Over the last 10 years Chiang Mai has become one of the most popular expat cities in Thailand and Southeast Asia. It blends tradition with history, culture, delicious food, friendly locals and spectacular scenery. Compared to most Western cities, the cost of living is amazingly low. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that this city has also become a popular destination for foreign TEFL teachers.
Number of English Teaching Jobs in Chiang Mai
A comment sometimes read on forums is that there are few English teaching jobs in Chiang Mai. This simply isn’t accurate. Chiang Mai is the education hub of Northern Thailand and Thai education emphasizes the development of English-language skills with foreign teachers. ASEAN will open its doors in 2015 and the lingua franca of this region from that time will be English. This has led to a strong need for foreign teachers to meet this demand. There are 6 universities, 8 vocational colleges, around 6 International schools, at least 30 private schools, around 20 government schools, numerous kindergartens and approximately 25 language schools in Chiang Mai which all employ foreign teachers. Some employ as many as 30 foreign TEFL teachers. I would estimate there are many hundreds and perhaps even close to one thousand teaching jobs for foreigners in and around the city. As 2015 approaches this number will probably increase significantly.
List of Schools Hiring English Teachers in Chiang Mai
Contact information in English for the Chiang Mai schools is difficult to find. However, all SEE trainees receive lists of these schools on their last day of training along with a workshop on CV/Resume writing and how to find work. SEE itself employs 30+ teachers in outside teacher management contracts at a wide range of Chiang Mai schools. These jobs are always offered to our trainees first.
How to Find an English Teacher Position in Chiang Mai
Another comment I occasionally read is that it’s difficult to land the teaching jobs in Chiang Mai. This is particularly true for teachers who come directly to this city without any support, guidance, training or knowledge about how schools recruit teachers here. However, a prepared, patient and flexible teacher will find work. Initially, the work may not be ideal, but it will be a stepping stone to more desired future employment. Also, it’s important to note that hiring at many schools takes place before each of the two academic year semesters, i.e., during March and April ready for May and September and October ready for November. However, there is turn over at most schools throughout the year and flexible and patient teachers will still find work quickly outside of these months.
Salaries tend to be lower in Chiang Mai than in some other regions of Thailand. They range from 23 – 33,000 baht per month (as of 2013) in most formal schools. However, unless a foreigner needs to eat lots of Western food and drink large amounts of alcohol most nights, the salaries provide a comfortable lifestyle. A good apartment can cost around 4,000 – 6,000 baht per month. Eating out is very inexpensive as many Thai dishes can cost around 30 – 35 baht at various restaurants around town. A shared taxi (songthaew) ride to most parts of the city is 20 baht. Salaries can always be complemented by part-time hours teaching in language schools and/or private classes with their own students.
I have lived and worked in Chiang Mai for over 13 years. Over that time I have looked for work, been employed and recruited over 100 teachers for my employers. The process of finding work here is very different to the West. Schools rarely advertise their positions, schools value conservative behavior and dress, and schools sometimes recruit through 3rd parties.
Where Jobs are Advertised and How to Find Them
Few jobs in Chiang Mai are advertised on the Internet. Schools that do advertise tend to involve a foreigner with the hiring process. A couple of good examples of these schools are DARA Academy and Varee Chiang Mai. Recruitment usually involves filtering at the email application stage, short-listing, interviewing (face-to-face, Skype or telephone) and demo classes. The demo class will be with young learners aged anywhere between 3 and 18 depending upon the responsibilities of the position.
Most other schools rely on teachers walking in, depositing a CV/Resume and completing an application form. The school may not be actively recruiting at the time of the application. However, most applications are kept on file and pulled out when the school needs someone. Remember that the person tasked with finding teachers also has a full-time teaching or managerial job. Therefore, they don’t have time to waste. Finding teachers is often a spontaneous activity with the time between seeking and employing just a few days at most. Often the first suitable person the school can contact who is still looking for work and available to come to the school within a few hours to interview will be offered the job.
