Should I stay or should I go?
Getting to grips with life as a teacher in Thailand
Hmmm........where to start?
I suppose with the warning that this blog will probably come across as a lot of moaning but hopefully I can put across the fact I am doing my best to take a balanced view and my real goal is to get some perspective from those of you who have been in such a situation. The issue is I am in a position that I have no idea what to think about: I see positives and negatives but this is preventing me from making any progress as to what I want to do. I am new to TEFL and Thailand but I definitely like both of them. I do not judge either on my current situation... but is my situation a good or bad one? Help!
I flew in to Bangkok and spent four amazing days and nights there. I was about to head out towards Ubon to start looking for work when I was tipped off with a potential opportunity in the Si Sa Ket province of Isaan. 30K a month with free food (during school) and accommodation. I was skeptical. The idea was to check it out and if I didn't like what I saw I would just go elsewhere. Problem is, despite a trickle of improvements, one month in I am no closer to knowing if I am onto a good or bad thing here. Presumably this would be ideal for a more experienced (with Thai schools/language) farang with a Thai partner.
Apparently the boss wanted me here for the Monday morning to start straight away, but when I got to the accommodation, it was pretty grim. TIT... An Isaan style wooden house (that absorbs heat) on stilts with a tatty straw mattress and a fold-up bed and pillow with a few bottles of water. The windows didn't shut properly (it rained in on my suitcase during my second day at school) and the newly installed wiring wasn't finished. I was asked to be patient because this village was desperate for a native English speaking teacher and I would get whatever I needed.
Since then they have bought me a fridge and a wardrobe and closed off the bad windows and installed air-con in my bedroom. After a few weeks books have begun to arrive and a new room for the mini-English class has been completed featuring air-con and my own lockable desk.
The owner, despite rushing me out here before the accommodation was decent (to my mind anyway) does seem like a reasonable guy. Although he owns this privately run school he actually works elsewhere in the province at a bigger government school (is the principle there afaik). His wife is nice, she works at the local hospital and sometimes brings me fruit or cold drinks. He also gave me a secondhand bicycle so I can get around the village on my own. His younger brother is the principle at my school and he himself is humble and a very decent guy. Last week he went with me to Laos to change my 60 day tourist visa into a non-B.
The people of the village seem friendly but are not used to seeing a farang here. I was told I would be the first ever farang in this area and that my job was to help set up a private mini-English program at the school. It's quite small at the moment but has been going very well. There are just 7 kids but whilst in Laos, the principle (the owner's brother) told me I can stay for a second year if I want and that the kids are speaking very good English and are going home motivated to learn the language and are teaching it to their parents (some of whom I have met or who work at the school). This mini-English program amounts to about 8 hours contact and I have a Thai 'assistant' who I work well with and she also runs me about the village to get things I need or to take me to eat at her place with some other teachers sometimes. She is the school's English teacher, her English is about pre-intermediate (my Thai is beginner) but we communicate ok.
However, I was also handed a schedule of about 21 hours total teaching including all the Anuban classes and all the Prathom (30-40 kids). There are the typical Thai education/cultural issues in these classes. Here is where all the main problems are for me at this school: for the prathom classes there's no Thai teacher with me despite my limited Thai, so the kids (boys mostly) often take advantage and do their homework for other lessons, muck about, run in and out of the classroom etc.
In my second week I marched a couple of boys out of the room and told the nearby (on free time) Thai teachers I didn't want them in my class. 5 minutes later I went back outside to get them thinking that was enough time for them to stew but these boys had been sent to run round the sports field! I've not officially been given any books or guidance for teaching these other classes, just thrown into the lion's den. I try to take it in my stride as it doesn't surprise me given what I had read about Thai schooling before I arrived.
The prathom kids often play dumb when I know for a fact they know I am asking/telling them to sit down. If I say "nang long" they'll even drop to the floor where they were standing. My co-teacher from the mini-English class is afraid to communicate many of these issues to the boss and I have tried to tell them there are discipline issues but it seems to be falling on deaf ears so I guess I will have to find another way of communicating it.
