I moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand May of 2018, and taught English in a local school for one year. I worked at two different schools during that time. I only worked at the first one for a month, and then spent the rest of my time working at the other school.
I do want to write a disclaimer before you read any more of this post. If there is one thing that I know for sure, it is that everyone’s experience teaching English in Thailand can vary vastly. I worked at two different private schools while in Thailand, and those experiences were incredibly different (as you will soon find out). I also have friends who worked in government (public) schools and international schools. Those schools were also very different from the private schools that I worked out. I wrote this post to share my story and experience, but don’t expect your experience to be the same as mine.
School Grades in Thailand
Schools in Thailand generally start at age two with Nursery. Then they have kindergarten for three years. Kindergarten 1 is for three-year-old, kindergarten 2 is for four-year-olds, and kindergarten 3 is for five-year-olds. Then they move on to Prathom (around age 6-12), and finally Matyom (around age 13-18). The grades may vary a bit from school to school.
My First School
How I Got a Job in Thailand
I found out about a job opening at a school from a friend that I met while I was taking my TEFL course. She was part of a Facebook group for girls living in Chiang Mai. Another girl had posted that her school had a few job openings, and my friends sent it to me. I immediately sent my CV to the email address provided, and I had my interview within a few days.
I showed up at the school, filled out an application, and had an interview with the principle of the school. I knew almost immediately that they would hire me. She told me that she wanted me to teach kindergarten. I initially did not want to teach kindergarten because I had almost no experience with children. Also, when I took my TEFL course, we had to do six different teaching practices with different ages, and kindergarten was my least favorite. I decided to accept the position because I was too afraid of not finding a job.
Why I Did NOT Like This School
I taught 2 or 3 nurses classes per week. The majority of my time was split evenly teaching kindergarten 1 and kindergarten 2. I taught around 20 classes per week, and each lesson was about 1 hour.
The students had so many workbooks! They had workbooks for math, English, writing, and reading. Two of the books went home every weekend with the students to show the parents what they were doing in class. Even though only two workbooks went home each week, I still had to keep up with all of the workbooks since they might be going to the student’s parents the following week, and I couldn’t fall behind schedule of what pages the students were supposed to complete.
I never planned any lessons. A few minutes before the class began, I would decide what workbooks were the most important to finish that day. I would go into the classroom and sing a few warm-up songs like Baby Shark and Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.
Then I would move on to workbooks. I would show the students the books and try to explain what they had to do. There was always a Thai teacher in the classroom, so the Thai teacher would also tell the directions in Thai.
Then the students would sit down and complete their workbooks, but they hated them. What 3, 4, or 5-year-old wants to write all day long?
The school also put high importance on coloring. You would think that kindergartens would love to color, but they were forced to do it so much that the majority of them hated it. I would get in trouble if the students didn’t complete their workbooks, so I would have to force the students to color.
Also, because these students were learning how to write for the first time in their life in a second language with an entirely different alphabet, their handwriting was not good. I don’t think any 3, 4, or 5-year-old has excellent writing whether English is your first language or not.
Because the workbooks went home every weekend, they had to look perfect for the parents. They wanted them to look like a native English speaking adult wrote it, not a three year old.
As I mentioned earlier, I taught in the classroom for around 20 hours per week. The time that I didn’t spend teaching, I spend grading all of the workbooks. What I mean by “grading” is that I would fix all of them. Yes, I had to fix 3-year-olds handwriting.
For example, let’s say that the students were practicing writing the letter E. If the letter E’s that the students wrote didn’t look right (which it usually didn’t), I had to erase and rewrite every single workbook page for 30 students. Because I had two classes, I had to correct the workbooks for 60 students. I spent many hours every day erasing and rewriting the students’ work. All of this was to show the parents that their kindergarteners had perfect handwriting.
There generally just wasn’t a lot of fun with these students. Not because of the students, but because of the school’s obsession with perfectionism and creating the perfect image.
At one point during my month at this school, over half of my kindergarten 1 class got hand, foot, and mouth disease. They ended up shutting the class down for a few days and made all of the students in that class stay at home. Once the students returned to school, they had to make-up the workbooks pages that they had missed. Some students had gone to the hospital because of the disease. They were still not there when the rest of the students returned. I had one student that missed school for around two weeks, so he missed a ton of workbook pages.
I had to make-up all of the workbook pages for the students who were gone, so I put a sticky note on each workbook page whenever a student was absent. Once that student returned to school, I would try to get the student to make-up one or two pages that they had missed once they completed the workbook pages for that day. This method would allow them to catch back up to the other students slowly.
