Where do you stand on gate duty?

Do you approach those extra responsiblities with commendable gusto?

One thing that splits many a foreign teachers' room right down the middle is the topic of gate duty.

On one side, there are those who say it's degrading and merely an opportunity for a school to show off its foreign teachers to the fee-paying parents. And then there are those teachers who accept gate duty as part of their teaching responsibilities.

For those readers who have spent their teaching career cooped up in private language schools and don't have a clue what I'm talking about, gate duty is when a foreign teacher, at say a government or Thai secondary school, is told to stand in front of the school building - usually in the morning or at the end of the school day - and look like an asset to the institution.

However, the actual reasons for standing outside and putting on your best smile in ninety degrees heat, does seem to vary from school to school.

Let's call them reasons

Some employers see it as a health and safety issue. When little Somchai arrives at morning class on his skateboard and goes hurtling through the computer room window, at least there will be someone there to sweep up the broken glass with a brush and pan.

Some schools see it as a chance for parents to chat with the foreign teachers face to face and find out how their little treasures are performing in class. Although Thai parents are usually in a rush to drop off their kids and get to work on time, many welcome the opportunity for some quick words of reassurance from the friendly ‘ajarn farang' - even at such an ungodly hour for academic chit-chat.

Gate duty is not every teacher's box of board markers. Much depends on a teacher's personality and character.

Bah humbug!

Those teachers who feel they are employed to teach English and teach English only, are usually the ones to be found skulking in the shade of the security guard's hut, gripping a ciggy between nicotine-stained thumb and forefinger - or heaven forbid, behind the tool shed enjoying a clandestine swig from the hip-flask.

But for every sourpuss standing there with a face like thunder and muttering something about ‘bloody performing monkeys' there are dedicated chalkies who take to gate duty like frogs to a lily pond. Some are just born for the role of mom, nurse and guardian angel all rolled into one.

 

 

Remember the dinner lady?

The concept of having a grown-up person around to supervise an environment where accidents are waiting to happen is not unique to Thailand. I remember back to my primary school days in the UK. Morning and afternoon breaks were always supervised by teachers who would stroll up and down the playground, sipping a mug of coffee, while telling students to ‘stop running' and confiscating anything illegal.

In those days it was usually tennis balls and marbles that were confiscated you understand - not knives, guns and knuckle-dusters.

Dinner hours, when kids were let out for a longer period of time, were supervised by ‘dinner ladies'. These were plump, ruddy-faced, middle-aged women who worked in the school canteen (I can't bring myself to call them cooks) and part of their job description - when they weren't scooping unappetizing dollops of baked beans and mash on to metal plates - was to patrol the school playground and keep the kids in check.

A dinner lady's meaty arms were often a safe haven for those kids who didn't fit in with the rest of their school year. Perhaps a kid who wore glasses or played the violin, anything that made him a social outcast.

Rather in the way a petty criminal would be safe from arrest if he hung onto the knocker of a church door in medieval times, a violin playing eight-year old with freckles would be safe from the school bullies if he clung to a dinner lady's ample bosom. He might have got tormented and threatened from a distance but for that one hour a day he was perfectly safe.

Divided opinion

Where was I? Oh yes. Thailand. When we brought up the topic of gate duty on a teacher discussion forum, it got something of a mixed reaction. One teacher admitted it wasn't the greatest part of his working day, but he could put up with doing it twice a month. And that's all the foreign teachers at his school were asked to do.

Some teachers are not quite so lucky. For some, gate duty is a weekly chore and some foreign ajarns are out there every single day come rain, come shine, but they accept the responsibility as part and parcel of being a teacher in Thailand.

One thing's for certain - if you relish your role as the foreign ‘face at the gate', the kids will love you for it, the parents will love you for it, and the school director will know he's got the best man for the job.

Being asked to perform non-teaching tasks ‘outside' the classroom doesn't begin and end with gate duty though.

Foreign teachers are usually viewed as fair game when it comes to that time-honored tradition of ‘dressing up' and making a complete tit of yourself.

When the festive season comes around and the school needs a Father Christmas, guess who's going to get volunteered? The old Thai teacher with the long white beard, the booming voice and the beer gut? Or the rail-thin foreigner who has to run around in the shower to get wet?

You'd better grab hold of Rudolph and pick up that big sack of prezzies sunshine because this is your moment. And if someone's beaten you to the job, don't worry. The school still needs a samba-dancing king prawn at the next parents evening.