The school hours don't compare to what I've seen other teachers talk about on discussion forums. We are supposed to be at school at 7:20 yet stay long after the kids have gone home until 5pm. Tuesday is my day from hell because I have gate duty and am supposed to be there for 6:30 and then I have no free blocks all day. Outside that mini-English room there is no air-con, just a few fans scattered about. In class I have to position myself so the sweat isn't dripping onto the students' books. Sometimes the girls ask permission to leave the classroom and come back with water for me or they fan me with books.
Home is not a home, it is a place to sleep uncomfortably because it is grim and I am also blessed with being a magnet for yuun so I have to clamber under a mozzy net. Obviously there is no western toilet, despite some of the Thais in the village having them themselves. A 'hong nam' full of mosquitoes with a hose of cold water unless it's morning when there is no water at all.
My house is right opposite the school, so I am not on school property but the house is owned by the boss - and between the stilts that support the house, the space is used for parking school vehicles and teachers cars.
The other teachers at the school are quite young - mostly in their early to mid 20s - with a few 30-something anuban teachers. The ones who are genuinely friendly or who try to speak with me at all are in a minority. A Chinese teacher started here two days after me. Her English is advanced level but although she is hugely popular with the other teachers she is not friendly towards me and tends to be quick to be aggressive where everything is apparently my fault. So I avoid contact with her.
The prathom teachers allow me to eat with them and one of the guys is pretty cool; the anuban teachers mostly gossip about me and overall things are more polite than genuinely friendly wich means I need an outlet... a social life or a place to go. Something to do in the evening.
Some neighbours have invited me over for food a few times now. They are related to the school management or at least everyone knows everyone else. They do their best to be nice and one in particular is extremely friendly. He invited me to go fishing and hopes to learn English but frankly it's hard work because he thinks I will understand his Laos the more he babbles at me. I am told 'teacher ----' is good with food because I'll be sport for anything and have eaten dakkaden, spicy, the lot.
Learning Thai here is problematic though because outside school depending who I'm with, they will be speaking Laos, Khmer or Suay as well as Thai so I'd probably be better off watching Thai TV at home (they previously offered to get me a TV which I turned down but now I wonder if I should have taken them up on it).
Outside of school I am still 'teacher ----' and everything I do is known and seen and I feel eyes on me at all times. Now I have the internet my only escape is to escape into the prison of my wooden box and escape to cyberspace. The 'Thai lifestyle' people talk about for me just isn't happening.
I figured the ideal solution would be to head off to Bangers once a month so I can escape 'teacher ----'. Apparently it is sometimes as cheap as 1,000THB to fly from Ubon to Bangkok. I have a friend there. She's a nice girl with no tattoos and we like to sit quietly and watch the world go by drinking nam som. Now I have the non-B visa, I texted her to say I would see her soon. Today I checked the airlines and found travelling on Fridays after school it will in reality cost me 4-5k for a return fare from Friday-Sunday. I'm totally gutted because on my salary when you add up the cost of the bus fare to Ubon and factor in the costs in Bangkok, it doesn't seem do-able and I'm looking at being stuck here until October...
Meanwhile, I haven't signed a contract yet. This is a learning experience for all of us: this is my first Thai school and I'm their first farang. I'm a pretty cool-headed kind of guy and the bosses and school here seems ok, it's not a hellbitch scenario by any means so the lack of contract so far has been good for me as I've tried to decide what I think about this whole gig.
It's nice to be away from the money-grabbing Bangkok-style Thais but despite my wanting to work more meaningfully with people who could use the help I wonder if heading to Bangkok would be more appropriate or not. I don't want to be a quitter and who knows what I might find if I made a change.
If only some issues at school were not as they are, then life outside school would be more bearable. if only home and social life issues were not as they are, then school would be more bearable. I'm a hamster on a wheel going round and round. As things stand, there's little relief from the general discomfort that I am sure I should not be feeling.
Although I would be signing a year's contract (probably once my work permit gets done) I know this gig is at least a two-year project and it will probably take three years to properly get this place up to speed with it's English, not just in terms of language ability of the students but also in the signs, knowing and understanding farang teachers and garnering the ability to attract replacements and get these people on the English-speaking map. As I said, I think this gig might be more ideal for an experienced farang with a Thai partner.
As the prospect of a monthly escape to Bangkok disappears, I decided to offload this crap here on Ajarn.com and start looking for some perspective. I know some of you will have had all kinds of first teaching gig and first accommodation nightmares - but these things are not the end of the world.
So should I stay or should I go?