Bangkok, Thailand: How to Become an English Teacher

What travel stories do you have?

Global travel blog that features travel stories on living, traveling and growing up in cities, villages and towns around the world!

Bangkok, Thailand: How to Become an English Teacher

I was working at a beach bar in Sihanoukville, Cambodia when I met Senda, a Spanish guy on a week-long visa run from Bangkok, Thailand. I was intrigued by the fact that he taught there and asked how he’d found a job.  “It’s so easy bro, and because you’re English you’ll get a job easily,” he replied with an enthusiastic grin.

A year later, my Australian working visa had expired and I wasn’t ready to head home yet, so I decided I’d head to Thailand and try my luck at becoming a teacher. By this time, Craig, another of my friends from the bar, had taken Senda’s advice and found a decent job in Bangkok. It seemed that teaching paid well and, with Thailand being a cheap place to live, it sounded ideal. I left Australia and travelled to South East Asia for three months before arriving in Bangkok, where I moved into a hostel and looked for a job.

To land a teaching job in Thailand, it’s ideal to have three things: English as your native tongue, a University degree, and an English teaching qualification like a TEFL. The first two I had covered, and I’d asked my Mum to send my degree to Craig. I’d also recently acquired an online TEFL whilst I was travelling. With my tools assembled, I started to apply for jobs and to my pleasant surprise, quickly received interview offers. I amassed a few credible options before taking a job as a homeroom teacher at a private school just outside the city. I had a brief Skype interview on a Saturday, received a job offer on Sunday and agreed to start that Wednesday.

My first day, I made the long schlep from my hostel to the school. I didn’t quite have enough for my own place yet, so for three weeks, I commuted from the hostel; leaving at 6am and getting back around 7pm. It was painful.

When I arrived, I was placed in the care of Ms Elena, the Filipino coordinator of the foreign department, who explained more about my job and the school. I was going to be teaching P3, children between the ages of 8 and 9. She also tried to subtly explain that the children weren’t allowed to fail. “..What do you mean?” I asked for clarification. “I mean that they’re not allowed to fail, we have to pass them all,” she replied. In other words, they were going to pass no matter what; it’s what their parents paid for.

As a homeroom teacher, I wasn’t just required to teach English, but Maths, Science, Computing, and Health. “Usually, you get three days of training,” she said, after telling me I’d be teaching Maths the next morning. “But I’m only getting one?” I asked. “No, actually you’re getting half a day,” she chuckled. She gave me a huge stack of books and lesson plans for each subject and before showing me to my classroom.

bangkok

Bangkok – My Students PIC: TM

My class was in a middle of a lesson with their Thai teacher Ms Dao, with whom I’d be sharing the class. I’d teach half their classes in English, while the other half were in Thai. She was an incredibly sweet woman, but took absolutely no nonsense from the kids and could be scary when pushed. Broadly speaking, there were three kinds of teachers at the school: Thai teachers like Ms Dao, foreign teachers like myself, and Filipino teachers like Miss Elena.

Being a private school, everything was about appearances and many things they had us do served no purpose.

TM

I entered my classroom for the first time, drawing stares from students as I tried to slink past them to get to my desk, where I sat in silence and sifted through my mountain of books.  When the lesson was over, I was approached by a girl named Chicha. “Master, where are you from?” she asked enthusiastically. “I’m from England,” I replied. “England?! Then why is your skin black?” she countered. It took everything I had to keep from burst out laughing. It’s hard not to admire that kind of curiosity and honesty.

bangkok

Bangkok – My Students PIC: TM

The next morning, I managed to get through my first two lessons after getting over the initial overwhelm of standing in front of a group of children that expected to learn something. At lunch, I was directed to the cafeteria where I met the other foreign teachers for the first time. I joined the school in June, a month into the semester, while everyone had been there from its start of the semester. In total there were eight of us: three Brits, three Americans, and two South Africans. We were joined a month later by a well-travelled Italian girl named Cookie.

“Oh yeah dude, this place is a mess,” laughed Will, a tall, energetic guy from New York.

