Hot Seat

Barrie Spark

Here's a guy who has been in Thailand for three years and done a little bit of everything from corporate to secondary school and from freelance to summer camps. Take it away Barrie!

Q

Let’s get the story from a few different angles. Barrie, you originally came here for a six-month holiday before going back home to start university. So what things kept you here and do any of them begin with ‘W’?

A

To start with it was the scenery, the islands and the beaches - they just rocked me, I was in paradise and I knew I wasn’t going back. But yeah, a woman did get me after only 3 months of having a great time here and I was in love - and I guess the downward descent began.

Q

In the three years you’ve been here, what kind of teaching work have you enjoyed the most?

A

The English camps! I’ve worked for schools and agencies but it’s all pretty much the same gig. The camps are SO cool, the moneys not too great but I’ve seen so much of the country and had such a good time doing it - getting paid to swim and play volleyball is the lick!

Q

Is the lick? Oh how it must feel to be young! Tell us about the government school gigs. Fifty kids in a classroom has never appealed to me. Is it really that bad?

A

The school I’m in now, I’ve had a result because my classes are limited to 30, so I’m on to quite a good un, except for the sitting around after classes waiting for “home time”. But I did do the 55 kids bit for almost an entire semester. I found that you're really not making any difference unless its entertaining, and even then its only entertainment not education but with classes that size and the heat and lack of organization/communication, you do what you can…….you entertain basically.

Q

You’ve also gone down the freelance teaching route, but in your email to me it sounded as though it wasn’t that successful?

A

It’s another one of my ventures that hasn’t got off the ground yet. I have a number of business ideas and hopefully in time I’ll be able to accomplish them, but right now I’m concentrating on my house and garden. All work and no play…… but with that in mind, if anyone’s been trying to get hold of catnip……

Q

What are the tips you would give to anyone, wanting to try their hand at freelance work?

A

1. Don’t tell anyone who you work with your ideas.

2. Don’t rely on anyone to help you advertise or promote yourself.

3. If you are planning to teach privately, at least try and do it well.

4. Volunteering is an excellent way of gaining new contacts.

5. Try try try, and bite your lip. You’re a guest here, and I’ll bet you weren’t invited. Don’t expect people to bow down to your western greatness.

Q

Come on then. Let’s get down to it. Firstly, the worst teaching colleague you’ve ever had?

A

Ok, I've had a few crappy colleagues, mostly drinkers and/or deviants. I try to not associate with other teachers because I feel that we are tarred with the same brush enough as it is. The teacher that sticks in my mind was at a very upper class school and made a point of going for massages in the hours between classes, 2-3 a day. He’d come back walking on air, explaining to everyone in the office where, why and how good etc

Q

What about the worst class you’ve ever taught? Can you actually narrow things down to the worst student?

A

The school that I was teaching 55 kids had the worst class, they were 2nd years and full of attitude and sugar. It was a complete waste of all our time, but I did what I could to keep them listening. Role plays and dialogues…..

But… my worst student is in the school i'm teaching at now, she's a mathiom 1 with a M3 ‘boyfriend’ so she spends every minute of every lesson of every week etc, playing with her hair, rechecking her face in her mirror, ignoring everything I say and disrupting everyone around her - mostly as they’re mocking her pathetic behaviour.

Q

Where’s the best place for a visa run? Have you done that many?

A

Oh man, I've been doing them for almost 2 years solid - Cambodia mainly and only really becaues it's 48 baht on the train. That is one of the worst things that I have to take care of, and i'm on my 5th passport now since I arrived.

Not only did I get robbed, twice, I was also lucky enough to get a fake stamp in my 3rd passport when the ’crackdown’ occurred last year, so on trying to leave the land of a million ……… the immigration people hi-fived each other and escorted me to the office amongst the other criminals. Along with another traveler we decided to pick our passports off the desk and just walk out, which we did. It wasn’t until I was on the back of the m/bike that I heard “You!, You!’ but I didn’t look back. That was my 3rd, so I went and checked back in at wireless rd. After considerable deliberation offered me a 12 month passport (number4).

Q

You've got balls man. It’s an old chestnut but I still like it – do you see things getting worse or better for qualified English teachers in Thailand?

A

Better in terms of opportunities available. With so many language centres, agents and what not, it is definitely easier to find work now, but as far as quality and reasonable conditions I think its getting steadily worse. I blame the greedy people who offer but don’t deliver and the unqualified, getting by with their skin tone ‘teachers’ who put in a days work here and there and then disappear leaving the students to struggle with 12 tutors in a 8 week course.

Q

What about for those who are winging it with little experience, little ability and perhaps a degree of dubious origin?

A

Go away, don’t waste our time or the kids’ time, just keep on going. Can’t stand ya!!

Q

Righto! I’m getting a lot of hate mail from Filipinos because they think I don’t rate them as worthy of the title native-speaker standard. Can I count on your support here

A

Sorry mate, cant back you up there, my colleague here is a Filipino, and I must say, before I worked with him I wouldn’t have had a clue, but he is a good teacher, good accent, right attitude, and the kids like him.

Q

Where’s home in Thailand Barrie? I forgot to ask.

A

I recently moved into a house in Onnut (Sukhumwit) It’s a nice change from the condo lifestyle but its also got its downsides - junkie neighbours, mechanics, other neighbours, and a hefty rent. But I've got myself a big garden, so I'm happy for now.

Q

Three things that most piss you off about living here?

A

Lack of sincerity, lack of honesty, shit food, xenophobia, nasty ex-pats, spoilt kids, shit traffic, shittier pathways, mai pen rai, oh 3. Sorry.

Q

Get it out of your system mate. Have you ever gone to work with a terrible hangover and thrown up in the corridor, worse still – over the academic director?

A

Never, but I'm not a big drinker at all. That said, I’ve turned up hours late and not at all on a few occasion. I did tell the director of a school once that he wouldn’t look at me while he was talking to me.....so I wouldn’t listen to him. I think I lasted about 2 weeks there.

Q

What’s your attitude towards teacher meetings – complete waste of time or a great chance to learn from others even if it means giving up a Friday afternoon?

A

Waste of time, but mine's Wednesday not Friday. I wouldn’t mind if the meetings were held in English, especially as they are English programme meetings (which I don’t get paid for) but as it's all in Thai and most of the ‘teachers’ just kiss the directors arse, I find the entire 2 hours a complete insult.

PS. I don’t appreciate making lesson plans that other ‘teachers’ can just rip off as they see fit.

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