The DoS by default
What can happen when your director of studies is a clueless foreigner
I worked for a language centre for two years and it was definitely my most enjoyable teaching job. I gave it up to get a normal 9-5 job so I could spend more time with my girlfriend.
About 50 teachers came and left in my period. There were a lot of wrong 'uns but also a few gems. These gems are still my good friends today. But I'd like to talk about my old director of studies.
A DoS by default
My old director of studies was this burly English guy who seemingly barely got past his GCSEs. He got the job because he played the game and had been there longer than everyone else. This guy had sold his soul for a paycheck of about 60,000 a month.
I remember first meeting him for an interview and just getting bad vibes from him. He was socially awkward and was completely inept. Never trust a man who doesn't make eye contact.
During my two years at the centre I was only late once. I had half a sick day (even though my boss wanted me to not go home 'cos he was too lazy to cover me), and I had students signing up again to learn with me. It was all good. I kept busy teaching 30+ hours a week, and my boss kept busy leaving me alone and looking busy himself.
But as with any inept boss who fears losing their job, they can't help themselves by breaking things that are not broken.
He did many dishonest and stupid things, but I'd like to recall my first problem with him.
I worked six days a week. I was lucky my schedule was always Monday to Friday and stayed that way 'cos many students wanted to learn with me. I chose to do Saturdays as an extra. My usual hours were 12.00-20.30 - Mon-Fri.
Lost drinking time
One day, my schedule said I was done at 6pm on a Friday. Wahoo! I never got to leave early. So, on the Friday I was all set to clock out and have a beer. He called me into the office and asked for a "massive favour". He asked me to cover a part-time teacher from 6.30-8.30 as she had to go to hospital.
Now, I really didn't want to have to do it, but he said he really needed me to. I also 'assumed' I'd get the money from the class as she was part-time. I said yes and ruined my beer time.
Where's my money?!
Come the end of the month there was no extra money for the class. My boss said I was contracted a certain amount of hours and I was below my quota. I said that wasn't fair and he should have told me at the time. I still would have covered the class, but I appreciate honesty. He obtusely said 'You could have just said no".
From there on in, he'd ruined any trust and decency between the two of us. Any classes that needed to be covered were met with "Oh, I'm so busy marking tests and proof reading". He knew it was BS, but because he was an inept boss, he didn't know how to take control. He went off and printed a poster saying "Teachers must cover classes when asked!". A real manchild in charge of 30+ teachers.
The second incident I had was with a private student who signed up for 80 hours. A great guy who travelled for work so just wanted to chat and practise his English.
Well, one night I had a few beers and forgot to set my alarm. I woke up at 10am to a phone call from the sales girl, "Where are you?". I apologised and asked if someone could cover me. They said my student didn't want a different teacher, so don't worry. My student said it was no problem. He would see me tomorrow.
Come the end of the month - my boss docked me the equivalent of 2 hours part-time from my salary. If another teacher had covered me, I wouldn't have been docked he told me. He had got his revenge.
Unfortunately for me, my student cared about who was teaching him. I ended up just sticking two extra hours down on my extra pay sheet and they paid me anyway. Again, my boss was totally inept and just assumed I never lied on my pay sheet. I only did it that one time.
Can you travel?
The 3rd example incident is the reason why you take care of your staff and don't try to cheat them. My boss, after all the shitty and underhand tricks he played on people, asked me to work on Saturdays at a different centre. A centre far away from where I live.
I thought it was just to cover a course. Maybe 20-40 hours and then be back to my local branch where I was contracted to work. I agreed to cover there for no more than 8 Saturdays. He said, "Great! But if we need you there permanently on a Saturday, you can do that, right?"
I knew exactly what he was doing and I just said "You know what? The course you want me to cover - I'm not sure I can cover it now. Let me go away and think about". He replied sarcastically, "You'll think about it???" And I never covered that class.
My language centre was very busy back then. I pretty much always had a full schedule where other teachers didn't. Teachers who weren't so popular (but on the same money as everyone else) were given mundane tasks like putting all the books in order. That took about 10 mins and it was back to twiddling their thumbs again.
I didn't care that they were earning the same as it wasn't my business and I'd rather be teaching than sat doing nothing.
The nightmare ends
I'm pretty sure my old boss was fired about a month before I left. They said he went home for a holiday, but he never returned. The Thai owner did his job for the last month.
I knew something had happened to him so I offered my services to help. She admitted that they didn't actually need anyone to do this job. All he did was create schedules for teachers and find new teachers. She could do that. She then began to ask questions like, "what exactly did he do?". I ripped the "teachers have to cover!" sign off the notice board and said "He made signs like this when his tricks didn't work and he didn't know how to assert himself".
