[You can DISCUSS this article].
This article deals with agencies based in Bangkok but also applies to agencies operating in your country or on-line. The concept behind the teacher agency is perfectly simple. A school or institute, for various reasons, is finding it difficult to employ decent teachers, so it turns to a 'middleman' to recruit its teaching staff. Enter stage right - the good old teaching agency. "How many teachers do you want? When can they start? Monday? No problem at all squire. We've got some of the best teachers that Bangkok has to offer on our books. You just leave it with us " And that's all there is to it......or is it?
We first need to examine the reasons why many schools and universities are washing their hands of the task of hiring teachers and deciding to call in the middlemen. For many institutes, they just don't have the Thai administration staff with the ability to distinguish between a career teacher and the guy who's going to ride off into the sunset the moment he gets his first pay packet ("but he seemed so genuine at the interview") A lot of schools have been bitten many times by fly-by-night teachers. The whole situation is becoming painfully embarrassing for them. Thai school owners are beginning to lose major face when their newly hired teacher doesn't show up on Monday of the second week because of some 'domestic crisis'. Other schools face problems with their location. How do we persuade a teacher who's maybe low on funds to travel from Bangkok to the middle of nowhere for a job interview? Then there are the schools who just don't want the responsibility. "It's just too much of a headache" So they turn to the teacher agency.
If you're looking for a definition of a teacher agency, I guess it's someone who benefits financially from the teacher's employment. The money can be got in several ways with the most common being the monthly deduction method. The school will pay the agency let's say 40,000 baht a month, and the agency will pass on 32,000 baht to the teacher. Sometimes more, very often less. There are people who say well, as long as the school is happy with the teacher, and the teacher and agency are satisfied with the financial arrangement, then there's surely no problem. And that's fair comment. Many of Bangkok's largest and best known language schools have acted as teacher agencies for quite some time. They offer teacher support and training, and more importantly they can usually find a replacement teacher within a very short period of time. Remember.......when a teacher doesn't turn up for work, it's the agency's responsibility to send another body.
The currently disturbing trend is the increase in the number of dodgy, crooked and downright devious agencies (very often one-man shows) that are setting up office all over Thailand, particularly in Bangkok. Although they weren't as prevalent in the past, they were certainly around. One only has to think back four or five years to the boyfriend and girlfriend couple who ran a teaching agency from a shop-house in Sukhumwit 56. They persuaded several big-name secondary schools to hand over substantial amounts of cash for the promise of as many qualified experienced teachers as they wanted. And schools fell for the scam left, right and center. At the start of term there wasn't a teacher to be seen and the boyfriend / girlfriend couple were on a plane to Ethiopia with pockets bulging. The Thai police did take up the case but I'm pretty certain nothing came of it.
Most of my 'insider information' on teaching agencies tends to come from a select group of ex-teaching colleagues. These are teachers who are very qualified and extremely capable but lack the confidence to go for the better teaching jobs. It's only a matter of time before they fall foul of the unscrupulous teacher agencies. One very good friend of mine went for a job last week at an address on Soi Asoke. For those who know that part of town, it's about as run-down and neglected as business areas come, with many multi-national companies upping sticks and relocating to areas such as Sathorn and Rangsit. What's left behind are poorly-managed office buildings offering cheap rents in a desperate attempt to get tenants. Exactly the kind of set-up where my ex-colleague Marvin found himself. The agent who interviewed him in a sparse office containing a desk, a phone and a fax machine, wasn't interested in qualifications or resumes. He just needed a body in a classroom. A native-speaking body to be precise. The agent had one school on his books with a requirement for six teachers. Interestingly it's a Thai secondary school that I'm fairly familiar with. I know several teachers that have worked there and not one has managed to stay longer than a couple of weeks. Even the better teacher agencies won't touch this place, because it's a school that views farang teachers as nothing more than a necessary evil. Obviously as a last resort, they've turned to the agent on Soi Asoke.