 


Comments

As a soon-to-be ESL teacher, I think I've read enough about "gate duty". I am Asian (not Thai, though) so I don't think I'd be much of an "asset" to the school when it comes to my looks. But I'd still be doing gate duties (once a month, at least that's what they said). I guess, it's part of one's job being a member of the faculty. I remember seeing my teachers then, take turns in gate duties so now it's my turn.

By Leila, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Gate duty which I've done at a small bilingual schools is understandable as you will have some contact with the parents. But gate duty at large government schools which I've also done is total nonsense as you never greet any parents and somehow your suppose to personally greet thousands of students, it's just a waste of time.

By Thomas, Thailand (1 year ago)

gate duty is an excellent opportunity to meet parents and establish a positive relationship with the Thai staff. the Thai teachers have to do it anyway, and if they see you skipping out that quickly leads to resentment...and if your serious about your job then you should really be doing anything possible to maintain a solid working relationship with those around you. Meeting parents can be a big deal as well, as when it comes times to have a tough conversation with a student about progress, it's much easier when you know the parent and they trust you. Youre also much more likely to get the support of the Thai staff when it's needed, and you never know when you'll need it.

By T, Canada (1 year ago)

@Jack, I find it somewhat amusing that you don't need to stand at the gate, but you have weighed in mightily on how doing so may give a teacher both a happier life and a more upwardly-mobile career path. I don't see any benefits to the students whether I'm at the gate or not. If a student enters with an unkempt uniform, the thai teacher can punish that student but not me. As a foreign teacher, I am NOT to punish students, so to say that thai and foreign teachers serve a similar purpose at the gate is far from the truth. Foreign teachers are window dressing at the front of the school, and as such, I think it would be better to have plastic mannequins with white skin at the gate rather than real, perspiring farangs. The thai police use plastic mannequins at some traffic intersections, so why not schools?

By Guy, Bkk (1 year ago)

I think there are two questions here.

The first one is SHOULD teachers perform gate guard duty. I will not give an opinion as this question is very subjective in nature and would appear the answer can be influenced by many contextual factors (size of the school, organizational culture, experience and level of responsibility of the individual teacher, etc.…).

The second question is whether refusing to do gate duty, which can be perceived as being confrontational, contrary, disrespectful of the school’s management, insensitive to local culture and indifferent to the success of the school or organization, will be helpful in achieving your individual career goals or make your life happier.

I have a pretty strong opinion on this second question.

I am not sure holding onto the 1950s union attitude of the “management” as the enemy helps to become successful in the ESL or any other industry.

Ironically, while typing this I am overhearing a conversation by an employee who always refuses to engage in any “extra” activities complain about his low performance evaluation. There is a correlation between his refusal to do extra work and his poor performance appraisal, but of course it could just be a coincidence and the two activities are unrelated, or maybe the two could be related.

Oh well, we all have to make our own choices and live with the choices we make. If you think refusing to stand gate guard duty when it is expected will help you live a happier and more successful life, by all means refuse. If you think gate guard duty is a slight inconvenience but will help you achieve bigger and more important goals, go ahead and do it.

In my experience, the angriest and most insistent individuals who claim the decisions they made were absolutely right and everyone who disagrees with their attitudes is wrong, are likely the individuals the least satisfied with the results of their previously made choices.

Since I am not expected to stand gate guard duty, I don't have to make the choice.

My last word on the topic.

By Jack, Not on gate guard duty (1 year ago)

"Teachers are supposed to be teaching and not acting as guards..."

Really? Well well... teachers all over the world would love for that to happen.

But the reality is that teachers everywhere are more than simply classroom bots.
They are required (and they volunteer to) perform a lot of functions outside the classroom.

Not so much in Thailand where the odd 'gate duty' is about all that is required from the resentful and needy farangs... but real educators know that in the Western world the job can consume you. Many people are dropping out because of this.

For those of you who think that the gate duty is beneath you... Judging from the comments from some of the unhappy and lost people here, I can assure you that it certainly is not!

By Mark Newman, Thailand (1 year ago)

I don't think standing at the gate can do any good at all. Teachers are supposed to be teaching and not acting as guards. When young Somchai comes in with his skates and accidentally bumps his head, then so be it. He needs to learn his lesson that he needs to be extra careful since he can get an accident anytime. Having a chat with parents? I don't think so. As we all know that almost all of us can't even say negative comments about little Somchai, so what is there to be talked about anyway? The real thing is showing off that white skin like saying "hey! Your little Somchai is with us and he can speak English because he is surrounded by farangs" as if learning English is a contagious kind of disease that can be transferred once surrounded by English speakers. Let us accept it. Education is pure business for some schools in Thailand. If you want money, then just go with the flow.

