Let's expose dodgy teachers

With the recent news about an alleged paedophile murderer hiding out in Bangkok as a teacher, perhaps you could do some investigative journalism run a story about how few employers in Thailand actually do background checks on teachers and how easy it would be for a psycho to get a job here probably in a matter of minutes. Perhaps the city of Angels hides more deeply sinister figures than we had hitherto imagined.

In the UK for example, every single person involved with children or other vulnerable groups must provide a recent police disclosure of criminal records (either full or partial based on the kind of position applied for). Proper background checking involves contacting academic registrars at universities and records officers at training providers, it also involves contacting superiors or former employers (not colleagues or acquaintances as most EFL teachers here seem to think).

Sadly so few employers in the EFL business in Thailand actually take the time to check qualifications and backgrounds, that I am often insulted and accused of being some kind of verification nazi or beaurocratic fool for attempting to get some basic background information from candidates, beyond the fact that they may be white, which many teachers assume is qualification enough, it seems.

You will say “Caveat emptor” or the equivalent – ie employers should check, or it’s their own fault if a teacher turns out to be a potentially dangerous liar or phoney. But I hope that you can understand that contacting academic registrars and referees takes time – weeks or months usually – and often those employers who do check are forced to either recruit only from abroad (with a significantly lower number of fraudulent applications in general) and / or to install a ‘probationary period’ of 3 months or so in order to buy time to complete the verification process.

While it is admirable for a website like ajarn to champion the rights of foreign teachers in Thailand, I also feel there is a hand in hand obligation to acknowledge and understand the high proportion of ‘dodgy’ native English speaking EFL teachers out there at the moment. The EFL community in Thailand needs to take a long hard look at itself and examine the sometimes exploitative, commonly cynical and occasionally openly hostile and racist attiudes that prevail in some parts of the community. There also seems to me to be a kind of middle-aged, boys dinking club mentality common to many staffrooms.

The all pervading conspiracy of silence when it comes to the behaviour of western EFL teachers in general can be seen in far too many places. “It’s them against us.” But who is for the students, then? It is more likely that a person will be ostracized for speaking up against errant behaviour, than the person who is spoken out against, although I understand this is common to Thai culture as well.

In Thailand I have had to turn away literally hundreds of western teachers for want a a single reference from a former employer, let alone anything else. I would also conservativelty estimate that amongst the applications I receive from native English speaking teachers (and I recruit for positions which are generally above average as you can see from my postings) and of those I attempt to check, at least 30% or even more are fraudulent in some way. 30%+!!!!! Is there any other field or place in the world where this would happen? That is an epidemic! (I know: TIT.)

I know your solution: offer higher salaries and attract better teachers, but there are several of the usual objections.
1) Increasing higher salaries does nothing to discourage ‘dodgy’ teachers – in fact it only emboldens and attracts them to become more and more brazen as they think of their lifestyle here with considerably more cash in their pockets.
2) If average salaries went up, all the flotsam and jetsam and free loaders of the world would be in Bangkok overnight (that’s not to say they’re not here now, either!) as well as the good teachers who are just as likely to come for an average salary, knowing the enormous cost of living differences which make average salaries here quite livable and who comes to Thailand for the money, anyway?.
3) Salaries can increase when the average middle class Thai family (who our schools mostly serve) can afford to pay more for tuition without being forced to withdraw their child from school. All those Mercedes and other signs of conspicuous consumption were not bought for cash, I hope everyone understands, and Thais generally spend more on their cars than on their houses! Take a look at the average Thai wage and tell me if EFL teachers get positive discrimination here or not!

Anyway, I think the foreign teaching community should stand together to put its collective house in order. Is it permissible to tolerate and condone behaviour which we would find completely unacceptable in our own countries in the foreign teachers staffrooms here, simply because it is a different country and the misogynists, sex-residents and alcoholics are here in significant numbers? I don’t believe something stops being wrong simply because lots of people do it.

I bet that if we ourselves started speaking up, we would find that actually the bad teachers are a minority and only get away with things because they are never confronted by anyone. Thai culture prohibits Thai staff from doing this, so perhaps it is time we took the matter into our own hands.

I’m sure there are other alleged paedophile murderers and other seriously unsuitable people still lurking or hiding as teachers in Bangkok and Thailand. I know for a fact that something like 30% of applicants based in Thailand who apply to me for a job are liars alone. I have no means of knowing what else they may be. That to me, as a hopefully rational, reasonable person with normal standards of decency absolutely shocking and an utter disgrace for a so called ‘profession'.

I’m not advocating a witch hunt, but I would suggest that something could be done to raise the profile of the problem of “dodgy’ teachers to the level when all western teachers would be actively thinking about what they can do to help. Thais may never feel able to do this openly, so perhaps we should import some of our western values into largely western staffrooms rather than turning a blind eye because we are in a foreign country and Thai culture prohibits it.

Anyway, I think the recent news story might be a good chance to post some articles encourage to employers to check teachers’ backgrounds much more carefully than at present and for western teachers in general to try to clean their house up a bit and to stop condoning unacceptable behaviour from colleagues simply because they are in a foreign country.

Chris Pennington

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