Teaching Abroad in Thailand: An ESL Teacher Tells All

Matty Anderson moved his family of four to Thailand from New Zealand on one-way tickets. The goal was to see the world while living a laptop lifestyle. They wanted to live life by their own design, not someone else’s. We got in touch with Matty and asked him about his experience with teaching English in Thailand, a job that supplements their family income. Here’s what he had to say.

So you want to teach abroad in Thailand? I guess we are similar souls, travel-loving free spirits who want a tool to facilitate a brave new lifestyle. A few months ago, I lived out my dream of a laptop lifestyle and moved my family to Thailand, where I now teach the happy kids I’m proud to call my students.

What’s it like to teach kids in Thailand?

I was a little worried when I heard about 50 kids in each class, and when my TEFL course went over classroom management it sometimes sounded like crisis management. However, I love my job and get immense satisfaction when I see their eyes and expression change when they ‘get it’.

I have 13 classes I get to see twice a week, for 55 minutes per class. They love to laugh, love to play and are very respectful. But like any kid worth his salt, they will test and push your boundaries. There is a lot of talking, high volume, laughing and squealing in my classes, which I encourage. Brain activities and games may seem like the focus of the lesson, but I just trick them into learning by having fun.

As a teacher, you’ll be exposed to incites, sounds, smells and sites you won’t get as a tourist.

Despite all the fun in my English classroom, the Thai public school system is very different. I am the only English teacher at my school and very few of the staff speak English. Smiling and bowing with hands in prayer position (called a wai) is very important to show respect. A lack of actual communication means I find out about cancelled classes, sports days, special events and public holidays when I turn up. I’m learning what it’s like to live on “Thai time,” and I now consider these nice little surprises. I feel like I’ve been exposed to the real Thailand, and a festival or religious ceremony where I’m the only farang (foreigner) means I’m in a very privileged position. As a teacher, you’ll be exposed to incites, sounds, smells and sites you won’t get as a tourist.

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Being a teacher here is prestigious. Once people know you are Khru (teacher) they show you more respect and you tend to earn your rights to live like a local. There is massive difference between tourist prices and local prices. Local communities will embrace you and treat you very well once it is clear you are a neighbor and not a visitor. At my school I’m a rock star! I’m the first native-speaking teacher they have had there, I’m a giant (six foot is pretty strange) and I’m a clown.

How much can a teacher make in Thailand?

O.K. So how much will you get paid? Don’t expect to become rich. You will work less and make more than your Thai counterparts, but you are looking at between 30,000 ($1000 USD) and 35,000 Thai baht as a new guy/gal. However, there are ample opportunities for private lessons to supplement your income if need be. Although wages in Thailand are nothing like Western wages, they are offset by a lower cost of living and the work-life balance really can’t be beat. It’s an almost perpetual summer and within one to two hours in any direction, you can find getaway spots which will have your friends back home stewing with jealousy. For a single person your salary is enough to maintain a pretty envious lifestyle. Disclaimer: Just like on any income, if you play too hard you can easily burn through your funds in a couple of weeks.

What kind of person should consider teaching English in Thailand?

I think you need to know yourself a little first. You must have some inner clown. Embarrassment has no place in front of Thai kids. Teaching here is often like performing. “Patience” and “flexibility” are good words but they don’t pack the power of what I’m trying to say. It’s also important to love children and have a passion for teaching. I think I like helping people, so that makes my job fun. I get a great kick out of the students engaging me in English outside of class, or even shooting the shit outside of school using stuff I taught them. No matter where you teach, it’s not all beaches, cocktails and sunbathing. I’ve had some absolutely shocking days; classes where I’m getting blank looks for an hour. I’ve had times when I’ve thought, “Oh my God, why am I doing this?” You’ll likely have those days too, but you should embrace them. Just step back and think, What am I doing? Why am I here? Take a couple of deep breaths, create a plan of attack, tighten your clown shoes and show Thailand what you’ve got.

At my school I’m a rock star!

How do I get started?

To start with it’s, good to do a TESOL/TEFL course. I did a course in New Zealand and I had a great tutor with exposure to teaching during and after the course. It was a hell of a lot of fun, and I’m still in contact with my classmates and my tutor. It’s a good idea to find a course that comes with job placement because then the hard part is over, and you get it all in one.

Another handy thing is a degree. Any flavor will do. Different countries and employers have varying requirements, though. Some may want a bachelor’s degree in education, with experience. In Thailand, your degree can be in any subject, and you don’t need experience. The truth is there is a massive shortage in teachers. ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is a new Economic Political organization involving 10 Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand (I suggest you look into it before going to teach there!).They have decided the language for cross business and government communication will be English. Long story short, there is a lot of work to be had. Schools, businesses, government departments and language schools are screaming out for native-speaking English teachers, and they’re calling your name.

Words by Matty Anderson.