The primary reason I wanted to write this series on the American TESOL Institute is to provide a detailed account of my experience through the entire course, as well as many other 3rd party accounts as I can find. Essentially, I want to provide the kind of information I wish I had before I enrolled in the ATI course.

The gate to the office of ATI in Bangkok.

I should begin by saying; they are real and not a scam, what seems to be the primary concern of most people looking for this same info. Outside of their official site(s), it can be difficult to find valid information about ATI. This is for 2 reasons. First, they are relatively new compared to most TEFL/CELTA/TESOL programs. The other is that they spam search engines with many official sites and dozens of other places they stick their name and info.

If you have any specific questions not covered in these, please ask. I’d be happy to answer.

American TESOL Institute Series

Placement

One added advantage of the American TESOL Institute’s Special Thai Project (and most of their certification programs in other countries, I gather) is that they place their graduates into a school in the country where they are trained.  They do this using a 3rd party placement agency, which in our case was Pat from Innovative Solutions.

Part of the campus where their Ramkhamhaeng school was.

Toward the end of the course is when most of us began to find out about our various placements.  Sarah and Christy had been told almost from the start that they would be at a school near the JL Bangkok in the Ramkhamhaeng district, one that Whittney (the ATI instructor) backed up as a very nice school.

A little past midway through, I was told I would be placed into a school along with Megan and Morgan.  We had no other details about the location or what exactly we might be teaching, just that we had already been found a school.

Around the same time, Craig was brought by Pat’s assistant Pak to a school, near Sukhumvit to see his future placement and meet with the faculty and administration.  David later found out he was going to Ayutthaya.  Bobby had still not heard anything well into the end of the final week of the course.

While others were anxious or excited or sometimes even worried about their placement, I enjoyed just taking the news as it came; things had worked out just fine so far and I had been given no reason to think that they wouldn’t continue to.

One scenario that most of us were told to expect was that, because of the 2 months of school cancelled by the flood, schools would be open on Saturdays as well this upcoming semester.  It was something that disappointed most of the course members, as it would stifle any weekend plans or trips.  I didn’t mind the prospect so much, as my goal was to save up more to travel long-term, not short little vacations.   I did, however want to make sure we would be compensated for the extra days, rather than just working more for the usual salary.  We couldn’t seem to get an answer on that one way or the other though.

How ATI/Innovative Solutions’ Placement Works

The job placement that ATI offers is a helpful service for newcomers to the whole situation.  Although their 10 or more official sites (see Pre-Course post) have some contradicting information, what most advertise is that you will complete the course, receive your TESOL certificate, and receive a job in Thailand for 4-5 months making the equivalent of (approx.) US$1000 per month, which translates to a pay of 30,000 Thai baht.

The way that the placement in schools actually works is that Pat and Innovative Solutions (ATI is essentially done at this point) has a network of contact schools, mostly near Bangkok, which the ATI graduates will be placed in.

All of these schools will offer a base pay of greater than 30,000 baht for new employees.  For example, my school hires at a monthly salary of ฿35,000 for a 6-month contract and ฿42,500 for a year contract.  The school where Sarah and Christy were placed also starts new teachers in the ฿40,000’s.

In a deal for both the school and Innovative Solutions the ATI grad is hired in at a slightly lower salary than other new applicants would be, saving the school money.  And because the ATI grads were promised $1000/฿30,000, Innovative Solutions then takes the difference between the lowered salary and the ฿30,000 (per month worked) as their commission.

When questioned later on by Sarah and Christy, upset over circumstances of their situation, Pat was very forthcoming and honest about how the whole process worked.  This included the fact that most of the schools ATI grads are placed in are around Bangkok simply because that area has higher-paying jobs in general, meaning Innovative Solutions gets a bigger cut.  Again, very straightforwardly, Pat told us this wasn’t her trying to gyp us, but just how her company makes its living.

Quality of the Schools

I cannot say what factors other than the salary figure into how Innovative Solutions finds and networks with their schools.  Though, from all the accounts I’ve heard or read, I’ve never come across someone who felt they had an absolutely abysmal school.

