Before I moved to Thailand I had done a lot of research about the country and teaching opportunities. I was a complete newbie. All I knew was that I really wanted to live in the Land of Smiles. I had no idea how much a teacher could earn, how to find a job and what qualifications I should have to be able to find a position in a Thai school. Fortunately, I found Ajarn.com, which I am a big fan of until today even though I don’t work in Thailand anymore.
If you don’t know Ajarn.com and you want to become a teacher in Thailand, then you really need to check it out. It’s a treasure chest of information. You will find everything there: starting from interviews with teachers, useful blog posts to a job board.
The owner of the site, Phil, has lived in Thailand for almost 30 years now and he’s an expert in the field. We have interacted on Twitter a couple of times and I must say that he’s got a great sense of humor (as most Brits do) and he’s a brilliant observer of his surroundings. I thought that asking him a couple of questions for the blog would be a great idea. I was curious what his impressions of Thailand were and what he thought about non-native speakers working as English teachers.
Here’s what he told me.
Hi Phil, can you first tell my readers a bit about yourself?
People often know me as ‘Bangkok Phil’, which is the pen name I write under. I am originally from the industrial city of Birmingham in England. I am actually retired these days but in my free time, I write content for Thailand’s number one TEFL website – Ajarn.com.
How long have you been living in Thailand and what brought you here?
I have lived in Thailand since 1990 so 27 years and counting. Like a lot of people, I came here for a short holiday and fell in love with the country. I often joke to Thai people that I came in 1990 and haven’t used the return ticket yet.
Do you remember your first impressions of the country? What surprised you the most?
I had done a lot of travelling in Europe but Asia was a different ball game. I never ate food for five days because I was just so excited to be here and had no appetite. I was bowled over by the friendliness of the people and the relaxed pace of life and attitude. That said, living and working here and coming for a holiday are entirely different things. Much the same as any country I guess.
How did you start working as a teacher?
Back in the early 90’s, teaching English was pretty much the only work you could get here and it was nearly all private language school work. There were no jobs at universities or Thai schools, etc. I looked in the yellow pages for logos of language schools and started calling a few up. Berlitz Language School invited me for an interview and I liked the set up. I ended up staying there for two years teaching mostly Japanese expat housewives.
What were your experiences in a Thai school and how long did you work there for? Has much changed in terms of working conditions and regulations since you started working in a school?
I have never actually worked in a Thai school. All of my teaching was either in private language schools or corporate work. I was always of the opinion that if you were going to put your heart and soul into preparing a lesson, at least the students should want to be there. I take my hat off to teachers who have to stand up in front of a class of 40 rowdy schoolkids with no interest in learning English (and why should they?) It’s certainly not for me. Give me a training room with six business managers wanting to improve their business writing or e-mail communication. Now that’s my bag!
You created the go-to website for teachers in Thailand Ajarn.com, so you’re very familiar with the expat community. Can you tell me why do people want to come here and teach? Do they stay long and what is the main reason for why they leave?
The site was created by a guy called Ian in 1999. I took it over in 2002 when Ian went to work in China and I turned Ajarn from a hobby website into something much bigger. People come here to teach very often because it’s the only way to fund a long-term stay in the country. Some only last a few months while some stay here for a lifetime. Thailand isn’t for everyone. Beneath the guidebook cliches and the Land of Smiles veneer, Thailand can be a tough country to deal with – and teacher pay is often too low to allow for a comfortable standard of living. I don’t think there is one main reason for leaving but reasons certainly include to make more money or to simply try life in a different country like say, China.
Can anyone become a teacher in Thailand? What about non-native speakers?
Most people can find a teaching job somewhere but it’s much tougher than it was for those without a degree because a school cannot make you a legal teacher (or at least it’s very difficult) I think non-native speakers are finding more opportunities than in the past though because those schools paying 30,000 to 40,000 baht a month – and refusing to pay more – have realized that their chances of attracting a qualified native speaker are slim, especially if the school is located in a rural area.
What do you think about Thai education system?
Hmmm…..you have to be careful what you criticize about Thailand these days. Let’s just say there is probably room for improvement.
How long do you want to live in Thailand? Do you ever think of going back to the UK?
I go back to the UK at least once a year to see family. In fact, I’ve been back three times in the past 12 months. But I don’t think I would want to live there permanently again. I find England a bit grey these days.
I don’t really know what the future holds or if I want to stay in Thailand for the rest of my days. I tend to take each week as it comes. I have no grand plans or ambitions. As long as my wife and I get to travel three or four times a year, then we are happy. My wife plans to retire in about five years time, so we would like to spend more time abroad if given the opportunity.
How did you grow Ajarn.com? Did you have an action/marketing plan, or was it a blog, which you wrote on a regular basis and the fame just happened?
I just packed ajarn.com with relevant content from day one and its popularity grew and grew very quickly. Content is king. That has always been my philosophy. Too many webmasters spend so much time analyzing statistics and drawing up action plans that they don’t leave time to write content. Content is king. Build it and they will come.
What plans do you have for Ajarn.com?
I think just continue what it’s doing. The hardest part is coming up with ideas for blogs and articles. There are over 2,000 pages on Ajarn.com. Sometimes I look at it and feel everything has been written about. Readers tend to dismiss a blog that’s older then two years but the whole teaching in Thailand thing hasn’t changed that much. There are many articles on Ajarn that are 10-15 years old but they are as relevant today as when they were first written. There is no need to re-invent the wheel.
You can follow Ajarn.com on Facebook and find Phil on Twitter.
If you could ask Phil a question, what would it be? Don’t be shy! Leave a comment!
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