My boss came up to me one day, and she told me that because these students were so far behind on their workbooks and they still needed to be sent home to the parents, I had to make up the workbooks pages that the students had missed. She told me to stop putting the sticky notes in the workbook pages and to color the pages and complete the writing myself.
Something else that I did not like at this school was what they would post on Facebook. They posted on their Facebook page every day, and they staged almost everything on that page.
Let’s say that I was in the classroom teaching letter E. My boss would come into the classroom and say something along the lines of, “Hey, we want to film a video of you teaching math.” She would have a bunch of props in her hands to use in a video for a fake lesson that never happened and would interrupt in the middle of the class to get the video. The students were probably so confused. One second I’m talking about letter E, and the next second I am teaching a math lesson. If they didn’t like how they filmed it the first time, we would shoot it again and again until they got their perfect shot.
One day they pulled me out of one of my classes to “teach a boy how to read” for a video. It took us over an hour to film a one minute video because they had us do the video over and over again in various locations around the school. They had a book that said something along the lines of “I see a cat.” They told the student to say the sentence incorrectly so I could correct him.
My Second School
Why I Changed Schools
The reason that I changed schools was not that I didn’t like the school. I switched schools for transportation reasons.
The main transportation in Thailand is motorbikes. I was too scared to drive a motocycle for my first four months living in Thailand (including the time that I spent at my first school). I got to work every day by taking a Grab (Uber/Lyft for Asia). It became incredibly inconvenient having to get a Grab to go to work every day because the time that they showed up was so unreliable. Sometimes they would take 3 minutes to arrive, and on other days they would take 30 minutes to arrive.
There was a school that was around a 10-minute walk from where I lived. The same friend that found my first job was a substitute teacher at that school. One day I was complaining to her about how much I hated having to take a Grab to work, and she told me that they had an open teacher position in kindergarten and that I should apply.
I decided to sent my CV to the director of the English department at that school. I had an interview, and they hired me that day.
My Experience Teaching at the Second School
This school was a completely different experience than in my first school.
This school has two different programs. One was called NP, which stood for Native Program (a native English speaker teaches the students). The parents pay a decent amount of money for their children to be in the NP program because they are getting a lot of English interaction. I taught the NP students twice a day. I was also with my NP class for lunchtime, snack time, and any extra activities that they had.
The second program was called Two Skills. It was called Two Skills because they were only supposed to be learning two English skills: listening and speaking. They weren’t supposed to be practicing writing because they only had an hour and a half of English lessons per week (split into three 30 minute lessons).
Two Skills students were reasonably challenging to teach because they had so few English classes. The Thai teachers of those classes were also very unhelpful.
My NP class was the reason that I loved this school so much and fell in love with teaching younger children.
This school was entirely different from my first school because I made lesson plans. They did have two workbooks, but they had all year to complete them. The students spent less than one hour a week doing their books. I planned all of my lessons for these students.
Besides the workbooks, we played a lot of different games using new vocabulary words each week. I also found my long-lost passion for crafts. I never thought that I was a crafty person until I taught kindergarten.
The students had a new letter of the alphabet that we would practice every week. For that letter, I would have them do a tracing worksheet, the workbook pages for that letter, and a craft. I would turn the letter into a word that starts with that letter. I wish that I had taken a picture of the crafts that we did every week, but, unfortunately, these are the only two pictures that I have.
I fell in love with my NP class, and I felt that I developed a relationship with them. There will always be a special place in my heart for these students. Teaching them was an experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Switching schools was the best decision that I made while in Thailand.
An Important Thing to Remember When Teaching English in Thailand
Do not expect things to run as smoothly in Thailand as they do in westernized and developed countries (like the United States). Information is relayed very slowly in Thailand. We would find out about things at the very last minute.
The biggest frustration that I had all year long happened when the printer in the kindergarten building broke. It broke in December, and it took them around two months to get a new printer in that office. It was so frustrating because you print a lot of stuff as a teacher. Five English teachers were using this printer, and we probably printed at least 100 sheets of paper every day.
When the printer broke, we had to walk over to the opposite side of the school to either the elementary department or the high school department to print something off. This school had 6,500 – 7,000 students, so it was not a small school. It was not possible to print something off quickly, and I would have to plan out a 30-minute break in my day to walk to the opposite side of the school to print.
We asked over and over again for the school to buy us a new printer. They would try to come and fix our old printer and print one sheet of paper. One piece of paper printing correctly is a lot different than 100 sheets of paper per day.
FAQ About Teaching English in Thailand
What to Wear to Teach English in Thailand
At my second school, the teachers had a uniform that we had to wear three days a week.
