Hot Seat

Jay Johnson

Jay works for a Thai school that has recently come in for a lot of criticism on the TEFLwatch website, but are there two sides to this story? Jay Johnson feels that much of the criticism is unjustified and that great improvements are being made.

Q

Jay, welcome to the ajarn.com hot seat. Obviously we need to begin with a little background on you. What's your position at Bangkok Christian College and how long have you been there? You know - that kind of stuff.

A

I am the Coordinator for Mathayom 4,5 and 6 in the IEP Department. (Intensive English Program) I signed my contract in April 2006 and have been working here since May 2 2006'. I have worked in the TEFL field in Thailand in varying positions from teacher / lecturer to manager for the past 8 years.

Q

You've obviously been following the BCC threads on TEFLwatch for some time I guess. Why have you chosen now to 'break your silence'?

A

I really haven't followed the thread that closely because the parts that I first read were just runny, whining, blather. Last week I read the last few pages and felt that the few who were doing the complaining had gotten their points across. After being here for 2 months, and having NOT experienced the same things that were being discussed and asking current teachers that have been here for 3 or 4 years about the past history of the admin here and ex- teachers here, I have come to some conclusions that should be shared.

There were several martyrs last year and a few good teachers were lost on the battlefield fighting for the rights of teachers, and today we are thankful for your sacrifices. Thank you all.

Q

Are the BCC management aware of what's been said on the web?

A

Absolutely, and it did have a positive effect on the way the current things have changed.

The squeaky wheels from years past that may have had a credible complaint did not get any grease - they just got replaced. One has to be careful how one squeaks. The current maintenance system in place is a result of all the past problems, and has improved greatly. Jumping the chain of command is not a way to handle problems, except as a last resort, and you better make 100% sure you are right, and can prove it. Even then you may not like the outcome as in Thailand confrontation is looked down upon - and it's always better to go the long way around the fence.

Q

Quite a few complaints were leveled at BCC from ex-BCC teachers. Which allegations do you feel were most unjustified?

A

Some were and some weren't.

The ten baht deduction that the bank charges the school for each bank account held by a teacher (and teachers have to pay) is true. OK, that's 120 baht a year that the bank charges - and so is the fact that we all receive at least 40,000 baht in bonus money and from 17,000 to 24,000 baht in flight allowance money from the school, depending on your attitude and work ethics, as well as a yearly pay raise, depending on performance.

The 20,000 baht security deposit is still in effect, but it will now be returned at the end of your second year, including interest, or if you give the 45 day notice before leaving, which is still too long and should be 30 days. It is deducted as 4000 baht per month for 5 months, or 5000 baht per month for 4 months, your choice. It is there to keep honest people honest. If you pull a runner, you deserve to lose it.

The sad thing is that last year there were a lot of problems on both sides. Several nut-job, wannabe teachers sneaked in the doors. There were several backpackers looking for a few months pay so they could continue their travels got. There were also apparently several go-go alcoholics got in who simply wanted to clock in and clock out and get back to the party, and then call in sick with the brown bottle flu twice a week. And of course a few regular plain ole' lazy people looking for good pay and a pillow, and as you can guess, it's difficult for the school board to tell the good foreign teachers from the bad, so they were always on the defensive. Obviously, if you fit into the categories above, problems with your place of employment are sure to follow. There were also however, some very fine teachers that were hired at that time, and those teachers are still here.

There are now 482 teachers at this school - over 70 foreign teachers and the rest are Thai. In the past years, the personnel department lost, misplaced, misfiled paperwork, and if you made someone angry enough, maybe even flushed. This is why you should be polite to people once in a while. If it was you that had misplaced someone's paperwork and they came to you yelling and accusing you and acting like an arse, what would YOU DO? Right, that's what I thought you would say. Again, make no mistake, all of the complaints have improved the system, and now things are signed for and this year there have been very few problems, considering there are almost 500 teachers here.

