Don't get lost in your role

Don't get lost in your role

This letter is in response to "the darker the skin, the smaller the wage." (Ajarn Postbox 4th February 2013)
Those who are in Asia teaching English need to understand this simple reality: English teaching is a superficial industry. English language aptitude is simply social and economic capital in Asia. Is this not stating the obvious?

Those who can speak English often flaunt it like any other status symbol: a new car, Iphone, etc. English is simply a commodity that is bought and sold. Therefore, English teachers are commodities in Asia paid to attract and retain customers- just as any service worker or performer. English teachers are not there to do groundbreaking research or to change the social and moral norms and civil rights of the country that they are in. English teachers are not revolutionaries or diplomats, even though many would like to believe they are. If anything, the English teacher's presence reinforces social and economic structures - oppresive or not. The people with money are the consumers, not the have nots. So for those of you that cannot seem to accept that ESL in Asia is a service/entertainment industry that caters to the rich and fashionable, my advice is move on. I did, and I am at peace with my decision.

I knew, had I stayed in Asia, my "stock" would go down every year as I got older, even if I became a better more qualified teacher. Like entertainment and fashion workers, English teachers are the most marketable when young, affluent, attractive and novel. Unfortunately for qualified and competent Philipino teachers, old teachers, fat teachers, ugly teachers and teachers of colour, the ESL industry does not value these people as much. And why would it? The whole premise of ESl in Asia - the fake grades, the rote memory tests, the automatic passes, and the short term employment of the workers are, by and large, a big show. English teachers, escpecially in language schools, are entertainers that are there to display the social norms and capital of their "prosperous" culture. But what's wrong with that? Many people make their money entertaining others. Windowdressing is not prostitution.

English is taught, bought and sold the same way a major motion picture is at Siam Paragon. You have the actors, the directors, the stage and the audience. By the end of my teaching stint in Thailand, I likened my classes to one of those medieval restaurants where the patrons dress up in medieval garb, eat giant drum sticks and throw them on the floor when they're done. And the more I accepted it as a game, the more the students and administration liked me.

So for those of you in Thailand scraping by, please remember you are there as an entertainer. Your marketablity is determined before you get there and you'll easily be replaced when you go. Enjoy your stay and try not to believe too much in your role. Who knows, with enough patience, you can even make director one day.

Brian


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