How Old is Too Old to Teach English in Thailand?

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A good full time or part-time revenue source for expat Americans is teaching English, but we often hear feedback that semi-retired new residents are too old for this job.  Is that really true?  Or, are senior expats welcomed in teaching? 

This question has come up recently from a few people that would like to teach English in Thailand but have hit the roadblock of age.  Age is something that is impossible to control yourself, and unless one gets hit by a speeding bus, we will all be there sometime (so you young guys should not be so smug).  Understand that in Thailand there is not the protectionism found in the US for people of certain groups, including age groups.  A job opening can be limited to females (or males) or a certain age or a certain nationality in Thailand.  That’s the way it is.

Thailand is a great place for retirement, or just escaping the stress of life in America.  Many of these newer arrivals from the West into Thailand are in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and many of them want to teach English to supplement their retirement income, integrate into the Thai local community and to have some fun.  Kids in Thailand tend to be very polite, non-criminal (like they are in so many cities in America) and very cute.  They are also very eager to learn, and especially to learn English.

There is a huge demand for native English speaking teachers in Thailand that is not being fully met.  Being able to speak English for a Thai adult is a ticket to higher income, and everyone here knows it.  Since the demand for native English speaking teachers cannot be met, many from other parts of the world step in to try and fill the demand.  Years ago, my step daughter in a government school in Thailand had an English teacher from Kenya, and I would say he could not speak decent English.  I couldn’t understand him at all, and he knew virtually nothing about life in America (only what Hollywood has shown him).  But this is often the only level available for schools to hire sometimes.

The official retirement age for teachers in Thailand (and most other professions as well) is 60 years old, and many schools won’t hire a teacher over the age of 45.  So does that close the door to a person of mature age that wants to teach?  Not at all if one is flexible and works a little harder for the job than their younger teacher colleagues.

Maybe many of the opportunities open to younger English language speakers will not be available, so it will be a bit more of a challenge, but for those with the right upbeat attitude and “can-do” spirit without getting bogged down by negativity from others about things that cannot be changed, it is still “do-able”.  Even though much of what is out in the world are roadblocks to life, it is essential to be able to not let this get you down and stop you from finding a way through it.

First, however, teachers must meet the qualifications to teach, and this especially true for senior age teachers.  That means having a legitimate Bachelor’s degree from a real university or college in any subject and having a teacher’s certificate like a TEFL.  Having at least one year’s teaching experience also adds well to these qualifications.  It is easier for a good looking American in their 20s to slide through the system with a few things missing in the background, but not for us seniors.   It can be done, but it will be harder.

Getting a TEFL certificate is relatively easy for a college graduate that is a native English speaker.  Four week courses are offered in cities around Thailand, and many will have job placement after completion.  I can recommend a good one in Chiang Mai that has a cost of about USD $1400 (42,000 ฿), UniTEFL School.  You will be totally prepared at the end of this course to run a classroom and the school is confident that they can find anyone that completes their training a job teaching in Thailand.  The school is run by an American.

One good bet for a senior aged English teacher is to get out of Bangkok.  The best paying jobs are there, and the Bangkok lifestyle is very good for younger teachers, so a senior aged teacher will find fewer jobs available for them.  Living “upcountry” is a better lifestyle in any case, and the further out and remote you are, the more you will be appreciated as an teacher.  I particularly like the hills of the far north of Thailand around Chiang Rai, where English language speakers are few and far between but in great demand.  Your main competition up here as a teacher will be the Christian missionaries that teach people if they will go every Sunday to their church and the English they teach is from or about the Christian Bible (nice, but limiting for those looking for ways to increase their earning power with the language).