Important Cultural Differences when Seeking Work
The Thai definition of suitable can vary greatly to the Western notion of this word. In Thailand, appearance and behavior are very important factors in deciding whether a school will employ someone. When looking for work, foreigners should dress conservatively. Men should wear plain dark trousers (no chinos or jeans). Shoes should be dark and polished. Shirts should ideally be white and can be short, or long, sleeved but generally long is better. A tie is better than no tie. Women should wear the female professional equivalent. Facial jewelry should be removed but earrings for females are acceptable. Tattoos need to be hidden. Not being appropriately dressed is a deal breaker for most Thais unless the school is desperate for teachers.
Thai norms of behavior are rarely understood by foreigners. Many foreigners come to Thailand believing that Thai minds are conditioned by the same factors as their own, and therefore process the world in a similar way. This is not accurate and leads to many misunderstandings between foreigners and Thais. I strongly advise that all new foreign teachers receive some cultural awareness training or at the very least read a few books about the differences between our different cultural worlds. These misunderstandings often lead to frustration and foreigners leaving their jobs prematurely. There are too many differences to summarize in a short blog, but I will briefly describe some of the important ones.
Thailand is a hierarchical society and great importance is placed on respect for this hierarchy. Potential employers are puu yai (bigger person) and employees are puu noi (smaller person). Therefore the puu noi wai first and speak last. Allow Thai puu yai to speak without interruption. Don’t be too assertive and never be confrontational, aggressive or display emotion.
Importance of Networking for Teaching Jobs
Schools sometimes rely on other sources to find new teachers. It’s quite normal for a Thai employer to ask foreign teachers already working at their school whether they have friends looking for work. This is a strong recommendation, and so long as an on-site interview confirms the person looks presentable and behaves appropriately, they will more than likely be offered employment. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to network. Teachers new to Chiang Mai will have an instant network of friends (the other trainees and their trainers) if they complete TEFL training in Chiang Mai. Other sources that schools use are established and reputable TEFL courses and agencies.
The CV/Resume for Teaching Jobs in Thailand
Schools will expect to see a CV/Resume summarizing their qualifications and experience. It’s expected that a CV/Resume includes a good photo of the applicant. This helps the school to remember people who previously visited and suggests to the school whether their appearance is suitable. The photo should show head and shoulders. The pose should be natural and engaging. Thai employers don’t value stern looking people. The teacher should be dressed for work, so a plain shirt and tie for males and the equivalent for females. Hair should be neat and tidy with facial hair removed. Bad guys on Thai soap operas often wear stick-on beards and moustaches to enhance their menace. Culturally, facial hair can be intimidating to Thais. I’ve been told that when my two daughters grow up and start attracting interest from boys, I should grow a moustache to scare the boys away.
Telephone use for Teaching Job Contact in Thailand
It’s also very important to list a mobile phone number. Thais rarely use email to communicate and are more likely to phone. Therefore, a phone should always be charged and switched on during the job search period. Answer quickly as employers are busy and may impatiently hang up after 6 or 8 rings. Voicemail is also more rarely used, and so answering the phone when it rings is even more important in Thailand than in the West. Speaking to a potential Thai employer should involve consideration for their cultural values.
The CV/Resume should not in any way indicate that the foreigner’s stay is transient. Hence, don’t use a guest house address, don’t write I’ve been travelling for… and do have a phone number. Also, a cover note/email should include an indication that the applicant is interested in that particular school. Include the name of the school and relate any specific details about the school to the applicant if possible. Schools receive a lot of spam and experienced employers recognize the difference between applications from people who are serious about working at their school and people who are just spamming every school they can find. Spammers are often treated as time wasters and ignored.
Patience and Persistance in the Job Search
During the job search teachers must remain positive. It is easy to start to feel despondent if after a few weeks there’s been little response to visits, emails and phone calls. However, persistence and patience will always pay off. When I arrived over 13 years ago there were few employers of foreign teachers and I had visited nearly all of them by the end of my first day of looking for work. I waited and waited. My thoughts started to turn to my options if I needed to leave. However, after a few weeks of waiting I returned to my guest house one afternoon and a message was waiting for me from a school. It was a job offer. I accepted it and had a great first year in Chiang Mai. Then, a connection I made while working at that school led to my next job. And so it went on.
John Quinn, Director and Senior Trainer, SEE TEFL