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Problems you can meet when teaching in Thailand

Problems you can meet when teaching in Thailand

I’m perhaps one of the biggest proponents of traveling to Thailand you’ll ever meet, and the author of Top 10 Reasons To Love Thailand, but sometimes traveling to a country allows for a different perspective than living and working there. My time as a teacher in Thailand was special, and I will forever hold it dear in my heart. But teaching abroad requires an open mind, for one is working under the rules of an entirely different system. This means it’s not always easy, but would anything be worth doing if it were? 

Here are eight problems you may encounter while teaching in Thailand: 


Apathetic students


Despite the high level of respect students often have for their teachers in Thailand, ESL teachers don’t always receive as much. Students are often apathetic toward learning English, especially in the Northeast and other rural areas where it’s difficult for them to understand the necessity of knowing a second language. In certain communities, like the one I taught in, few students graduate high school (it’s only mandatory through sophomore year), and even fewer continue to college. Therefore, those who are destined to take over their parents’ business have a difficult time seeing the importance of a global language like English. 

What you can do: 

Try to make English learning fun. Incorporate educational games as often as you can, and always keep a positive, upbeat attitude to set the atmosphere in the classroom. If you can create lesson plans that are so fun the students forget they are learning, you’re in for a real treat. Your optimism will become contagious, and eventually students will be excited to come to your class and participate. 


Tenured Teachers

In Thailand, teachers are government employees, and therefore it is very difficult if not impossible for them to lose their jobs. With little pressure to improve and only small monetary increases for furthering their education, many become complacent and even lazy. It can be difficult to watch and work with such coworkers, especially when it’s not in the students’ best interest, but as an ESL teacher, you must keep in mind that it’s not your responsibility and there isn’t much you can do to change it.

What you can do: 

You can focus on our own classes, and being the best teacher possible. If students remain engaged and learning when they come to your class, then you’ve done your job well. 


Lack of Guidance



Every situation in Thailand is different, but it’s likely you’ll have very little instruction when first starting out as a teacher there. Some schools are new to having native-English-speaking teachers, and they don’t know how to guide them in the right direction. It’s possible you’ll be given a couple of textbooks (worthless or not) and shown to your classroom without knowing what to expect. That’s okay. You’ll soon get the hang of it. Trust me. 

What you can do: 

Be proactive and ask where the resources are. Find out who your head teacher is and ask them for support and guidance. Use the internet as a great tool for resources, such as lesson planning ideas and forums. Ask other ESL teachers who’ve been there longer. And, most importantly, pay attention to your students and what they need. It’s possible all of the above will lead you astray and your best bet will be to use your own judgment in the classroom. 


Politics of grading

Since most often you’ll be teaching in a government school in Thailand, it’s likely you’ll encounter the same problems I did when it comes to grading. Schools are supported by government dollars…but only if students receive a passing grade. You can guess where I’m going with this, I’m sure. As a teacher, you’re not allowed to fail your students, even if they don’t show up to class or don’t do the work. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but that’s the name of the game. 

What you can do: 

In most cases, it’s likely you won’t be in charge of the grade books at all, so you won’t have to worry about it, but if you are, don’t do what I did and fail them anyway. You’ll have to spend a long time redoing your grade books.  


Being put on display as the foreigner 


For many, it might not be seen as a problem to be paraded around. It certainly won’t in the beginning, but as a foreigner in a mostly homogenous society, you’ll stand out. You’ll be a strange being to many curious people, and local teachers and students will be proud to show you off, to say you’re part of their school. 

What you can do: 

Be friendly. Smile and say hello. Take pictures when asked, and try to remain understanding at how different you look and why they’re so curious. Enjoy being a celebrity! 


School cancellations

One of the things you’ll learn quickly about teaching in Thailand, is things are rarely planned in advance, or at least it will seem that way to you. Many times, ESL teachers are the last to hear about plans changed, and it’s possible to show up for work one day only to find out school has been cancelled. Usually there is a reason, like a school-wide event, or a little-known holiday, but it can certainly be frustrating. 

What you can do: 

Keep your head up and ride the wave. Your time will be incrementally better if you focus on the bright side (a day off!) and simply go with the flow. 


Working without pay

It’s not common, but not entirely unheard of, either, for employers to pay sporadically. If you work directly with a school, you’re under the same scrutiny as the local teachers, which means paychecks could be months late due to unforeseen and often unexplained circumstances. 

What you can do: 

The best way to avoid this situation is to sign up through a reputable agency, such as the one Teach English: ESL works with, which acts as your safety net between the school and yourself. You sign a contract with the agency, and uphold their guidelines for teaching in the school, and your paycheck comes directly to your bank account, on time, at the end of each month.


Getting fired for no reason


Again, if you’re working directly with a school, they are at will to let you go whenever they see fit. They don’t need a reason at all, and it might be that they simply can’t afford you anymore. Thailand doesn’t have the non-discrimination laws in place like the U.S., and therefore you’re susceptible to any kind of unfair treatment. However, actions as drastic as this are very unlikely. 

What you can do: 

If you work with a reputable agency, like the one Teach English: ESL recruits for, you’re safe because you are technically working for the agency and not the school. Should the school let you go, the agency will find a new teaching placement for you, assuming you didn’t do anything significant to deserve getting fired. 

I certainly don’t want to scare anyone away from teaching in Thailand. It’s one of the best experiences of my life, and it set me on a very different path from the one in which I was headed. I have no regrets, for the bad times or the good. And to be honest, the bad times are few in comparison to the good. The best advice I took when I first started was to go with the flow. And remember that you’re in Thailand to learn about the local culture and respect it, as much as you are to teach your native language. 

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27 January 2023

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