The outfit on the left is what we had to wear on Monday. The outfit on the right is what we had to wear on Wednesday.
On Fridays, we had to wear something called Lana clothes. Lana clothing is traditional northern Thailand clothing. There are different styles of Lana clothes, but this is what I wore every Friday.
These pictures show the type of clothing that I would wear on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All skirts had to go past your knees. Shirts had to cover your shoulders and needed to go up to your collar bone. Thais are very conservative in how they dress.
I suggest not buying any clothing before you come to Thailand until you know the dress code requirements at the school that you get a job at. Some schools may be more relaxed with their rules, and others might be even more strict. I purchased all of the clothing pictured in Chiang Mai.
This picture shows what we called our “sports day outfit.” The shirt was given to me by my school, and we had to wear it with black pants. We only wore this on special activity days. I probably wore this less than ten times in the entire school year.
At both of the schools that I taught at, I didn’t wear shoes while teaching. At my first school, I would take off my shoes outside of the classroom and then put them back on when I was finished teaching. At my second school, we had to take our shoes off before even entering the kindergarten building. I loved not wearing shoes during the day.
At my second school, kindergarten was the only building where you weren’t allowed to wear shoes. The teachers that taught elementary and high school ages wore shoes all day. The student never wear shoes in the classroom.
All females had to have their hair pulled into a ponytail or a bun. You were not allowed to wear your hair down. This rule wasn’t a problem for me because Thailand is very hot and the air conditioning is not very good. I probably would never have worn my hair down even if it was an option.
I am going to be fully transparent about how much money I made while teaching English in Thailand. I wish that I had had this information when I was planning my move to Thailand, so I hope that this information will be helpful to you if you are planning on moving to Thailand.
My salary was 34,000 baht per month (around $1,079). The first school that I worked at paid 38,000 baht per month (around $1,205.98).
Even though the first school paid a little more than the second school, the switch was still worth it to me. Also, my second school paid for my work visa. I had to travel to Malaysia for my work visa, and I was given 10,000 baht to do that from my school. The first school did not pay for work visa trips.
I do know people who worked at international schools and made around 48,000 baht per month. You have to have previous teaching experience to get hired at an international school. My job in Thailand was my first time teaching experience. If you have some teaching experience, I strongly suggest applying to an international school.
Read about the cost of living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I also taught English online in the evenings and on the weekends to make extra money for traveling.
I don’t want to get into the process of getting a visa because that would probably add an extra 1,000 or so words to this blog post. This article that goes into great detail about getting a visa in Thailand if you are interested. I highly suggest you read it if you plan on moving to Thailand.
Some schools provide housing, and others do not. My first school did not provide housing, but my second school did. I did not live at the accomodation on the school campus. I had already signed a year lease on an apartment from when I was working at my first school. The wifi at the on-campus housing was weak, and I wouldn’t be able to teach English online.
As with most things, this will vary school by school. I’m not going to be talking about my first school here since I was only there for a month. My second school was a private Christian school. A Christian school is somewhat abnormal in Thailand since Thailand is a Buddhist country. Because it was a Christian school, I was given ten days off for Christmas and New Year. If you work at a government school, you will probably have to work on Christmas. I do have a friend who worked at an international school, and she also had some time off for Christmas.
Most schools in Thailand (except for International schools) start at the beginning of May. They have a mid-year break in October. I had almost the entire month of October off of work, and I spend that month traveling around Vietnam. The school year ends in March. If you decide to return for a second year, you should have around a month and a half off before the new school year starts again.
There are also various holidays throughout the school year where you may have a random day or two off from work.
Do you have to be a native English speaker?
A lot of schools prefer to have teachers from countries that are native English speakers. Native English speakers can get better jobs in Thailand teaching English. Some schools require you to be a native English speaker (my second school did), but some only require you to be fluent in English. My first school only expected that you are fluent in English, so I was a shoo-in since I am a native English speaker.
The countries that are generally considered to be native English speakers are the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia. I even know a few people from Singapore and South Africa, and their first language is English, but they are still not considered native English speakers in Thailand.
You do not have to be a native English speaker, though. I met people from Brazil, the Philippines, Singapore, China, South Africa, and Italy that teach English in Thailand.
Do you need a college degree?
You will have a much more difficult time finding a job if you do not have a college degree, but it is possible. Your college degree does not need to be in Education, though. My degree is in Business, and I was quickly able to find a job.
Do you need a TEFL?
Some schools require a TEFL, and others don’t. My first school required a TEFL, but my second one did not. I received my TEFL in Chiang Mai at SEE TEFL.