My Two Penneth Worth
Your story on the struggle with a morally and ethically corrupt management at your school brought back memories for me as I also came against the twisted logic of the same management team (I use the word management in its loosest form).
As you know, I worked in the school for nearly ten years and found the Thai programmes and the management that run them to be reasonably professional, competent and respectful when interacting with western teachers on both work related and personal issues. Naturally, there were moments but these were very few and far between and easily rectified.
However, the international programme, to which you refer, is a completely different kettle of fish. Unlike the rest of the school and its government official management, those that created and manage the programme are not teachers, have little or no teaching qualifications, have little or no experience as subject teachers in any educational situation, have little or no experience or education on how to work harmoniously and professionally with educated / experienced westerners and are in fact, only members of the 'alumni' and connected hired hands with a modicum of spoken English and time spent in a western country to their credit. They work independently from the main school, from controlling all aspects of contract negotiations with western teachers including overriding existing contracts of employment with the government run main part of the school and the university to which it is attached to daily management with no or scant regard for sound educational / managerial concepts and tenets. In short, they are an enormous disaster waiting to happen!
An episode that stands-out among many bizarre events illustrates my views and really highlights both the unprofessionalism and the incredible sense of denial that shrouds the practices of these 'excuses for educators'. You may well remember, after one of the arduous weekly meetings and with mid-term exams looming, it was decided to address the issue of exam cheating – a normal and accepted part of school life in Thailand and why not when the adults are all at it!
It was decided that a set of rules would be devised for classroom procedure and teacher / student conduct inside and outside of the classroom and these would be written in stone to be adhered to by all, immediately. As it happened, as a class advisor to M6, the most senior class in the school, I and my colleague were first up to bat as the M6 exams were brought forward to give the students time to concentrate on the pot-luck system known as the university entrance exam. All was going well when the Thai homeroom teacher (possibly the same teacher you were referring to in your tale of woe) took leave of the room as his mobile had rung. Unfortunately, my fellow western teacher wasn't present at the time which left me on my own. At this point, one of the female students raised her hand and asked to go to the toilet which wouldn't normally have presented the dilemma it did that day. One of the new regulations bought in to force stated that when a student needed to go to the toilet during an exam they needed to be escorted to and from the toilet. Additionally, the toilet was to be checked before the student was allowed to enter and re-checked when the student had finished so that answers couldn't be passed or received. Very logical and effective – meriting applause.
At this point, assuming that the homeroom teacher had done his job (first big mistake) I turned to the enlarged list of new regulations posted up at the front of the class and pointed out the particular rule that covered this situation and asked the girl if she could hang on for a little while until the Thai teacher returned and someone could then escort her to the toilet without compromising classroom integrity (second big mistake!). My statement was immediately followed by a roar of disapproval from the students to which I pointed out the rule and apologized for the fact that they hadn't been informed prior to the exam but explained that it was new school policy issued by the head of the programme and a policy to which we were all bound to follow. As it happened, the Thai member of staff immediately returned to the classroom and, once informed of the development, escorted the girl who had had to wait less than a full minute to take a leak.
On her return, the girl in question resumed her place and began quietly crying to herself. Now this came as no surprise as this was a very mixed-up child displaying a variety of symptoms of inner distress from painful shyness to loud displays of crisis. Indeed I would hazard a guess that she was one of a handful of students whose troubles warranted the hiring of the school 'shrink' in the first place. Having witnessed her outburst a number of times during exam week over the previous five years, I turned to the Thai homeroom teacher to provide a solution (third big mistake!). He chose to ignore the situation and having taught in Thailand and Japan for over 13 years, at that point, I knew that Asians tend to turn a blind eye to certain situations – especially highlighting problem students as this causes a big loss of face for the student concerned. So, we finished the remaining half hour of the exam and I returned to my classroom in the main school to continue my teaching.
The following day, I was stopped by the day to day manager of the international programme who asked about the situation (the same manager you talk of in your column). I related the tale and pointed out that I was put into a situation where I was to carry out school policy and compromise the integrity of the classroom at the same time. She responded that this was an emergency and that I should have let her go. I pointed out that I knew that – you know that and the girl knows that so maybe we should accept it as a learning process and build it into the school regulations. I also pointed out I had to make an on-the-spot decision as the only supervisor in the room and as we were talking about an 18 year old girl who had to wait less than a minute (half the time it would take to get to the toilet anyway) that no harm had been done with the integrity of the exam intact.
Thinking that that was the end of things I went about my business for the next couple of days. Of course, the major problem was that this was the only daughter of one of the 'alumni' who had set up the programme and liked to let it be known that he is a 'mover and shaker' so it was always going to come back and bite me on the bum!
This came about when I was called into the office of the overall manager of the programme, a very senior government officer who had worked as my head of department for over thirty years and informed that a committee meeting had taken place and I was branded a cruel teacher! They had come to that decision by taking the path of least resistance and blaming the western teacher – me (who was not invited to the meeting or asked to account for the incident) for their deficiencies!
This was just one of many incidents where the Thai view of keeping harmony is at the expense of the western element of the equation. So, the only way around this is to limit / minimise the number of Thais in your working life – especially those that may have any kind of hold over you / ability to detrimentally manipulate or effect you and your business / working environment.
In conclusion, one key points to working for / with Thais is to accept that you will more often than not become the sacrificial lamb to their own particular sense of harmony and it will very probably stay that way for many years to come. For in Thailand and I quote from the movie 'Dead Canaries' "The package is there but the wrapper is empty"!
To all readers, the writer of this submission is a good mate of mine, and what he says is exactly how the incident played itself out. And the conclusion he reaches is spot in in my opinion – the Western teacher is so often blamed for all the wrongs in a school. After all, the Western teacher "doesn't understand Thai culture"…