Teacher nightmares part two
What happens when teaching in Thailand all goes horribly wrong
October 2012 - Here's a familiar story of a teacher who tries to be 'too clever' and goes all out to antagonize the school management. There is almost certainly only going to be one outcome in these type of situations.
I'm a 32 year old teacher from France and I moved to Thailand three years ago, initially because I was working as an executive for a French company. On the verge of the financial crisis in Europe, they appointed me to their Bangkok office. Life was good but the global economy got worse and my company decided to outsource the department I was working for to a Thai company 18 months or so later.
I was already well established in Thailand at the time so I had no intention to move back to France right away. As you can guess, the first job that came my way was as a teacher. I used to give private tuition when I was still a student in Paris and being from a family of teachers, I did not find it too difficult to fit the teacher's cloth but at first I found it hard to cope with the Thai education system and its "no fail" policy towards students.
Ajarn.com and the various blogs were a great source of information and it helped me to better understand and adjust to Thai culture. I got my first teaching gig through an agency in Southern Thailand and I immediately liked the city I was in but as it often happens with agencies I soon found myself in need of a more "serious" teaching position and so I moved to Rayong where I happily taught English for about a year.
Anyway, I was always keeping an eye on the job offers and being used to a higher paycheck, I was more than willing to get a better salary while making my way back to Southern Thailand. I thought I had found the perfect job when I applied for a French/English teaching job at an international school.
I gave one month's notice to my school in Rayong and I swiftly moved back to the South.
It quickly became obvious that I had made a huge mistake just a few days after the school term started. The school I was at supposedly followed the British curriculum so we started in mid-August. No books, no curriculum, crumbling classrooms and a bunch of unmotivated, disrespectful students. I could not believe this was happening in Thailand. I was already used to the formal, polite (even if sometimes fake) way of Thai students addressing their teachers. No such thing here.
Two weeks later I was handed the contract. What can I say? 26 periods per week, a 5% levy on my 32K salary, no paid holidays for the first three months, gate duty, an obligation to sign a log-book whenever anyone was leaving school (including for a 5 minute trip to the nearby 7/11).
I refused at first to sign the contract, saying that I was not informed about any of this prior to or during the interview that I had passed just two months earlier. At the end of the week, I was told that I would lose my job immediately if I did not sign the contract.
The school refused to change anything (I certainly wanted to be freed from the gate duty at least, but no). I forgot to say I had to pay for my own visa and work permit (I never even put my hands on the latter, the management kept hold of all the work permits).
The situation with the students got worse, not only for me but for all the teachers that had started at the same time as I did (the "old" ones had already given up). No respect, no attempt to study or learn anything, and whenever I was trying to enforce any kind of discipline, the parents complained and I was called to the office.
That's when I started going around the local farang places asking questions and getting some answers. It turned out that the school had had no less than ten foreign teachers hired and then fired within the past 12 months. All the people that had been working there were very bitter about the whole thing.
Most of the complaints were about the inane management and their greediness and lack of manners or empathy towards their "employees" (I would not dare to call ourselves "teachers").
The strategy was to send us an endless number of memos about almost anything that we had to sign just to make sure that we "understood". The main purpose was of course intimidation: "memo: you're still on a probation period, we can let you go within 24 hours" / "memo: you can't leave school without permission or we can let you go within 24 hours", etc. You get the point.
One morning, it was just before 8 o'clock and I was at the gate when the director's personal pet came to me and some other teachers to ask us to sign yet another memo. That time I just drew a sheep and signed my name over it. Other teachers followed. As long as you're treated like a sheep, you might as well sign as one, I thought!
I did not have to wait very long before I was called to the office. There I was asked to give some explanation about the sheep thing. I politely answered that I was not 12 years old and that, as a teacher, I was not intending to be treated like one of the students.
I brought to her attention that I was holding two master's degrees and that I had a significant amount of work experience in respected places and businesses. I got lectured about not obeying the school rules / Thai culture blah blah blah and showed to the door.
Three days later I was sacked (sports days and holidays were coming up, so it was a nice way to save some money, wasn't it?). Another teacher (a Filipina) was sacked the same day, and asked to leave the premises immediately, even though she was not on a probation period anymore. Apparently it was because she had the misfortune to be sick for two days during the month. Sigh... I left without a protest and found a new job within a week, this time in a well-established government school.
Can I say first of all that under no circumstances must individuals or actual school names be mentioned in these accounts. I have also edited the name of the city so there is less chance of any ‘association'.
You're obviously a very intelligent and well-qualified guy. Reading your story I just wonder if having lost your position of prestige in a Bangkok company, you approached teaching English with something of a ‘this is beneath me' mindset. And upon facing all the admin and management problems that many teachers have to deal with on a daily basis, things affected you and annoyed you very quickly. But please forgive me if I have got that assumption totally wrong.
Because you're an intelligent man, I'm sure you must have known that the moment you replied to a memo with the drawing of a sheep, your days were numbered. I've been here over 20 years and I'm yet to meet a Thai that does sarcasm.
