Why Teach in Chiang Mai, Thailand? Six Pros and Six Cons

We're sometimes asked why we decided to teach English in a Chiang Mai school.


Here is a breakdown of the good and the bad, from our own experience, in the form of six pros and six cons (because I do so love lists).

First, some background information:

We both have degrees, TEFL qualifications and lots of teaching experience, but neither of us are qualified teachers - that is, we don't have a degree in education. This is important - it means that we're highly unlikely to get the very well paid jobs in international schools, as they typically hire qualified teachers only.

What is true for us might be different at other schools and for more qualified people, but this is how it is for us.

Pros


Paid holidays
Full pay for all our time off is a fantastic benefit. We get a lot of time off compared to what we'd get in England. Having a guaranteed income means we can enjoy our holidays and explore Thailand instead of having to work all the time - which is one of the major reasons for being here in the first place. Holidays in Thailand are amazing (check out our treehouse adventure for example).

Lovely students
Don't get me wrong, some students can be challenging and according to their feedback most aren't really bothered about learning English. Having said that, the students we've taught are mostly really nice people. I think it helps that we try to make our lessons as creative, interesting and varied as possible. We both have good relationships with the majority of our students.

Freedom to be creative
Sometimes not having a set curriculum is frustrating, because it means more work for us. However, it also means that we can play to our teaching strengths and try out new things. We have to write our own lesson plans, curriculum, syllabus etc, often without a lot of guidance. Personally, I love it. For example, I've had my students create their own English-language comic books instead of writing a play and Andy has his class write a blog instead of keep a hand-written journal, which they just loved.

A supportive team
The other foreign teachers are always sharing ideas and experiences and helping each other figure out what on earth is going on. Most of the Thai teachers are nice too, and we've made friends with some of them. Befriending the Thai teachers at school is a very good thing - they know the city, culture and school system a lot more than anyone else and can be an invaluable source of advice and information as well as great friends.

A year long contract
Many people believe that year long contracts mean nothing if you're a foreign teacher in Thailand and they can get rid of you for no reason whenever they want. I don't know about that, but I do know that a year long contract means year long visas and work permits - yay! Even if the feeling of job security is an illusion, it's a nice one to have.

Living in Chiang Mai
This point is worth a whole post of it's own, so for now I'll just say that Chiang Mai is a wonderful city to live in. It's not paradise on earth as some would claim and there are plenty of things wrong with it, but overall we love living here. Exactly why is hard to say, but it's probably a combination of there always being something to do, a fairly good music scene, being close to the mountains and beautiful Thai countryside, beautiful weather, cheap living costs, the availability of nearly all Western comforts (even red wine and custard creams!) mixed with Thai culture and the friendly people.

Cons


Low pay
We've worked for 25,000, 30,000, 37,000 and 40,000 baht a month. With more experience you can expect a pay rise. Most school start off at 30,000 baht a month. Whilst that's enough (plenty!) to live fairly comfortably in Chiang Mai, we find that it's not really enough to save for the future, especially if we want to have kids one day. Also if we want to convert our savings to pounds one day we won't have all that much.

Dealing with administration can be... challenging
Often we have no clue what's going on day-to-day at school. Sometimes lessons or whole days are cancelled for no reason, or we're suddenly asked to do something that we've had zero time to prepare for. One of our previous schools offered health insurance, but it took months to receive the insurance card. This different approach to administration definitely isn't just at one school - we hear the same complaints from teachers all over Thailand.

Different teaching practices
I've never taught in England, but I'm sure that I can safely assume that there'd be outcry at some things that are normal here. Students who fail are passed - there is a no-fail policy. In government schools I've seen teachers wielding scissors and hacking at students' hair if it's too long, or is dyed the wrong colour, or hit with a stick - not hard, but still. These things are difficult for us. We're forced to keep quiet, be fired, or quit. When I tried to talk about some things that bothered me, my objections were swept aside and I was advised by more experienced foreign teachers to drop it.

Driving to and from school
We have a motorbike, and it's our ticket to freedom - we go exploring most weekends. We also use it to get to and from school. Andy drives. It can be terrifying on busy roads. We are routinely cut up, people pull out in front of us without looking, drive on the wrong side of the road, zoom back onto the road after driving on the pavement, run red lights, overtake on corners, pass us with barely an inch to spare... the list goes on.

Unwittingly offending Thai people
Thai people try hard to appear very nice. So nice that if you do something wrong without realising it (such as crossing your legs in front of your boss), they often won't say anything unless you know each other well. I wonder how many times we've committed faux pas without even knowing about it. Luckily most Thais are cool about it and understand that we don't mean to be rude.

Some other expats
Let me tell you a quick story. When Rosie (my best friend) and I were queuing at the Heathrow airport check-in desk, excited about our upcoming teaching adventure, there was a gentleman in front of us wearing a Hawaiian shirt. He asked us what we were going to be doing in Thailand. We enthusiastically told him we'd be teaching English and were somewhat put out when he scoffed. He told us that he knew many teachers in Thailand, that it was terrible, we'd be sick of it after a month. All the while he was smirking at our naive enthusiasm. This was our first taste of the grumpy know it all expat. They've done it all, and hate it all. Tell them about your great experience and they'll try to shit all over it. They know better than you about everything, can get anything cheaper than what you paid and despise most other expats and tourists. Personally I deal with these men and women with a sweet smile and make my escape as soon as possible - there are plenty of friendly expats and tourists to meet without putting up with them. You'll find them on Chiang Mai Facebook groups too - best to ignore them.


So there you have it, six pros and six cons in no special order. If you're reading this because you're thinking of coming to Chiang Mai to teach English too, feel free to ask me any questions - we'll do our best to help.


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Amy Lou

Amy Lou is a writer based in Asia. She loves to explore places on her motorbike and stroke cats. She is (usually) very friendly and encourages readers to contact her if they have questions about Chiang Mai or want to work with her :)