So, working a number of years at my school via a teaching agency. I'm quite happy at the school as the staff and students are great, it's a nice working environment, and I don't have to endure any of the usual laments, thankfully.
To put it simply I have found myself in a great job, at a great school with plenty of perks to boot and I'd be happy to stay there for a few more years (I'm working towards obtaining a Thai teaching license at the moment and that goal is not too far off either).
What's the problem then you may ask? In a nutshell - the agency. The school are quite professional and organised therefore any issues with the agency frustrates and unsettles them. As we all know, agency agenda is financial gain only, most if not all other things are second to that.
In fairness they have a lot of idiots that consider themselves teacher-worthy to deal with and I'm sure they have their own variation of nonsense to endure, but that doesn't make life any easier for the minority of us long-termers that are professional in approach, do a good job, and fulfil what the school requires of us. We're all just thrown in together and basically treated as disposable accessories. The effort of the collective always overshadows the individual, and if the majority are underperforming all suffer any negative impact.
The welfare of someone thousands of miles from home, with limited financial assets, an extremely weak local network (the ESL brotherhood is often one of cold, self-serving, and tenuous ties...), and almost zero legal rights appears to be non-existent. Our lot in life is that of a Maccy D's ketchup sachet at 2am on a bank holiday weekend.
Things will get worse
Recently, there's been a high-turnover of staff at my school due to people leaving and all of the replacements have been sub-standard to date and barely lasted a wet week. It seems like the agency is either throwing the first person that comes to hand at the position, or there just aren't any eligible 'teachers' floating around at the moment, it may even be a bit of both. To add to this, rumours abound of a number of other long-term staff moving on at end of contract too which will further aggravate instability and uncertainty. It seems that things are only going to get worse and not better...
Now for the crux of the issue: From what I've been told, if the school decides not to re-sign for the ensuing academic year (which they had previously intended to do and assured us of this) the agency has embedded in their contract (with the school) that their staff cannot work directly for that school in particular until after a number of years have passed from date of cessation of said contract.
Is it legally possible for them to stipulate this or just hot air on their part? Surely if teaching staff, agency, and school see out their respective contracts to completion they are then free agents to do as they please, no? How can a contract, once completed in full, dictate what any party can legally do after the contract period has expired? Seems a bit ridiculous in my opinion.
The school have stated that they intend on continuing with the current setup and relationship for the next couple of years but what troubles me is that I can foresee a possible situation arising where the school may become so annoyed with the agency that they call it a day at the end of this contract term, thus leaving me in quite a pickle.
What's even more annoying is knowing that the school would then replace the current agency with a new one in a cycle that serves only to perpetuate the same problems as opposed to solving them. As we all know, agencies are not privy to elite teacher gene-pools, rather it's a case of luck and lottery: who they hire depends on who applies, and most that apply are thinking of sun, fun, frolics, and travel first over pedagogical dedication and professionalism.
In the defence of the school however, I understand their predicament: the location is off the beaten track to an extent, which pushes the school to rely on external recruiters to fill vacancies.
I'm happy in my area, my partner works here, and my life is here too, and I had planned on being here for another couple of years. In the not-too-distant future I'll have completed my M.Ed and will eventually hold a 5-year Thai teaching license too. At this point returning to the norm of agency 6-month-frog-hopping-contracts in backwater government schools would be a complete regression. The school have also mentioned that they would be interested in (legally) hiring teachers directly as an option in the future (a genuine interest btw, not the usual BS hyperbolic yarns that are spun around these parts).
In truth, I have had a good relationship with my agency throughout my tenure with them and have never had any problems or caused them any either. I'm not sure if that would be enough for them to grant clemency and set me free from any contractual small print however...
What are your thoughts on this?
What would you do in my situation? (While there are other job options in my area there aren't enough to rely on a definite opening being there if push comes to shove in the future).
I don't fancy the idea of having to move away from my fiancé either as this is a further step backwards. I also refuse to ask her to sacrifice her job stability and follow me on an agency 'wild goose chase' job-posting to god know's where.
Do you think its worth talking to the agency in advance to discuss hypothetical scenarios, get a feel for potential outcomes and try and reason with them perhaps? (By this I mean investigating a possible release to work direct if there was no re-signing of contract between the agency and school).
Or is this just a kamikaze endeavour and giving them more time and rope to hang me with before any event possibly arises?
In reality, if such a fate transpires I would have to move on from the agency anyway and attempt to find employment in or near my current location. Either way they would be down a teacher, but would that prompt them to see reason and entertain an amicable parting of ways to allow me to 'go solo' with my school? That's the million dollar question.
Marrying my partner is also a plan for the near future and adds to the issue at hand. Allowing myself to be relocated in the next agency job-opening lottery is not an option. Yes, I'm aware that moving on from agency work is a prerequisite to ESL career maturity (if such a thing exists...) but I was hoping my current post would be my last before I attempt to move up the scale to the next level. I have a substantial thesis workload to juggle too, hence my desire for stability for the next while.
All advice and opinions would be greatly appreciated. Final question: will Thailand ever afford us ESL teachers the dignity of a slither of stability and modicum of respect at some point...?! The musical chairs and snakes n' ladders rigmarole is getting tiresome...