This is the place to air your views on TEFL issues in Thailand. Most topics are welcome but please use common sense at all times. Please note that not all submissions will be used, particularly if the post is just a one or two sentence comment about a previous entry.

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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


Show me the money

Show me the money

I’ve just spent a few hours perusing through the articles on your web site. With all the talk about teachers not getting paid enough, schools taking unknown taxes out teacher’s pay, or even school scamming to not pay a teacher’s his or her end of the year bonus. I’ve never come across an article on a positive note regarding the money or Baht a teacher can make with the right drive and personality here in Thailand. So, I decided to write this email to you and who ever wishes to read it.

I recall hearing about a teacher some years back, 3 years to be more specific, who was making over a 100,000 baht a month teaching, and as I said…this was three years ago. And get this; I heard that this guy was an African American. Now, I have nothing against African Americans. I’m a firm believer in equality for everyone, heck, I’m from California and you know we are a rainbow of cultures out there which is great, but with all the age, color and nationality limitations I read about on Ajarn.com, if this guy is real, and I believe he is, and can make that kind of baht. Why do I get the impression, and I think most people would if they started reading your articles or just talk to teachers in general, that working in Thailand as a teacher is primarily for backpackers and ex-pats who are just trying to stay or live here - which is my main point.

Of course there are a few that get into management or administration that make a little bit more. But, as I said, if this guy can make this kind of baht…then teaching in Thailand can be a very lucrative opportunity. Lets see, now a 100,000 baht is about 2,500 USD and that’s a pretty good living here in Thailand. If you paid…lets say 5 – 8,000 for a room, 3 – 5,000 baht for food, 3 – 5,000 for misc., and 5 – 10,000 for entertainment, that would be between 16 – 28,000 baht a month. You could then save almost 75,000 baht a month. Now that’s enough to save for retirement even in the states. Ok, let’s add that good old Thai Insurance plan that you mentioned awhile back at 500 baht a month. You would still be in the ballpark. So now all we have to do is find this guy and ask him what is his secret…right? Not at all, I watched Jerry McGuire on HBO last month and I love that phase “Show me the Money. So, here it is or were/how I think a teacher can get it.

Well, I live here in Thailand going on 5 years and when I first came to Thailand, the average starting monthly salary was between 20 and 25, 000 baht. In my first job, I started out at 30,000 baht a month, and at a Thai Government school. I found that many people found this amount at that time to even be some what unbelievable. In fact, a friend of mind in Pattaya, and he was quit insulting at the time, thought I had to be doing something sexual with somebody to be get this amount. I didn’t tell him at the time, but I was actually making a bit more by doing a few extra classes on the weekends. My average take home baht was around 40 – 45,000 a month and I was only working 24 hours a week.

Since that first job, I have entered the business IT environment/corporate world here in Thailand. I make a lot more in comparison, but I’ve continual to teach part-time because I love it. It’s still relaxing and enjoyable to me. I teach corporate classes now in the evenings and some classes on the weekend, but I’m still making more than many of the full time jobs I see posted on your website. First let me say that I’m not trying to make myself out to be some kind of superstar teacher, because I think I’m quit average and I’ve met plenty of outstanding teachers in Thailand that I consider much better than myself.

The point I’m trying to make is that teaching here in Thailand in a great living. I could go back to the USA and make over a 100,000 USD (4,000,000 baht) a year in IT, but Uncle Sam (taxes) would take 38%, it would cost me another 40% if I wanted to own a home ( 28% if I only rented) and to eat and drive around would eat up the rest. If I want to save as much as I could here in Thailand making a 100,000 baht, I would have to make at lease 20 – 25,000 USD more a year. Hey…maybe my numbers are wrong…no, they’re not, unless you are spending a lot more on entertainment…if you know what I mean.

Recently, I just sat down and calculated what I could make if I went back to teaching full-time and continued corporate teaching part-time at the same time. I realized I could get pretty close to the salary of that guy I heard about three years ago. The English industry here in Thailand is on the move, and the direction is up. I just heard from teacher friend of mine this week that the Thai government is on the move again to increase English competency in Thais and I’ve noticed myself that corporate teaching has increased 30% to 40% over the last three years.

Three years ago, I had to struggle to find a part-time corporate teaching jobs on Ajarn.com. So, why do I get the impression that the teaching industry here is a some what an ok career to have when it’s actually it's great and better than some jobs many of us could get in our own countries? Maybe, I’m just nutty and blowing the whistle on something we, us ex-pats, are trying to keep a secret. If I am...ok, I’ll keep it to myself, but can we stop complaining so much about the money. Because teaching here in Thailand…can “Show you the Money”, if you really work at it with the right attitude and love it.

In conclusion, I’ve had people ask me how much do I make, how much rent do I pay, or how much does this or that cost . But, I have to say that, although I’ll always try to help out new comers to Thailand or my friends. I’ve had to come to the conclusion that the answer to these questions varies from person to person. What I mean is that if you walk into an apartment building or job wearing saddles, a T-shirt, and holes in your jean when I walk in wearing nice pants, clean shirt, and closed toe shoes, when we start negotiating a price for rent or pay, and it is negotiable, we may get different amounts. I’ve stayed at a places where there were people paying different amounts for the same room.

Some of you may say this is unfair, but I believe that this is because Thailand is a culture that is based on relationship not fairness. If you don’t know this by now, then keep living here, reading Ajarn.com or the newspapers. You will soon wake up. The first impression has a higher impact then other places/countries. In your own country you may have laws to protect you from this type of unfairness, but not here. Just read the paper and see all the advertisements specifically requesting a male or female age 22, or less than 45. Another important area is attitude. I have met countless people who think that Thailand should change…and I’m one of them too, but I must first remind myself that Thailand was here before I came and will be here if I choose to leave. So, I try not to focus so much on what needs to be change, but rather focus on my job and teaching English the best I can to my students. I came here to live and enjoy life, not to change a country. I’m not that important nor do I have that much clout. But, what I can change is my style, to be respectful, my method, to be more successful at teaching, and my attitude, so I can enjoy living here. I can always go back to the USA and complain about my president.

Believe me; he’s given me enough to complain about for a lifetime. Ok, I think I will stop here, but one last thing. I’m sure we all will agree that Thailand is great place to live. If not, we can always go home. But let’s realize that for native English speakers/teachers. We have it pretty well here. So, let’s make sure that we can see the forest through the trees. Then Thailand can “Show you the Money”. I’m not rich by any means, but I’m not living at the poor house either.

Nick


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