Ajarn got an interesting e-mail and question from Brian, a teacher working at a private language school in a suburb of Bangkok. The letter struck a chord because it reminded me of my own private language school days and how sometimes the amount of money you earn depends purely on how popular you are with students. Here is the e-mail.
I taught a student for a two-hour lesson at a language school in Bangkapi. The student was very happy with my lesson and asked if I would continue teaching her for the remainder of her thirty-hour course. I said I would be delighted and we agreed that providing there was a classroom available, I would teach her the following day.
When the lesson was finished the student told the receptionist that she wanted to study with me from that point on. The receptionist didn't envisage a problem and said she would pass the students' request onto the language school manager. Later the same evening, the manager called the student and said that she did not want the student to learn with me, but had arranged for the student to learn with another teacher. Naturally, the student was not happy with this arrangement and asked the manager why I could not teach her. The manager replied, 'You learn with who I choose, not who you want. And I have chosen the other teacher.'
The manager also told the student that she had forgotten to call me and tell me about the class and by then, it was too late. The student called me the next day and asked if I wanted to teach her and said yes. I then asked her what had happened and she told me the story of the previous evenings phone call with the manager. The student had paid 25,000 baht for a thirty hour private course. She has not received any books or paperwork from the school and was charged 800 baht for documentation plus 100 baht for an assessment test, which to the best of my knowledge should be given free.
Hi Brian. Firstly the figures and charges mentioned at the end of your e-mail are pure opinion. I think every language school I ever worked at charged a test fee. That fee was generally waived if the student decided to enrol on a course but I see nothing wrong in a school charging something. A test has to be administered and a vacant classroom or test area has to be provided. And that costs money! 800 baht for what I assume is a registration fee sounds a bit steep but I can certainly imagine higher end private language schools charging something in that ball-park.
However that wasn't the main point of your communication, and yes, I sympathize with the problems you have faced. It's amazing that even in these uncertain times of economic recession, there are school managers who see their role as one big power trip and forget that time-honored adage - the customer is always right. I worked for one such school manager myself some years ago and one day, after one argument too many, I told her straight - "you're a person who would rather be right than rich". And the penny finally dropped.
The manager at your school is on a power trip. That's what this is all about.
Back to your main question though - do students at private language centres have the right to choose who teaches them?" My answer - of course they do. Private language schools are a business. The students keep the money rolling in. The last thing a school wants is a teacher who is so unpopular that no one wants to study with them. What are the students going to do? I'll tell you. They vote with their feet and go elsewhere.
There's no doubt about it. A popular teacher is always good for business!
I worked at several schools where the admin staff would sometimes hand out questionnaires to paying students and have them score each teacher for personality, effectiveness, appearance, etc. Fortunately I used to score well in these surveys but I still enjoyed a moan about what I felt was the unfairness of the system. It's only years later the reality has dawned on me - why shouldn't schools survey students and find out which of the teachers are cutting the mustard. Which of their teachers are keeping those re-enrolments going? Which teachers are bringing in the cash? It's all a business at the end of the day.
And you usually find that the teachers who complain the longest and the loudest about 'popularity surveys' are those that the students dislike anyway.