Ajarn.com readers answered my call and emailed me with their own experiences and comments on the subject of teacher agencies. Chris, recruiter for Thailands largest group (43) of private schools, is obviously not a great fan:
"Just a couple of very brief comments, maybe somewhat subjective, but definitely based on my own earlier experience in Thailand, and on that of a few acquaintances and close friends:
- No, they are not a prerequisite for the employment chain. Anyone with the confidence to be a teacher, has the confidence to organize himself with a list of schools and do his own walk-in interviews. It is a proven fact that this formula works best.
- The vast majority of these agencies, alas, are doing it strictly for the money and exploiting the situation that a great many schools in Thailand do not have the foggiest idea of how to go about recruiting anyone from janitors to directors of studies.
- The schools are easily taken in by the smooth-talking ex beach-bar bully from Phuket who swears that all his teachers are qualified and experienced. This way, the schools themselves never get to see these ‘qualifications’, often assuming that the placement agency is the employer, and that the agency has provided the necessary working documents.
- Some of the agencies are not content just to rip the schools off, several have been known to adopt a systematic scam : They go round the guesthouses at the moment of the start of the new school year when the schools are getting desperate (they have the budget, but will lose it if they don’t find a teacher) and recruit tourists who have almost run out of funds and are desperate to extend their stay into the rainy season. They then demand a one-off payment from the school as a placement fee. When they have done this a couple of dozen times, and the teachers are gaining their first experience in hell holes of filthy, hot concrete bunkers with 60 screaming slum kids, they quietly abandon their rented office accommodation to beat it back to the bliss of the beaches with a bag-full of baht – popular destination : Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia. The teachers bang in vain on the office door at the end of the month for their salary…
The main advice for prospective teachers is : The smaller and cheaper the job ad, the smaller and cheaper the nasty person behind it. Gags like teacher job ads printed on paper napkins and beer-mats in bars in Banglamphu are really only going to appeal to those that use them : losers and boozers."
Dee in Chiang Rai sounds like a tired soul desperate to escape from the shackles of her teaching agent. She had this to say:
"I make very little money while the agency sells me for a profit...a profit that goes straight into the boss's pocket. He charges the high school I'm at about 450 an hour and pays me 250. I am a professional teacher w/ 17 yrs. experience, an MA in English and a teaching credential (the real thing). The agency has not secured my visa, I'm on a tourist visa. They did not set up housing, I'm at a guest house. I'm working full time and I don't even have a damn kitchen!
I don't get it. Why do people work in Thailand? I've been coming here for years on holiday and, yes, it's a great country, but the pay is inexcusable! I'm teaching so a guy can get rich? I worked in China (a third world country, despite the propaganda) and was reimbursed my full air fare, given a free luxery two bedroom apt., and transport to/from work. And my salary was $200 more than the lousy $600 I make here. As I said, I don't get it. Why would any qualified person work here?"
Let's hear from another vulnerable young lady who obviously had a narrow escape. I've edited the original post to protect the identity of the agency.
"I wanted to make a comment on the teacher's agencies acting as a middleman for schools and instructors. I think it's a complete waste of my time and I personally don't think that teachers need agencies to help them out. This isn't a modeling agency and we don't need agents, as this isn't a cat walk event. Some agencies that pretends' to have an office, usually the entire office is a dinning table in their kitchen. I had been looking for work past few weeks and e-mailed my resume to uncountable places. One of them in particular (email addresses omitted) caught my attention. The man who runs this so called teacher's agency is a pest. He keeps e-mailing me and annoying me ever since i e-mailed him my resume. I finally made up my mind and went to meet him, as his address was not familiar to me, I didn't really know where I was going. Though I was shocked when i got to his "so called office" or should I put it as a dinning table with a laptop. That man had enough nerve to ask me for a 30,000-40,000 Baht commission once he helps me find work. I did ask him why he didn't deal with the school directly... he said " the school wouldn't even know that I'm your agent, and when you go in for the interview don't tell them who refered you to the school... make believe you applied to it yourself". Believe me Philip I ran out of there in 5 minutes and it scared me to death."
So here we have another approach. Not the monthly deduction method, but a grabbing, grasping one-off job placement deal. The plot thickens. Some of these teacher agents are enjoying more notoriety than others. The same name keeps cropping up again and again on Dave's ESL Cafe. Jim Anderson certainly won't ever forget it.
