Ajarn Street

Twenty types of western teacher in Asia

Which one are you?

I’ve taught in Asia since 2007. During that time I’ve encountered a whole spectrum of characters in a wide variety of roles. I’ve taught in Taiwan, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and China. I’ve taught online, in language centers, in government schools, in international schools and even as a private tutor. I’ve seen it all.

People leave western woketopias for a variety of reasons. Teaching is (pretty much) the only means of supporting yourself out here so that’s what the (unimaginative) majority of us end up doing. I picture teaching as a massive vacuum cleaner hoovering up large swathes of us from all walks of life.

A few former colleagues have helped with some of the categories - a big thank you to them. Disclosure: I have, at some point, ticked a few of these boxes. So, without further ado, let’s crack on.

Alcoholics. These lads need no introduction. I was one. If you’re reading this there’s a high chance you were too. Back in the early days many teachers were out-and-out piss heads. Lots of fun. Endless parties and missed hangover days. One lad I knew drank cans in the classroom. Another had a hip flask. However, as development in Asia increases, tolerance for poor behaviour decreases, and these liabilities are finding themselves fighting for scraps in dodgy language centers and rural government schools.

Sexpats. Often go hand-in-hand with the first group. You’ll find these lads hanging around the infamous “entertainment” zones. Engaged in an orgy of hedonism. Notch counts so high they need calculators. Slaking a thirst that can never be satiated. An itch that can never be scratched. Epicurus, the philosopher of happiness, would be proud. For many, the novelty wears off after a few years, but hardcore sexpat teachers battle through declining testosterone, baldness and failing eyesight to continue buying over-priced lady-drinks for sex-workers’ faux-interest. It’s what real men do.

Lingo. These teachers pride themselves on knowing the local tongue. Abilities range from a few incoherent words to near fluency. Members of the first two groups often develop their own psuedo-language known as “Pigeon”. Pigeon is a corrupted form of English whereby verbs are never conjugated and pronouns are nuked. Example: “Me go home”. The best is when English teachers deploy this linguistic foible in their lessons. It really galvanises the language acquisition process.

Under qualified. We all know these lads. Stacked shelves at Walmart in ArseEnd, Michigan. Did a three day TEFL on Khao San Road and is now an expert in the fields of linguistics, pedagogy and management. Unfortunately, for you, he’s your boss. The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy always increases. The second law of education states that staggering incompetence is always rewarded.

Over qualified. In contrast to the previous group, this group leaves you scratching your head as to why they’re teaching for peanuts in Nakon Nowhere. Talent oozing from every pore – surely they’d be better off at the Large Hadron Collider, or creating the next Apple, or Bitcoin. Alas no, they’re trying to fathom why they need to write DSLOs on a document that will be uploaded to a google drive to never see the light of day again.

Twatpackers. Full of enthusiasm. Know everything. Sometimes dreadlocked. Going to change the world. Experts on the host culture within a month. Trashes everything about their homeland while pedestalizing their transient second-class worker-drone status in Asia (if they're not on tourist visas). Front row seats at the social justice oppression olympics, constantly reminding everyone of how tolerant they are.

Loons. Hard to define but you'll know when you've met one. Trust your instincts. They have that look. Part feral, part meth-fueled psycho. Wild eyes. They either have to be rescued by their embassies or are found dead in a filthy hovel surrounded by flies.

Purists. These guys have carefully sculpted their “teacher” identity. Credentialed to the hilt they unquestioningly jump through flaming hoops of pedagogical inanity. They believe they're making a difference as bonafide Education Service Providers. Sounds better than Babysitting Service Providers. Imagine Neo emerging from his slimy battery pod in The Matrix. A purist’s ego would lock himself back in. You are your job.

Bullshitters. These lads bounce from place to place living on their wits. A lack of qualifications is offset by the gift of the gab and extraordinary charm. Visible tats are a trademark. They don’t tend to stay in one place too long as it’s difficult to not let the mask slip.

Managers. Classrooms are kryptonite to these people. They have an aversion to teaching but love Asia. Given that education is one of the only tickets to remain here they’ve wormed their way into management positions whereby, despite not teaching themselves, they get to evaluate classroom performance. They feel an overwhelming need to justify their existence by constantly tweaking pointless administrative requirements and pushing new-improved teaching strategies - a perpetual churn of misery for their subordinates. They never cover classes - they're there to improve optics, increase revenue student enrollment and appease customers parents.

PGCEi: Often a dad. Does an online, overpriced, word-salad, pseudo-teaching qualification to escape the TEFL game and move to a second-rate international school. Now his mixed-race kids don't have to genuflect to royalty every morning while being bullied in a dirt-floored public school.

Frugal. Dude's gone native. Lives in a $100 bed-n-bog with a fan. Eschews $3 lattes for $0.50c street coffees. Eats nothing but rice and noodles as western food is "too heavy". Takes the bus, walks or cycles to work. Eats school meals.

Playa. Aspires to the footballer/celebrity lifestyle he idolises but could never afford in his home country due to a lack of any discernable talent. Snorts overpriced lines of coke and DJs to local rich kids at the weekend. Will likely degenerate into a sexpat/alcoholic at 35 as his youthful looks fade.

QTS. These are teachers who have taught in the UK. The crème de la crème. Approaching the event horizon of teaching aristocracy. Their first question is often “Have you taught in England?” It's a struggle to conceal their visceral disgust if you respond negatively. It’s not uncommon for a QTS to spit in a non-QTS’s food at lunch. And deservedly so.

Married. These lads form the stable core of a school. The bread and butter. They married a local and are hopelessly trapped. Often in debt and completely dependent on the job. They’re a boon for the aforementioned managers as they’ll eat an incredible number of shit sandwiches. Handy to know if you want to buy a car.

Semi-retired. On the employment scrapheap back home, arthritic knees can't handle British winters. Happy to tick along quietly keeping their heads down. Often seen having a couple of quiet jars. In a relationship with an older lady. Generally quite pleased with their lot.

Dipshits. Would be much happier pushing trolleys around an ASDA car park in their homeland, but through sheer ineptitude and unemployability they've found themselves teaching in Asia. The scourge of the manager as this type is unlikely to know what day of the week it is. Despite this, they're paid the same as their more competent colleagues. They've deprived a village, somewhere, of its idiot.

Accreditors. Along with recruiters they form the backbone of the parasitic class. Like managers, these box ticking perverts wouldn't be seen dead in a classroom. They hold teachers up to standards they themselves define as non-linear, context dependent, multi-dimensional and polymorphic. Whatever that means. If you head down this route you best enjoy writing meaningless word salads littered with nebulous drivel such as: inclusion, differentiation, equality, diversity, global and digital. And enjoy staying in posh hotels.

Jaded. They've been round the block. Independently wealthy but too young for a retirement sticker. They grind it out for the visa. They’ll do anything to stay in the tropics. Even babysitting.

Which one are you?

Jim, Udon Thani


So, I've narrowed myself down to an alcoholic, sexpat, lingo, under qualified, frugal, married, bullshitter, and purist.

Actually, good job Jim - I liked this!

By Richard, Bang Na (27th June 2023)

Which one are you?

By Joris, Bangkok (25th June 2023)

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