Hot Seat

Stickman

I'm not quite sure how we've gone so long without interviewing the legendary Stickman. For me he's still the man who started it all - with his Stickman's Guide to Teaching in Thailand. Five years on - how is everything in the Stickman corner?

Q

First off I suppose I should ask how married life is treating you? It’s certainly the best thing I ever did. And don’t worry - I’m not going to remind you that you once said you’d never marry a Thai girl. I’m sure you’re sick of answering that one.

A

Yeah, the marriage thing. Interesting, isn’t it?! I’d be a liar if I said that there weren’t days when I reminisce about my single life, but on the whole it has been good. I think being married in Bangkok and having a 'guvnor' so to speak, keeps some semblance of shape and dare I say it, balance, in your life. I maintain though that Westerner / Farang relationship are never easy and while things are good, we still have our moments!

Q

Let’s get down to business. For me, the Stickman Guide to Teaching was, and still is, the quintessential teaching information page. There is so much info packed into that extraordinarily long web-page. Do you still feel that most of the info is as relevant today as it was when you first typed it up - what is it? – six years ago?

A

Nah, when I read parts of it now I cringe! I’d love to do a major re-write but sadly, that is something that isn’t likely to happen - at least at this point in time.

It is the least visited of the major sections of the site and while it still gets a lot of traffic, there really is no reason to go back and edit it. I mean it would probably take an entire week to do it – several days and at the end of it, there’d be no real advantage. A few emails thanking me for the update is not enough reason to do it… I guess it is sort of 'good enough as it is' and I’ll just leave it as it is, at least for now. Other sections of the site are updated from time to time and as the section on Living and Working in Bangkok has become more and more popular, I do go back and tweak it fairly often.

I think the whole idea of a comprehensive FAQ about teaching in Bangkok appeals to many people and a single document where many of the most common questions are answered in one place, while not the norm online, was always going to be a winner. It’s a shame that I don’t have the time or frankly, the inclination, to go back and update it.

Q

That is a shame. Over the years you’ve ruffled a few feathers with your no-nonsense approach to the facts, and you even took the teaching info page down for a while. Have things got a little bit sticky on occasion? (no pun intended) I mean, have there been times when you’ve had to ‘look over your shoulder’?

A

Around this time last year I was the target of what was something of a fumbled attempt at extortion / legal action. It was a very stressful time indeed. It took me a while to figure out just who was behind it all.

The funny thing was that someone wanted to have a go at me over something which I wrote online, something which they believed was written about them (even though there was NOTHING that could tie them to it). This person got incredibly nasty and gave me some major stress including a couple of completely sleepless nights. Yeah, it was that bad. I just couldn’t believe it when I found out who was behind it. The fellow in question had been involved in some illegal businesses and I just happened to have some physical proof of what he had been up to. When I put the mirror up, and made a few threats of my own towards him, he quickly retreated.

It is funny really, farangs threatening other farangs in Thailand with legal action. The Thais really don’t want to know about that – there’s nothing in it for them! Virtually every farang here is breaking one law or another and this fellow forgot that the first rule of making a civil action against someone else is to make sure that you are clean so that they cannot find an angle on you. This fellow never considered that. Dumb.

I also get a few emails from Thai women hot and bothered about some of the articles on my site, though usually a simple email response pointing out that the article in question was never written by me placates them. Have had a few interesting emails from high profile Thais. In the past emails from locals tended to be negative but there has been a major turn around in the past 2 years and they tend to be positive, which is nice.

Q

So if you've given up on updating the teaching section of the site, I'm guessing that the naughty nightlife is more interesting or probably pays better?

A

Actually, the entire naughty nightlife section of the site was taken down well over a year ago. Of course with the amount of time it takes to run a website, commercial opportunities are never far from your mind.

Q

With you being so high profile and all, I don’t want to divulge where exactly you work, but are you happy with your teaching lot these days? What’s your current gig in terms of who you teach, etc?

A

I’m totally and utterly fed up teaching in Thailand. I truly think Thais are amongst the worst students one could ever teach. The bottom line is that they are lazy. Yeah, there are good students and I have had some wonderful classes, but I have also had some horrible ones.

In terms of my employment, I am on a decent number. A salary which is well above average, a very low number of contact hours, a stack of paid holidays all made it hard to leave in the past, but as my situation has changed, fortunately for the better, I’d say there is a very high chance that the curtain is coming down on my time in the classroom and my last show (because that’s what lessons here are, shows) might not be too far away. It’s a far cry from my first month teaching in Thailand when I did over 150 contact hours and was paid less than 20,000 baht for it!

Q

We've all been there mate! Now you and I haven’t met up socially for a while (could be something to do with our wives) but I remember you describing yourself as ‘financially comfortable but not yet able to retire’

A

Like you, I do not need to teach, and could survive on other income. But survive is the word here and I would not necessarily get ahead on that other income. If I hadn’t got married, I would have resigned from the teaching a while back. In fact I have little doubt that the decision to resign from my current job, which is imminent, will see me better off financially than when I was teaching and doing other things. The nature of teaching – and especially when teaching Thais – is that you are always giving. It takes a lot out of you and after a full day in the classroom you really don’t have the energy to do other things. - or at least I don’t.

Q

You’ve also gone on record as saying ‘it’s too easy to get a teaching job in Thailand’ – do you think that’s still the case?

