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Teaching in Thailand

A Teaching In Thailand Manual Just Hit The Market.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.  With the new visa crackdowns, lots of jobs have opened up for teachers.

Teaching in Thailand

The guys from StayinginThailand.com have been working on a “Blueprint for Teaching English in Thailand,” for what seems like forever.   Davis writes part time for StayingInThailand and he’s been a full time teacher in Thailand in various cities over the last seven years.  Mike told me that he and Davis were working on a book that would change things for aspiring and rookie teachers.  I thought it was a great idea, as there was a genuine need for something like that.  There’s a lot of information online, but it’s so scattered and a lot of it is contradicting.  Some people move their whole life over to Thailand hoping that they can get a good teaching job and be good enough at the profession to keep it.  It’s pretty serious stuff, so the market place was in need of a genuine A-Z guide.

A guide has been due - not only for getting a teaching job - but for how to actually teach Thai’s in the classroom.  I said, “Mike, let me know the minute it’s ready, because I know a lot of people that would benefit from having it.”   Six months went by, no book.  Then another six months went by, no book.  Finally, nearly 18 months later, the book is finally ready.  You can have a look HERE at TEACHING ENGLISH IN THAILAND: A Practical System

I have gone through the book, and it’s everything I wanted it to be and expected it to be.  I never taught here, but I have loads of friends who do and who did.  I know the biggest issues they have, and they’re all addressed in the book.  There are lots of classroom techniques and exercises catered specifically for Thais, which I think is huge.  On top of that, it has the information people need to know about getting the best job they can here.  But again, the key part is that it gives them the steps to follow to teach effectively from day one, or to improve greatly if they’re still figuring the gig out.

I caught up with Mike and Davis and had a Q+A with them about their new book.

(C-Chris, D-Davis, M-Mike)

C- Hi guys, congrats on the book.

M + D -  Thank you, thanks for the spot here.

C- Of course, anytime.  So guys, why did it take so long to do this?  Mike wrote a 70,000 word book in three weeks once!  Why 18 months for this?

M – Mhhm, why don’t you take that one Davis, lol.

D-  Fair enough question.  The thing is, if I actually totaled the amount of hours I spent writing the book, it would probably equate to something like a few weeks.  I spent much more time thinking about the book and putting the presented concepts in practice.  The reason I took so long is because I wanted to write it while I was getting field experience in the classroom.  Every day I was reflecting about the book and adding new ideas.  I tried things again and again until I found what worked in all areas.  In addition, I sent the book to three professors, and four other EFL teachers in Thailand and waited on them to critique it and give me feedback.  This took time because I gave them specific assignments based on what areas I thought they were most knowledgeable.  I was constantly thinking of new ideas and applying new material to see what worked.  I interviewed professors and teachers about their opinions, I asked Thai students and conducted polls in the classroom, and I had countless discussions with colleagues in Thailand and in the U.S.  Another thing I was doing was reading and researching while I wrote the book, and I was determined to finish the reference books I was reading in unison with the completion of the book because I didn’t want to leave anything out.  As you can see, this was no small task for me.  I put a lot of effort into it and compiled solid, revised, and accurate information over a long drawn out process.  I guess you could say I am somewhat obsessive or picky, but I think those who read it will appreciate it.

M-  That’s one way of saying it.  Listen, I knew this book needed to be made many years ago and Davis did too.  WE both had thoughts about writing it prior to even knowing each other.  I had planned to pay a teacher to consult with me on the book and Davis was going to pay someone to help him market it.  So when we first discussed the book, within a few minutes it felt like this was something we could tackle together.  He had a book full of notes and ideas before we even discussed the project, so I knew he was the right guy.  He had already kind of shot up the ladder to a great position in the industry, and he had a ton of connections.  He took the craft of teaching English more seriously than any teacher I’d ever met.  I asked him where he wanted to be in five years, and he broke out a plan to basically get to the top of the field, a plan he is well on his way to achieving.  So again, this was the right guy!

But holy sh*t Davis, you were not easy to work with.  It was supposed to be three months to have the first copy of the book.  And after three months, I think we had pretty close to enough text to make a full book, right?

D- Yes, we had more pages by then than the current 343 page version that the book has.  I must have had fifty alleged “final copies” in my documents folder for the book.

M- Right, so there was plenty of content.  I told him we should just stop, clean it up, and go live.  And then I don’t really know what happened, but he started second guessing a lot of it, and rewriting a lot of it.  He just wanted it to be better.  It was already good, so I wasn’t a big fan of the perfectionist style.  He wound up rewriting things and editing over and over, and then like six months in, he tells me he needs a few months to do more research and come up with more ideas and I was just like, WTF?!?!?!   Do all teachers think this much?

