Expat

7 Outdated Stereotypes about Teaching in Thailand

It’s time to debunk the top myths on what it means, and what it takes, to be an English teacher in the Land of Smiles.

Photo by ChrisL_AK
Photo by ChrisL_AK

1) Anybody can teach. No. Sorry. Gone are the days where you could saunter up to a school and dazzle them with your backpacker friendly face and native English speaking skillz. You have to have a bachelor’s degree in order to get your work visa from the Thai government. And more likely than not, most schools will want a TEFL or CELTA certified teacher.

ok-or-not-ok
It’s worth looking up dos and don’ts…

2) It’s a hot climate therefore it’s casual. Recently, I opened the teachers’ room door to two tall Caucasians dressed in tank tops and smiles, asking if they could drop off their CVs. I was surprised because I couldn’t believe after all this time, and information everywhere on the internet, that folks still show up at a school dressed like they’re going to a beach BBQ.

 leo3) It’s a sexpat world. Sure, there are creepy sexpats lurking behind bottles of Leo beer and LM cigarettes, but things are a-changin’ around here. English schools and the English teaching business, at least in major cities in Thailand, are competitive. Schools need reliable and competent teachers or they simply will lose their business. While sexpats are an unfortunate, albeit amusing part of the landscape, I believe they are a dying breed in the school system.

Bringing Halloween to Thailand 2012
Teachers bringing Halloween to Thailand (no need to guess ages)

4) Teachers are 20-somethings or 60-something year olds. Our language school still has the 20-somethings motorbiking in and out, and we have our “older personnel”, but the majority of our teachers are 40-somethings with a variety of personal interests like art, music, and cycling, that provide a more dynamic and interesting range of teachers for the students, and the school.

meditating hippies5. Teaching English in Thailand is an easy and good gig. Not necessarily. Many other Asian countries offer better salary and benefits.  At the beginning of this year, the cost of living in Thailand went up, yet many teachers are still making 200-300 baht an hour.  A lot of schools are also demanding more work and very little compensation for teachers’ time and energy. But since Thailand is a popular place to live, it’s challenging to demand a more comfortable wage.

6) You are automatically respected. I imagine teachers in smaller tucked away towns are still experiencing old fashioned Thai values of students treating teachers will RESPECT. But I see this changing in Chiang Mai and I know other teachers who have been around longer see this too. Blame it on globalization, parents, the rich kids, whatever – students talk back, openly defy you, and skip class…It’s not fun.

AUA-bkk-20097) You have to be Caucasian. I’m proof that you don’t have to be white to teach English in Thailand. My coworker is also Asian American and my friend Lauren who taught at a nearby university, is an African American. I have friends in Bangkok who are Indian and Mexican who currently teach English too.

Did I miss any other outdated stereotypes? What has been your experience?


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18 thoughts on “7 Outdated Stereotypes about Teaching in Thailand

  1. In case I don’t say it enough, old friend, I so love reading your blog. It’s all the fun, humor, intelligence and sarcasm of the teenage you, with the wisdom and beauty of the woman you’ve become.

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  2. I agree with everything you’ve written here Lani. I saw lots of guys turn up for interviews at schools wearing beach clothes – it always amazed me. It is good to hear that schools in Chiang Mai now care more about teaching ability than a white face to stick in front of parents. I have a PGCE, but I often felt that my main job as a teacher in Thailand was decoration.

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    1. Decoration, eh? Was this pre- or post- hair Paul? 😛 555 Oh, boy. Don’t kill me. But seriously, thanks and while some of the stereotypes are outdated, there are those that are still in the works of being changed over. Cheers!

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      1. Lani, I had a nice head of hair when I began teaching in Thailand. I hoped it would grow back once I gave up teaching, but it never did 🙂

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  3. wonderful info. although i will add that the white only thing is still a big problem in many, many areas. it has allot to do with who is running hr. but i have seen cases where parents will boycott if certain races are hired, regardless of being a native english speaker. it’s sad, but i’m happy to hear that you’ve seen changes away from that. ^_^

    ps- unrelated …. i’d love to hear your opinion on the recent university graduation mural / kfc / hitler chic issue from your perspective. especially since you’re teaching in changmai. you have a really neat, balanced perspective on things. so far my thai friends have just explained that it’s an admiration of power & patriotism, but i’d like to know your thoughts.

    *i LOVE your blog!!! ❤ ❤ ❤

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    1. Thanks mg 🙂

      Yeah, I know these stereotypes are still entrenched in Thai society and many schools prefer to see a white face. But as we know there are always exceptions to the rule and I hope these exceptions make more progress. Because I don’t know if Thailand realizes how damaging these stereotypes are to their school systems.

      That being said, I know some folks are catching on to the idea that exposure to a variety of English speakers is a strength not a weakness. And I very much embrace the idea that teachers from different ‘walks of life’ can make a school healthier and happier.

      I’ve avoided the Hitler mural thingy deliberately but since you asked, I see it as giving a lot of attention to something that doesn’t deserve attention. Negativity is given so much pomp and so I think the Thai students are loving it because everyone is talking about what they did.

