At A School Near You…
Well, it is that time again, another year gone by, another baht in the bank and another notch etched into the hilt of my bedpan handle, and as I sit here in the Land of Silliness twiddling my plums, it is a time, as one tends to do at the end of a milestone, to reflect on the past as well as to take a ponderous optimistic step into what the future may ‘bring' or indeed ‘take' as is often the case in Thailand for the coming year ahead…
I guess it is worth pointing out here that my annual living in Thailand anniversary was/is Valentines day… which goes to show you that I originally came to Thailand on some romantic spur of the moment thing in search of… in search of… well in search of myself probably as I am sure I lost my way on the M6 motorway someplace, but for the more romantic of you out there who believe in cupid, romance and red roses, you could say that I was simply following the words of Obi Wan Kinobi to “fulfil my destiny” – err no actually, now I come to think about it, wasn't it Darth Vader who said those immortal words and Obi was the one who said “Feel the force Pluke!”… Well anyway… as I have yet to fulfil my destiny or to take a side by some Emperor with my dark rasping voice lord of a father, I guess these muttered incantations that w ere responsible for sending a nation of tatty jeaned, dirty necked, skid marked 1970's kids awry to somehow end up in the never regions of Asia some 20 years or so later, I guess I was simply walking a pre-determined path that someone who went before me had well and truly trodden, to find my soul mate, to finding true ‘lurve', to… Blarg! Ok you can all put your sick buckets away now as I don't believe any of this trollop either.
When I think back to why I left England, I personally believe, or at least I have managed to convince myself, that I just needed to get out of England, to get as far away as I could from the green green lands of Blighty, to simply go somewhere, anywhere where I wouldn't have to justify my continued existence behind two faced blue chip organisations, a mortgage, a big car and a superficial lifestyle of keeping up with the Patels' at number 44 (it used to be the Jones but times and cultures have changed in England)… and although for years I dreamed of living in the mountains of Italy sitting under olive trees sipping red wine and dribbling over a book or two, I somehow ended up in Thailand, a place… a place, well let's just call it a place, a place like no other and I am somewhat bewildered as to how I ended up here because if I had ‘really' followed my heart, my destiny, my whatever you may call it, I should have ended up in Japan, but that's another story, and one that involves Samurai, Shoguns and beautiful Japanese ladies called Mariko.
So as I sit here reflecting, the inevitable question of whether I am going to stick around in Thailand raises its head. I have been following the latest threads on Stickman about Teaching in Thailand and the salaries offered and so forth, and I am now asking myself if I should try and seek a new pond to paddle in within Asia or try to seek something within my own profession a little more aggressively than I have attempted to do this past year.
The reasons behind these thoughts are not about my love for Thailand and life here, because I actually do love it here and would miss Thailand for lots of different reasons (least of all, what my Thai wife would say and do), but if I am being honest with myself, it is more about the lack of career opportunities that we as foreigners have here as well as the lack of intellectual challenge that we are likely to get in our daily life and let's face it, I am unlikely to get that in my current career as an English teacher.
Ok, I can always go out and find a job that suits my skills and experience… Ha! Well that is not so easy in Thailand unfortunately because once you have gotten past the obvious ageism, Nationalism (watching the Thai's, I know how the Hitler youth got started), racism and other ‘ism's', you then really have to work really hard and have to lean on and rely on the contacts you make here, you have to seriously walk the beat, get yourself personally presented at the doors of the big corporations with your Yozzer hughes head on saying “Gis a job, I can do that” as well as the old chestnut of being at the right place at the right time. You can of course create your own opportunities and many do, and just as many fail too, and although this is something I am working on (preferably to succeed and not fail) within my own professional sphere, it does take more time, more energy and a hell of a lot of more luck than it would take to make it happen back home.