“Don’t take anything seriously or it might drive you nuts. And don’t bother with the lesson plans they gave you, they don’t make any sense,” added JP, an equally tall South African. “Just teach from the book.” Their advice would prove invaluable.

bangkok

Bangkok – My Students PIC: TM

It wasn’t long before I discovered that I actually enjoyed teaching. There’s a palpable moment when a child grasps something that I find tremendously satisfying. Because I only had 12 children in my class, I was able to get to know each one well. At times, being children and all, they could really test your patience, but they were highly entertaining the majority of the time.

I started to really empathise with my students over the fact that they were in school from 7am to 5pm each day. Most of them then had extra lessons, tutoring, sports, or other activities after school and on weekends. I thought it was too much.

bangkok

Bangkok – My Students PIC: TM

At school, they had a morning break after their first two lessons and a lunch break after the next two. However, they were ushered back to their class as soon as they’d finished their morning snack or lunch, instead of having a little free time to be, well….kids. Their only opportunities to release all that pent-up energy were a weekly sports lesson, swimming lesson, and bizarrely, a scout meeting. I felt it was a lot of pressure for an 8-year old, but also pleased that the hard work they were putting in would put them at the forefront of a rapidly growing country and continent.

But while I enjoyed teaching, the school itself was often incredibly frustrating. Being a private school, everything was about appearances and many things they had us do served no purpose. For instance, we’d have to take turns standing outside the front of the school each morning, helping the smallest children out of their cars and into the school. Only they’d have at least another five Thai teachers doing the same thing, who would rush to the cars before you. We were just there to be a foreign face and a reminder to the parents of where all their money was going. Similarly, the school had an entire lab of shiny iMacs, which no one was allowed to use. They were simply there for when prospective parents visited the school, as an example of their great facilities. The real computer lab was a random assortment of PCs with a variety of operating systems and software.

bangkok

Bangkok – Meeting the Students in the Morning PIC: TM

Perhaps the most perplexing thing about working at the school was the fact that we didn’t have any official leave days. Instead, we had two ‘sick days,’ which everyone treated as holiday anyway. Initially, I made up excuses as to why I wouldn’t be in, but I soon learned from my Filipino colleagues that it wasn’t even necessary, as they would simply say they weren’t coming in. It would have been so much easier to give us actual holiday and have us find cover for own classes. Instead, we’d all just call up that morning and have the school scrambling to fill in for us.

But all the shenanigans the school would pull served to bring my colleagues and me closer together, and we would often hang out outside work. We had a great time going out for meals, hitting up bars, and murdering songs at karaoke. Living in a hostel for those first three weeks, I became friends with the Scottish manager, Jamie, so I’d return every weekend. My friend Craig and I would keep Jamie company and the three of us would search out one of Bangkok’s plentiful ‘beer buffets,’ where you get unlimited beer for two to three hours.

bangkok

Bangkok – My Students PIC: TM

At the end of the semester, I decided not to renew my contract with the school and took a little time off to travel. Everyone else was leaving too, with some returning home, others leaving Thailand to travel, and a couple simply finding work elsewhere. It was a little sad watching our group disband, but it’s something I’d been forced to get used to, having travelled for close to three years at this point.

One thing I wasn’t accustomed to was saying goodbye to a group of kids that I’d really become attached to over the previous five months. On my last day, they presented me with little gifts, drawings, and cards expressing how much they would miss me. I carry them around with me to this day.

Tim Mugabi

Tim Mugabi

Tim Mugabi is a traveler, writer and English teacher from London, England. He’s been traveling for over three and a half years, spending time in Australia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. His interests include food, cooking, reading, photography and professional wrestling. He currently resides in Ho Chi Minh City. His favourite Game of Thrones character is Jamie Lannister.

2 Comments

  • David

    Looks fun, bet it was…right?

    July 27, 2017 at 4:26 am
  • Tim

    It was fun overall, but kids….XD – they have a way of tiring you out. Even when you didn’t feel you did that much. Wouldn’t trade the experience for the world though

    December 18, 2017 at 5:13 am
LEAVE A COMMENT