Tales From School
Last May, Nok, along with 100 or so other hopeful candidates, sat a series of exams to try to qualify as a Government Art teacher. The top 20 that passed would form a pool from which the local municipality’s future vacancies would be filled. The remaining 80 plus get rejected and have to start again the following year. (Unless some tea money can be found…!)
Nok came 6th, and would be “allocated” a school once the top five qualifiers had been employed. The wait was less time than we expected, and in August Nok was offered a choice of three schools where vacancies would be available from the start of the new term in November. Each of the three schools had different pupil age ranges, from 4 year olds up to 16 – there does not appear to be a selection process that allows teachers to employ specific skills sets in relation to pupil ages. We visited the three schools and Nok chose, as her number one a newly built Kindergarten school. As she was now top of the list, I assumed she would automatically be given her first choice, but she pointed out to me that sometimes tea money can be found…!
In the event, Nok got what she wanted, and started work at the end of October. Mondays and Thursdays she is required to wear a beige uniform, other days different coloured tops, In addition, she needed a white uniform, for special events. All of these clothing items had to be bought by her.
The school Head is ex-military, and doesn’t appear to have had any formal training in education (other than, presumably, marching squaddies round a parade ground). He has absolute autonomy and is also, allegedly, corrupt.
Nok earns less than 8000 baht / month. (To be fair, although the salaries are poor, there are a number of long term benefits for Government teachers including pensions and family health care). Her first term of dedicated hard work and good achievements saw her receive a pay rise of 150 baht / month. No other teacher received more, some received nothing. It is generally felt (and accepted) by the teaching staff that funds made available for pay rises exceeded the amount handed out and that the balance, allegedly, ended up in the Head’s pocket.
The Head is bonking one of the teachers (don’t know why as she is fat and ugly), the local Director of Education is bonking another one (more understandable this one!). Despite the traditional discretion Thai men employ with respect to their mia nois, this is common knowledge amongst the local fraternity.
By virtue of teaching art, Nok is somewhat unique in that she is not responsible for any one classroom, and has less lesson time than other teachers. However, our caring, sharing Head ensures that her free time does not go to waste! Nok is charged with numerous school projects – anything needing design and creativity. However, this often goes beyond the realms of pure design. One project involved her creating a full size tiger model, to be made from plywood. To “save money” the Head purchased the wood, paint, tools etc and had Nok produce the bloody thing! Add “Carpentry” to her C.V.
At Songkran, Nok was “requested” (read: “instructed” – non-attendance would have attracted a bad mark and adversely affected future pay and promotion prospects) to attend the local municipal ceremony, to help administer the event. The previous day had seen her working a long day in the preparation, flower arranging and the like. I was surprised that she asked me to go, as I assumed she would be somewhat circumspect about our relationship, but in fact it turned out to be the opposite. I was introduced to all and sundry, including the Head, the Director of Education, and the local Mayor. I had an interesting chat with the Director (he who is bonking the good looking teacher!), whose English was pretty good. He told me that he would like to see more teachers with farang boyfriends / husbands as this would improve their English, which, in turn, would help the children learn the language.
Nok is ambitious, and recently passed a further set of exams that will allow her to undertake a “Masters” degree over the next 12 months. Although we’re not talking Oxbridge or Harvard here, success will bring short term (pay rise) and long term (promotion opportunities) benefits. Now I thought this was going to cost me money, but no, it seems funding/loans are available, although with serious downsides if she fails. Nok has “borrowed” 150,000 Baht to cover her fees. If she passes, and then agrees to stay in the same municipality for an additional two years, she does not have to repay a single satang. If, however, she fails, she has to repay DOUBLE the amount – 300,000 Baht. A good incentive to do well methinks!
Last week, at the start of the new term, the Head “invited” (again, read: “instructed”) Nok to attend a dinner that same evening (typical Thai notice period – we had actually planned an evening out with friends), in order to “welcome” two new teachers to the school. Adding insult to injury, each teacher had to contribute 200 Baht to the cost, even though, allegedly, funds are available for this type of activity. (25 teachers x 200 Baht – not a bad evening’s work!)
And so we now enter Nok’s second term with the kids returning next week. Despite the trials and tribulations, she enjoys the job, and tolerates (as do all the teachers) the Head’s military-style management and apparent corruption with an acceptance I find hard to understand. I’ve now settled in to my new life here, and enjoy her daily updates on life in a suburban Thai school.
Perhaps to be continued….
This all sounds very familiar…and some of this sort of nonsense is amongst the reasons why I put teaching in the rear view mirror.
More adventures from Nok's school will make for fun reading, so don't be shy to keep us updated!