Ajarn Street

Ask Joyce Armitage

When only a wise old head will do.

I am here to answer all those nagging ‘teacher etiquette' questions that sometimes even your best friends and colleagues can't or won't answer. Please don't be afraid to ask. With years of teaching experience behind me, I'm hopeful that I can always come up with a solution that keeps a smile on everybody's face and keeps the work-place harmonious. Best regards, Joyce Armitage.

Dear Joyce. Whenever I attend a job interview and find myself in front of an interview panel, I'm always confused as to whether I should acknowledge everyone in the room. I am of course referring to the school ‘lackey' - often a young, pretty girl who is there just to take notes? Simon.

Joyce is of the belief that acknowledging everyone in the interview room endears you to all those present and will do you no harm whatsoever in the job hiring process. Obviously one should pay more careful attention to those asking the questions because ultimately it's they who will make the final decision; however, ignoring a person on the basis of them being there ‘just to take notes' only serves to portray a degree of aloofness on your part. That said, Joyce would be quick to point out the fine line that exists between being friendly and being flirtatious. Flash a smile from time to time - but leave it at that.

Joyce, what should I do if a student wants to ‘friend' me on my Facebook page? Colin.

Joyce must confess to being far from au fait with all these social networking websites. I'm not even sure if ‘social networking' is the right term. I have always believed that if one wants to communicate for purely social purposes, there really is no substitute for the telephone or a handwritten letter on good quality scented note-paper. From what little I have seen of these Facebook and Tweety websites, I feel it would be inappropriate to expose a student to writing and photographs that are invariably of a personal nature. This is one occasion where Joyce feels that business and pleasure certainly shouldn't mix.

I teach a group of adult students in the evenings, and I often address them from a seated position behind one of those old-fashioned flip-up desk-chairs. In other words, my legs are in full view of the class. What position should I adopt? I often go for one leg resting across the other but it just seems so inappropriate. Michael.

Believe it or not Michael - this is a very common question and a worry to so many other teachers - so you are certainly not alone. Joyce believes having both feet firmly planted on the floor is the most gentlemanly way to go about things, as long as you avoid that awful shaking leg syndrome which always comes across as ungainly. If your ‘bottom half' is constantly exposed to your students, it makes sense to make sure there are no hidden surprises going on under the table. Joyce definitely thinks this includes making sure there are none of those awful flashes of bare leg above the sock.

Hello Joyce. Unfortunately, I'm a teacher who still enjoys a smoke between lessons (yes, yes, I know I should quit) but how can I go back into a classroom and make sure I don't reek of tobacco? Roger.

I tend not to have the same dim view of smoking when compared to others. My late husband, Stanley (a dear, dear man) enjoyed smoking in moderation and Joyce thinks everyone should be allowed a vice or two, provided they don't involve camcorders and handcuffs. Even I admit that times have changed now. Whereas in the past, a man carrying a small bag of toiletries usually hung around outside poorly-lit taverns winking at sailors on shore leave, there is positively no shame nowadays in disappearing into the men's room for a good old-fashioned freshen-up. And if a small leather zip-bag challenges one's masculinity, then I am sure a smart pencil-case would serve the purpose just as well.

Dear Joyce. I love your no nonsense approach to things. What is the best way to approach the admin staff at my school and enquire as to the status of my work permit application? I don't want to make them lose face and force them to admit that the passport poking out from under that great big pile of scrap paper is mine? Melissa.

This is a tricky one Melissa. Even Joyce has had occasion to bite her lip in the face of administrative error or simple negligence. I have always found the best way is to make small people feel special. Administrative staff often feel insignificant and unloved. Make them feel special by telling them what a fantastic job they do and how the school couldn't possibly function without them. But remember - all words must come from the heart. I remember years ago, when Stanley (a dear, dear man) and I lived in India for a while. We had a punkawalla of barely eighteen summers. His name I can't recall but I remember him being dark-skinned, wiry and muscular. I used to present him with the odd gift from time to time and it made all the difference in our working relationship. I'm not suggesting you shower your admin staff with a treasure chest of glittering jewels but kind words can be just as precious.

Dear Joyce. I teach in a very small town in North Eastern Thailand with very few what you might call ‘late night entertainment venues' However, on a Friday night, after a hard week in the classroom, myself and a couple of teaching colleagues like to paint the town red. I'm always worried in case a student, or heaven forbid, their parents, might see us ‘under the influence'. Dave.

Joyce might be an old fuddy-duddy in many people's eyes, but she knows one thing - boys will always be boys. And I think the world appreciates that people like to let their hair down at the weekend and there will always be times when one's judgment is not perhaps as ‘culturally sensitive' as it could be. However, even a drunken sailor should know where the line is drawn. There is nothing wrong in getting a tad boisterous on a gentleman's night out as long as there is no full-frontal nudity and no animals are hurt in the process.

I am the only female teacher in an all-male teacher's room. When I turn up for work on a Monday morning, the guys are invariably exchanging weekend war stories while I want no more than to disappear to my little alcove and get on with my lesson preparation. Does Joyce think I'm obliged to join in with the staffroom banter or am I Ok to sidestep it at risk of being called an ‘uptight frump'? Jenny.

