Hot Seat

Vincent Morantes

One of the largest groups of teachers currently plying their trade in Thailand are undoubtedly the Filipinos. The ajarn hot seat welcomes Vincente Morantes to champion the cause and hopefully provide some answers as to why Filipinos sometimes seem to get a raw deal from language schools and institutes here.

Q

One of the largest groups of teachers currently plying their trade in Thailand are undoubtedly the Filipinos. The ajarn hot seat welcomes Vincente Morantes to champion the cause and hopefully provide some answers as to why Filipinos sometimes seem to get a raw deal from language schools and institutes here.

A

Thanks, Phil! Yes, the Philippines is approximately 1360 km from Thailand, a mere three hours by plane. It's both, and for some, that and more. Thailand, though a degree or two hotter in average temperature than the Philippines, has fantastic food (delicious AND cheap), a great number of attractive young women who are much easier to relate to (and I'm not referring to the girls of Patpong or any other red light district!), a lower cost of living, and is certainly not plagued by the problems my country is constantly mired in.

Sure, there's corruption in Thailand too, but not like it is back home. I'd love to discuss this with you at length, but I doubt you'd like a "Hot Seat" interview to run over a hundred pages.

Q

I think anyone who is a teacher recruiter gets a fair amount of email applications from Filipino teachers. Some of the applications smack of real desperation, almost like the applicant will accept the first job going. Filipinos don’t seem to be all that choosy as long as the job pays the rent?

A

I won't sugarcoat it, much to the chagrin of my countrymen...yes, it's sad, but true. Most Filipinos who choose to find work abroad do so because that's how desperate their own situation is, and how dire the political, social, and economic situation is back home. There's so much corruption, people will step on you just to get ahead and reach "The American Dream", and the cost of living in the Philippines is getting higher, but the value of our currency is getting lower. Add to this the fact that most Filipinos have got a family to support (kids, cousins, brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, you name it), so packing up and leaving for Thailand, then packing up and leaving Thailand for home empty-handed is unthinkable. So yes, more often than not, Filipinos will grin and bear it so long as it pays the bills or at least until a better job more suited to their skills comes along.

Q

So what’s with all this ‘ultra-politeness’ in the cover letter when Filipinos apply for a job. It seems that many could do with a crash course in how to apply for a job?

A

Now that you mention it, some Filipinos could use some help in this area. I think it's because majority of the Filipinos who make flowery cover letters were taught to do it in school. Looking back, I'm sometimes guilty of this too, but I think it's also because most companies in the Philippines EXPECT you give them a little song and dance. Also, you must remember, Filipinos are Asian too, and it seems to be a trademark of Asian cultures to be rather polite, sometimes to the point of sounding obsequious and making their level of politeness a bit inappropriate.

Q

My favorite opening line was ‘since I was a child I have dreamed about working at an establishment such as yours’. You have to admit that that’s corny?

A

Well, yes, but refer to the answer above and you'll see where that's coming from. Sure, it smacks of being patronizing, but methinks that's just a little "side effect" of our culture... like in Thailand, Filipinos have to bend over and kiss a lot of ass or suck up to the powers-that-be to get ahead, whether you're in government or in the private sector (at least that's how I see it!).

Q

Over the years I’ve worked with about a dozen Filipinos and always got on well with them. We’ll get to the schools’ attitudes later, but from what I’ve seen, the Thai students always seem to take the Filipinos to their hearts?

A

Really?!? Frankly, I can't quite give you an accurate answer... I've only been in Thailand for a little over a month, but from what little I've experienced, I think it's because Filipinos look a lot like Thais and vice-versa, and both cultures share a number of similarities.

Like, for example, I look very much Thai and have been mistaken for a Thai one hundred percent of the time! And even though my Thai is still niit noi, they tolerate my ignorance, just so long as I smile and keep cool.