That said, it seems to be a luck of the draw on how good it is.  Though I would have rather been in the center city, I was extremely happy with my school placement’s quality, as were the 3 others I came with.  David seemed quite happy with his in Ayutthaya as well.

Sarah and Christy maintained that they had a nice school: the campus, the faculty, and the students.  However, they had many issues almost from the moment they were placed.  For instance, Christy was assigned 18 contact hours with classes.  Of those, about 14 were completely different classes which each required its own materials, lessons plans, and exams prepared for it.  And one of these classes had only 1 student in it.

Many recurring issues with the school’s administration arose, particularly in regard to organization and their visas.   In one instance, Christy was sent to Cambodia on a visa run.  The school sent her with no documents of employment, only a note handwritten in Thai, which she was later told said, “Please give her a visa.”  By the end of their employment, neither had been issued their Non-Immigrant, as they should have been through the school.

Craig, who had gone with Pak during the course to see his school, was less than enthused about his placement.  It was an all-boys school that would have required him to work nearly 60 hours per week in the upcoming semester.  At this point, none of us knew if any compensation for extra time like that would have been provided.

Because of these and a few other issues, he chose to pass on that school.  Afterward, Pat kept in vague contact with him for a short while, but he was essentially on his own after that.

Other accounts I’ve read are from people who wanted to be placed in remote Thai towns but were instead placed in schools in Bangkok.  Another that I worked with briefly would have liked to stay nearer the city, but was instead placed in Lopburi. Aside from a few instances where they had come as a couple and placed together, the ATI grads don’t have much input on the kind of position.

Basically, the American TESOL Institute sells itself on guaranteeing you a job in Thailand.  This does mean that you will indeed be offered a job in Thailand, but you don’t get to pick and choose every detail of the work you want.

Housing

Most schools in Thailand provide housing on some level for their employees.  Some actually have employee housing or apartments that they provide for their faculty free of charge.  Others, like the one I was placed in, provide a housing stipend which use can be used toward any housing you choose (after providing a rent receipt).

Some of the neighborhood after the flood.

Because our school provided a stipend rather than direct housing, Innovative Solutions sent us with Pak to an area near our school to look for apartments.  This was extremely helpful in the long run, much more so than us looking for apartments in a completely foreign Bangkok suburb on our own.  However, the day we were doing it, frustrations began to run among high among the others in the arbitrary way we were looking for rooms.

Bangkok is full of cheap places to stay, and I wasn’t terribly concerned with the situation.  And I’ve stayed in some lousy places before.  My main criteria were that there be a bed and that I could get Internet.  And if things didn’t work out, I had no qualm about just walking away and finding somewhere else.

When we got out of Pak’s car after an hour or so drive, none of us had any idea where in relation to the city we actually were, just that we were on a major highway with about 12-16 lanes total and had passed a large mall with a rooftop water park.   Pak led us into the town, making a few calls in Thai along the way.

In towns like this one, there are very few solely residential-apartment buildings.  Usually the first floor is either a garage or a business and the upstairs is living space.  But, we were looking for a building or complex for all of us to stay in, preferably with our own units.  As we approached a series of apartment buildings that, even to me, looked a little less than desirable, Pak turned us around saying we were at the wrong spot.

We went down the highway a little ways to a different village and began walking through.  Here was very visible damage from the flood, even though the water had receded.  Water lines a meter high stained building walls and debris and garbage were piled up in the streets waiting to be hauled away.

It was odd seeing it like this, since, as Bobby commented while we were walking through, it did appear to otherwise be an almost upper-middle class neighborhood.  After a couple blocks in this neighborhood, we came to one large apartment building, which Megan immediately began having breathing problems in, likely due to the remnant mold growing from the floodwaters.

We returned to a complex nearer the highway and Pak began asking around.  Finally we came to a building that currently had 1 one-bedroom free, another that would be opening within a week, and a two-bedroom the following week.  With the help of Pak and the English-speaking building manager, Bobby and I signed the lease contracts of what would be our flats for the next while.

The surrounding neighborhood in contrast to the building I moved into.

An odd thought for me at the time, considering I hadn’t really ‘lived’ anywhere in over 2 years.  And the only lease I had ever signed was a semester sublease back in college.