I do a little teaching volunteer work for a small Technical College (a vocational training center that is an alternative to high school or an academic college).  The school is located in the hills southeast of Chiang Rai by about 100km, and a good percentage of the people there are Akha Hill Tribe people.  I just volunteer because I am not willing to tie myself down to the requirements of a real “job” (a paying job, that is).  But despite my age of 65, the owners of the tech college are practically begging me to teach English regularly for them.  I seem to be the only farang (foreigner) that has ever stepped into their school, and I feel very appreciated by the eager students and the Thai teachers.  I just do a little amount of teaching there on an infrequent basis because I enjoy it.   But I have proven to myself that jobs are definitely out there for seniors that want to go to these more remote areas.

Teacher salaries in the remote areas are less than in the big City for sure, but the cost of living and the quality of life (for those that like country life, anyway), makes up for that.  Often the schools will provide housing, albeit the accommodations may not be luxurious (which may not be available at all in the area), with perhaps no AC and few amenities.

Image is very important in Thailand.  If you are a scruffy, sweaty backpacker with untrimmed hair and a few body piercings, you are sending a message — one that is not always well received by Thai people (and school hiring personnel).  What is really sad is that schools in the big City often hire that scruffy young backpacker over you in your white shirt and tie and much more life experience.  They don’t always make the right choice.

A senior aged teacher that wants to get a teaching job in Thailand has to present themselves much better than the typical twenty-something job competitor.  That means showing up the job interview in dress slacks, a clean shirt and a conservative tie for guys and for ladies, a skirt at least knee-length and professional looking along with a clean, long-sleeved blouse (preferably white color).  And then, once a job is obtained, maintain a higher level of dress and image than the younger teachers.  And put on some cologne, be clean and be sharp.  Believe it or not, I have run into English teachers in shorts and T-shirts, and a young woman teacher with a tight skirt with Playboy bunnies all over it.  One’s age is often overlooked if you can project the right image for the school.

Thais adore people that are positive and smile a lot.  They like friendly farangs, and don’t like ones that are not.  Also being more dependable (like showing up for the appointment on time and to classes on time) is something senior teachers seem to be able to do much better than their younger teaching contemporaries.  Believe me, this is noticed.  It may be a laid-back country (OK, it is laid-back for sure), but Northern European style punctuality is appreciated.

It is also important for a senior teacher to be more flexible — perhaps have two or three part time jobs as opposed to a regular day-to-day gig.  Part time teaching jobs are often easier to find, and the younger teachers will always run for the (often false) security of a full time job.  That’s one of the advantages of an older teacher:  we have more life experiences and are able to adapt easier to the job realities.  Because of our age, we have finally realized that the only true security is within ourselves, not what someone else can give us.  The younger set will learn this eventually.

Work on the weekends?  The younger teachers will say absolutely not.  The senior teacher probably won’t have a problem with it, and that gives us another advantage.

Find a specialty.  Not just schools for kids are looking for English teachers, many big companies are looking as well to teach their employees.  If you have a heavy background in a particular industry — say, like Banking —- you are able to relate to Bankers and provide them English language lessons geared to their business.  That makes you more valuable than an inexperienced younger person.  But to find these kinds of jobs may require some gutsy job searching, something an older person is probably more adapt at doing.

I have a friend retired in Seim Reap, Cambodia, that is a retired commercial airline pilot that makes a nice living teaching “aviation English” to Thai and Cambodian air crews.  Pilots from all countries are required to know English, as that is the language of air control, so my resourceful friend found a lucrative niche that he understands.  That is the kind of creativity and flexibility that makes for a very good extra income during retirement.

What is really fun for a retiree is to be able to live on your income from teaching and not even touch your retirement income from pensions or social security.  Letting it build up and watching it accumulate for some big purchase (or emergency) in the future is very comforting.

The best way to keep a job once you have it is to do a good job — better than the other younger teachers.  You will be recognized as an asset to the school, and age will no longer be a factor.  They won’t want to let you go.  It is often not difficult to do better than the younger teachers that are single, holidaying and partying heavily in Thailand.  You have to be serious about the teaching responsibility.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not possible to teach at a senior age. Of course it is.

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