By ConcernedAjarn, UK (1 year ago)

@Jack. I don't despise living here, nor the culture. I love it. But anyone ( perhaps one of your 'middle-aged TEFL Lifers', as you call them ) who wants to stand at a school gate, just for show, is setting themselves up as a bit of a mug, don't you think? I have the good sense not to do it and enjoy working in a much better teaching environment than that, thank you very much. I agree with Guy. My time is valuable. I use it in the most productive way.

By George, Bangkok (1 year ago)

@Jack,
Doing what you're told to do is not the hallmark of a good teacher. If an activity has little or no benefit to my students and is low-status (at my school, gate duty is very low status), I won't do it. There are times when it is professional to say, 'no,' but you wouldn't know that because you are management and not a rank-and-file teacher.

By Guy, Bkk (1 year ago)

Guy and George

“pale-faced mannequin”

“white monkeys”

It must be horrible to work in an industry you perceive discriminates against you because of your race and in a culture you despise.

Why do you continue?

By Jack, In a chair at home (1 year ago)

To those of you who think that this is just a Thai school thing - I teach at an international school and have to do SIX (!!) duties a week, which basically involve supervising a particular area of the school either before class, during lunch, or after school.

There is a good argument to be made for having a teacher on supervision. It can help reduce bullying and conflicts between students. And if someone falls out of a swing and breaks their leg or a fight breaks out, its good to have an adult nearby who can deal with the situation.

That said, the students I teach don't really fight... or overtly bully each other ... so duties are boring as duck.

By Danny, BKK (1 year ago)

If you think being a security guard or pale-faced mannequin is what makes you a good teacher, then stand at the gate. In fact, you can take my shift, too, because I just say 'no' to activities that do not benefit my students or me. I have never lost a job for declining gate duty, and I do find better things to do at the beginning of the day other than sweating up my work clothes.

By Guy, Bkk (1 year ago)

I would never do "gate duty", simple as that. Try working at an international school instead where teachers are treated properly, not like white monkeys in a performing circus!!!

By George, Bangkok (1 year ago)

The vast majority of jobs, since the decline of the labor unions in the 1950s, require some extra duties beyond the narrow confines of your primary job description. Being a teacher asked to do gate duty is no different.

While I suspect each situation is a bit different, if you plan to stay at the job for any considerable length of time and want to get along with your co-workers, put up with the extra hour or so a week.

If you feel you really need to “stand up for your rights” and are willing to accept the increased probability of losing the job and alienate your co-workers than go ahead and refuse.

I suspect some of the posters here claiming they refuse to do gate duty or other non-teaching activities are the same ones complaining about being unfairly fired or otherwise being treated unfairly.

When you are hired, it is likely you will be told whether gate duty is expected. If it is extremely important to not do gate duty, only apply for jobs where it is not required, such as language schools, universities or tutoring centers.

I only had to do gate duty at one school many years ago early in my career, I didn’t enjoy it but in the end it wasn’t an issue I chose to make a stand over.

But gate duty can easily be added to the long list of complaints the middle aged grumpy TEFL lifers use to justify their misery and hatred for the people of the country they chose to live and work in.

By Jack, In front of my computer (1 year ago)

Gate duty is a very low status job at my school. You only see student teachers out there and any farangs stupid enough to think they are racking up brownie points by standing like a statue. When a student's socks aren't pulled up properly, the thai teacher will reprimand the student and make the student do jumping jacks as punishment. I've been asked to do gate duty, but I don't go. In fact, after 10+ years of teaching in Thailand and being asked to do gate duty, I've never gone. If you think you are 'representing' your school or impressing parents, you need to have your head examined.

By Guy, Bkk (1 year ago)

Where you stand on guard duty is all about where you stand as a teacher working in Thailand.

If you can't accept that this is one of the duties that you may have to do then you shouldn't be teaching in a Thai school. The other teachers do these things so why shouldn't you?

Put it this way... If a Thai teacher came to work at a school in your home country and was excused duties simply because he was a foreign national, how would you react? Exactly!

Please don't give us the argument that you are providing a valuable service because any damn fool can do what you do. In fact there are tens of thousands of damn fools doing it right now!

