"Guilty until proven innocent" seems to be the prevailing attitude of Thai educational administrators and bureaucrats towards foreign teachers. After three months in Bangkok studying the potential for foreigners to teach here, I -- and a number of other foreign TEFL teachers I have met -- plan to return to China and elsewhere where foreign teachers are not treated with suspicion and a surprising lack of respect. My credentials are good which is why I was selected as a teacher for one of Thailand's best teaching jobs at one of the top universities. I have thirty years of teaching experience including 5 years at an American university, TEFL certification from a high quality course, bachelors and masters degrees, and many years working in business, education. and the arts in the U.S. as well as in Japan, China, and Egypt.
Why then did the technology and communications department of one of Thailand's most renowned universities present me and other new foreign teachers with a "no compromise" contract demanding:
-- 2 months notice required of intention to quit the position,
-- only 3 times per year when leaving was allowable,
-- and (worst of all), if the teacher decides to leave before the year contract ends, they are expected to repay 1/2 (one half) of all payments received from the university?
Further, no provision was made for the expenses and difficulties of starting a new life in a new country. Contrast that with the many schools in China which compete to offer foreigners a free apartment outfitted with broadband and cable TV, roundtrip airfare to their home country, one-month holiday pay plus national holidays, and a salary that is normally at least double the typical local income. As one qualified but disgruntled foreign teacher wrote on the very valuable and informative TEFL website, www.ajarn.com , "Why would anyone come here to teach?"
Repeatedly, foreign teachers have complained to me that Thai administrators have little concept of a teacher's needs or rationale for teaching in a foreign country. Teachers are expected to punch in at 9 am and out at 5 pm -- a schedule which was explained to me by a department director as "only fair and what was expected of Thai staff." This uncompromising administrator had no interest whatsoever in hearing arguments -- "take it or leave it." I was advised that "In Thailand, no one negotiates with the leaders -- it would be considered disrespectful. " I would argue that the most successful contracts are "win-win" compromises. This attitude seems to be both short-sighted and destructive of morale. Sadly, too, teachers find their students are poorly prepared and unmotivated. to learn. Basic study skills are lacking among even the highest level university students who consistently neglect to do their homework or prepare for tests. Witness a meeting I attended in which the chair (a computer expert) reported students had done poorly on their English exams and asked for a quantitative report of numbers of words learned by students. The foreign English teachers tried to argue that language learning was qualitative, not quantitative. Neither side understood the others' point-of-view and, as there was no discussion, an impasse was reached in which both sides were offended.
Government bureaucrats have attempted to address the problems by imposing a steadily increasing number of restrictions on foreign teachers. When I attempted to find work at a well-known private language school franchise, I was told that in order to begin legal teaching work, it would be necessary to change my non-immigrant B visa to the new school (1-2 weeks), obtain a teacher's license (45 days), and then wait for a work permit (1-2 weeks). At best, it would be 1 to 2 months before the paperwork could be completed. This after the expense of having to leave the country to obtain the non-immigrant visa.
"Teach at an international school," many people said, "Teachers there receive high salaries." But in nearly the same breath, I was also told about crackdowns and interrogations made of foreign teachers in recent years. A few criminals had slipped into the international schools and now governmental officials are hotly pursuing foreigners with falsified credentials. It seems "a few bad apples spoil the whole barrel." With the talk of bombings, shootings, and revolution in the air; censorship of movies and websites; and the daily experience of higher prices charged to foreigners, Thailand seems to be an increasingly uncomfortable place for foreigners to stay.
For those foreigners willing to devote their time and energies to quality teaching, it can be a bitterly disillusioning experience. With the salaries going lower and the benefits (medical and other insurance, housing, etc.) fewer, and the cost of living increasing, teachers who have been here for years are now leaving the country. Faced with contracts like the ones I have been presented with over the past three months, few quality teachers would choose to remain. Thailand has options as it is such a beautiful country with lovely, intelligent people. I urge school administrators and government bureaucrats to look to the 21st Century hiring practices of Human Resource departments in international businesses and enlightened governments in other countries. Please -- understand that a foreigner comes to a new country to experience the best, not the worst, of another culture. Understand that increasing restrictions is a form of imprisonment and that most people will wish to escape authoritarian practices. Understand that if you treat an experienced, quality professional from the start with suspicion, you encourage criminals and mediocrity and will lose the best people. Understand that teaching requires considerable experience and training to achieve quality and therefore should be compensated and respected accordingly.
As for me, I'm going back to China next week -- where I feel physically safer and am a much more valued commodity. I would love to return to Thailand one day when and if attitudes change.