Getting the Certificate

Despite the American TESOL Institute’s advertisements of ‘complete the course, get a TESOL certificate, and get a 4-5 month job placement’ that order is actually a bit off.  Rather than getting the TESOL certificate after the completion of your certification course, it is actually contingent on you completing a semester at your job placement.  Or you can pay US$500 to take the certificate and go find your own job.

To their credit, this certainly is practical from their business point of view, especially considering how ATI/Innovative Solutions run.  They get more income from the placements than they do from the students paying for the course.

Interior of the ATI Bangkok office.

However, this does, if nothing else, provoke an upsetting reaction from those of us who are finding it out for the first time.  Between the quality of the placement I received, my foreknowledge of that fact, and my general lack of any expectations for this whole experience, this didn’t upset me too much. However, a few others from my course did not have such a smooth experience.

Since being placed in my school in December, I had not heard anything from American TESOL Institute or Innovative Solutions, less a small encounter with Pat outside my apartment building when she was helping a new ATI graduate find housing.  This included no communication about when we would receive the physical certificate.

In mid-February, Christy finally emailed ATI to find out when she would be able to get the certificate, since she and Sarah’s “4-5 month” advertised placement would be ending in 2 weeks, after only 2.5 months.  The next day, we all received an email about our ‘Certification Day’, telling us the office location and asking to specify when we would come to pick up the certificate and how we would like our name printed.

Getting the ATI certificate.

The ATI Bangkok office is on Soi 71 Sukhumvit, very near where the Valentine’s Day bombing was.  Sarah and Christy were not in Bangkok when the 4 of us went to pick up the certificate.  Both Whittney and Aoh were in the office, which, according to the sign, they also shared with Innovative Solutions.

We were asked to sign a roster sheet on arrival, which Whittney and Aoh double-checked before receiving our certificates.  In doing so, it seemed like they didn’t quite remember who we were.  So, rather than getting chatty, we grabbed the documents and were out the door fairly quickly.

Christy, David, and Sarah had a bit harder time getting a hold of theirs.  Times and schedules never seemed to line up, or in Sarah’s case, they wanted $50 to ship it to her address in the U.S.

Because Craig had refused his placement through Innovative Solutions and had opted not to pay the $500, he had forfeited the certificate.

Links to others’ experiences with American TESOL Institute:

Reviews of the  American TESOL Institute (ATI)
American TESOL Institute Review | From Here to There
American TESOL Institute Review (by a graduate of the program)
| Traveler on Sabbatical
The Training Program | Smiles, Spice, & Everything Rice
What Did I Do? | Smiles, Spice, & Everything Rice
American TESOL Institute | XploreU Student Travel Blog
Clusterfuck to Bangkok, or My Experience with the American TESOL Institute | la vie bohémienne
ATI: Special Thai Project | All Thai’d Up
Step 3:  To TEFL or Not to TEFL? Vagabond Vo
“Special Thai Project” (ATI) Review | Monkey Abroad
A Complete, Unbiased Review of the American TESOL Institute (ATI) “Special Thai Project” | Kellan James Travel

Experiences in the American TESOL Institute (ATI) Course
I’m a teacher!??! Awesome! ATI training in Phuket | GypsyJourneys
Teaching Practice Week with “Teacher A” in the House | Travel on My Face
The Orphanage and the Juvenile Detention Center | Jaiyen
Work visa/JL Bangkok/First days of teaching | Ty Tripping
Teacher Morgan: Lesson #1 | EXPLORE. DREAM. DISCOVER.
Chaos in the Classroom | Exotic Winds and Spicy Freedom
Practice Teaching | To Ma-Thailand and Beyond

Posts while attending the American TESOL Institute (ATI) Course
First week here | Erika’s life in Thailand 🙂
Phuket aka: pooket | doubleu’s Great Adventure
Jet Lag Continues, Fish Pedicure, Training Day One | All Thai’d Up
Big girls don’t cry | back pages
The Weekend and My First Day in School | Julies Jaunts
Back in Bangkok | The Ramblings of Sarah Metz