Teaching English in Chiang Mai

Thai schools can be both fun and frustrating

Thai schools can be both fun and frustrating

Chiang Mai is such an agreeable place that many want to stay, and teaching English in Chiang Mai is one realistic way to do so. Although jobs aren't as easy to come by as they are in Bangkok and rates are up to 30 per cent lower, the atmosphere is far more relaxed. Teaching isn't for everyone, but it can be fun and rewarding.

If you have the requisite qualifications, a good attitude and look reasonably smart, then you shouldn't have a problem finding a teaching job in Chiang Mai. If you're a backpacker looking to hang around for a few months, then think again; the schools have seen countless dreadlocked, inappropriately-dressed drifters hoping for a job, and these professional establishments know better.

Rates vary from 180 baht per hour to 400 baht per hour, but the average is 250 baht per hour. Fulltime contracts are less common. Due to the fact that demand outstrips supply, those applying should have a recognised TEFL/EFL certificate, a good command of English, soft accent and preferably some experience.

In order to secure a work permit, the Thai manpower department will also want to see proof of a degree (or equivalent), but in reality few positions here offer full time contracts with work permit, preferring the convenience of a larger staff of part-time teachers. Invariably, most teachers here juggle several positions.

There are more than half a dozen private international schools in Chiang Mai, although they tend to recruit properly qualified people through overseas agencies. Occasionally they employ teachers who have been in Chiang Mai for some time.

More than a dozen language schools offer the best options and these vary in quality. Some teachers opt for voluntary, or low paying, jobs teaching underprivileged or refugee children (with a few perks), while others occasionally find positions in regular Thai schools (low salary). If you're patient, you can build up a network of private students.

Although many are satisfied to find any teaching work at all in Chiang Mai, it's worth knowing which schools are best. Some of the schools are businesses more than educational institutes and tend to put profits above standards.

Tips for landing a job teaching English

  1. Look and act professional, arrive with all your documents ready, and be dressed for a possible immediate interview.

  2. Thais are sticky about appearance, so dress conservatively, wearing a tie or conservative skirt.

  3. If you don't have a TEFL certificate, then show some proof of previous teaching experience.

  4. Bring a CV (of relevant experience only) and copy of your degree/tertiary diploma (this is considered a pre-requisite for permanent positions).

  5. Be genuine with your intentions to stay in Chiang Mai for a reasonable time.

  6. Be flexible, often openings are for part-time weekend staff.

Those schools that have some international endorsement and foreign management tend to have a much more favourable environment for effective teaching, providing decent course books and resources, placing the students at the right levels, monitoring your class preparation and paying on time.

Thai students prepare a traditional 'kratong' boat

Thai students prepare a traditional 'kratong' boat

At the bottom of the ladder are fly-by-night operations that take the money and run, shoving a mismatch of kids into a classroom with no materials and calling on the teacher at the last minute. This can be very challenging and no fun at all.

Another consideration is age groups. Female teachers are preferred for younger students and little ones can be a nightmare to control if you speak no Thai at all. Most students are teenagers, though some schools also have outside contracts for corporate evening work.

Although it's not too important that you speak some Thai (in fact some schools insist that you only use English in the classroom), it can be useful and effective at times for giving instructions and drilling. The most important skill a teacher needs in Thailand is the ability to entertain and teach creatively, for the Thais get bored easily and expect everything to be fun. Expectations of high performance are secondary.

If you are serious about teaching English in Thailand, you are also strongly advised to take a decent TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) course. There is more to teaching than simply walking into a classroom and it will greatly improve your confidence and smooth out the lesson direction.

Although TEFL has become a bit of a generic term for any teaching courses, there are several places in Thailand offering decent courses (two weeks is the accepted minimum). Or you can go the whole hog and sign up for the CELTA qualification, which is an intensive 4 week programme monitored by a UK insitution and recognised the world over.

 Unitefl offers a four week 120-hour course accredited by TEFL International, and has several years experience training teachers who have gone on to find jobs all over Asia. They have on-site accommodation and the course includes eight hours of real teaching experience. They also have a good track record in helping graduates find teaching jobs in Thailand.

Another reputable company offering a similar course in Chiang Mai is Siam Educational Experience (SEE), which has a four-week TEFL programme accredited by the Thai Ministry of Education as well as the internationally recognised IATEFL, and involves real class time for some vital experience. They also have several years experience, and equally good reviews.

Teaching English can be fun and rewarding in Chiang Mai, provided you treat it professionally. Thais make wonderful students; they are well behaved and respectful, appreciate fun in the classroom and don't have raised expectations.

Updated: January 2013

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