These war stories as you call them - most of them grossly exaggerated - are exchanged in male-dominated workplaces all over the globe. Joyce is inclined to say who cares what everyone thinks as long as you are there to do your job well and conduct yourself in a professional manner befitting a lady. Be honest with yourself - say "look guys. I would love to stand around gossiping but these lessons aren't going to prepare themselves". Remember the old saying - sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

Hi there Joyce. I'm applying for jobs and don't feel it's necessary to put my date of birth on my resume. I'm 63 years old if you must know but I look and act so much younger. Why should I give any recruiter the pleasure of saying "you're too old" and filing my resume immediately in the waste paper basket? Edward.

Unfortunately it seems to be standard procedure these days to include your date of birth on a curriculum vitae. However, you can take pleasure from the fact that often a more mature head will be required for the position. It's not always the young who automatically go to the top of the pile. One very good reason why Joyce would always make sure date of birth is included is to avoid one of those beastly communication exchanges where a company has to ask for your age in a straightforward manner. It's not an exchange either party really wants to get involved in.

Joyce. My school makes me do gate duty twice a month. I am by nature a very relaxed person and tend to slouch an awful lot. How can I make sure I'm creating the right impression in front of the parents when they drop their kids off at school? Murray.

I think this is all a matter of self-discipline Murray. You're obviously concerned about making a good impression for the parents but you are only human. Just act natural and no one will fault you for it. No one expects you to salute and stand there ramrod stiff with a frozen smile, just as no one expects you to lean against the school gates with your hands in your pockets. Adopt a safe middle ground. Shoulders straight, hands clasped loosely in front of you and legs slightly apart to ensure equal weight distribution.

Dear Joyce, I work in a poor rural school with no air-conditioning in the classrooms and sometimes during the lesson, my throat is like the inside of a bus driver's glove. I never feel really comfortable taking drinks into the classroom, especially when the students are suffering just as much as I am, but during the hot season, I can barely get my words out. The students all think I've lost my voice but it's because I'm totally parched. Honestly Joyce - sometimes my throat is like a baby camel's chewing rag. Alf.

You certainly have my sympathy Alfred. And I'm going to join the chorus and say you are perfectly entitled to partake of a little refreshment to help your lessons along. However, Joyce thinks that this is a time for discretion. Discreet sips from a glass of water are going to win you far more brownie points than guzzling carbonated drinks from a can and telling the class how much better you feel.

Joyce. I've been working at a private language school for about six months and I've become very fond of one of the girls on the front desk. How can I let this girl know I'm interested? I'm not even sure that she likes foreigners but she sure smiles at me a lot. I'm not looking for marriage but it would be nice to go on a proper date and get out of my apartment once in a while. Kenneth.

Kenneth, are you sure it's female company you crave and not just a group of friends you can socialize with? Let's presume that romance might be in the air. In that case, the rules of courtship are no different to when myself and Stanley (a dear, dear man) began our lifelong alliance. OK, there may be fewer stolen glances across the aisle of a church on Sunday mornings, but the rules are basically the same. Chat to the young lady in question, make her laugh, find out a little more about her, and you will instinctively know when it's time to ask for that important first date. I will give you one word of caution though - Stanley and I met when we both worked in the accounting department of Arthur Entwhistle and Sons (the company building has since been demolished to make way for a block of dreadful yuppie apartments) but we never let our blossoming relationship get in the way of our work. Even when we had our disagreements, the ledgers were always maintained to the highest degree. Keep in mind that conducting a relationship with a colleague will and always does have its risks.

Every Saturday morning, I teach a private student for a couple of hours in a local McDonalds. I only charge her 400 baht an hour. My question is this - who should pay for the actual food and drinks we consume? I don't want to sound like a bread-head but I feel that any food and drink I pay for is just eating into my hourly fee. Caz.

Joyce will say one thing - in this situation, very rare is the Thai student who would take advantage of ‘his or her very own teacher' by ordering the full-on set menu complete with the supersize option. In fact I've known private Thai students to nurse a small soft drink through three changes of government. Never let it be said they are there to take advantage of the teacher. If you truly feel uncomfortable about the costs eating into your profits and overheads, perhaps it's time to look at things from an economical standpoint and increase your hourly rate. This way no one gets hurt.



Hi Joyce, I noticed that teaching in Thailand requires that you have a passport from the US or Europe countries. How likely would you say it is for someone with a Fiji passport to get an internship or a teaching job in Thailand?

By Davishna, Fiji (19th July 2011)

Joyce, is it ever proper to 'key' the school director's Mercedes? The salaries of foreign staff just went down 15%, and the director arrived at school in a brand new black benz. How many demerits on the social register would I receive for doing so?

By Guy, Bkk (18th July 2011)

Rah, you don't happen to work at a school in Minburi do you? It's just weird that your plight sounds so familiar. For obvious reasons I won't name and shame the school. Very curious! But if it is Minburi, I'm sure it's the same place.

By Boris, Bnagkok (16th July 2011)

Fantastic article written in a fresh, entertaining way. Great advice and a laugh, or at least a smile, in every one of "Joyce's" responses.

By Jim, bangkok (15th July 2011)

What will you do if your school already doing everything to get rid of you...not because you're not doing your job but for some reasons we dont understand.They're doing something to make your salary decrease and not increase anymore..its funny thing its a private school with a maximum of students same as public school..every time we have a meeting the only words we used to hear is "if youre not happy the door is open" where is the motivation for us to do our job happily?Teachers also need motivation right??what i realized is..id rather have a small salary but happy...than have it good salary (for not native speaker) but ur not happy..is it legal to have a boss which has no degree of education??and all that we did is showing up all things which is not real!!!! i am damn concern with kids....

By Rah, Bangkok (13th July 2011)

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