Teaching School In Bangkok
Have I ever told you about my long and illustrious career teaching school? Maybe it’s something that everyone does but I really had not been thinking about teaching.
I had been in Bangkok for a month or two, living in The Atlanta Hotel and relaxing by the swimming pool every day. I love to read the newspapers and I saw in the Bangkok Post an interesting advertisement for instructors. It was placed by a hotel and hospitality college out on Ramkhamaeng. This was right up my alley. I had taught in a university in New York City and also had practical experience cooking and operating a restaurant.
It looked appealing. It would be a taste of life in Thailand.
I mailed my resume and they called me a few days later.
‘Please come in for an interview. We will be here for an hour.’
This was at four in the afternoon and I knew enough from being here that I could not get there in an hour. I would need more time or a day's notice. They seemed confused by this. Acceptance of any deviation from what they had planned did not seem to be easy for them.
I eventually went for the interview. There was a kid ahead of me who had blonde hair down to his shoulders. We can count this kid out I thought and I was right.
My interview went smoothly. I had brought the college catalogue where I had taught, my diploma from New York University and a bunch of press clippings. They had a classroom with a full sized kitchen and a large mirror over the work space. It was a nice set-up. ‘Could you give cooking classes in the future?’
‘Sure, no problem.’
They would make me head of the restaurant department and pay me twenty thousand baht a month.
Not all that impressive I found out later. There were only two other instructors in the department. One was a Thai who had worked in a cafeteria for the American Army when they were in Vietnam.
The other person was an Englishman who had been a waiter back home. One more thing, I would only receive fifteen thousand baht for the first three months.
‘What are my hours?’ This was an important consideration for me.
Nine to five they said but I may have to work a half day infrequently on a Saturday.
I moved out of the Atlanta to a studio apartment within walking distance to the school. I have never been late to work and have never missed a day and I did not intend to start now. There is nothing worse than being late except for not showing up. That’s inexcusable.
I had three groups of kids and I would teach three classes a week to them, about thirty-five students in a class. I had some well-behaved students and also some that were disruptive. I started each day by writing a self empowerment slogan on the board and discussing that first.
For example, they would eventually do on the job training thanks to the cooperation of local hotels. My question- Who is responsible for your assignment to a specific hotel? Will you train at The Oriental or end up folding napkins all day in some dump?
The school had teaching manuals printed but few students brought them to class and only about half of the students seemed to be motivated. It seemed that they learned by rote. You tell them something and they memorized it word for word. Could they field a line hit or only catch fly balls? I would have to find out.
The only thing I had a hard time with were the names of the students. The names were long and all looked alike. I had to grade them on tests and class participation. Would I ever be able to tell them apart?
We all ate in the cafeteria and were waited on by the students as part of their training. However there was only one appetizer and one entree being served. A chimpanzee would be able to carry out the same dishes without much training.
I made an appointment with the owner of the school that day and told him one of the most important things we can teach the students was communication.
We need to offer at least two appetizers and two entrees so there is some dialogue involved. Alright, we would have a meeting with the cooks and put this in place.
I had been teaching for three days and thought that I had settled in nicely. We were called in to a meeting and told that the school had the honor of catering a take out breakfast one day and a box lunch the next day for some government meetings. The school owner had volunteered even though we did not have any portable coffee makers. Purchase was not an option and I sent the other two instructors to a nearby school to borrow them and they came back with two large urns that merely held hot coffee but did not make coffee. Okay, this is the kind of help I would be dealing with.
We were expected to come to school at four in the morning to start breakfast, deliver it all the way across town, serve it and then start to teach our classes later in the morning. The director had kindly scheduled my meeting with the cooks for the same day after school. This looked like a long day to me. Was he going to be there- cooking eggs with me? I didn’t think so.
We were told to come in the following day at five AM to put the box lunches together.
I grabbed an instructor who had been there a while.
‘What’s going on?’
‘Oh, this happens all the time. They are always putting extra work on us.’ He didn’t seem to mind or he was accustomed to this sort of thing happening. I didn’t think that this was a fortuitous sign.
Then the assistant director called me into her office and told me that she had assigned me to go to a company’s executive restaurant to give the staff a seminar on service.
It would be this Saturday and for eight hours.
What was this woman smoking? Any class needed preparation and as for myself, anyway, I would need many hours to compose the notes for this lesson.
Back in the states I would get up and talk for two hours non-stop at school. Other teachers would give their students a ten minute break.
Not me. A waste of good time. Let’s press on.
So I enjoyed teaching. You have to like your job as you sure are not doing it for the money.
Eight hours, however, is another whole ball game.
If I were this director I would have offered me half the fee she was receiving. Easy to say- go out there and talk for eight hours but a lot harder to do.
After school I ate dinner and took the forty-five minute ride to Nana Plaza to do some serious thinking.
My best thinking takes place when I have had a few drinks and I did find a solution to what seemed like a long and unrewarding coming week.
It all became clear to me.
I took a cab back to my apartment, where I had paid three months in advance, packed up all of my things including a new television and fan that I had purchased.
I stuffed everything in a cab and went back to my home away from home-The Atlanta. The next day I had a few drinks by the pool and pondered my future in teaching.
Later in my room, the phone rang and rang.
I poured myself another drink.
Good on you Frank, most of us would have done the same.