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Posted by : Amy Burbridge Friday, 11 October 2013

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 of all, some background information.

We both work at the same government high school in the city centre from Monday to Friday, teaching English 20 hours a week. We both have degrees and TEFL qualifications, but neither of us are qualified teachers. This is important - it means that we're highly unlikely to get the very well paid jobs in international schools till we're qualified.

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 hard work and according to their feedback most aren't really super-bothered about learning English. Having said that, the students at our school are on the whole 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, and get on really well with some of them.

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's going to ask his new class to write a personal blog instead of keep a hand-written journal, which they've said they'd be much more interested in.

A supportive team
We're lucky at our school to have a nice team to work with. 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


Fairly low pay
Our wage is lower than what a lot of contracted teachers get at 25,000 baht a month each. That's 500 British pounds, 590 euros and 800 US dollars. 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 in England one day. It's true that our wage is high compared to a lot of Thai workers, but 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. Our schools offers health insurance - great! However, we've been trying to get our health insurance sorted for many, many months, and although things are in motion now, we're still yet to receive a card or even a number to call should we need to go to hospital and use our insurance. This different approach to administration definitely isn't just at our school - we hear the same complaints from teachers all over Thailand and our school can be better than a lot of horror stories we've heard.

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. I've seen teachers wielding scissors and hacking at students' hair if it's too long, or is dyed the wrong colour. I've seen some students be 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 the busy moat road. 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 are 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 apparent 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.

Pro: enjoying our paid holidays

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 us any questions - we'll do our best to help. My email address is amy.cm.everything@gmail.com.


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{ 12 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Glad you have a list of cons too ---- I taught you well !

    ReplyDelete
  2. 25k? Is that the elementary school inside the moat? That kinda sucks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's 25k at a secondary school - I used a photo from a previous job. Yep, it's too low.

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  4. Hi Amy, great article, I agree with many of the pros and cons you have pointed out.

    I work in a Chiang Mai school also, but am interested in getting further qualifications to move onto an international school in a couple of years. I was wondering whether you had found any information about becoming a qualified teacher, without having to return to England for a PGCE?

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hii, the only thing I've found so far is this: http://www.nis.ac.th/uw-bed-med/

      It's a chance to get an education degree whilst staying in Chiang Mai.

      I emailed them and they sent information. You can email them at lenna.glade@gmail.com

      Here's the info they told me:

      "The course cost is approximately 10,000b per 3 credit course. There are 60 credits required to complete the degree. You can pay for each course (3 or 6-credits) as you go.

      You may enroll at any time of the year and begin courses immediately."

      So that's 200,000 baht total.

      I have no idea if this degree would be worth as much from an employers point of view as a PGCE from England.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Amy!

      Lenna informed me that they've 'temporarily discontinued' the course. I'll have to see if there are any alternatives.
      I have been in Chiang Mai just over a year now. It would be really tough to go back to England for a one-year PGCE!

      Loving your site, lots of things I can relate to after a year here too!

      Thanks again,

      Matt

      Delete
    3. Hi Matt - you're welcome. Sorry to hear it didn't come to anything though. If you do find out about any alternatives let me know... I'll keep an eye out, too :)

      And thanks - that's awesome to hear!

      Amy

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    4. Matt - excellent news! I have recently had a fantastic chat with the manager of a great TEFL business with an office here in Chiang Mai. Soon they are offering an accredited uni course to get a teaching qualification in one year! It should be happening really soon, and I managed to get some discounts for my readers, so watch this space :D

      Delete
  5. Hi, it's me again. Just a Thai passerby.

    I used to teach in a university. Yeah, I agree that the wages is quite low compare to Westerner's standard wages. I should also add that the paid for working with any official insitution in Thailand has lower wages than working with private companies.

    Not so sure about teaching, but most of wages for working in CM are lower thant wages in other provinces ie. BKK. Howver, there also a bright side. Most Thais agree that, on average, CM has lower cost of living than those of other provinces. You just have to know wher you should eat or buy things.

    Reading you post about "Different teaching practices" make me smile and think back to the time when I was a kid. I had experienced all that you said. Not a good and sweet kid but a bad ass one. :) But there're also some difference. During my time, we had FAIL policy. I don't know the reasons behind this "no-fail policy" and I would say that I disgree with it.

    Don't worry too much about "Unwittingly offending Thai people". Just learn.

    Enjoy your life! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey :)

      Yes - a problem for Westerners is adjusting to the new prices in Thailand... or maybe that's just us haha? ... For example pasta was the cheap option for us in the UK, but now it's a treat! Getting over Western food preferences is difficult for us. Also it's a LOT easier to buy from supermarkets or shopping malls with fixed prices for many people who aren't at all used to haggling. We had to get used to it - and learn that you can haggle for some things but not others in the market.

      Yes, 'different' teaching practices....! A bad boy eh? Oh dear, your poor teachers ;)

      Delete
    2. Hi to sasapong. Any idea why the 'no fail' policy changed? It seems to be common now, but it is very interesting to read it wasn't always like this. When did you go to school?

      I also hear that cheating in exams is accepted, in so much as teachers in Thailand want students to cheat so that everyone passes, and turn a blind eye to it so that all students can cheat. Although I hear a cheating culture is changing a bit now, even though I am hearing mixed views on this too. What is your opinion on this?

      Delete
  6. Thanks for your great pros and cons. I also lived in Thailand for a while and here is my personal pro and con list:

    PROS 
    - Cheap living costs
    - Delicious food
    - Kind and respectful people
    Read more Pros here: http://aroundtheworldinaday.com/philippines_thailand_comparison/pros_and_cons/

    CONS
    - Traffic is very bad, especially in Bangkok
    - Can be politically unstable and there is the threat of military coups
    - Disrespecting the king can get you into trouble
    Read more Cons here: http://aroundtheworldinaday.com/philippines_thailand_comparison/pros_and_cons/

    Let me know what you think of my pros and cons. Thanks, Carina

    ReplyDelete

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I live in Chiang Mai with my fiance Andy. I teach English to tweens in a great school, and I write. I write my own blog, for South East Asia Backpacker Magazine and for The Daily Touch.

Most of the time, I'm exploring Thailand, taking photographs and drinking lots of coffee and wine.

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