With regard to culture, for instance, I know Farangs shake their head at the practice of Thais keeping their elder kin at home (parents, grandparents), when they prefer to stick them in a nursing home where they can get "professional" care. For Thais and Filipinos, that's just not done... we both think it's disrespectful, even cruel to our elders.

And as for "saving face", we have something close to it, it's called "pakikisama"; (go with the crowd) so maybe it's safe to say that Thais share a lot in common and feel pretty much comfortable with Filipinos.

Oh, and yes, before I forget... Filipinos back home and elsewhere seem to have adapted some Buddhist beliefs in "karma"!

Q

But as we know it’s not the students who do the hiring. From your experience of pounding the sois looking for work, what is the overall attitude towards Filipinos from those that do the hiring and firing – both Thais and farang?

A

Oh, Thai and Farang recruiters are a WORLD apart! Here's what it's like...

The "firing" part, I can't tell you of any experiences firsthand, but I do know of a couple of Filipinos who've been laid off by their Thai employers just because their vacation leave in the Philippines somehow took one day too many. Far as I know, both cases were settled in favor of the two Filipinos; for "unlawful termination of employment".

Farang employers who "fire" people are actually downright polite most of the time... but that's not a firsthand experience of mine either!

As for the "hiring"... that's pretty interesting... I've made a few cold calls to want ads in The Bangkok Post and was quite baffled by the response from Thai recruiters... "Oh, you're Filipino? Goodbye! CLICK!"

As for Farangs, I'd usually be given a CHANCE to demonstrate my English speaking skills via the conversation itself... Farangs, again, are generally fairer and more polite; THEY'RE the ones who are actually APOLOGETIC and explain that they simply need someone with TEFL qualifications, and make no comment about my English (don't get me wrong, it's not like I say "I.. am.. job!").

I can't really blame the Thai recruiters for acting the way they do... it's probably due to some "memorable" experiences with Filipinos, and unfortunately, that forces them to put us all in the same category (Filipino=lousy English?!).

Q

I’ve always maintained that it would be too risky to send a Filipino into a classroom full of students whose English is intermediate and above. I’m yet to chat to a Filipino whose English is not seriously flawed when the conversation gets into more complex areas. Do you think that’s fair comment?

A

I think that's a fair comment. It's a hard fact that most Filipinos who try to find work abroad are NOT "well-off", and thus not all of them could afford the best education possible. Now, I'm NOT trying to put my own people down, but it's really a fact that most of my countrymen who leave to work abroad (they're called Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs) know just about enough English to get by, and they're mostly the blue-collar worker type. And I'm not saying this just because I'm a Filipino too, but ask any Farang and they'll tell you Filipinos are some of the best workers around.

Keep in mind also that most of the Filipinos who can speak English well DON'T NEED to leave the Philippines to earn a DECENT living. (how I wish I was in that category...)

Q

For lower-level learners and kindergarten, do you think a Filipino is worth as much as a farang in terms of salary?

A

To be fair, I think that would be on a "case-to-case" basis. I've heard of some Thais who blame their teachers (Filipinos or other non-native speaker) for "trapping" them in their level of English. That's because there really are some Filipinos who can't speak or write to save their lives, and there are Filipinos who can easily run circles around backpacking native speakers whilst tossing back a Heinie or two at your favorite pub, Phil. It's really a matter of being fair and paying people what they deserve, regardless of nationality. Compensation really should be commensurate to ability.

It irks me to know that there are some schools out there which pay top dollar to caucasian backpackers who, quite literally, can't speak or write a clear, grammatically-correct, concise sentence in their "native English" yet manage to get 500 baht an hour!

Q

What can guys like you do to change the ‘mindset’ of those hirers that just see the Filipinos as ‘cheap labor’?

A

I suppose all I really can do is try my best at every interview and show my prospective employer that I have the right to command a salary commensurate to my abilities. I guess I'd also have to have the cojones to walk away from anyone who tries to screw me over with "slave wages", and not worry about ending up completely penniless! That just might be the only way to help keep the playing field level.

Q

How have you got along with other foreign teachers in the various jobs you’ve had?