I've been in this position myself. I've sent antagonistic e-mails and memos to Thai management when I have felt wronged. It makes you feel good for a fleeting moment. However, there's only ever one outcome and only ever one winner - and it's never the teacher. You're immediately labeled as a ‘troublemaker' and it's a label that you'll never shake off. The only certainty is that the exit door won't be too far away.
If you feel you can't put up with the shit anymore, you should vote with your feet and leave. Don't burn your bridges and make enemies.
It's a great shame that you couldn't get around the restaurants and bars and meet some of these foreign teachers BEFORE you actually started working. It's always a good strategy if you have the time and the savings to fall back on while you are not employed. It would have certainly saved you a lot of stress.
I'm glad to hear you've found a decent teaching gig though. That's the way it often is here - you might have to kiss a few frogs before you find a prince.
June 2012 - Do you have any recourse when you miss the start of term and the agency decides to give your position to the substitute teacher?
I secured a six-month contract with a teacher placement agency and both my contract and visa will expire in September of this year. I informed the agency owner that I would be returning home for 22 days and I would miss the start of the new school term. The school term started on May 24th and the agency owner decided to hire a substitute teacher to cover my classes. However, when I returned to Thailand, the school and agency had decided to keep the cover teacher on because they felt the students would become confused if they had a change of teacher so early in the new school year. I felt that this was just an excuse to get rid of me. I also paid 3,000 baht for a work visa and don't think I will get that back. Does the school or agency have the right to cut a work visa before it expires? What can I do?
There is no such thing as a ‘work visa' in Thailand. Immigration will grant you an ‘extension of stay' on your non-immigrant visa based on possession of a teachers licence and possibly a contract - or retirement or marriage, etc, etc, but you cannot apply for a ‘work visa' - it simply doesn't exist.
Your employer probably charged you 3,000 baht for the process of getting your teachers licence, work permit and visa extension done. Some employers do it for free; others don't. But there's always an awful lot of running around to be done. Once your employer decides your services are not required, they return the work permit to the Thai Labour Department and your extension of stay visa (which is linked to that work permit) becomes null and void. Is this what has happened to you?
I haven't got a great deal of sympathy for this particular ‘teacher nightmare' I'm afraid. Surely no one signs up for a short six-month contract and then has to inform their new employer that they will be disappearing for the best part of a month and actually missing the start of the new term.
What you should have done is told the agency to find a new teacher, taken your 22-day trip - and then looked for a new job when you returned to Thailand. You don't go into the reason for the 22-day trip back home and I appreciate that there are such things as family emergencies, but that's life. You ended up putting your employer in a very awkward position.
This year has been a particularly difficult year for schools and agencies looking to recruit quality teaching staff. There haven't been enough good prospects around. I'm willing to bet that your agency found themselves a reliable, decent teacher to cover your classes and decided to stick with them - not knowing even if you were going to come back at all. The ‘students will become confused if we change teachers' line was in all likelihood a face-saving excuse. And why not indeed
February 2012 - This is a case of a seemingly well-established school cutting corners and trying to 'nickel and dime' its foreign teaching staff.
I have worked in Thailand as both an English teacher and a teacher of specialized academic subjects for almost twenty years. Last week my school tried to get all the teachers to sign new contracts for next year. Nobody signed. In this new contract are steep cuts in medical benefits, an increase in taxes for teachers with work permits, and a cut in our housing stipend of 2,000 baht per month. It all adds up. Note also that our school has been operating on an oral contract for the past six years since I have been with them and signed the original contract. My questions are as follows - are we obligated to sign these contracts even if we don't agree with the terms? And are there any options for us as foreign expats in Thailand to pursue some sort of legal channel? One of the other schools in the group has given teaching staff until the end of the week to sign or else they will lose their jobs. Surely this can't be legal under Thai law?
One of our teaching staff is actually a qualified lawyer with many years of experience. He is telling all the teachers to stand their ground. He believes that if the school want to cancel our contracts, they will have to 'buy us out' so for example if a teacher has been employed at the school for over five years, he or she is entitled to a severance pay totalling at least six months salary. If a teacher has been at the school for three years, they are entitled to three months pay. But understandably a lot of teachers are getting very nervous.
This 'nickel and diming' of teachers (cutting benefits, etc) seems to be becoming a disturbing trend as we approach the time when teachers are looking to sign new contracts. I spoke to one teacher last week whose school has already cut the housing allowance and are also reducing the number of paid sick days. In addition, the school is starting new teachers on a salary that's 5,000 baht lower than the starting salary in previous years. Another teacher said that salaries are being cut at their school from mid-40K to below 40K a month. That's a hell of a drop for someone who has got used to living on a mid-40K income. This teacher also went on to say that in another attempt to claw back money, the teachers have all found their number of teaching hours increased. Firstly, does anyone have any suggestions on how the teacher in the situation above should proceed and does he have any legal recourse? Secondly, are you a teacher falling victim to these cutbacks or is it business as usual? Let us know your thoughts.
For more 'teacher nightmare' stories from 2011, check out our first teacher nightmares page.