Q

Last year, an outside company was put in charge of BCC's foreign teacher hiring process for the IEP Department. Why?

A

The 2 head managers of the IEP Dept went to Australia with some of the administration staff and BCC students for a student exchange and cultural awareness trip. The trip went from March thru April, so they couldn't be here to recruit for the 2005/2006 school year. As a result the outside company was contracted to hire new teachers, and they apparently took anyone that walked in the door to fulfill the contract and receive payment.

One of the other English departments at BCC, the EIP (English Immersion Program) obviously didn't have very good policies and procedures in place last year, as whoever did the hiring there, did just about the same thing. This year the EIP hiring was improved in most cases. There have only been 1 or 2 nutcases that slipped through that I've heard about this year.

Q

So the outside company made a bit of a pig's ear of it?

A

Maybe more of something at the other end of the pig - the end that has the tail. There was a female that cussed so much that she embarrassed the men, and a whole slew of chronic brown bottle flu call-ins. Calling in sick, lame and lazy became so common that the good teachers thought it was just a normal week to have 5 or 6 cover classes. The 2 head managers were going mad trying to re-re-re-re-re-re schedule classes because of teacher no shows and the good teachers were going mad trying to prep for them all.

Q

So BCC has decided once again to do their own recruiting now. What steps are they taking to repair the 'damage' and make sure that all hires are good hires?

A

The IEP program has a three-person board type interview first, and if you pass that interview, then you go to the actual school board interview. if you pass the second one, then you could be hired.

During the interview process, you must present lesson plans and a private evaluation form is sent to your prior or current employer to find out the truth about you. Then your degree and documentation is checked to make sure you didn't graduate from Khao San Road University.

Over a hundred teachers applied this year, less than 30 total new teachers were accepted. Eleven for the IEP Program and the rest for the other programs, including EIP, who hired their own teachers as well, and I would guess that their procedures for hiring have improved as well. As I said before, there have been very few problems there this year.

Q

Presumably it's the last time BCC will put the recruiting in the hands of an agent?

A

NEVER AGAIN. At least I hope not!

Q

You said in your email to me that no school is perfect. Tell me three things that admin or management do that has you rolling your eyes and thinking 'you must be f***ing joking'?

A

1.When students in class tell me of their classes being cancelled tomorrow or of other scheduling changes that the school board of directors has made and told the students, but felt that it wasn't important enough for my bosses or myself to know. How difficult is it just to pick up a phone and punch three numbers and let the management know what's going on? So the tail wags the dog, and the teachers and managers look unorganized and the students laugh all day.

2. The ten baht charge to have your salary deposited into a bank that you don't like , which you then have to withdraw your money out of and then deposit it again into your own bank.

I was told the 10 baht charge is being discussed now and may disappear next year.

3. The absolute rudeness of some of the students towards foreign teachers that is never addressed. The students will always wai the Thai teachers, but almost NEVER the foreign teachers. The 'wai' is a sign of respect in the Thai culture. If you want to argue that the students should not wai foreign teachers because it is not their culture, then the students should show respect in line with international standards, such as greeting teachers with the proper time of day. 'Good morning, sir'. 'Good afternoon, madam'. At the very least the students should show common courtesies and not walk into or block a teacher's walking path or continue playing football on the walkways or steps of a building while a teacher is trying to pass.

Granted, last year many of the foreign teachers did not deserve to be wai'd, and some of the Thai staff as well, but hopefully in the future this will also change. Why would a student respect a teacher that doesn't even know the school schedule?

Q

How can BCC shake off this 'reputation'? It doesn't matter whether allegations are true or false - the poor reputation is still there.

A

First off, the administration and the IEP dept is extending an invitation to you Phil to come by and check it out for yourself and anyone else that would like to come by. Secondly, through channels just like this, that got the bad reputation going and got the improvements made

Q

Let's talk in general terms. Do you think that foreign teachers come to Thailand to teach English and have expectations that are way too high?