She just smiled looking baffled.
One out of four ain't bad
I've worked under four foreigners. The first one was fantastic. A fully qualified teacher with his own business who really wanted to be the best. The thing I liked the most about him was his honesty. He would admit his mistakes which made him very humble and easy to get on with.
The next three were just terrible people. They weren't qualified to manage and certainly didn't have the experience to be in control of anything. Perish the thought they ever had to teach an unruly class of young learners. They'd be a shivering mess in the corner after the lesson had finished. But they always had a stupid answer for when things went wrong. It was never constructive and their arrogance just did more harm.
Maybe if all these unqualified teachers out there had a qualified boss it wouldn't be so bad. Someone who knows how to manage people and utilize them. Reward the good ones and dispose of the bad ones quickly.
Instead, they tried to manage by lying and cheating. They thought that being a boss gave them some kind of omnipotence. That they could constantly lie and cheat people making 35k a month and these people would never ask questions nor just walk out one day. "Party Paul has really left us in the shit today! He's not picking up his phone and Dave saw him down Cowboy last night". Yea, creatures of habit behaving like creatures of habit - shocking!
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My experience teaching in Bangkok was quite a unique experience(for me) . My first red flag was how much the Thai teachers hated the foreign teachers. Absolute disdain. Their distorted reasoning for the behavior, we make more money. Well gee who's responsible for that. It was fasinating for myself to experience racism first hand. Never in my life and never in any other country I have travelled. I took it in stride and ignored it. You can't change people like that anyway.
It all went South when a notorious teacher returned from an assignment. For 2 months teaching was fun. Then Attila the Hen returned and things went in the toilet. This woman had zero personal skills. Total dictator. Over controlling and no team consciousness. Morale instant zero. I wasn't overly surprised given the school atmosphere. The semi military assembly's,with the ever watchful Thai teachers patrolling the lines of students. Then the free for all classroom antics of super immature teens. Is this 2017 or did I miss something? Over control and under control in the same breath. Yeah that will work.
The whole system is unworkable. Believing the kids are (naughty) so ridiculous. Oppress and over control them and then set them up for a free for all in the classroom. Great idea. No wonder the kids are so immature compared to any teenager I have ever been exposed to. Maybe because all day they hit each other in the head and its taking its toll. This is basic stuff, any hit to the head is an insult to the brain. I'm disgusted with the archaic way these schools are being run and the teaching style being implemented. Top to bottom. Welcome to the third world James. And I haven't even touched on the corruption of the agencies. But they are slowly being phased out and thats a good thing.
By James, Bangkok (14th December 2017)
Oh man I think I worked for the same lady/agency.
I applied for the job telling them full well that I was studying for my degree but did not have it yet. They employed me and then a few weeks after she asked me if I had finished my degree yet. In the interview we talked in detail about how I would be finished in about two years. When she asked me again she got angry that I had not finished yet. Even though she knew it would be two more years. She said the company was professional and they wanted everyone on work permits. She is properly cuckoo. You will often find a teacher here who knows about someone who has dealt with her.
I stopped working for them as soon as the term finished. I was gone without a trace. She knew full well my situation and got angry when I confirmed it again. Wouldn't have been so bad but there were teachers there with degrees who had to constantly hassle her for an update on their work permits. Few teachers that year never even got their work permits done and were forced into doing visa runs. They were told to stay on for new term and they'd get a work permit like it was some kind of a reward. So many WTF moments.
I will never understand the thinking behind it all ha ha. It was all proper crazy. To be honest I dont think I have met a farung boss at a school here who hasn't been in someway broken. I guess this is what can happen to people who try to climb the ladder or be successful in an industry where there is no ladder or little to no success to be had. At a TEFL level I mean.
By Johan, The hell out of Dodge (1st November 2017)
Thanks Craig. I like reading posts like this. Makes me feel less alone and saner in Thailand.
I too dealt with a foreigner similar to this when applying for my third job in Thailand. It was an interview/process from hell.
I applied for a job online and got an email about a week later asking for a 'skype' interview. The lady's name was Thai but she had a 'farang' sir name. Oh, she also asked me to email back about my teaching style. All was looking good. Skype interview to not waste time, and a Thai lady married to a foreigner who had very good English and seemed sincere in finding a good teacher.
I called her on skype, and low and behold, it was a 'farang' woman. Ah, I might get a job working with a foreigner.....great. We had the interview and all was good. She was very articulate in explaining the position and she implored me to ask questions. I finished the interview happy and excited and at the prospect of getting this job. This job didn't pay particularly well, but it seemed like a job where I could grow. The skype interview was done on a Tuesday, and she said she'd contact me again on Friday to tell me if I'd be invited to a face-to-face interview or not. They had more people to interview.
