Dressing for Success as a Teacher in Thailand
Dressing Right As A Teacher
Sticking to the dress code may sound easy, but tends to be quite challenging for Foreign English teachers in Thailand. Non-native teachers are always testing the dress code by dressing casually and seeing whether the school takes issue. This is where Thai culture plays an important role.
Being a teacher in Thailand is a prestigious position. Public school teachers are members of the Thai government bureaucracy and serve the monarchy (in a symbolic sense). There is a great deal of pride that goes with this position. School officials expect that foreign teachers appreciate the importance of their position and take pride in their appearance.
Furthermore, Thai people tend to place a high value on appearance, sometimes over substance.
Finally, Thais tend not to speak straightforwardly and prefer a more indirect approach to communication. They will tend not to confront a teacher directly if they are unhappy with the teacher’s attire, and instead complain to the teacher’s agent or decide not to renew the teacher’s contract.
Important! Please note that in honor of the king’s passing last year, all government workers, this includes school teacher, must wear full black outfits to work until the end of October (2017).
What Have We Learned at XploreAsia about Teacher Dress Code?
We have placed more than 2000 teachers in Thailand, and we understand the importance of sticking to the dress code, as well as the cultural dimensions of this topic. It is the second most frequent complaint about teachers from schools, after tardiness. In this article we will explore this topic in detail and provide guidance on how to dress for success as a teacher in Thailand.
A Thai Thing… I may look happy, but I`m really not
What should I look out for as a teacher? Firstly, people must understand that teachers in Thailand are highly respected, unlike in many other western countries. Thai teachers see themselves as a member of the government bureaucracy, and servants of the king: They take great pride in this fact. They are proud to show off that they are teachers and on special occasions wear dress that resembles a high ranking military officer.
Most Thai people are shy and avoid direct confrontation. This means that if a teacher or administrator has a problem with your attire, they are not likely to tell about it.
As a teacher you have to be extra vigilant of how other school officials view you. Monitor their body language to make sure that you are not being perceived as inappropriately dressed. It is also very important to understand that Thais will almost always answer your questions in a positive way, even if they actually disagree.
If you ask if something is okay to wear to school, they will generally say it is, even if it isn’t, so be sure that you read their body language carefully. In interpersonal communication, Westerners tend to place significant weight on what someone actually says, while in Asia, and Thailand in particular, only small amount of the information conveyed in a social situation is conveyed verbally, while the rest is provided through body language, and the relationship between the sender and receiver.
Exercise caution when it comes to your appearance at school, but also do not be deterred from expressing yourself in the classroom. If you are an energetic teacher and your shirt becomes untucked, that’s fine, but be sure to tuck it back in. You will not find yourself in the dog house for such things.
FAQ by some who don’t know Thailand too well:
– Thailand’s mellow right? Like I can wear a tank top to school, right?
No. You cannot wear a tank top. That’s ridiculous.
– Since Thailand is so hot, do you think the school would allow me to wear shorts?
No. It’s time for big boy pants.
– I really like my feet to be aired. Can I wear sandals to work?
Sure you can! Provided you can wear shoes over them.
– Can I wear a t-shirt to work?
Unless it looks exactly like a smart collared shirt, then no.
Now that you know what questions not to ask, let’s move on to what you can and should wear to work in a Thai school. It is in fact really simple.
Here is the criteria that you should follow:
- If you have tattoos, cover them up
- If you have long hair, tie it up
- Unless it’s a really cool and well groomed beard, chances are it will have to be shaved off
- Long pants
- Collared shirt
- Smart shoes
- Smart, collared shirt – if you have tattoos on your arms then it is best to bring long sleeve shirts
- Tie (it is best to begin your job wearing a tie for good impression, and later you may be allowed to remove it for comfort sake)
- Long pants (not jeans) – preferably slacks, or cinos. Basically something that looks formal.
- Smart close toed shoes (no sneakers of any sort)
Here is the criteria that you need to follow:
- No shoulders showing
- no cleavage showing
- In some cases no knees showing
This means that anything that follows those criteria is suitable to wear in the classroom.
Here are some example of smart dress:
- Smart collared shirt or a blouse
- Skirt that covers the knees
- Dress that covers the knees and shoulders
- Most shoes except sandals, platforms, and super high heels
You should now have a better understanding of the requirements for teacher dress code and the cultural aspects of this topic. If you follow these tips and guidelines on how to dress appropriately as a teacher in Thailand, your school will embrace you and your position will be more secure. For those who ignore the dress code, you will risk reprimand or even dismissal.
Let us know if you have any other questions about teaching english abroad or need additional advice? Do not hesitate to comment below, we would love to hear from you! In the mean time, check out What to Pack for the TESOL / TEFL course and get inspired by one of our amazing alumni Jazz on how she made a difference in her students’ lives as an English Teacher.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July 2015 and has now been updated to give you more a comprehensive overview of the essential teachers dress code.