An ajarn’s trauma
The dangers of road-crossing duty
While working as an EFL teacher at a government school in Thailand, one Filipino experienced an unforgettable and dreadful experience. He said the negative attitude of Thai students towards learning English, heavy teaching loads every week, unusual classes with several ADHD cases, gate duties, faculty meetings to attend even when he couldn't understand a thing - these were all things he could bear. What he could not stomach was the task of ushering students across the street like some sort of traffic enforcer.
This Filipino had taught in his school for nearly two years when he was given the duty of helping students across the street. However, it was not his duty at all on the day the trauma occurred. A Thai teacher had begged a favor from him and to show co-operation to a colleague, the Filipino agreed to the favor hesitation - except that it turned out to be his unlucky day.
One afternoon at the end of the schoolday, nine students, aged between 5 and 12 (who all lived approximately a hundred meters from the school) walked home with the teacher. Upon seeing the right side of the road free of oncoming vehicles, the teacher motioned for the students to walk and stand in the middle of the road, as they usually did. But when the teacher looked up the left side of the road, a speeding pick-up truck was approaching. The teacher waved the red flag he was holding in order to signal the pick-up to stop. The driver of the vehicle took no notice. One of the students had already begun to cross the street. In a flash, there was a screech of brakes and the poor boy was suddenly lying in the road
The teacher rushed to his student and carried him to the pick-up. He ordered the driver to take the boy to the nearest hospital. The boy looked dead. Blood flowed from his nose and from cuts to his head. He was motionless and not breathing. The confused teacher shook the boy several times but the boy wouldn't come round. He thought the student was dead. A lot of negative thoughts came into his head. He couldn't stand the thought of taking the blame off everyone, the repercussions of the incident, and worst of all - the loss of his student and his job. He genuinely thought it was the end of his career as a teacher in Thailand. Once again, for his own curiosity, he checked the boy's heartbeat. He wasn't convinced. This time, he held the boy's pulse. The boy began to respond.
At the hospital the boy was examined and doctors diagnosed a head fracture and internal hemorrhage. He was observed for several hours and given medication. The next morning, the doctor announced that the boy was out of danger. Luckily, no one blamed the teacher for what happened. Only the guilt of having been unable to prevent the accident kept haunting him. The owner of the pickup shouldered the bills and paid the boy's family 40,000 baht in damages.
For days after the incident, the teacher asked if he could be relieved from doing road-crossing duties. He had clearly been traumatized by the incident. He asked the director if it would be possible to have a policeman help the schoolchildren cross the street instead. His suggestion and request were considered but things didn't happen quite as the teacher expected. Improvements to the system were made but only inasmuch as another Thai teacher would assist him and at the side of the road, a sign would be put up saying in Thai - "School zone. Slow down. Children crossing."
Crossing the street in Thailand is so risky. Two years ago, I was nearly run over by a car when I was crossing a road in Laksi. Although most drivers here will slow down, stop, and signal for the pedestrian to cross the road; there are others who seem to consider themselves "the king of the road."
So far in Thailand, I have known only two Filipino victims of hit and run accidents. There might be more but one issue is why foreign teachers can't be exempted from ushering students in crossing streets. Their work is to teach English. They never had training in traffic management. They don't have sufficient Thai to control students outside school especially when the life of students are at stake.
Certain considerations have to be accorded to foreign teachers. Instead of making them traffic enforcers, canteen sellers or ground cleaners, the director could assign them after school activities that can enhance students' proficiency in English. Do you agree with me?
I just hope that an incident of this nature does not happen again and that our treasured, highly-respected and valued EFL teachers will consider their coming to Thailand a blessing and not a curse.