Teacher Tim's TEFL International Blog January 21st, 2012

You Didn’t Say

In order to work in most schools in Thailand as an English teacher you will need to provide them with a criminal background check. This is usually easily obtainable from your police department or sheriff’s office back home, or from the clerk of the district court. I think it’s a good idea to require this, as it helps keep out the really egregious malefactors from the Thai public schools.

And in case you’re wondering, you can have a misdemeanor on your background check and still cut the mustard, but if you have any felonies, for anything, forget about it. You’re about as likely to get a teaching job in a Thai school as you are to be Kim Kardashian’s main squeeze.

Having said this much, I might as well admit that English teachers have a pretty louche reputation in Thailand, and it is often well-deserved. Stumblebums and devotees of Bacchus abound in many English departments in many Thai schools.

When I began my career as an ESL teacher in Thailand it amazed me how my colleagues in other schools didn’t seem to give a rat’s patootie about their reputation. They did little or nothing to hide their after-hour peccadilloes from students and faculty. Occasionally this led to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, but for the most part the Thais turned a blind eye to the minor foibles that human flesh is heir to in their ESL teachers.

I finally had to ask one of my compatriots why he didn’t at least take the bus into another section Bangkok for his weekend debauches, instead of performing them right there in the neighborhood of the school.

He shrugged his shoulders and replied “It doesn’t matter, because even if you’re a saint the Thais will still come up with some gossip about you and spread it around like fertilizer.”

Sadly, my years in Thailand have done nothing to disprove this fellow’s opinion of the Thais and their love affair with tattletales and innuendo. And it is not confined to the female section, either. Both sexes relish a tawdry story at the expense of a neighbor, friend, or teacher. If the story can somehow involve both the supernatural and an outdoor urinal, so much the better. The story will be both widespread and totally believed.

In my case my eyes were opened to this penchant one day about five years ago when I was blithely walking down the soi from my apartment to my school. I tripped over a piece of loose mortar and brick that lay on the side of the road and took a header. I tore the knees out of my pants, scrapped the palms of my hands, and bruised my prominent farang proboscis. There were dozens of people around who saw me take the pratfall, and who kindly came to my assistance to pick myself up and dust myself off, stemming my bloody nose with a borrowed handkerchief. I hobbled back to my apartment to change and patch myself up, and then went to my school for my regular classes.

But word had preceded me to the school, and when I arrived I was gazed at with a mixture of admiration and disgust. It seems the story of my innocent accident had already morphed into one of a wild night of carousing , resulting in an epic bar fight in which I took out several farangs with a broken beer bottle and then threw the bartender through a bamboo wall.

I learned this when I was intercepted by the principal, who spoke to me man to man, saying that a little brawling was nothing to worry about, but that I had better rein in my bloodthirsty temper, otherwise I might kill someone unintentionally while in a drunken rage. I vehemently protested my innocence, but was overruled by the principal, a man who was known to tipple and take a swing or two himself; these things happen, he consoled me, and I had better just make the best of it. Indignantly I told him that I could round up a dozen witnesses who had seen me trip and fall just a few hours earlier. He shook his head and tipped me a wink; of course I could, but that would not be necessary. But in future, please confine my bar brawls to the weekend, so I’d have time to rest up and let the swelling go down before facing my students.

Speechless with rage, I turned on my heel and went to my first class of the morning. The students did not directly refer to my so-called slugfest of the night before, but whenever I turned my back to them to write on the chalkboard they began pantomiming a vigorous muay Thai boxing match.

For the rest of my term at that particular school, no matter how weak and flabby I appeared to be, both staff and students could not refer to me without mentioning that I was a two-fisted hellion when drinking, and that it would be a good idea to avoid my company when the fit was upon me – otherwise one might wind up in Bumrungrad Hospital with a mashed spleen, or something worse.

Luckily, I never believed my own publicity.