My palms felt like I’d dipped them in a bucket of water and forgot to shake them off. I flipped through the flash cards on my lap, each one an English letter and picture of an animal whose name began with the same letter. Five minutes left.
A veteran teacher entered the room. He moved with confidence and freedom. Such a contrast to the stiffness that came over my body. I could leave now. No one would know. I’ll tell them I have to go to the bathroom and never come back. I grasped my laptop bag. Two minutes left.
The academic director walked into the room, scanning the area. “They’re here,” he said.” I knew he was talking to me but I was preoccupied by my worries. “John, your students are in the room.”
When I entered the classroom the eyes of twelve children locked focus with mine. They were four and five years old. Some of them laughed. Some of them cowered. It’s only two hours.
This was the first class I’d be teaching in Thailand. Before this day I never taught a day in my life. And aside from the six months I spent with my new daughter I had zero experience with kids.
I introduced myself. And I asked the children for their names. Then I did what I thought any English teacher would do. I sang the alphabet. The children joined in chorus. This is easy. I should be fine.
After the alphabet song I took out the flash cards and asked the children the letters and names of the animals. “Alligator!” a boy yelled. “Buffalo,” another boy said. They seemed to be cooperating with me, to my surprise. But when I got to the letter G I started losing them.
They grew restless in their seats. One-by-one they stood up. Some hid under their desks, others climbed the classroom furniture. Two boys peeled the foam alphabet tiles from the floor and chased the girls with them. I tried to corral them back into their seats. But like crabs escaping a bucket, when I had one kid seated, I turned around to find three more scurrying around the room. I looked up at the clock. An hour and forty-five minutes left.
When the class came to an end I felt like a tornado swept me up, spun me around, and spit me out. That day taught me that a 100-hour online TEFL wasn’t enough to teach English to non-native speakers. And it taught me that teaching children wasn’t for me.
The next day I enrolled in a 120-hour TEFL course in Bangkok. In a few weeks time I was learning valuable ways to teach English as a second language. And I was getting experience, practicing in real classrooms with real students. I also got constructive feedback from an experienced ESL teacher.
After I finished my TEFL course I went back to the language school learned and confident. I was ready to teach the world. But I still refused to teach children.
The academic director who fed me to the roomful of children two months prior had mercy on me this time around. “Do you want to teach corporate?” he said. “We get contracts from companies in Bangkok to teach English to their employees.”
“Wait a minute. I can teach English to adults in Thailand?” I said.
“If you want the contract it’s yours,” the academic director said. “It’s a 30-hour contract with the possibility of extension.”
My life teaching English to adults in Thailand officially began.
If you’re anything like I was, you probably think you have to teach in the Thai school system, managing thirty to forty kids. But I’m proof you can make a good salary teaching English to adults at language centers and corporations.
If you’re still undecided on whether you want to teach children or adults, let me break down the pros and cons of teaching adults.
The Pros of Teaching English to Adults in Thailand
You have laughs with people your age
Because you’re teaching English to adults you’ll talk about adult topics in the classroom. You’ll have your students role playing adult scenarios. My adult students love to act out soap operas and love stories. And they love to act out the lyrics of love songs. They even like to flirt and make good fun with each other. When I teach adults I can be myself and I don’t have to worry what my students say in the classroom.
You avoid school politics
School administrators have teachers at their mercy in the school system. English teachers get their teaching hours cut without notice. And they get teaching hours added without forewarning. Some schools make teachers buy the school suits, which could cost up to $100. That’s a big price to pay to wear something for a few occasions a year. When you teach adults, you’re free to wear the dress clothes you chose.
And because Western English teachers get paid more than Thai teachers, they don’t welcome us with open arms. When you teach English to adults at corporations though, the staff are hospitable and friendly. They give you what you need and make sure you’re comfortable.
You make your own teaching schedule
After you establish yourself as a reliable teacher you’ll stay busy. You’ll have so much work you’ll have to turn some away. When you teach English to adults in Thailand you can take as many teaching contracts as you want. If you like to sleep late, you can teach in the afternoons or evenings. If you like to keep your nights open, you can teach in the mornings and afternoons. You can work the weekends if you want, or use that time to travel.