Anyway, as I was mulling over these particular thoughts and reflecting on the past year, I started to go over the some of the experience that I and the teachers at my current school (and probably many other schools too) are going through right now. I will caveat this and say that not all the schools and agencies are like this (some better / some worse) but for sure it's part of the admin and frustration cycle that one can at least expect when working as a teacher in Thailand …
Our Agency: “Good news, the school has extended the contract with the agency for another year, I need to change a few things in your contracts but well done the school really likes you guys… However, and I know this can be an immotive subject, but there is no extra money from the school and as such your salaries will remain the same”
The Teachers: “Errr! Ok, is there going to be a contract signing bonus for staying at the school”
Our Agency: “Nope!”
The Teachers: “Errr! Ok, do you have any work to keep the more destitute of us in gainful employment as we cannot live on Bangkok's polluted air until the new school term?”
Our Agency: “Maybe, I will have to get back to you on that. Come on guys, you earn more than I do, why didn't you save 5k a month for this rainy day eh?”
The Teachers: “What the @&%£!”
(Note: All the Teachers regardless of experience and qualifications, be they real or not, earn 35k baht a month)
Thai Head of English: “Good news, I have made the decision to keep your agency for next year as I am happy with all of the Teachers at this school – congratulations!”
Me: “Errr! Yeah Great! You do know we have not agreed on a contract for next year with out agency don't you?”
Thai Head of English: “It's my decision and I have decided you are all to stay as Teachers next year…”
Me: “yeah but… I am um… do not have a contract with the school, my contract is with the agency and until I have an agreed contract with them then nothing is agreed…”
Thai Head of English: “Mr Casanundra, I told you, it's my decision, not your agencies…”
Me: “oh! In that case… I would like a copy of my contract please, to know when you will renew my work permit, and as for my salary I would like a…”
Thai Head of English: [Interrupting] “oh, that's up to your agency not the school… anyway, while you are here, can you fill in these numbers and get back about what teacher want to teach”
Me: [mouth agape then…] “Sigh! Ok, sure thing. Can you confirm the number of teaching periods per class per week please”
Thai Head of English: “Ok, M1=30, M2=32, M3=29, M4=10, M5=10 and M6=12”
Me: “Ok thanks! I'll get back to you once I've discussed with the other teachers about their preferences” [Knowing full well that their preference like mine will be to see out this years contract and skedaddle off out of it as quick as my little legs can take me]
Thai Head of English: “Ok, well I want to look at them this weekend and give to the Wice Diwector who will decide. You must have different teacher for the Intensive M1, M2 and M3 classes. Ok?”
Me: “Yeah, got it, I will give them to you later today then” [he failed to notice the sarcasm in my voice seeing as tomorrow would actually be the weekend]
I meander off knowing full well that whatever we decide to come up with anyway, he will no doubt change it all around and do his own thing wrapping it up as a directive from the Vice Director.
I quickly throw the numbers into a spreadsheet and walk to the multimedia/computer room where I know the 4 other foreign teachers are hiding out. I ask them what and who they want to teach in the next school year, presuming of course as I asked this that they ‘may' still want to hang around at the school next year. For safe measure however, I added in my comments about what he said re: the contract extension etc… just to make sure they were ‘fully' informed.
A collective sigh goes up from the teachers, “But we don't know the contract terms for next year yet” one of them pipes up. “… also, we aren't getting any extra pay nor a contract extension bonus, is it me or is someone taking the piss?”
Me: “Yeah well… let's at least give him what he wants whilst we are still at the school. There is no harm in going through the motions and nothing is certain until we all sign a new contract.”
Teacher 1: “ok, well I don wanna buffalo three's man, Tam buggered if I yam having 3/11 again, bloody yoosless! Yam happy to ‘ave tha fours though.”
I look at him, rub my chin and wonder if he realises that this years M3 will now be the new M4, I don't say anything, but figure that as the classes are less in number, then he ‘may' not have the buffaloes that he refers to in 3/11 anymore.
Teacher 2: “I definitely want M.5 and especially M.6 as I taught them at M5 and want to continue what I started”
Me: “Teacher 3, do you want an intensive this year, perhaps M1 or one of my M2 intensives?” (Meaning 1/10 as I say this as this is my worst intensive class)
Teacher 3: “Oh god! No thanks! Don't give me the intensives, I see the work you put in and well conversation only for me, same money as you get and less work! Hee! Hee!”
