The majority of western English teachers working in Thailand teach children, and most teach at Thai government schools. With government schools all over the country always looking for English teachers, getting a job at one can be quite easy but what should you expect when teaching at a Thai government school and will you enjoy it? It depends on the school and your expectations.
Teaching At Government Schools in Thailand – As most teachers who teach English at a Thai government school will tell you, there are definitely pluses and minuses. Government schools differ drastically, depending on which area of Thailand they’re in and if they’re ‘famous’ or not (oh yes, there are famous government schools).
If the government school is outside Bangkok, as the majority are poor for both education and resources, teaching there will be more difficult than teaching at a government school in Bangkok and particularly a famous government school. Depending on who you are and what you’re looking for, this could be the worst or the best experience of your life.
Salaries – At a government school in Thailand, salaries are much lower than at bilingual schools and on another planet when it comes to international schools. An average salary at a Thai government school is only 28,000-35,000 baht a month ($933-$1,165), which even outside Bangkok isn’t much to live on. In Bangkok, it’s just about impossible to have anything but a Thai-lifestyle on that low a salary.
Even ‘famous’ government schools don’t pay much more. It’s just that you’ll be able to benefit from the ‘prestige’ of working at one if you’re ever looking for another teaching position in Thailand. Overall though, if a higher salary is important to you, then working at a Thai government school probably isn’t for you.
Vacations and Benefits – Although some government schools do offer better vacations and benefits than others, overall, they tend to be lower than at bilingual schools and laughable compared to international schools. With average vacations of only around 4-6 weeks a year and a lot of government schools even working on Christmas Day, vacations can be a bit of a downer for a western English teacher who wants to travel or have more time to relax.
Co-Workers – At many government schools in Thailand (not all), your western English teacher co-workers will be a bit of a sorry bunch. Many will not be qualified teachers, many will not have university degrees and some won’t even be able to get work permits as their qualifications are non-existent (don’t ask me how government schools get away with this, but many do). Government schools don’t pay much so they get what they can afford and that’s not always a qualified English teacher.
Resources – The vast majority of Thai government schools, and particularly those outside Bangkok have very limited resources. Most will have inadequate libraries and text books, and even getting things like photocopies can be difficult. Don’t expect to be given much to work with when you’re teaching at a Thai government school. You’ll likely have to provide a lot of resources yourself. But, that can also be a good thing, as you’re not restricted to teaching what you’re told.
Overcrowding – Unlike bilingual schools, where an average class size in Thailand is 8-12 students, in a government school the average student count per class is 50-60. Classes are overcrowded and with so many kids, you’ll never keep track of everyone and their names, let alone how much improvement they’re showing – particularly if you end up teaching five or six classes a week. That’s 300 students.
Students – Students in government schools are lovely. Usually more polite than Thai students in bilingual and international schools and more traditional Thai in the way they behave, you’ll find you get much more respect as a teacher from Thai students in most government schools. For some teachers, that’s much more rewarding than a higher salary.
Parents – Parents of students in government schools will be working class or lower middle-class (unless it’s a famous government school, then you could end up with a lot of high-society types too). The lovely thing about these parents over upper middle-class and high-society Thai parents is they have more respect for teachers and tend to listen to what they say as they think they know more than the parents do.
With upper middle-class and high-society types, the opposite tends to be true. Less respect and a lot more demands. So, sometimes, teaching at a government school is worth it just because you’ll have less problems with demanding parents.
Public Holidays – While Thai government schools may not get as long vacations as other schools, they do get all the public holidays and Thailand has more than almost every country in the world. This can mean, in some months, you get 2-3 days off a month.
Thai Culture – One thing I always loved about working at a government school is you learn much more about Thai culture. At bilingual schools that are often a mix of the Thai and western ways of doing things, at a government school it’s Thai all the way, so if you came to Thailand to experience the culture then a government school is the way to do it.
Less Stress – Bilingual schools and, of course international schools, seem to pressure teachers more to perform well, to submit increasing amounts of paperwork, to do extra duties and to be a ‘model teacher’. In the three years I worked at a bilingual school the workload increased every semester until, for the money, I’d finally had enough. Government schools on the other hand often seem to be less stressful and more relaxed (although few western English teachers will admit it). So, if you want a more relaxed environment this might be it.
Obviously government schools in Thailand differ. Some are good, some not so much. What to expect from a government school in Thailand though is often up to you, your work ethic, what you can and cannot put up with and how you like to teach. All I can say is my experience at a Thai government school was lovely and, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t hesitate.
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