An unwanted duty
Is this Thai tradition pain or pleasure?
In many schools in Thailand, Thai teachers, as well as foreign teachers, take turns in standing at the school gate to greet parents and students. Two or more teachers are assigned, depending on the size of the school, to do this each day. Many Thai teachers do gate duty religiously, but others don’t. On the other hand most foreign teachers never skip their obligation. They stand at the gate before seven o’clock in the morning and finish at 8:00 o ‘clock, usually when the flag ceremony begins. Thai teachers greet parents and students in Thai but foreign teachers usually initiate greetings in English.
When I was first assigned to do gate duty five years ago, I was hesitant to do it because I was made to do it one hour every morning for five days a week. You see, in our country, we never do this. Greeting students and parents is done naturally. When students see their teachers, they greet them and vice versa.
Having no choice but to comply with the policies of the school I was assigned to, I soon realized that gate duty had its advantages. I learned the benefits of doing it. Firstly, gate duty gave my students more opportunity to practice lessons learned on personal information and greetings, which they had not yet fully mastered. For example, when some students were asked, “How old are you?” They answered confidently, “I am fine, thank you.” Or before you had finished your greeting, “Good morning,” they had already said, “My name is…”
It was also an opportunity to meet parents who brought their children to school and make them aware of what their children were being taught. Gate duty also helped me remember students’ names and know them better outside the classroom. Of course, it gave me the chance to interact with Thai teachers and learn their language.
One Englishman teaching in an international school in Udon Thani loves doing gate duty. Foreign teachers in his school (five of them in total) are not required to greet students at the school gate but he does it once in a while simply to meet the parents and get to know the students better.
When I taught in an international school in Chiangmai, gate duty was a compulsory requirement. I would help little kids with their bags and even check their temperatures. There were three foreign teachers in that school. Two were native speakers and I was the lone Filipino. I also noticed that I was the only foreign teacher doing gate duty regularly. The two native speakers would only appear during the flag ceremony. So after a month, I stopped attending. As far as I remember, no one questioned my absence - not even the school director.
At my present school, gate duty is not a problem anymore. I’m only required to stand at the gate for ten minutes. To compare notes on this topic with my friends from the Nonthaburi English Teachers Project, very few said they never did gate duty. Only Thai teachers did this. Their directors never demanded it. For many teachers, they said they only did it once a week.
I have learned from experience that no matter how long or short my gate duty is, I consider it the best time to learn Thai with the Thai teachers, make new acquaintances with parents and learn about my students. And of course by doing this, I am also giving my students more opportunity to practice English with me.
So, have you finally dismissed the idea that gate duty ia useless and unwanted task while teaching English here in Thailand?
For more reading and opinions on Thai gate duty, there is this ajarn.com article from 2010.