D- This is my first book, and it could very well wind up being my last.  So I did reach a point where I wanted it to be perfect.  Even now, I know it’s a solid book and I’m extremely proud of it, but if you gave me the chance, I would go back to work on it.  That’s how dedicated I was.  This is my long term career; I’m going to be doing this for decades.  So if there was going to be a book attached to me and people using my techniques, I needed it to be stellar.  I truly want to see people succeed at teaching here.  I know what it’s like to struggle in the beginning.  It doesn’t have to be that hard for everyone.

M- Which is a compelling answer, and it’s why I wound up being ok with it in the end.  And now we really do have a fantastic book, so the journey was worth the end result.   This book is going to help a lot of people.  It’ll help someone who wants to be a teacher.  It’ll help those who are already teaching.  And without a doubt, it will help thousands of Thai’s learn English better.  And that’s important.  Thailand is way behind nearby countries like Malaysia and the Philippines when it comes to learning and speaking English.  The latest global report shows that Laos is outperforming Thais when it comes to education.  Laotians’ English levels are higher, but there aren’t nearly as many English teachers in Laos.  Why is this?  The Thai standards for education have been poor up to this point.  Nevertheless, we can all agree on one thing - a dedicated teacher can always break through, regardless of the subject or the classroom.  Those who take the time to read the book and use some of the techniques will get through to more students one by one.    When you look at it like that, and you realize the need for a new perspective on all of this, then it makes me kind of seem like a dick for not wanting Davis to take all the time he needed to make this book what it needed to be.

C- So go back to the part where you said Davis took a few months off to do more research?  What was that about?

D- As I already mentioned, I was writing the book as I was teaching.  I was nearing the end of the semester, so I wanted to finish the semester before I finished the book.  By concluding the book shortly after the semester ended, I imagined that it would help paint a more complete picture -  and it did.  By doing this, I gave myself the opportunity to take a step back from teaching in Thailand and contemplate what I’d written so far and looking at it all in a different light.  Without this hiatus in the process, some vital sections of the book would have never made it to fruition.  This wasn’t absolutely necessary, but there were some ideas that still needed fleshing out and it was worth it in the end.

C- Interesting.  Mike is right, you’re far and away the most “into his job” teacher I’ve ever met here.

M – He’s like the Michelle Pfeiffer of teaching in Thailand.

C- Ohh, “Dangerous Minds” reference, had to come sooner or later.

D – I don’t even know what that movie is about.

C- He’s like the Cesar Milan of teaching in Thailand.

M- Better!

D- No idea.  Should I be flattered?

C- Moving on.  Lots has been discussed recently about the visa crackdowns and the impact it’s having on teachers.  What are your thoughts about that Davis?

D – There is more than one way of looking at this situation.  You have some people that hate everything about the new crackdown, and you have others that welcome it.  Some teachers were working here for years that were really great teachers, regardless of whether or not they had the legal paperwork, but there are others in this same group of illegal teachers that had no business teaching at all, and I worked with some of them.  Then there is another group of teachers who are legal and qualified and they see this as something like pulling the weeds.  They are right to an extent, but even in this group you have people that don’t know what they are doing in the classroom.  I worked with people that had PhDs that didn’t have a clue how to actually teach.  But this is besides the point.  Ultimately, what matters is that all with an interest in teaching in Thailand realize that there has been a decline in teachers and more jobs have become available and now is a good time to seize the opportunity.  There is a void in the market for teachers, but it’s going to be even MORE competitive now.  Now, prospective teachers will be competing with qualified and more established teachers.  Releasing the book at this time is like throwing teachers a life raft.  Everyone in the Thailand teaching profession needs to tighten their belt and step up their game.  Who knows.  We may see a new trend with higher salaries and new reforms in education that make Thailand an even more ideal place to teach than it already is.  It’s all speculation at this point, but one thing I am absolutely certain about is that those that read this book will be doing themselves a favor if they intend on teaching in Thailand, ESPECIALLY with all of this happening.

C-  What about the profession in general?  I think there was a time when teachers here barely made enough money to support themselves, but now it seems like the some of the teachers are outspending me at the bars.  If you move up the ladder, what can a good teacher make here?

