Younger teachers vs older teachers. Which teacher group do Thai schools really prefer to hire and for what reasons? It's the argument that refuses to go away. In this light-hearted ajarn article, older teachers and their young counterparts square up to each other over 11 rounds. Seconds out! Round one. Ding ding! By the way, I am now in my mid-fifties, so I know which camp I belong to.
If there's a 9 ‘o'clock Sunday conversation class that needs teaching and you're the man in the academic director's chair, then it's the older teacher you'll probably turn to first.
The older teacher might will probably moan and tell you about the fifty better things he's got to do on a Sunday morning, but cometh the hour, he'll amble into the reception five minutes before the lesson is about to start and save the day.
Younger teachers tend to have too many plans. "I can't do next Saturday I'm sorry. My partner and I are going mountain-climbing with Thai friends. The weekend after that we are going on a two-day scuba-diving course"
What would really solve your scheduling nightmares would be if this teacher got eaten by a shark. But why shouldn't they be out and about doing fun activities? You're only young once.
I once worked with a young female teacher who was forever doing things with elephants. "Sorry Phil, I can't teach my class on Saturday because a group of us are going into the forest to take elephant photographs. Then we'll be giving them a bath. Come to think of it, I probably won't be back for my Monday class either because the head of the elephant village wants us to stay on for a meal and a game of cards"
The teacher and her elephant diversions became a pain in the arse. I'm all for animal conservation but why couldn't she just throw a couple of chicken legs to the pack of dogs at the end of her soi like the rest of us do?
Result - Yes, get in there! The older teachers race into a one-nil lead.
This is a very difficult one to call. In one corner you have the younger teachers, fresh off their TEFL courses and their brains positively exploding with new ideas. But come on! - how long is it going to be before the class gets bored of throwing a ball around or racing each other to the whiteboard?
No, I'm sorry - nothing whatsoever beats experience. The older teacher has a plan B when no student in the class has done their homework. The older teacher has a back-up plan when the DVD player has decided not to work. Simply put, the older teacher has been in these situations time and time again, and age has brought with it the gift of wisdom.
And as the TV monitor emits a terrifying death rattle and the young teacher beats a path to the reception to ask why the hell nothing in this school ever works, the older teacher dips into his bag of tricks and pulls an hour's lesson out of his ass.
Result - two-nil to the golden oldies!
Teacher development / staff meetings
Familiarity breeds contempt. It's an old adage that's probably going to drag the older teachers down in this keenly fought contest.
While younger teachers will want to do everything they can to please their employer, the older teachers have had enough. They have seen far too much of their precious drinking time eaten away over the years by pointless meetings and dull workshops.
The memo says "Teachers meeting on Friday at 4.00pm. All welcome. Drinks and food will be provided"
If that's supposed to do the trick; it doesn't.
Older teachers have had their fill of white-bread sandwiches, plates stacked with cut water-melon and glasses of red Fanta. And the last thing an older teacher wants to do is sit in on a workshop and be told how to improve his teaching by someone barely old enough to shave.
Result - the youngsters hit back and win their first round - just by turning up. But it's still 2-1 to the older teachers.
One of the main questions that younger teachers seem to ask on teacher discussion forums is ‘how much money do I need to bring with me when I arrive in Thailand?' This probably translates as ‘I've saved up enough money for my first evening meal and a bus fare from the airport but I'll be OK provided I find a job within 24 hours'
The older teachers haven't spent a lifetime scrimping and saving for nothing. They're probably sitting on a nice little pension plan back in the old country. Some might even have a tidy little property in the back streets of Rotherham that they're renting out to students sleeping twelve to a room.
The older teacher's kids have gone through college, the ex-wife has been paid off. Life is good. Who cares if teacher salaries in Thailand haven't gone up for twenty years when you've already feathered your nest?
I know what the young teachers are all saying - "oh, but we are in the prime of our lives. We can go back to our own country any time and pull in megabucks working in something like the IT industry"
Well here's the news. Firstly, the computer jobs have all gone to 16-year old whizz-kids and secondly, I'm not sure you've even got a country to go back to.
You should have listened to your Dad when he told you it's never too early to start a pension plan. Dads always know best!
Result - OK, there are people of all age groups who are hopeless at handling money, but I make the rules and I'm still giving this round to the older teachers. 3-1.
Dress sense / general attractiveness
I can sense that the younger teachers have filed this round under 'foregone conclusion' but whoa!, hold on a second. Let's not be too hasty.
Younger teachers are undoubtedly more stylish, more fashionable, more ‘with it' (to use one of my mom's favorite expressions) but that doesn't mean older teachers have all let themselves go and no longer care about shirt / tie combinations and matching socks. I've seen many an older teacher who can still cut the mustard in the classroom fashion stakes. At least they know how to tie a Windsor knot!
However, the older you get, the harder you have to try - and the more thought you have to put into what clothes look better on the more mature teacher. The mirror never lies. You won't carry off those slim leg trousers like a younger teacher will. And you can pat that wobbly belly and tell me it's all paid for as many times as you like, that torso-hugging white shirt looks far better when it's stretched across a six-pack.