A

I must confess that I feel more and more out of touch with the teaching industry in Thailand every day and so it is somewhat difficult to answer this question. Let me say this – and forgive me for being arrogant, but hey, I mean it. If I was a parent sending little Lek or Daeng to language school, I would demand a lot more from the average English teacher than I see them delivering. Sure, there are a lot of good teachers here, but there are a lot of slackers too. The problem is that many of the Thais in the industry are not sophisticated enough to be able to discern just who is a good teacher and who is not and thus you end up with some hopeless teachers working at decent institutes, earning good money while you’re just as likely to find good teachers barely scraping by each month at less prestigious schools. I hate to say it, but this can be easily explained in Thai: “Khon Thai doo farang mai awk” which basically means that the average Thai doesn’t know what to make of us (and in fact, the opposite is true too, IMO).

Q

How many alcoholics are you working with at the moment?

A

Great question! We’ve got one teacher who the students told me they don’t like – because he smells of alcohol in the morning! But he is the only one I’d say was a genuine alcoholic. We do have one guy who, let’s just say, wouldn’t want to be caught inside a bar with the doors locked and asked to give a urine sample. His sample would go off the chart!

Q

I have to ask you about the current state of your e-mail inbox. Some days I’m just buried under an avalanche of teaching questions. Are you getting your fair share or are you forwarding the buggers to me?

A

Ok, I confess. If people ask teaching questions these days, I refer them to www.ajarn.com. I get so frustrated at people asking me questions to which the answer can be found online, either at my site, or at Ajarn.com. The message board here should be many people’s first port of call. Folks emailing me will always get a polite response referring them somewhere to find the answer. But questions about life in Thailand, general living, holidaying and of course the bars, well, let’s just say I get A LOT. I answer them all - though replies can be a bit short!

Q

I presume that you never advise students on which websites they should visit? And they don’t have a clue what you do in your spare time?

A

Funnily enough I teach computer studies these days, my background being in computers and all that and yeah, we do some stuff on the internet and websites and the like. But nah, I’ve never referred any students to my own site!

I had this one exercise once where I was covering the validity of information online and I set a task where the students had to do a search to find the world’s most poisonous snake, the idea being to show them that many different sites will give a different answer to the same question. One young lass came upon a site with the text “trouser snake”, along with the accompanying pictures. I kid you not!

Another time one of the teachers at school had the students do some research on abortion in Bangkok and as he was walking around the room monitoring, he noticed that one student had found an article about that very topic on my site. That gave me a small grin!

Q

I remember that you once sent me a mock-up of the new-look Stickman site with fancy graphics and professional layout. Two years on, you’ve still kept the same design and shunned the bells and whistles. Was it a case of ‘if it’s not broken don’t fix it’

A

That site was very nicely designed, but it was just too slow to update as it was all database driven. It would have been great for the readers but a nightmare for me to update. I’ve managed to hone my work process so that any change to it would likely slow me down. The presentation and layout of the site is due for an overhaul and I hope to do that some time soon…

Q

I’ve always maintained that teachers are not whoremongers because they simply can’t afford it on a 30-35K salary. No one’s better qualified to endorse or rebut that statement than Stickman himself.

A

Tough question this. Strictly speaking, 30 – 35 K might not be enough to allow you to sew your wild oats up and down Sukhumvit every night, but if you’re a real Cheap Charlie, you could still have a couple of good nights out a week, and if you were frequenting some questionable venues like the Chicken Farm, actually, it just might jut be enough….but hell, the rest of your life would be pretty bloody poor, wouldn’t it?! You can pick English teachers in a group and frankly, I do not see many teachers down the bars these days.

Q

In Asia, Thailand is still the best country to come and teach in……err…um…..any discussion there?

A

No idea, never taught anywhere else in Asia. Workmates tell me that Korea is hell on earth but the money is good. Japan and Taiwan really don’t appeal to me and the teaching environment in those places sound almost as much of a nightmare as Korea. As I am sure you’ll agree, teaching is a great way to get going in Thailand but I have to admire people who stick with it. Teaching here is much like living here, it can be fun at times, but it can also be stressful and frustrating. Unless one is a career teacher – and therefore should be at one of the international schools on a decent package – one should be looking for opportunities outside of teaching.

Q

On a teaching ability scale of 1-10, I’d rate myself as a very solid 7. Some days I can even be an 8 (some days I can be a 1 but we won’t go into that) Where are you on the scale?

A

Once upon a time I was a solid performer - thoroughly prepared for every lesson. I’d always have a free practice and I’d make sure we got to that part before the students left, even if it meant running over time. But these days it is a different story altogether. I have been teaching the same type of students using the same materials for the past 4 years. I’m bored and I’ll be the first to admit that I have gone stale. It is time for me to move on, or at the very least, take a loooong break from the industry.

Q

Finally Stick, and you can answer these questions with a yes or no if you want. Can Filipinos be classed as native-speakers? Is the TEFL course market in Thailand becoming too crowded?, and is it possible to find work without a degree?

A

No way in the world are Filipino native speakers. NO WAY! Funnily enough, I’d say that the TEFL course market is NOT getting too crowded as the figures I hear from some course providers are that most courses are full or near full. Sounds like there is a lot of money to be made in that too….

Of course it is possible to find work without a degree. Stacks of people have no problem at all, BUT, it very much depends on the employer, their willingness to accept someone without a degree, and their ability to get the blue book without one.

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