D-  There is a lot thrown around about this and there’s a wide range of what a teacher can earn in Thailand today.  Teaching in Thailand is the main profession sought by foreigners living here because it’s not hard for most people to get a decent job making enough to survive, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t excellent jobs available.  There are still quality jobs to be had if people take their time to learn the ins and outs of it all.  The truth is that teaching is not a bad gig if you know what you’re doing from the start.  If we are talking about minimum salaries then it looks like it’s not worth it, but people don’t have to settle for a low level position.  The reason for people thinking the money is no good in teaching is for a few reasons among others

  1. A) they just want to teach as a means to an end and will take whatever they can get
  2. B) they have no knowledge or experience of teaching so they just settle with poorly paid positions and never consider moving up the ladder or improving their performance
  3. C)  they don’t understand their options and they just follow the herd of other teachers and just accept what they believe is the standard
  4. D)  they just see it as a temporary sabbatical and never take it seriously or realize what they can achieve.  Teachers can do well teaching privately if they make an effort and organize themselves.  You can make 1000+ baht per hour teaching in Bangkok if you know what you’re doing.  There are teachers with dream jobs in Thailand like teaching business executives in Bangkok or those in Phuket teaching hotel staff.  But it’s not just about the salary.  Many people, including me, enjoy teaching for the flexibility it offers, the holidays, the chance to help others and make a difference in their life, and the opportunity to live in Thailand and travel in a truly unique way.  If you love being around kids, then that’s another plus.  The sense of community that surrounds teaching in a school is a great feeling.  It’s comforting.  Every day is something different and you can learn something new every day.  Working in a Thai school is an interesting, fun, and amusing way to make a living here.  But you have to have your head on your shoulders.  I’m trying to help people make sure they have their head on their shoulders and they keep it there.

M – And that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to work with this topic.  I write about Westerners transitioning to become an expat in Thailand; have for many years.  And teaching is by far the most common and widely available profession for Westerns in Thailand. Always has been, always will be.  With the pressure Thailand is feeling now, there is going to be somewhat of a boom here.  Good teachers are almost assured of making a nice salary here now, and it’s only going to get better.  You combine that with the cheap cost of living and the things we love about this place; you’re talking about a very solid gig.  And for many people who aren’t loving their current position or location in their home country, I think it’s something they should certainly think about, and I think more and more people are considering it an option.  So I wanted to have a product out there that helped make sense of a process that, quite frankly, doesn’t make a lot of sense sometimes.  And I wanted people to feel confident, not scared, when they go teach their first day of school.  I also wanted people who are teaching but finding it difficult, to have guide to help them improve greatly.  It took a while, but we now have that product and I’m psyched.

C-   What a salesman Mike is; for a second there I felt like quitting all of my businesses and becoming a teacher.

M – You have something going for yourself, so you don’t need to teach.  But, if things worked out differently for you or for me, teaching could have been a fine way to stay in the place we love.  And I know people who have nice businesses here now, but began in Thailand as a teacher.  It’s not the most overwhelming job, hours-wise, so it can be a great stepping stone to acclimating to the country for a couple of years while you set some things up for yourself.

C- 100%, Great point.

M – Unless you’re Davis and you were teaching English out of the womb.  He’s a cradle to grave teacher.

C- Ok Davis, why do you enjoy teaching English here so much?  Why is this the career path that you have chosen for yourself?

D- I knew that I wanted to be a teacher when I was in high school and the idea of teaching abroad was compelling to me.  I did not think of coming here on a whim.  I had all of my shit together and my plans in order.  I knew I wanted to come to Thailand and teach English when I was studying in university.  It was something I fantasized about all the time.  I have always been fascinated by Thailand and learning about other cultures, meeting foreigners, and traveling to foreign lands.  I loved reading about Buddhism, watching Muay Thai, eating Thai food, etc.  I was kind of a nerd about this stuff on the years leading up to me moving here.  Like I said, I didn’t do this as a means to an end – this is an endeavor that I thought long and hard about and took the exact steps needed to get myself where I am today.  Teaching EFL in Thailand was my niche before I even knew about the reality of it.  Now that I’ve been here for so long, I feel more strongly about my decision to come here and my decision to be a teacher.  During this last semester I taught in Thailand before I finished the book, I really opened up to my students during that time and told them how I felt about their situation.  I really tried to motivate them to “be their own teacher” and see the benefits of learning English.  I encouraged them to think critically and creatively.  I really do want to make a difference and see that difference in action.  In a class full of forty students, if I can reach three of them, I’m happy, because I know that I helped them succeed in their life and get where they need to be.  It makes me feel wonderful to see people learn English and realize the benefits it brings to their life.  It’s not just about teaching English, I’m sharing more than that with students and I am only giving them the best of what I have in me.  I love my students and I’m not ashamed of saying that.  I tell all my classes that we are a family.

M – He’s the Kevin Costner of English teachers

……………………………………………………………………..

M-  Dances with Wolves?  Come on!

D- I don’t want to be the Kevin Costner of anything.

M-But you were ok with being Michelle Pfeiffer?

D- If not for the never-ending amount of movie references, I could have shaved three months off the time it took to complete the book; so those three months are on you.

C- Ok, well guys…I think it’s a great tool and resource, and I agree, I think it’s going to help a lot of people.  So tell my readers where they need to go.

D- Go to ThailandTeaching.org

M – Thanks Chris!

D-  Thanks again Chris, I enjoyed it.

C – Cheers!


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