Teaching in Thailand With or Without Qualifications

“Good morning, Teacher Ejnar”, 25 children yell as they see their teacher by the whiteboard. A peek into the classroom of a bilingual school north of Bangkok reveals a passionate teacher and a classroom full of enthusiastic students.
Ejnar is a foreign teacher in Thailand – a country that according to official statistics hosts approximately 3000 foreign teachers. Most of them have been ‘imported’ through various channels of invitations and exchange programmes, but others have just turned up on the doorstep of a bilingual school as it was the case for Ejnar from Denmark. He showed up at this school north of Bangkok three years ago and was immediately hired.
Actually, the Thai rules state that you must have a bachelor degree and as well as some years of teaching experience if you do not possess a certificate stating that you are in fact a trained teacher. Up until now no one ever cared about these rules as the schools were so eager to get as many foreign teachers as possible.
But the official mood towards foreign teachers is changing, according to Philip Williams who is the editor of ajarn.com, a website for foreign teachers in Thailand. “Not long time ago it was easy to become a teacher in Thailand, but not anymore”, he says.
“There are so many new regulations regarding degrees and criminal records. I think the degree issue will be the stumbling block for most foreign teachers, because as far as I know about 60 – 70 per cent of the people who want to come here and teach do not have a degree”, Philip Williams explains. His experience goes back to 1998 when he started his website.
Then and now the single most common question asked is: ‘Will I be able to find a job without a degree?’ The answer that Philip Williams’ website provides these worriers with is: ‘There is such a shortage of teachers here that very often the lack of degree will be overlooked’.

If you don’t have a certificate, buy one!
As many of the foreign teachers are not native English speakers, they must have obtained the famous TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) course and certificate. But not even that rule is a problem to the applicants. In the land of copies and replica a piece of paper is easy to get if you should actually need it. 
“I have been a teacher here for some years and nobody has ever seen my TEFL certificate, as I do not have one”, says Ejnar. Furthermore, he doubts that anyone has ever checked his criminal record in Denmark.
The only thing he has ever shown was a certificate stating that he is a qualified teacher. “But that certificate can be bought in Khao San Road in Bangkok and everybody knows that”, he says, but underlines that his teacher certificate is real as he has the necessary teaching background from Denmark.

Being white is a qualification in itself
The children in Ejnar’s class already speak some English, because that is what their parents demand when paying for the ‘Extra English’ programme. A Thai teacher is not good enough. “The parents want a white teacher for their children, because it is prestigious”, Dora explains. She is an Italian who has been a teacher in Thailand for 18 years and now assists with the management of the bilingual programme at the school.
Ejnar agrees: “The lack of foreign teachers means that you can be hired directly from the street as was the case with me some years ago”, he explains.
That has become a visible fact at most bilingual schools in Thailand. Thai authorities say that they have 2903 registered foreign teachers, but Philip Williams has 2000 users checking out his website every day and three quarters of them are located in Thailand. “2903 is a ridiculously low number. I think 25,000 would have been more appropriate, but I don’t like to guess about it. The number of users of my website gives you an idea of how many teachers there are”, he says.
In order to get some Thai perspective into the English lessons, the foreign teachers are required to participate in a 15 hours course in Thai culture. Ejnar laughs as he hears about this rule. “There are so many official rules in Thailand, but the schools break them if they have to in order to get enough foreign teachers”, he says.

If you’re not a good guy, no one will know
The school’s eagerness to hire these teachers makes it hard for them to sort out the bad seed among foreign teachers. An example of extremely bad seed was when Thai authorities in the summer of 2006 arrested John Mark Karr. He was wanted by American authorities for the murder of a six-year old American girl in 1996. When John Mark Karr was tracked down he was working at a bilingual school in Bangkok.
“We have seen so many examples of bad people coming to Thailand to teach in international and bilingual schools”, says Dora. “The Thais used to be a bit naïve when it comes to foreigners. They thought that everybody came with the best intentions, but now they are learning that just because you are white, does not mean you are not a criminal”, she says.
According to Dora, the school where she and Ejnar are teaching, checks the criminal record of all the foreign teachers that apply for a job. But Ejnar disputes this. “If they say that they check criminal records, it is a lie”, he states.
The job of checking foreign criminal records is obviously a tough task for the schools and for the Thai authorities. Philip Williams has in vain tried to get an answer to whose job it is to check if an applicant for example has been charged with child molestation, theft, drug dealing etcetera. He has come to the conclusion that the system has given up before it started. “The Thai schools have never checked anybody’s criminal background”, he says.

Tighter rules means fewer teachers
Becoming a teacher in Thailand is getting more difficult every day, according to Philip Williams. “I am afraid that there will be fewer and fewer foreign teachers in Thailand”, he says. “It is the lowest paying country in the area and there is so much red tape. Who would want to come and teach here?” Philip Williams ask rhetorically.
But no matter how hard the authorities get on the applicants, the schools still crave these teachers. “We are heading towards the busiest season in the Thai school system and I can see that the number of vacancies is increasing rapidly on my website. I don’t know what the Thai schools will do without the foreign teachers”, Philip Williams says.
“The consequences are that the students will not have a teacher or they will have a Thai teacher which they will not gain so much from as Thais have a tendency of lecturing in stead of teaching. With a foreign teacher, the students get a chance to speak, as the foreign teaching style is more communicative”, Philip Williams explains.

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