The infamous teacher fire drill

The infamous teacher fire drill

Foreign teachers need to be careful about choosing to work at a private school anywhere in Asia, because private schools are businesses first and educational institutions second. Many are unscrupulous and some are actually criminal. And here in Thailand, some are criminal according to even the vaguest Thai legal standards.

The teacher fire drill is a wonderful example of this. Fire drills are performed by a school when there is to be an inspection of that institution by a certain government department. Fire drills are not usually performed to allow people to practice their escape routes from burning buildings. That would be just silly.

The government department sends inspectors - upright and callously righteous inspectors of course - to inspect the employment records of teachers currently working at licensed schools to verify and validate the records of all concerned. But this only happens after a phone call to the school a few hours before the Inspectors arrive. This allows the school enough time to safely clear the airfield of teachers who are, well, neither above-board or on the board or even on the books at all. Being as happily corrupt as street walkers, as too many private schools are, someone has to pay tea money to someone in a monitoring position to stay in business. Welcome to Amazing Thailand.

We had a government fire drill last Friday. Five teachers vanished in the middle of their classes. One, a Brit teaching Matayom Physics at level 3, actually atomized. Another, a Dutch PE teacher, sprinted from the pitch in mid whistle-blow and broke a world record that is sadly never to be recognized. The locations of the other three were only clearly described in the negative afterwards, being declared either ‘not here’ or ‘whereabouts unknown’.

Here are the other ironies of it. There must be some teachers on the books to satisfy the understandable need for inspectors to justify their own jobs and keep the income streaming for all involved. Each of these teachers ideally has a degree and permit. They pay taxes. They follow the rules. Because the order of the law is for some, as maligned and incomprehensible as it often is in the West.

But others do not follow the rules, and for understandable reasons. These teachers lurk in the shadows. They don't pay taxes and of course that means they take home more pay. Don't even fret about the higher rate of pay that these artful dodgers receive. Cash is easier to hide in Thailand than a blackbird at midnight, and since some employees are paid cash, they are invisible and entirely loved by the administration staff. It keeps things simple.

And these illegal aliens skirting the law now get a day off from a fire drill - with pay! And you have to teach their classes while they head to the pub. And that’s in addition to the two day vacations they get every ninety days when they make a visa run and pretend to be tourists in perpetuity nauseum.

Come Monday, all is just swell again. The government department is happy, the school is happy, and everyone is happy - except the legal teachers, of course.
They know what happened. All is well nonetheless. It is sabai-sabai in its purest form.

My advice is to just have a good time, and keep your head down. Otherwise, you'll have to phone the parents and explain that things are so screwed up that you can't even begin to explain, and when you get home it will take a week just to remember what happened.

I'm not going to break my contract over it. I'm in Rome and do as the Romans do...after all, it doesn't mean that I am a part of the problem.

Does it?

Happy Jack

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