A

"Various jobs with foreign teachers" doesn't quite describe my work experience, Phil... sorry, I guess I didn't paint a clear picture of myself... I'm 30 years old, I don't have TEFL qualifications as yet, I was a Copywriter at a prestigious ad agency and my forte' was, and still is, writing ad copy, articles, PR stuff, TV and radio scripts, presenting ad campaigns to current and prospective clients, blah, blah, blah in AMERICAN ENGLISH. What I can tell you is that I've never had any problem at all with any Farang, and have been lucky so far to make new Farang friends at some of the pubs in Patpong.

Q

One thing I’ve noticed about Filipinos is the way they seem to look after each other and know each other. Is there some kind of network where Filipinos share information about teaching or living in Thailand?

A

Yes, we Filipinos do tend to gravitate to each other when we're on foreign shores. I am very much aware that there is now a sizable community of Filipinos here and I'm happy to say that I've met and become close to a number of them.

Coincidentally, one of them is named Phil, too! I'm pretty lucky to have met the kinds of Filipinos who really do look after each other because I've heard different stories of other Filipinos hoodwinking each other in places like the U.S. I can't say that there's a formal network or website like ajarn exclusively for Filipinos who want to teach or find other employment here... hmm... you know what, that sounds like a good business idea!

Q

So a 64-billion dollar question. Is it getting tougher to find a job these days?

A

Honestly, I'm not sure... I guess it depends for what field. In advertising, it's hell. If you're not a cut-throat, award-winning, ass-kissing creative guy (which I refused to become because I found it completely dehumanizing), forget the ad biz. Go into business or try something else. English teaching is not as cut-throat unless you actually own and run a school, but I think it's generally a bit tougher to find work, but somehow strangely easier to put up your own business if you put in the work.

Q

Do some Filipinos actually go through college with teaching overseas as their ultimate goal?

A

Hmm... I believe some do... there are those who take up degrees in Education and hope to find lucrative careers abroad rather than try to cope with slave wages back home. I would imagine if more Filipino Education Graduates came here and proved to be really good, it's possible the schools here will have a slew of Filipino teachers.

Q

What are the alternatives to teaching in Thailand for those Filipinos that have the wanderlust and just want to live here?

A

I think freelance English tutoring can help you survive... I've heard of a Filipino lady who's raking in about 500 baht an hour now, but I believe it took her some time to get the word out. If I'm not mistaken, there are also a number of Filipinos who have been able to hone their English enough to write and/or for some of the big English publications here (Bangkok Post included, I believe), and for a few other tourist magazines.

There's still a big demand for skilled graphic designers, and there are a lot of opportunities for jobs at hotels in the tourist spots in and outside of Bangkok. That's pretty much what I see... but don't just take my word for it...come and see for yourself! There's a lot of opportunities for anybody, just be willing to look, wait, and weigh your options!

Q

Ajarn.com has been criticized for promoting a ‘native-speakers’ only environment. I think the criticism is harsh because at the end of the day it’s all about what the customer wants, and if schools want native English-speakers then that’s how it is. Any thoughts?

A

Phil, believe me when I say that I've actually spent the better part of THREE HOURS in the internet cafe' to answer this question intelligently and objectively.

I think it all boils down to stereotypes. Stereotypes!

Just because a prospective English teacher is NOT from a native English-speaking country (ex. Filipinos), it DOESN'T mean they CAN'T SPEAK, WRITE, SPELL or TEACH ENGLISH like a native English speaker.

On the other side of the coin, just because a Farang hails from a country like the U.S., U.K, Australia, or New Zealand or wherever, it doesn't guarantee he or she can SPEAK, WRITE, SPELL, or TEACH ENGLISH at the proficiency you'd expect from a "native English speaker"!

That said, I think that's where YOU come in, Phil, and show these schools how to differentiate a good teacher from a bad one!

Thanks for the interview, Phil! I hope it helped at least ONE of your readers! More power to ajarn!

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