Me: “Yeah cheers smug arse. Actually, now you mention it, why am I teaching Intensives when what you say is correct… hmmmm!”
Teacher 4: “Och! Weeelll I don't mind but given a choice, I would like the M3 Intensives as there is naw way I am teaching 2/10 intensives agin. I had ‘em for their English activity classes, they were a bloody nightmare! Tell you what, put m a dewn for the rest of the M2 conversation classes”
Me: “Ok, then that leaves me with either M1 intensives and M3 or to keep the two M2 intensives and a chunk of the M3 for conversation…”
I do the numbers in the spreadsheet, adding a tweak here and there and seeking clarification from the teachers, and as it all totals up into our new weekly hours, I realise that everyone's numbers have gone up from last year. I do a quick round robin to make sure what everyone's numbers were and ‘yup!' I am correct.
Me: “Huh! Hang on a minute; all of our hours have gone up! I double check the maths to be sure and ‘yup' definitely correct”
Collectively, our minds started to seriously think things through again… no pay rise, no contract re-signing bonus, and no money after March 15 th until June 1 st and now they expect us to work longer hours!
The Teachers: “You have got to be joking, now someone definitely is taking the piss”
The teachers all simultaneously open Ajarn.com and start searching for a new job…
Later that day, I happen to bump into the Thai Head of English on my way somewhere, and I hand him the figures as requested. I am still quietly fuming about the extra hours but appear calm, collective and smiling…
Me: “There you go, your figures as requested. By the way, do you know that the hours have increased for all the teachers?”
The Thai Head of English looks at me with a disinterested blank face but I continue none the less as I am on a roll and want to vent…
Me: “Well, you should know that as we are not receiving extra money in our salary this year, nor are we receiving a re-signing bonus and no money during the summer holiday then some of us may go off and find something else and just may not come back. Also the teachers are not too happy that the school now wants us to work longer hours but for the same money… don't get me wrong, we don't mind putting the hours in and working hard, in fact we all do that now because we actually want to give our best and do a good job, but fair reward for the extra work is all we ask. Do you realise how much work goes into the intensive classes above and beyond that of a conversation teacher? Writing curriculum, writing and marking portfolio work, keeping tabs on students scores and writing student reports for the parents and so on… and yet none of this extra work is considered in the salary offered. I may as well refuse to do any more intensives and just stick with conversation classes. Anyway, I am just telling you this so that you won't be too surprised when some of us don't come back next year because quite frankly, it's not acceptable.”
The Thai Head of English [still looking at me impassively] says: “Ok, so what you suggest…”
Me: “Well, either increase our salary or get a sixth teacher because the extra work load you have stacked up on the existing five teachers comes to an extra 23 hours a week which is more than enough for a new teacher”
Thai Head of English: [Chuckling] “I cannot! We don't have money for another teacher…”
Me: “Mai Dai eh! Ok, well I remember the seven or so terrible teachers who came and went last year before things finally settled down here, so up to you. Just don't be surprised when we have all quit. Have a good weekend.”
Thai Head of English: “Ok, well I will take a look this weekend and I will talk to the Wice Diwector on Monday”
I amble off back to the computer room and get told in unison by the other four teachers that already: Teacher 4 has rang the agency and said he has quit (although he does this on a monthly basis anyway), that Teacher 2 also has rang the agency and said he wants to move on and do they have anything else to offer while Teacher 3 had written a long e-mail to the agency detailing his disgust and that he will likely quit too. Teacher 1 in the mean time pipes up that he is happy to take on a double shift if need be and is happy if we all quit – the git!
I too decide to write to the agency detailing our disgruntled state and what we desire to happen.
Several hours later the agency calls each of us in turn saying how ‘we' as teachers have got it all wrong and that there was always a plan for a sixth teacher in this next year. The fact that no-one told us nor the Thai head of English seems to have got lost in the message. It was also reiterated that they don't want any of us to quit as the school is happy with it's current farang teachers.
