If you want to stay in Phuket and enjoy the gorgeous beaches, wonderful climate and laid-back lifestyle then you’re going to need some way to pay the bills. If you don’t have an income from home, or the acumen to start a business locally, then your best bet is a job teaching English. Although the jobs aren’t as readily available in Phuket as they are in Bangkok, teaching English in Phuket is still a viable option.
Teachers in Phuket are in fairly high demand and finding a job is not too difficult if you have the qualifications and know how to look the part – if you’re an unwashed backpacker looking for extra beer money to spend on Koh Phi Phi, you won’t get far. Appearance is one of the most important things Thai schools look at when hiring English teachers and all the qualifications in the world won’t matter if you come in wearing fisherman’s pants and a tank top.
Importantly, there are now strict criteria for obtaining an official teacher’s permit and with it a visa/work permit, so many places hire on an ad hoc or part-time basis only. If you’re serious about teaching in Thailand, you might have more luck landing a job in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
To teach in Phuket you will usually need to be a native speaker of English or have near-native proficiency, have a bachelor’s degree (or the equivalent) and either prior teaching experience or some sort of TEFL qualification. TEFL, or sometimes TOEFL, stands for Teaching of English as a Foreign Language and has become the generic acronym for all of the certificates of this nature which schools are happy to accept.
The exception to this is the Cambridge CELTA, which is monitored by Cambridge University, and is considered the most prestigious of all ESL teaching qualifications. There are countless schools offering TEFL certificates but many are fly-by-night operations with no international recognition, so make sure to do a bit of research before deciding on a course. TEFL International is a respectable company that offers a four-week TEFL course in Phuket.
There are three main types of English teaching jobs in Phuket. There are full-time jobs at Thai schools, either employed directly by the school or on contract from an outside company, private teaching, and part-time jobs at language schools. Each has its pros and cons, so explore your options before settling on one idea. You also may need to compromise and take a combination of part-time positions to get started.
Teaching full-time at a Thai school is the most professional and steady type of English teaching job in Phuket. Some Thai schools hire their own foreigner teachers directly, while others contract the position out to a language school such as ECC or Nava. Salaries range from 20,000 baht a month up to 35,000 a month and teachers will usually have the months of October and April off.
Whether or not this is a paid vacation differs from school to school but most institutions will try to avoid paying, so negotiate hard. Teachers get paid leave for Thai holidays, which are quite numerous and scattered all over the calendar. The main advantage of working full-time at a school is the work permit, which allows you to remain in Thailand for the length of your contract, or a year, whichever is less, without the expense and hassle of visa runs. The main disadvantage of full-time work is the long hours.
Although most teachers will have 18-20 teaching hours a week, the school will generally require your presence on campus for the whole day, usually from 07:30-15:00. Also, many schools lack adequate resources and class sizes can sometimes be overwhelming.
Private lessons are another option for teaching English in Phuket and many full-time teachers have a few private students to supplement their income. The standard rate in Phuket is about 400 baht per hour per student, with the rate per student going down as the number of students goes up. Private lessons are much more informal than classroom teaching and many students will simply want a foreigner to practice communicating with.
Finding private students is usually not difficult as many people in Phuket know that their earning potential will go up with a good command of English. Flyers and newspaper ads are ways to attract students, although the best method is word of mouth. The major disadvantage of teaching private students is dealing with cancellations. Try to get your students to pay in advance, say in 10-hour blocks, to avoid your time being wasted.
The other problem with private lessons is that you can’t get any sort of official status so you’ll be off to the border every month unless you have some other way of acquiring a visa. Also, bear in mind that doing any kind of work -including teaching - without a work permit is illegal.
A compromise between the long-term commitment of full-time work and the flexibility of private lessons are the private language schools. These language centres offer extra lessons to students who wish to improve their English. Pay at a language school is usually around 250 baht per hour and the hours are mostly on the evenings and weekends, when the students are out of their normal school. Most language schools have a fairly standard curriculum and offer good resources to help with your lessons.
Classes are usually small (three to 10 students) and most students are pre-teens or teenagers. Language schools don’t require a large time commitment but they do expect their teachers to dress smartly and be prepared. The major drawback of language centres is that they require professionalism but rarely offer visa or work-permit assistance. Also language centres are a business first and may put profits ahead of standards.
As students, Thais are a joy to teach. Although shy at first, they are very enthusiastic and responsive once they warm to you. The most important thing about teaching Thai students is keeping the class fun and dynamic. Thais love a good laugh and teachers who employ lots of games in the classroom will be popular. Don’t be too concerned with high standards - there are few standardised tests in Thailand - just make sure to keep the energy high and the mood light.
If you want to stay here and aren’t independently wealthy, then you may well find yourself in front of a blackboard at some point. Although it isn’t for everyone, teaching is a great way to stay in Phuket and many people find it to be highly rewarding in its own right.