.
Do Hang Out with Male Foreign Teachers – Some female teachers come to Thailand and, after hearing about the reputation of many western male teachers in Thailand (it’s unfortunately not that good), they choose to avoid being friends with them.
In reality, I’ve worked with some terrible western male teachers but also worked with some amazing ones. Just pick and choose who you get to know and who you choose to hang out with.Remember, some of the western men here have been in Thailand for years, and can be a great resource for making your settling in period easier. I’ve had some of my most fun evenings in Bangkok drinking a couple of beers with a few male co-workers and then going on for dinner.
Do Make Friends with the Thai Teachers – Unfortunately, most western male teachers I’ve come across don’t tend to be friendly with the Thai staff. Sure, they may be pleasant to them in the staffroom, but as far as hanging out having lunch, helping them with classroom projects or meeting them for lunch or an outing on the weekends, few do.
Getting to know the Thai teachers is an amazing experience. They’re the natives here and, as Thais are incredibly friendly and love to show you all the things about Thailand they’re so proud of, you’ll get to do all kinds of cool and unusual things you’d never get to do if you were only friendly with other westerners.
Don’t Ever Think Thailand is Dangerous – I’ve met a couple of western women teachers who’d just arrived in Bangkok and seemed to be terrified of their own shadow. Wooed by the American news media into believing Thailand was ‘unsafe’, they crept around Bangkok waiting for something terrible to jump out of the shadows and get them.
In reality Thailand, and even Bangkok, is one of the safest places in the world. I’ve lived in Bangkok for a decade and never had a problem with a Thai, male or female, never felt unsafe, never had problems alone in a car with a taxi driver (and I take taxis alone every day), and never felt my safety was at risk any time…….ever. Back in the US, I wouldn’t consider walking around late at night in a major city like LA or New York alone. In Bangkok, I don’t think twice about it.
As a former teacher in Thailand (I still live here, just don’t teach anymore), I can honestly say teaching English is one of the best experiences any western woman can have. Thais are genuinely friendly, helpful and lovely, and Thai kids, although quite lazy and unmotivated for the most part, are incredibly fun to teach. In Thai classrooms you also don’t get the violence problems many western schools have.
So, if someone suddenly says to you, “Do you want to teach English in Thailand?”, don’t hesitate for a second. Jump at the chance. Just make sure you understand these few important things before you do.
Photo copyright – students in Phon Phisai, Thailand – jchong, Creative Commons License