But let's cut to the chase because the reality is that in Thailand, image is everything. Ask a hundred school directors if they would like their new teacher to look young or ‘old' and find out for yourself.
Result - Begrudgingly, I'm going to give this round to the younger teachers. There are plenty of badly-dressed teachers in both groups - but the young teacher group just seems to have fewer of them. It's still 3-2 to the golden oldies.
All teachers - young and older - know that dating students is a no-no. But it's much harder to say no-no for the younger teachers, who can find themselves in a country where almost everyone seems to fancy them for their movie star looks.
The older teacher knows exactly where the lines are drawn. They may have dabbled and spread the love around in their younger teaching days (not with students I might add) but now they have a loyal Thai wife or partner waiting for them at home and their wild days are well and truly behind them.
And even if they happen to be in a relationship where the passion has gone missing, the older teacher knows exactly where his needs can be catered for if he fancies some Friday night 'how's your father'. Just don't expect him to tell you where.
The younger teacher can have a difficult time dealing with all this new-found adulation. After years on his native soil, trawling the pubs and clubs of some grey northern city and more often than not, heading home alone, he's suddenly spoiled for choice.
Employers know the risks involved when they hire a good-looking young teacher and the students are of what you might call 'an impressionable age'. You can put as many warnings in the teacher contract as you like; common sense and responsibility don't always go hand in hand.
Result - It's another round to the golden oldies. 4-2 in favor of age and wisdom.
General moaning and groaning
"The new textbooks haven't arrived yet"
"The photocopier is on the blink. The repairman should be here tomorrow"
"Sorry but salaries will be paid late this month"
At any school, the list of administrative cock-ups and excuses just goes on and on. Who handles these annoying issues better - the younger teacher or the older teacher?
Who will just shrug their shoulders, say ‘mai pen rai" and when none of the Thai staff are looking, take out their frustration on the teachers room lockers?
Result - I've seen too many teachers of all ages throw hissy fits when things don't quite go as planned. It's too close to call so it's honors even. Older teachers still 4-2 up.
Which teacher is going to give a school years of loyal service and become almost part of the furniture? Surely this round has to go to the older teachers.
It's harder for older teachers to chop and change and move schools simply because their options will most certainly decrease as the years advance.
I think human nature dictates that the older you get, the more set in your ways you become and change is not something you embrace as much as when you were younger and more carefree. If the older teacher has put down roots and now has a wife and kids depending on him, then the last thing he wants is to be out of work.
Younger teachers generally have fewer ties. If they get a job offer at a school that's closer to a decent beach, then they can sling their backpack and worldly possessions into the back of a taxi and they're gone in a cloud of exhaust fumes. If the new school is paying a better salary - bingo!
Result - It's 5-2 to the golden oldies. Surely there's no way back for the young guns now.
Ability to change
It's always one of the less desirable aspects of an academic director's job - that moment when you have to drag some polite old boy into the office for a private chat. Anyone who has been an AD will know where I'm coming from.
"John, I observed your lesson today. The students just didn't get a chance to speak. All I heard was your voice for a full on 90 minutes. I don't know about the students but even I was nodding off"
Don't get me wrong. You end up having chats like this with plenty of young teachers as well. Most teachers need a little guidance from time to time but the important question is ‘who is willing to change?'
Result - Oh, this is such a tough one to call. Some teachers will strive to change; others will thank you for your feedback, mumble "who the f*** does he think he is" the moment they get outside and immediately go back into lecture mode. I'm giving this round to the younger teachers - but only just. Older teachers 5 young teachers 3.
Ability to get along with the Thai staff.
Here we go again - familiarity breeds contempt.
The older teacher has had the Thai staff forget to pass on important messages just once too often. The older teacher has had staff forget to tell him about last-minute student cancellations more times than he cares to remember. The older teacher has spent years in Thailand putting up with these Thai traits. He probably has a wife at home who has displayed every single one of them at some time or another. He doesn't need the same aggro at school as well.
This is not to say the older teacher is constantly at odds with the Thai staff. He'll always smile and be friendly and keep his requests simple - but there's rarely time for idle chit-chat with the girls in the office.
That's best left to the younger teacher, who can pull up a chair in the reception and chinwag with the female staff about boyfriend troubles and K-pop until the cows come home. Or at least until the bell goes for the next lesson.
Result - It's a barnstorming finish from the younger teachers as they pull it back to 5-4 with one final round to go.
Connecting with the students
Picture the scene. You walk into the classroom to face a group of 40 rowdy teenage students all shouting to be heard and all eager to tell you about their weekend (well, maybe a couple of them)
What are you going to talk about? The latest version of Grand Theft Auto? Uploading multiple photographs to Facebook? Or are you going to tell them about your collection of Pink Floyd albums and the tablets you have to take four times a day for heartburn?
In general, young students like and identify better with young teachers. And it pains me to say that. They respect older teachers, sure they do, but let's face facts - if you're an older teacher, they're not going to get out a magazine picture of a Korean boy band and ask you to point at which one you think has the best hair.
Result - The final round goes to the young upstarts and ladies and gentlemen - we have a tie!
Young teachers 5 older teachers 5.