Come the Friday and I check for a reply. Nothing. Gets to lunchtime and there's no reply. No problems, she said Friday. Gets to dinner time and there's still no reply. It hits 19.30 and nothing. I see she's been on skype all day so I decide to message her;
Me: "Hey there. How are you?"
Her: "Good, thanks. And you?"
I'm thinking, "Okay, I'm just being polite to start things rolling. Where are we on the job position?"
Me: "I'm great, thanks. Sorry to disturb you, but is there any news on the teaching position I interviewed for on Tuesday?"
Nothing. She didn't reply. She was set to online all day. She continued to be set to online after we spoke. She replied to my first message within 30 seconds and now nothing. I ran the interview back in my head and remember she said maybe 5-6 times, "We're a very professional company. We do everything properly".
I wake up the next day and still nothing. I go to my part-time job and speak to my friends at lunchtime. I explain my situation and they tell me I'm overthinking it. They say she's probably still interviewing people but wants to keep you close by. I agree, but explain that I really want the job and she waxed lyrical about her company's professionalism. This just doesn't come across as professional.
I know I come across as maybe overthinking things, but this job seemed great. Near my home, better than average salary, foreign boss who seems very professional and sincere. This was all new to me and I wanted to be a part of it. I emailed her on the Sunday and she finally replied. She said she'd just got off a flight and had been busy. No problems, I thought. Just happy to hear they wanted me to come for a face-to-face interview.
She called me on the Monday and asked when I'd like to come for the interview. Would I like Wednesday or Thursday? I said Wednesday is good for me, but it's really what's convenient for you. I'm not working now so I'm easy. She asks me to come on Wednesday and that's when things got even weirder.
I arrive Wednesday and go to the teachers' room. She introduces me to the other teachers and I shake their hands, etc. It all felt like I had got the job already. She says she will show me around the school. She introduces me to the Thai staff as 'maybe the new P5 teacher' and one Thai staff member just said, "Not maybe. For sure ha ha". Guess they were impressed my shirt was tucked in and I was wearing a tie. It all felt very much like the job was mine, but she kept going from ‘maybe and might’ to language which sounded like the position was mine.
I go to meet the P5 Thai teacher and the kids who were doing summer camp. The farang lady kept saying things like, "This will be your classroom and this will be your Thai teacher". The farang lady and the Thai teacher start speaking in Thai, so I go round and chat with the kids. I speak Thai fairly well and overhear the Thai teacher say "No babies. He's older. It's good. No more babies". Basically, don't be employing young foreigners for me to work with. I'm late 20s now.
I go back to the teachers' room and get introduced to more people. We sit down and the farang lady asks, "So, everything okay?". I say sure. Seems like a nice school. I spoke to the kids and they weren't shy. She tells me they only employ the best teachers so that is why. The farang lady tells me that if I want the job it's mine. But…… go away and think about it. I tell her it's all good. I very much want the job. She insists I go away and think about it and contact her 'on Friday'. It was all so fucking weird. None of it made sense.
I get home after interview and my friend messages me about the interview. I tell him that I think I have the job. Crazy farang lady wants me to message her later to confirm or not. He just tells me to message her now and say yes. I message her back saying I want the job. She replies with, "Oh, I'm so happy. I was worried you didn't want the job!". At this point I should have just said no. I was so confused by her behaviour. It was that of someone who's mentally ill off their nut on cheap booze.
I started the job and it was the most unprofessional thing I've ever experienced. Promises of a work permit. Being told I had to do a visa run because they hadn't sorted out my work permit yet. Doing a visa run and being told to get a 'double entry' just in case. Being taxed when I had no work permit nor had a tax form for them. Paying 'social security' when I had health insurance of my own. Being told that I couldn't be on their health insurance plan yet because a former teacher hadn’t returned his health insurance card for me yet. It was all fucking nuts.
I'm in my 30s now. I don't teach anymore. The crazy farang lady's company make my Thai company look like BMW. My advice to any new teachers; if a school or agency bang on about how 'professional' they are all the time. If the boss has to keep reiterating their qualifications and credentials every 5 minutes in the interview - walk away. That person is hiding something.
By Simon, Out of sight (29th September 2017)
The comments section for this article has descended into something of a nasty expat discussion forum slanging match - so we need to put a line through it.
Constructive comments and stories will continue to be entertained and published. The rest won't.
