Warren Daniels, a teacher from the UK, has taught in Thailand for about six years. During that time he's held jobs in half a dozen different schools and opened a successful restaurant. He describes himself as a 'complicated guy'. Hmmmm. Let's pull up a chair and chat with a fellow Brit.
Warren, welcome to the ajarn hot seat. I'm interested in the fact that you served in the British Army for a good number of years. I have friends back in the UK who are ex-military and I guess we've all seen the documentaries. I think there can be an overwhelming feeling of "well, what's next?" when a soldier leaves the forces. Was it like that for you?
When I left the army it was due to a medical discharge though injury. I was offered what I call an inactive post but it was not for me. I decided at the time to take the money and run, so to speak. The adjustment back to civilian life was hard at first. I had a new family and I wanted to go to university to study civil engineering. I managed to get a bursary and two part time jobs. One job was working for one of the biggest construction companies in the UK and the other job was bouncing at weekends for a big night club in my home city. I had a life-changing experience regarding my family during this time and after two years at university, I left. It’s a decision that I regret every day of my life.
You decided to teach English in Thailand. Does that military background come in handy in a classroom environment? I can picture students standing in neat rows waiting for you to inspect last night's homework.
It gives me discipline when I feel lethargic. I push myself to get stuff done when I feel I can’t be bothered. Regarding my teaching, I like a nice, well controlled environment for the students to learn in. I’m not a soft touch but in my experience, the students seem to respect that.
You describe yourself as a 'complicated person'. Thailand can be rather superficial, shallow and slow-paced so it doesn't really strike me as a great fit for a complex individual. Generally speaking, what does a deep thinker (if I can call you that) get most annoyed by?
Where to start? Those who have taught here for a while know the shortcomings of a Thai school environment - the lies, the cheating, the incompetency and the refusal to take responsibility for their own actions. These traits are alien to me and ones I can never get used to. I am a man of principles and I like to be treated in the same manner as people expect me to treat them.
Let's chat about your teaching history for a bit. You've had a number of teaching jobs in your time here and from our brief chat, you seem to have been a victim of Thailand's dodgy employment practices on more than one occasion. You left one particular position after just one day. What happened there?
I went for an interview at a local school and all was fine until the first day of teaching. I went and enquired about my contract, teaching supplies and resources etc. I was basically told no contract until I passed my probation, no access to the copy room, no books for the kids, no computer access. I had to devise a curriculum for every level, and provide all copies, resources and so on from my own pocket. They reneged on all aspects of what was said at the interview. Alarm bells rang, so I decided there and then to make my escape. It seems they were looking for a teacher and decided to change the rules, thinking I would take one for the team and stay regardless.
You also left a job in 2011 after six months due to 'unreasonable demands and a heavy workload'. The heavy workload I get but can you expand on the unreasonable demands?
The demands were getting steadily more.
If we had a period that finished at lunch-time, we had to take the children down many flights of stairs to the canteen and pray with them – all of this cutting into your lunch period.
Once a week you were allocated a reading time period which started at 7.10am. You were meant to collect the children at the main hall, take them up to the class, give them a reading lesson and then take them back down stairs again in time for flag ceremony. Then start teaching your normal day’s periods.
Twice a week, you were allocated some kind of hall monitoring duty, again after 7am. This was until the flag ceremony.
Once a week, they scheduled a *meeting* for your grade level. The majority of the conversation would be in Thai. This was only scheduled in your lunch hour. So some teachers who were really unlucky had to take the kids for lunch after just teaching a period, eat their own lunch in about 20 minutes, attend a meeting and then teach the next period. Highly ridiculous!
All this and more on top of 24 teaching periods. There was no time for planning or any other duties that a good teacher should do.
The final straw was when I came back for semester 2 and they cut our special class income by 50% or more. I was not offered a class because I objected to the cut in a meeting beforehand. (So I was told later) So I gave them my resignation. The only reason I took the job was because of the extra income available. The base salary was poor and I would have never taken the job without it. Another good teacher of more than two years at the school also resigned and many of the teachers that remain there are not happy.
They were initially shocked as to why I would leave but I got a good reference for the work I did and went on my way.
At another school, you had problems with other members of staff. Do you mean Thai staff or the foreign teaching staff? And what problems if I'm allowed to pry a little deeper?
I had the fortune to work at a good English program school for two years. The classes were small and mostly the students were great. I initially got the post through another Ajarn.com forum member who left for the same reasons I eventually did.