Thai Head of English: “I have decided that there will be a sixth teacher next year…”
Me: “I thought there was no money for another teacher…”
Me: “I best go and revamp the figures again then to take this into account…”
I saunter off to go and do the necessary, adding tweaks here and there after talking to the other four now very disinterested teachers. We discuss the logic of how giving us an extra 5k per month, thus taking us up to 40k per month, would have appeased us and kept us quite happy to take on the extra hours. This approach would have cost the school/agency 25k extra a month as well as saving them 10K (or more) per month too, but Thai logic being as it is and not wanting to give us the extra money in our existing pay packets (god forbid that they would ever give us any extra money), they decided to employ a new teacher instead at a salary of 35k… go figure that huh! It wouldn't surprise me too much if the new teacher turns out to be a non-native with half the salary though.
After a bit of discussion around the intensives where it was established that Teacher 1 won't be allowed to teach intensives because he has too strong an accent, that teacher 2 is simply the wrong colour and also won't be allowed to teach the intensives, that teacher 3 and 4 simply don't want them and that I am trying to lose them, it was agreed by all to stiff the new teacher instead with the classes no one wants next year (well we may as well make it work to our advantage) and in this we also included my two M2 Intensives classes as we figure that the new teacher should take on the highest workload especially as we aren't being paid for the privilege)
Teacher 4 and I go off and give the numbers to the Thai head of English and think we have the schedule all agreed.
Teacher 4: “Casanundra, remember when we discussed that the M2 intensives should be given to the new teacher in order to give them a different style and perspective to your own and you elected to do the new M1 intensives and M5/M6 instead”
Teacher 4: “Well the Vice Director has told the Head of English that she thinks otherwise and that you should remain the M2 intensive teacher next year. Congratulations, you are obviously dong something right as they won't let anyone else teach them”
The kids have all finished at the school. The final end of year exam is over and the M6 students have just left after doing a last minute “oh crap! I realise I need to learn English to pass the university entrance exam” crashers course with the Thai teachers and so there is nothing to do.
All of the foreign teachers are contracted to stay here until the 15 th of March and as such we are expected to be here everyday. No problem in this generally, I mean where else would we rather be on a lovely day in Bangkok with nothing to do… and as there isn't a Thai teacher or a Thai student to be seen within 50 km of the school to keep us amused with any Thai teachers who did manage to get lost and who inadvertently ventured back into the school having also managed to escape on one of their daily shopping trips somewhere, it really is deadville here.
We could all escape of course, but the spies would spot us and report us to admin and thus cull our pay for the day if we dared to do such a thing and so we are forced to be reluctant inmates for the day. We could of course be working on our lesson plans for next year but as some of us are unlikely to come back here then the question of ‘why bother' comes to mind. For those who are still happy to stick around or who are keeping their options open, then we could of course be working on our lesson plans. However, even this simple thing does not come without it's hassles.
Me: “Can you tell me the curriculum that the kids will be working to next year…”
Thai head of English: “I have changed the books for next year so we are following a new curriculum”
Me: “Great, can I have a copy of the new book so I can prepare my lesson plan?”
Thai head of English: “Sure, I will see if I can get my hand on a copy of the books and get them to you, maybe next week…”
Me: “ok great…”
Next week comes…
Teacher 4: “Hey Casanundra. I jus' tried t' git ar copy of t' new buk for nex yaar. It hasna been published yit! Oh! And by ter way, the Ministry of Education are evaluating the school for some gold accreditation, you may be interviewed about yer views on te way ter school is run”
Me: “Oh great! I'll try my best to keep it positive then shall I?”
So to answer my questions about Thailand …Will I be staying on in Thailand , well I yes I will as I love the life here… will I be staying at the school as an English? Well, let's put that last question another way, would I be happy to sleep with A Katoey or visit the blue oyster gay bar club? Not bloody likely!
Schools in Thailand, another nightmare!