You make connections for future work
Most of my private students come from family members of adult students I’ve taught at corporations. At the end of my teaching contracts I get one or two students who ask me to teach their kids, their husbands, or their wives. And if you prove yourself to be a good teacher with the company you’re contracted to work for, the company will ask you to come back and teach again.
You can work for multiple language centers
If you work in the school system, you’re locked into a contract with that school. If you teach English to adults through language centers or at corporations, you can work for as many language centers as you want. This way you can start new teaching contracts as others come to an end. And if one language center is slow to get new contracts you’ll have another to fall back on.
You work in different locations everyday
Another great perk to teaching English to adults at corporations is that you work at different companies everyday. You’re not stuck in the same classroom everyday for eight hours a day. You work in the heart of Bangkok one day, and then work on the outskirts the next. You work for a giant multinational corporation one day, then work for a small shipping company the next. You teach students from all walks of life: CEOs, engineers, office staff, company officers. And you teach adult students of all levels, from beginner to advanced.
You get paid more than teachers in government and some private schools
When you teach English to adults, you’ll start out at around 600 baht per hour ($17US). If you work four hours a day you’ll get 2,400 baht for the day. On the other hand, if you work in the school system you’ll usually make around 35,000 baht per month. That’s 1,750 baht per day for eight hours of school time. You work half the hours teaching adults but get paid more for your time.
You’re your own boss
If a language center hires you to teach at a corporation you won’t see the owner of the language center until the end of the contract. Everything falls on your shoulders—in a good way. As long as you show up everyday on time and prepared, and if you keep human resources happy and add value to your students’ lives, you never hear from the person who hired you. You won’t have anyone hanging over your shoulders. One time I went an entire year without seeing my employer.
You change companies every two to twelve months
Because you’re teaching based on contract hours you change companies every two to twelve months, depending how long your contract is good for. And when you start a new contract you get to meet new people, you get to use your best lessons again, and you get to rework your worst lessons. But I’d consider this pro a con as well, because it’s tough to say goodbye to my students after we’ve bonded over the months.
Now. Onto the cons.
The Cons of Teaching English to Adults in Thailand
Most companies force their employees to learn English
Most companies force their employees to learn English as part of an “English Only” policy. Most of your adult students will show up on the first day of class unresponsive. But there are ways to reach these unmotivated students. You have to make it fun, fun, fun. If you make your first class a boring class, you’ll lose even the most attentive students. If you make your first class unforgettable, you’ll get the most apprehensive students to open up.
Building up steady work takes time
When you start out as an English teacher in Thailand language centers will be hesitant to hire you. They won’t know you’re a reliable teacher with fun classes. They’ll assume you’re a fly-by-night teacher looking for a month’s pay to spend on the islands. So it’ll take a while to build up your teaching schedule. For the first six months you might have one or two contracts. But if you’re in it for the long haul and you prove yourself to the owner of the language center, in one years time you’ll be turning work away.
Planning lessons takes a while, until you have experience
When you teach English to adults you’ll use the books as a guide. You’ll have to find relevant activities for Thais. You’ll have to adapt lessons for the needs of the corporation. Or you’ll have to develop your own course. And when you become an ESL teacher, the first six months you’ll spend more time creating your lesson plans than you will teaching them. But because you use those plans over and over—with minor tweaks—you’ll begin to internalize them.
You’re not paid for holidays
This is one of the biggest cons. And this is where your school system teacher friends have a one-up on you. When you’re hired to teach English based on contract hours you don’t get paid for the holidays. And Thailand has a lot of holidays. Budget your money for the long holiday periods when work is slow. Slow periods are the end and beginning of the year and in April during the Thai new year.
P.S. Does teaching English to adults in Thailand sound like something you’d like to do? You’re in luck! Download the Teach English in Thailand Audio Guide and learn all the “Ins and Outs” of becoming an English teacher in Thailand.