There are many different types of schools in which you can find work. While you’re familiar with primary schools, secondary schools and universities already, you’ll also find that there are many language centers for adults and test preparation centers in Southeast Asia. This page will help you compare the different kinds of schools so you can consider which would be the best fit for you.
Private Kindergartens and Primary Schools
Teaching at private kindergartens and primary schools can be a good option for people who are energetic and cheerful, and fell that playing games and singing songs with a bunch of kids all day would be a lot of fun. At this level, personality can be more important than formal teaching qualifications, and a thorough knowledge of grammar won’t be as important either. If you’ll be able to build rapport with the students and teach them something along the way, you’ll be able to do well in this kind of job.
The schools which offer the highest pay may ask to see some qualifications for teaching young learners, but many will accept applicants with a good personality and a BA degree (preferable, but not required).
Private Secondary Schools
There are a fair number of private secondary schools popping up around the region, as middle-class parents realize that public schools are lagging in many respects (especially English education). You’ll likely be doing primarily English teaching at these schools, though you may also get the chance to teach other subjects. Many private schools teach science and math using English, so you may be able to teach these subjects as well.
The good part is that students at this age are still maturing, and you can see them grow and you can really have an influence on them. Some will even look up to you as a role model. However, the downside is that teenagers are often the most difficult to control in class, so classroom management may be frustrating until you get the hang of it.
In most countries in Southeast Asia, it’s not yet possible for foreigners to teach in normal public schools. Some countries hire foreigners to teach in public “gifted” schools, but these are generally more like private schools.
The one exception is Thailand, where foreigners are placed to teach in many public schools throughout the country. Most public schools seem to get their teachers through placement agencies, however, which may be one reason why the placement agency industry seems to be comparatively strong in Thailand.
In general, if you teach at a public school you’ll have bigger classes and lower pay than you would if you taught at a private school. The experience may be a bit more authentic, and if you want to teach in a smaller city then a public school may be your only option.
The upside of teaching in universities is that it’s considered more prestigious than other kinds of teaching. This is especially helpful if you plan on moving back home after a year or two abroad, and would rather be able to put “Royal University of Phnom Penh” on your CV than “Mekong Superland Language Center.” (I used to work there, but it’s not on my CV!)
In addition, you’ll have the opportunity to teach bright young students who are just about to embark on their career paths, perhaps just as you’ve recently begun. You’ll be able to get to know them well and talk with them about more interesting subjects. They’ll stay in touch with you even after they’ve graduated.
One downside, however, is that universities don’t generally pay as much as you would expect. In fact, Mekong Superland paid me significantly more than the university where I taught, and a few of the university instructors moonlighted at private language centers because the pay was better.
Language centers are private educational institutions that mostly cater to adults, though some also focus on school students who come to study English in the evenings. As a teacher at a language school, you’ll usually have 5-6 hours of class per day, with class sizes from 6-15. Most schools focus on smaller classes so that students get more chances to interact with each other and the teacher, as speaking practice is what most students in the region are looking for.
The good parts about teaching at language centers are that you’ll get to work with smaller groups of students and your students will be working professionals like you, so you’ll have a lot more in common with them. You’ll rarely have to deal with any behavioral issues, and the students are generally serious about studying since they’re paying for the course. The pay for work at these schools is usually higher than at universities, though perhaps less than at private primary or secondary schools. Another advantage is that it’s easiest to pick up part-time work at these schools, as their busiest times are usually in the evenings and on weekends.
One disadvantage of working at language schools is that you’ll usually get less vacation time than teachers at other kinds of schools. Lessons usually run year-round at language schools, so you’ll likely get the standard two weeks of vacation time per year. You may be able to arrange longer periods of leave if you want to travel, but you’re unlikely to be paid for it. On the other hand, you’ll often have quite a lot more paid vacation time at primary schools and secondary schools.
There are two main kinds of test-prep centers – those that focus on preparing students for international English tests such as IELTS, TOEFL and TOEIC, and centers which prepare students for academic tests such as the SAT, GRE and GMAT.
Test-prep centers in the first category are often, but not always, run as part of private language centers. However, the test-prep program is often largely separate from the general courses of the language center, and the teachers may be separate as well. As students are willing to pay more for this specialized instruction, teachers for these subjects usually earn more than general English teachers. A general estimate is that an IELTS prep teacher would earn about 1.3-1.6 times the salary of a general English teacher. Most larger cities in Southeast Asia will have a few schools which offer these kinds of courses.
The second kind of test prep centers can only be found in the regions biggest cities, such as Bangkok, Jakarta and Singapore. In most cities, there simply isn’t a large enough market to support these kinds of courses. There may be some students interested in studying for college entrance exams in smaller cities, but in these cases they might arrange for private courses on their own or through a language school.
If you can get a job at a test prep center like this, you can expect to earn a comparatively high salary which should allow you to live very comfortably in your city. However, you’ll usually need to have scored in the top 10% or top 5% for the test that you want to teach.
There are almost always opportunities to supplement your income with some private tutoring. There are usually plenty of expats in major cities in Southeast Asia who want their children to learn English with native speakers. There are also plenty of professionals who want to study. If you can get a group of 3 or 4 students together, you can likely offer them a better deal than they could get from a language center.
It’s common for teachers to earn around $10-20 per hour for private tutoring, which is a good wage in just about any city in the region. Furthermore, some teachers earn some extra cash by tutoring online, which allows them to get in touch with students abroad who can afford to pay higher hourly rates.