If you don't see these 'out of class' duties as a part of your 'job' then go home. You aren't really doing anything of value here and you're just annoying everyone you work with.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (1 year ago)

No problem, I have done it but now I make sure a i make a point of not showing up.

My reasoning is this.

The Thai assistants and classroom teachers are having to do so much extra work that does not in anyway improve the students abilities. So many really good Thais have left the system due to the "look we look great instead of being great" syndrome that current Thai culture has become.

The kids need to take responsibility for themselves. It always seems to be the teachers at fault when in fact it is a culture of brushing aside the truth.

I do not expect to change Thai culture but i will defend fellow staff that really want to help the kids but spend all their time cleaning floors and putting pretty pictures up everywhere. They are over worked and the students are becoming more reliant on them. The students should be gaining their own skills. We are not the nanny

I am the first to volunteer to fill in classes for sick teachers and extra curriculum activities but hiding the truth through a smile and a laugh. sorry i cannot do it.

By t mark, chantaburi (1 year ago)

Whatever the reason for it. It is almost certain that gate duty or morning ceremonies made clear to you when you signed.

When I had gate duty, it was shared equally by Thai teachers. I saw it as oppty to meet Thai teachers.

If you can't handle the heat truly find another country.

The people that can't be bothered with this are same that can't be bothered with anything. They rationalize it by saying the pay is shit, etc...

Just more low quality miscreants in Thailand shirking as usual. Honor your word or move on. Passive aggressive bs is for neurotic women and the 'fabulous'. Man up sister sweaty pants.

Lose weight, cut your drinking and get to bed at a decent hour ffs.

By Luu Mak, Bangkok (1 year ago)

temperatures in the 30's, longsleeve shirt, tight tie, paper thin soles on shoes, bad hangover, wai-ing corrupt morons and their inbred spawn. ah, i remember it vaguely nowadays. I lasted 2 months before i took a job at an international school and did a runner. i look at the webpage of the school sometimes and i see the same faces that were there 10 years ago. probably still earning around 30k/mn. jeez, what a hell hole. The only reason people stay in such places is because they have nowhere else to go. so they are happy to do the performing monkey routine and so the parents think their little darlings are getting some good ol' quality ed. ha!

By bradley j, sure as hell not thailand (7 years ago)

I have fond memories of gate duty. Gate duty for me, and this is going back to about 1999 / 2000, was a great opportunity to speak with students and Thai colleagues. I was never made to feel like an object or on display - on the contrary, it made me feel like a normal part of school life - less conscious of being the farang. Of course, I always appreciated being back in the aircon again too afterwards.

By David Fahey, UK (7 years ago)

now let's look at the real issue of 'gate duty'.. It's to show off the white boy.. It is not a safety issue, and if i was a safety issue, they would hire a crossing guard like more intelligent schools in the west do... I did work in the land of smiles, and when the issue of gate duty came across, I was busy preping my daily work load.. It worked ... I for one, had no intent of meeting the parents etc.. If they want to visit my class, PLEASE maybe it will help the lazy kids work in class... LOL

By Kanadian, Jiangxi, Nanchang China (7 years ago)

Only one school I taught at asked us to do 'gate duty'. In our case though, we had an assigned post or area to stand at. I never drew the 'gate lot'. I didn't object because all the Thai teaching staff did it without question, so I just came to terms with it as part of the job.
We did it weekly, and had the same post for one semester. Mostly, I viewed it as the safety aspect mentioned in the article, but the farce of it for me was that the kids never took any notice of me talking in English, and I didn't have enough Thai at the time to bring them to order in their native tongue. The school introduced a 'Speak English only once you walk through the school gate' policy, which made the policing totally pointless as far as I could see. I think my Thai colleagues were happier though.

By Trevor, Pathumthani (7 years ago)

I have taught in Thailand and performed gate duty. Although I would have rather gone in later, it was part of the contract. I would have rather done gate duty than be in front of assembly trying to get the kids to behave and do some exercises. If I had to be doing some duty I enjoyed gate duty. Yes, believe it or don't. It gave me a chance to meet the kids, their parents or Isan nannies and find out a little bit about my kids. When I told that to the head teacher he didn't believe me. I worked with teachers who thought it was beneath them or felt that we were just on display. All this may be true but again it was part of the contract and not something that was thrust on us as a surprise. A lot of parents were truly grateful that they could leave and be sure their kids were safe and pointed in the right direction. It sounds corny but the smiles I got from the kids and their parents really gave my day a good start.

By Robert, stuck back in Canada (7 years ago)

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