      I also find it super ironic that Hitler is turned into ‘chic’ because he represents the exact opposite. But we revere and popularize people who don’t deserve it, all the time in mainstream culture.

      Perhaps if photographs of Hitler’s handiwork was muralized, some folks might get the ‘picture’.

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  4. If students respect teachers at all, in might be in spite of being a teacher rather than because of it. In an increasingly capitalistic, and decreasingly Buddhist culture, young people have less admiration for adults working in occupations that aren’t successful or prosperous. If we are living check to check, have less disposable income than they do, and are slotted to retire into destitution, they may not see us as viable role models, but rather as lower class workers they are paying for a service. However, if a young teacher is just teaching to fund a year of partying overseas, they can probably look up to that. Ironically, the most dedicated teachers will probably get the least respect.

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    1. Bleak but true. And I feel this addresses the larger issue of teachers and how they are viewed and treated worldwide. Teaching is the only profession that isn’t paid like a profession and respected like a profession (ie doctors and lawyers). It’s not white collar work, it’s blue collar work. It’s not considered specialized – enough.

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  5. Lani
    I enjoyed the article and the photographs, I did TEFL back in 2005 but chose in the end not to teach here. A couple of reasons for this, one I’m a “60-something year olds” and two I did not like what I saw happening in Thai schools regarding the “teaching” of English.

    At the time I was a full time teacher in a further education college in the UK.

    I agree that the foreign teacher sterotypes you mention are being consigned to the bin(albeit slowly) but I fancy that the Thai education system needs to sort itself out before it will attract folk like myself who where professional teachers(with years of experience).

    In my humble opinion this is what is needed, sort out the establishment and you will attract quality teachers.

    Nowadays, I have a lot of Thai friends who teach, I often visit them at school. What I see confirms the view I expressed above.

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    1. Thanks Mike. While Thailand puts off a lot of qualified teachers, due to the low pay and lack of benefits, etc, there are good teachers here too. For me, that is part of the reason why I posted this. I think this “new” idea, of hard-working teachers living and teaching here needs to be said.

      We have folks with master’s degrees and years of experience working in other countries and at different schools. Thailand is not just a place for kids fresh out of college with their TEFL. At the same time, I also know of a great middle aged couple who left Thailand to work in the Middle East for several reasons including financial ones.

      Nevertheless, I agree with what you are saying. I hope, too, that the educational system will sort itself out, so more quality English teachers are attracted, not only for the sake of the teachers but the students too. Cheers.

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  6. As always, an excellent post, Lani . I left Thailand in 2005, so 8 years ago. I wonder if the pay has gone up at all due to cost of living and how much more selective schools are of their teachers.

    And does the Ministry of Education still demand the Thai Cultural requirement that was all the buzz a few years ago? It cost like 5,000 Baht, and wasn’t covered by most schools in order for you to get your license.

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    1. No there isn’t that cultural requirement anymore. At least not at my school. But we have to pay for our own visa and work permit. At least for the first 3 yrs, which as you can imagine, is tough for a lot of folks since they are relocating to a new country and have to do a visa run too.

      I seriously doubt pay has gone up at most schools to compensate with the rising costs of living. At our school, it recently had, thank god.

      Thanks Amy!!!!!!!!!!!

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  7. One might say that ESL teachers in Thailand today are grossly underpaid and undervalued to the point of it not being worth going to the trouble to teach here, it’s a dead end job. The world has moved on in fifteen
    years whereas the salary has not.
    Whatever you say about supposed ‘sex pat ‘ backpack teachers they were better paid ten years ago than you guys are today with an expensive western education who are now being exploited by the Thai education system with all it’s punitive requirement.

    Don’t forget, that it was those teachers who taught the now new wealthy Thais that are really making money, I suppose that kinda ironic.

    But there’s nothing quite like that feeling of superiority is there ?

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    1. I’m agree with you. These teaching jobs were made for the 20something expat rolling through for a gap year or two. It is certainly not made to be any kind of career. Of course, there are folks that are trying to make it such, nevertheless. Coupled with the rising cost of living, teaching here can be financially challenging. It’s a paycheck to paycheck situation, not unlike living back in the US.

      And yes, our students are wealthier than the teachers. This, I fear, is the movement of our times, the times we live in. But as far as superiority, I’m not sure what you mean or if you are being sarcastic, b/c as you already mentioned, we’re not as respected as we were in the past.

      All this being said, I still enjoy my job, and I like where I live, and this is why Thailand will never run out of English teachers.

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  8. I made my TEFL Certification in Bangkok 4 years ago, and you don’t know how right you are. Though I wasn’t in the business for a long time I’ve seen a lot of those mentioned stereotypes. You just cannot expect somebody to graduate a TEFL and then put him in a classroom in front of 60 prathom students.

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    1. Baptism by fire, baby. Teaching’s hard, yeah, and sometimes it’s easy. But, we teachers have to deal with a lot of BS >>> we’re such saints! 😛

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