"I have very little doubt you haven't heard of ******* or ******** - a fake agency that is taking hordes of money from unsuspecting ESL teachers searching for jobs online. I fell prey to them about three months ago, mostly due to my lack of knowledge regarding typical salaries paid in various provinces.
I received an e-mail from a ********* (whose name is getting splattered on many ESL discussion boards) who advertised a very high salary being offered by the ******** school in Thailand. His e-mail mentioned a fee up-front for visa processing and later a 25% fee for the first months salary. No excuse, but my time has been running out here in China where I'm teaching at a bilingual school in Guangzhou, so I wanted something concrete and was willing to pay well for it. At first he asked me to send him my credentials, all original documents, to him, which I refused to do. I simply told him he would get copies and would have to deal with that or the deal was off. He accepted the documents and then wanted a total of 2500 Baht for the processing, which I wired to him via Western Union. He sent me an e-mail detailing not only his address in Bangkok (which I can provide to you) but also his bank information for money transfer (in case Western Union didn't work out) and phone numbers.
Long story short, I should have known it was a scam because he was claiming that the ******** School was offering 48,000.00 Baht a month for it's ESL teachers (an outrageous amount for that area, which I would have known had I researched it a bit more). After wiring him the money, he disappeared off the face of the earth for a bit until finally I received an e-mail (again which I can provide to you) from him, claiming they had changed their policy and could no longer wait until the teacher was placed in the job because so many of their (supposed) past BAD clients still had not paid their 25%, so he required me to send half of the 25% salary now (total was 12,000.00 Baht) which was 6,000.00 Baht, in order to ensure he was going to collect his fee for getting me a job.
I flat out refused and basically told him what I thought of him and informed him that I would be notifying Dave's ESL Cafe of his little scam and that (by that time) I had done some research and obtained an e-mail address from the school directly and they had told me that ********* was a scam and many other ESL teachers had complained about getting trapped in their scam.
Obviously, I never heard from him again. But, I've been corresponding with Dave Sperling. I've kept all the receipts from the Western Union wire and all the original e-mails from this scumbag and it's obvious to me that he is definitely in Bangkok and still scamming and sucking money from the pockets of unsuspecting ESL teachers. Dave Sperling wants to see this guy go down too, as his board is lighting up with many other victims of this sick SOB."
One question some of you must be asking is how much are these agents making? A quick phone call, and an ajarn.com insider emerges from a doorway with a ledger-shaped bulge protruding from under his nylon windcheater. Is that a ledger or are you just pleased to see me?
"I found out recently what my employer is receiving. He runs an agency here. He charges the school on a per student basis, not a per hour basis and his prices are pretty much in line with what other agencies are charging upcountry. He charges 500 baht per student per term to my old school. That may not sound like a lot but here are the figures for last year...... Revenue: approximately 980 students in the school x 500 baht= 490,000 baht. multiply that by two terms and you get 980,000 baht
His monthly expenses:
My salary 26,000 My assistant 7,000 supplies 1,000 utilities 2,000 total: 36,000 per month x 12 months= 432000 plus bonus of 26,000 for me = 458,000 baht for expenses
But he also had expenses for his small office in his house: 7,000 for a secretary 2,000 supposed rent for small room on house used for office 2,000 utilities 11,000 per month, but since he has two schools, that is split in half meaning only 5,500 per month 5,500 x 12= 66,000 per year
Total expenses= 522,000 Total profit= 458,000 per year or 38,000 a month for this one school.....
He has two schools and his income approaches 76,000 on his total outlay of time is about 3 to 4 hours a week, if any since his secretary does everything of importance, he sits around surfing the internet..he has broadband in his house and watching UBC, and in the evening teaches private classes. The only time I see him is when he stops by the school to collect his pay on the last day of the month.
As we are both foreigners, my outlay of time is disproportionate to his outlay of time for the income involved.
I think the schools are the one who lose out, not the foreigners. I can go and find a little better salary and the agencies pay as well as the schools themselves would....the problem is that the agencies are selling a product and claiming it is superior, but the teachers they are providing are not up to snuff, in essence the schools are being cheated. And ultimately the students are. Teachers work to the level that there income is, like all humans. I will put on a better class if I am paid 50,000 a month versus 26,000 a month. You know this. So I won't keep it up. And I find it harder to work for the school when I know what is happening......"