By Philip (Ajarn.com), Samut Prakarn (31st July 2017)
@ Steve C -Once is enough to be considered an appalling, lying, thieving employee!
Easy there, Mother Theresa.
If you read it properly and used common sense, you can see why I claimed the deducted two hours. Plus when I covered that part-time teacher and didn't get paid, I was over my 42 hours office time as stated in the 'contract'. I was actually in that week for 44.5 hours. That's why, as my DOS so eloquently put it, "you could have said no".
Funny how when the boss can't do the employee a favour because 'it's in the contract", but when the employee plays that card, it's met with "You're not a team player. You have a negative attitude".
In my two years there I was late once and took only half a sick day. I was entitled to 10 sick days a year. Many other teachers went over their sick day allowance simply because they didn't care. I could have picked up the phone that morning and said I was sick. Day off fully paid. But instead, my first instinct was to rush there.
In these situations we have teachers there to cover. In fact, that is one of the DOS' main duties. Cover teachers which he very rarely did. The only reason no one could cover is because my student didn't want another teacher. He wanted only me. I'm sure if my student knew I was going to be docked 'cos my DOS lost face when trying to pull the wool over my eyes, he would have taken a cover teacher.
This is a huge problem teaching here - being good at your job. When party Paul doesn't come to work or rocks up stinking of Sang Som, it's business as usual. No one is shocked or 'appalled'. In fact, he's given praise for the few times he does show up to work on time. When a teacher who was only ever late once in two years comes late, it's "Come on! We expect better from you!"
By craig, Bangkok (6th June 2017)
This was a good read. I too have worked in a language centre and its true, the manager will either make or break that kind of school. But I have also found that the Thai management will always favour the person we would consider socially inept to be manager, as from their perspective that person is respectful and will do exactly what is expected of them. It is unfortunate but thats just the way it is. I would still recommend the language school to newbies over the standard 45+ hours a week trapped in a standard Thai school / open prison though! Thailand is a great place to holiday but the reality of working there will never change. It is worth a year of anyones time absolute max.
By Daniel S, Far away from Thailand (6th June 2017)
"I ended up just sticking two extra hours down on my extra pay sheet and they paid me anyway. Again, my boss was totally inept and just assumed I never lied on my pay sheet. I only did it that one time."
Once is enough to be considered an appalling, lying, thieving employee!
By SteveC, Bangkok (6th June 2017)
I'm kinda torn over language centres. Everything you guys said is also true in my experience however I still found them better paying and more reliable than Thai schools with less or at least different bullshit. I can totally sympathize with the evening finishes though. It was depressing when you get off at 9 in ramkhamhaeng and was tough to find anything to eat.
By Bigbadb, Not Thailand ( thank the gods) (5th June 2017)
Farang bosses who try to emulate the Asian boss with foreign staff don't work well. In Asia the boss is the boss. The boss often treats their fellow Asian staff as they please. They always have to look important and busy.
If you're a foreign boss with foreign staff, why would you behave like that? Because we are in Asia? It doesn't work. People can be pretty cool if you appeal to their better nature. Make them feel valuable and part of a team. Make them feel they're making a difference and are welcome to add to the business. If you treat people like shit, you're going to have an unproductive workforce. This is true anywhere in the world regardless of the culture. The Thai staff I work with hate our boss for one very simple reason - she's a massive c***.
Treat people with respect and dignity and they'll usually show it back. A pretty simple concept that seems to be lost in many work places because you have bosses who simply don't know what they're doing. Too scared to let staff get on with it because they fear they'll be let go. But this is what a good boss should be doing. Cultivating talent.
By Sam, Bangkok (5th June 2017)
"and the inconvenient weekend hours grows old"
I would also give a mention to the evening hours as well. It's 5.00 pm and everyone is making their weary way home. Except you. You've got an evening conversation class from 6.30 to 8.30 - half a dozen low level students who have all had a tiring day at work and would rather be doing anything except studying English. But you're all stuck with it! By the time you've finished, put your books away in your locker and had a ciggy with a fellow teacher, it's well after 9 pm and the Bangkok traffic is still bad. Now where are you going to find something to eat? Horrible.
By Phil, Samut Prakarn (5th June 2017)
A very satisfying read... and I must say I can see through your eyes in every one of the anecdotes.
There's a lot to be said for language schools... the hours, the flexibility and the varying levels of classes... but there's not much else.
As good as these places are for newbies to cut their teeth and learn the ropes of teaching students of many levels, the lack of consistency, the pretty lousy pay and the inconvenient weekend hours grows old.
But it's definately the place to meet the real odd-balls of the trade. That aspect alone is a Mark Twain adventure!
By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (5th June 2017)