Everything was fine for the first year and then there was a misunderstanding over a summer camp schedule with other foreign teachers (Filipinos) These teachers had been there many, many years and had the ear of the principal. They basically made my final year there a misery and eventually the principal’s daughter and I decided it would be better if I left. Once again the teacher who got me the interview ended up having the same problems with the school management as well and they drove him out too.
I can hold my head up high regarding that school though. Before I left, four of my pupils went to The Impact Arena in Bangkok to take part in an English competition against 80 other schools and won gold, silver and bronze medals. The school wrote me a great reference and were truly happy with the job I did.
Do you ever give up hope of finding that 'perfect teaching gig'. Perhaps it doesn't even exist?
There are many things I regret here in Thailand as regards teaching. Maybe my intolerance towards bad conditions will cause me to leave jobs. I’m not a problem teacher! I try the best I can to do a good job. I just cannot allow myself to be used and abused. My principles may keep me on the unemployment line but so be it. The older I get, the more I realise this but it’s still a bitter pill to swallow. There must be a good school out there somewhere LOL I’m just unlucky I guess!
And to add to what I said earlier, I am 34 now and never finished university. I have part credits and half a degree. It’s getting more and more difficult to get a decent teaching gig in Thailand without that magic bit of paper. You can have all the knowledge in the world and great references but you are still only worth the same as someone fresh off the boat - with a salary to match.
You still regard yourself as a man with many friends in Thailand though, however; you like to refer to them as social misfits. Is this par for the course in the Thailand teaching profession or are these misfits not even teachers?
Of course they’re teachers!
I have seen many people who for one reason or another are here teaching in Thailand.
The lost, the lonely, the down-right crazy! But I have made some great friends - people from all corners of the globe who I would have never met had I not gone into the teaching profession.
There’s the Texan who wears cowboy boots and buckle every day to his university. Then there’s the Swiss gypsy who has more kids than you can shake a stick at. Let’s not forget the London wide boy who likes to check his hair every 2 minutes and finally, the Scotch mystic who believes in spirits. Priceless!!!
I'm sure we'd love to hear more about this restaurant of yours. What's it called and where is it exactly?
My restaurant is called Keep in Touch. It’s located next to Minburi Technical College, just off Minburi High Road, in the Min Residence apartment complex. Check out our Facebook page: Keepintouch Minburi
Who does it cater to? Do you serve alcohol to drunks into the wee small hours or is it a place where I can bring the family and enjoy some food as well?
It caters to Thai and foreign customers and we are open from 10am till late. We do have a lot of families who are customers also. We hold regular events and get-togethers and it’s a good meeting point for local chalkies.
How did the recent floods affect business?
It was bizarre!
We were lucky because at a certain point during the floods, the water was steadily creeping towards us and I thought we were going to lose everything. The apartment complex we are situated in did a great job of keeping the water out. Only 50 metres away, the other side of a protective bunker, was over a metre of water and Minburi was totally flooded out. Most other restaurants were closed for the duration; we stayed open and cleaned up regarding business. For me it was good business, for others who were not so lucky, it wasn’t good at all.
I bought a very cheap Songteaw, put an extension on the exhaust and covered the front to stop water getting inside the engine. The locals thought it was crazy - a foreigner driving round offering free lifts whereever I went.
Is this business something you own outright or do you run it with a Thai partner?
I run the restaurant with my wife.
What prompted you to start the business a couple of years ago? I presume you had little or no experience in the restaurant game.
I met my wife when she was the sole owner. Our relationship blossomed and we got married. I started to get more involved with the everyday running of the place and it went from there. As time went by I implemented changes to the place regarding the way it was run. I built an extension and generally turned the business around. We still have some way to go but now we have a solid, profitable business.
Regarding restaurant management experience, I had no initial experience at all. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think the best thing to do is to understand when something is not working and try to move on quickly.
It's nice to hear of a teacher-owned restaurant business doing well.
I try to run the kind of place that I would like to visit myself. The food’s good, the drinks are cheap. We run a very tight ship. There are no hidden extras on the bill. All my customers will contest to this.
I try to add new items on the menu all the time to keep things fresh.
We offer other services too such as airline tickets, a taxi service for long and short distances, a pool table (free on Wednesday evenings) wi-fi, karaoke, Thai and Western music and sports events and movies showing on a big screen projector out in the beer garden.
I guess though that you still need to teach to boost your income. Is juggling around the restaurant business and teaching not difficult?
No, not really. If I’m not teaching then most of the time I can be found at the restaurant. Sometimes I if I get a bit tired I leave it to the very capable hands of my wife. On the whole, it’s an enjoyable experience with great rewards.
Teaching will always be my number one job though and when I’m in a classroom, it remains my first priority.