OK, enough of the doom and gloom. There are many teachers who see agencies as being somewhat essential to the future of teaching in Thailand. Here's a selection of their comments.
"As long as the agent is paying the teacher something around the going rate I don't see a problem. The teacher always has the option of asking around at a few schools and landing an 80,000 baht job for himself - or perhaps something just a little lower - if these scenarios abound. I think the annoying ones are where the school pays 7or 8 hundred an hour, and the agent pays less than half that to the teacher, while having few significant overheads to meet."
"To be honest, I can see the day when agencies are the main employers of teachers. I know in England, people are leaving their permanent jobs and signing up with supply agencies. Basically you get all the perks and none of the shit and you get to pick and choose when you work and when you don't want to. I think again it comes down to supply and demand. Think about how many computer programmers etc are self employed or work on a contract."
"I know in Japan that some of the language schools work like agencies. Shane for example sends teachers to a different base each day. Also the teacher may be asked at short notice to go to a different school that day. Agencies may not be good for the idea that students/teachers develop a relationship over time, but who gives a shit about that? IMO teaching agencies empower the teacher..."
"Yeah, if done right they empower the teacher and allows them to teach and not deal with the bs and thai school politics. Also the teacher has someone to turn to for assistance and whatever. That is great, but they still should have their take increased to 50% of whatever is being charged. Or decrease the cost to the school/students.... Like all good things, I see it being ruined. You have a lot of greedy people out there starting agencies that have no idea about education and quality. Give it a year or two and every mom and pop is going to be opening an agency to cash in on the huge pot."
"I don’t have a problem with agencies. I think agencies have a place to fill in the market, either by providing teachers to school who are incapable or unwilling to get teachers themselves. Or by providing short-term cover teachers the way supply agencies do in England. Of course I do have a problem with ‘bad agencies’. The ones we hear about all the time. The ones who don’t provide work permits and medical insurance. Low pay isn’t an issue for me. If you are willing to work for 20,000 Baht a month then that’s your problem but the agency should be forced to provide a work permit and foreign workers really need medical insurance in this country as well."
"The really problem as I see is not agencies but cowboy agencies, and this is unfortunately what most agencies in Thailand are. In the UK a teacher placement agency would assume some responsibility for checking out the school you were going to and would have the job of checking your qualifications and generally making sure the whole process was legal. In Thailand most agencies just take the money from the school pocket the profit. They don’t care about the teacher or the client for that matter. It is although they believe that the supply of teachers and clients is endless so it doesn’t matter how you treat them as long as you’re making as much profit as possible. At the end of the day what Thailand needs is more professional, well-run agencies to drive the cowboys out of business. Unfortunately I don’t think we will get many of those in the near future."
Let's have a word from an agent that does things properly - Robert Newman from World Education Services.
"I have just managed to get the time to read through your article about teacher agencies. Nice piece of work. As an agent may I put my two pence worth in?
As opposed to most agencies I do not, and never will employ teachers to work in Thai schools. I work purely as a middleman locating teachers for schools to employ directly. All the schools I represent I visit and check their teacher's contract first. The schools MUST provide all legal paperwork for the teachers. I charge a one off fee to the school of 20,000 or 25,000 per teacher for a one year contract. If the teacher breaks the contract for any reason I replace them FOC. I try to interview all teachers prior to taking them to the school to introduce them, due to time restraints set by the school I have been known to telephone interview, both locally and internationally.
I try as much as possible to get the best salary and conditions for the teachers, which is not easy. I never charge the teachers anything. Once the teacher is in place at the school I act as an intermediary if there are any problems between the schools and the teacher. I act as a taxi driver taking the teachers for interviews at schools, many times all weekend. I am selective of the schools I work with, as I am with the teachers I represent. I give as much as I can - a professional service that the schools and the teachers appreciate. I am on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for both teachers and schools. I don't believe there is another agency in Thailand giving the same service, and I have been told recently I am the least expensive in Thailand. Finally, I have taught in Thai schools for over 12 years and understand the difficulties encountered by many foreign teachers."