Experiences Working In One Of The Oldest Educational Institutes In Thailand
Picture the scene, eight months ago …
- An office where people come to work every weekday, even when they have no lessons or duties that day.
- An office where teachers share teaching plans and lesson outlines, to improve their own work.
- An office where team teaching and co-teaching are organized voluntarily to help expose students to different techniques and styles.
- An office where staff regularly co-write conference papers and research articles on learning and language.
- An office where lively discussions on grammar, communication and cultural differences are enjoyable daily affairs.
(An educator's dream, almost.)
Picture the scene, today …
- An office where no more than two teachers are in at any one time, and only when they have to be for classes or student consultation duties.
- An office where every single member of staff (Thai and foreigner) is looking for a new job.
- An office where no one communicates except by email, and only then sporadically and rarely replying to other messages.
- An office where classes are reduced to instruction from the course books, with almost no enthusiasm for teaching.
- An office that has not seen its director (other than by the effect of her actions) for months.
Same place, same staff, same courses, the difference: new director. So what questions arise or advice can we salvage from working under what feels like a nasty, angry, xenophobic institution?
Advice No.1: Get official written confirmation of payment every time you teach (or indeed of any duties expected of you).
For the last seven years a summer course has been taught in April and payment was xx,xxx baht for the course. Teaching the course is voluntary, but enough students exist for all teachers to have a course. Payment has always been one month after completion of the course. This June we were informed, (after having finished teaching) that payment is now only half. At the same time a course we are presently teaching (for a previously paid and verbally agreed upon payment of 1,000 per hour) has now been processed for a payment of 400 per hour.
Administrative botch up? Meaningless agreements by the director? Breaking of contracts?
(Rumors from staff in other departments who attend meetings with our director [which is often the only method of communication with our director] suggest that it was the director that was responsible and that problems are to be blamed on the foreigners causing a fuss.)
Advice No. 2: Be wary of Thai managers educated abroad and with responsibility over foreigners.
Among the five foreigners in the office qualifications include two doctorates, three master’s degrees, three TEFL certificates or equivalent, one qualified psychiatrist, one internationally qualified lawyer, an ex dean of an Australian university faculty and a list of international publications on topics from nursing and business to linguistics and teaching the blind, (and three different fluent second languages).
After being told to develop a new Basic English course that will “comply with the regulation and use the form accordingly”, a course was developed with a pass mark from a simple grammar test comprising the pass requirement. All instructions and guidelines given by the institution and director, though often vague, were followed to the letter, no information on standards expected was given. We were informed months later, after the course had been finished, that all students would pass regardless of their work or effort because the “syllabi do not seem to fit with the standard yet”. This was backed up with the opinion that the combined expertise of the office was insufficient in comparison to the director because the director is a person “who graduated and hold a degree in Education”, but don’t worry, “[she] did buy books for [us] all to read and apply those information to improve the syllabi”. The book introductions contained such relevant gems as: “Before a course can be developed the models, guidelines and principles of the situation must be supplied to her”. (Perhaps the director should have tried reading the books before throwing them at others.)
Displays of arrogance are often accompanied by acts of egocentrism that undermine claims of ability. Reports from other departments suggest that is never more evident than in Thais who manage foreigners at this particular institution.
Advice No. 3: Be wary of Thai managers who use jargon.
Chairman Mao once said ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a thousand schools of thought contend.’
Those that did bloom were promptly identified and cut down.
Our director once said, effectively, (and with a significantly larger number of words): I am a modern international manager [read: ‘visited America’] open to suggestions and criticism and wanting a collaborative style of work.
Communication receives two responses in this office. The best example of the first would be the meeting where we were told that as ignorant foreigners who don’t understand cultured Thailand we should never state problems in class organization or insult our gracious Thai hosts (by suggesting some students are not well motivated by nine hours of classes on weekends). Mysteriously, minutes of meetings stopped being distributed after this.
The best example of the second type of response would be an email received after months of asking what she wanted changed in the course syllabi.
“I would like to inform you that I work in reverse to your understanding which is anything submitted to me and I did not approve … I will not say anything … It is not final, that's what it means.”
In other words, contrary to most cultures, silence is not a form of tacit agreement, but for this person silence is a method of accurately highlighting problems and what needs to be done.
In short, do not listen to the silky jargonized words you hear poured into your ear, they are often merely lip-service to concepts not understood. Watch the actions and behaviors.
Advice No. 4: Don’t be beguiled by public awe or reputation regarding an institution.
Public opinion holds the institution in high esteem. My experience is somewhat different.
As a random example…
Eight months ago I asked for a booklet published by the institution. Four months ago I found a copy and faxed the publication details to the Documents Division that published it: they didn’t reply to the first two or three emails (Thai and English) and phone calls suggested they had never heard of the document they themselves published. Eventually they realized what booklet was being requested and so replied by saying I would have to find the elements hidden somewhere in the website, download it passage by passage myself and then print it out on my own. Apparently this is because the documents division responsible for distributing documents does not want to distribute their publication as it means they would have to print it out.
So what can be said to wrap this up? Ultimately, the image of the institution and directors in it seems more important than their competence. The issue of directors who communicate by asking people from other offices to ‘pass the message along’, but never communicate to people they walk past themselves; who are incapable of producing any meaningful official document; and who believe the image is important not the standards that the image represents, is probably (and sadly) not uncommon. Perhaps their behavior stems from the Thai management concept that managers, by definition, must know more. Perhaps their jargon and aggression is a method of masking their insecurities.
Here, in a graduate faculty of an institution focused on the image of medicine and humanities, in defiance of learning and communication, staff (Thai and foreigner alike) are most certainly seen as disposable decorations.
Be wary of where you work, maybe they too believe ‘if you deliberately change everything and ignore all the old rules and treat people harshly, then only the strong will stay, the weak will go.’
I hope this is useful to someone.
Wallowing in a quagmire of incompetence
Your quote about image and reputation being more important than competence is a cracker, and oh so accurate.
The discontent amongst foreign ajarns is sad, but I truly don't think the local institutes recognise it nor are they aware of the effects it has on quality education.