A

Sure, most envisage sitting on a blanket under a tree with some attentive children smiling happily, trying to speak English - and a buffalo munching grass near the river in the distance. Then teachers are thrown into an aircon-less, steaming classroom of 40 screaming six-year olds in a government school with a chalk board and no chalk and a tattered copied book full of scribbles and missing pages. And then told to enjoy the true culture of Thailand for 30,000 baht a month. Free rice and hot fish soup included.

Really though, I would say that if a teacher comes from overseas and was making a couple a grand a month in a nice school with disciplined, respectful students, they may be in for a shock at BCC. BUT if that same teacher looks around at all of the schools in Bangkok, they would come to learn that BCC is one of the best - and it truly is.

The new teachers here make about 50,000 + baht a month and can make another 64,000 baht in bonuses for performance, and BCC also offers teachers that want to volunteer, an extra conversation class during the last period of the day that pays 600 baht an hour extra.

BCC gives about 40 days vacation on the FIRST contract. Very good insurance. The school pays for the 1 year visa and work permit, but you have to get the 'b' visa that the school supplies the paperwork for. Holidays from Christmas to New Year, almost the whole month of October and during the summer vacation, March and April, except for the few days that you need to attend English Camp with the kids, and some teachers STILL complain about it !!! Unbelievable.

Q

You've seen a few teachers come and go at BCC. What kind of teachers really make you spit blood?

A

I haven't seen any teachers from IEP go this year. But in the last 8 years have seen many from different schools. The ones I dislike most are the ones who constantly run down the school or Thailand, and stay. If you don't like Thailand, then get the h*** out and go back to your own country. If you love Thailand, but you hate the school you are at, or you think they don't treat you fairly, then get the h*** out of that school and tell everyone so they don't go there, and the school will be forced to change.

Q

But you haven't lost a single teacher this year?

A

The IEP department hasn't lost anyone this year and the other departments have only lost one or two. These losses were due to the true colors of the teacher shining through - ones that weren't presented at their interviews. They BS'ed their way in, but they've certainly been found out.

Q

Thailand can be tough for a teacher though can't it?

A

Absolutely. You have to go where the money is if you want to get ahead. You can't be afraid to look for jobs that will compensate you for the work that you do. If you want an increase in salary, the case may very well be that you have to leave a school and go to another one - just make sure you do it the right way. First, tell the school why you are leaving and give proper notice, thus giving the school the opportunity to fix the problems.

I started in Thailand 8 years ago at 25,000 baht a month and a 6 day work week with 7 days vacation a year and a few years and a few schools later, have well over doubled that salary and work 5 days a week with 40 days vacation a year.....not too bad I think.

On the other hand, if you come to Thailand thinking you are God's gift to the world and are above everyone, and that people should bow down in your presence, then your paperwork will also get lost and schools will chew you up and spit you out. ie ; 'forgetting' to deposit your money, stamp your visa, do your paperwork, give you your teacher's license, transfer paperwork to your new school etc, etc, etc. This is Thailand.

Oh, and one last thing, while we're on the subject of TIT (This Is Thailand) the laws in Thailand are EXTREMELY flexible and can be easily manipulated by whoever has the most power or the most money, so unless you have A LOT of time or money, or some friends in high places, you can forget trying to threaten a school with a lawsuit. Yes, it has happened from time to time, and a few teachers have even won, but it is not the norm. You'll get better results by banging your head against a wall. If you don't like where you are at, get the h*** out, or shut up!

Q

Oh I forgot to ask you your opinion on the TEFLwatch website.

A

It has it's purpose and serves that purpose well. We also discussed asking TEFLwatch if we could add a list of TEFL Teachers Hall of Shame so we could list deadbeat, drunkard, lazy or crazy teachers so schools could also watch out for them, and schools could vent their frustrations about the way they are treated sometimes. But, it's also good to have the lower class of vagrant teachers around too, so when a school finds a good teacher, they will know the importance of paying them what they are worth and keeping them.

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