When your face just doesn't fit
When a school wants to fire you, what can you do?
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I had been working as a Maths teacher for just under four months at a Catholic school in Bangkok when the head teacher, who is always happy to deliver bad news in a very dramatic way, informed me that parents had complained about the homework books not being marked. He also said that my boss (I'm working for an agency) would come to see me the following day and that I would probably get a written warning. I found it quite odd as I thought the school was very happy with me and I was, for the first time actually enjoying what I was doing - teaching maths to primary school kids. I did not think too much of it as I had just returned from a visa run and I put it down to a misunderstanding.
The agent did turn up the next day and gave me a verbal warning. She also mentioned that there were complaints that the students did not understand the maths. Pretty normal, I thought. A lot of students hate maths and most of them don't understand it. She wouldn't tell me though which students or teachers were complaining. Also normal.
I had an uneasy feeling, but I put it in the back of my mind and concentrated on my work. After that, everything went back to normal, until the teacher that I replaced (he'd gone back to his home country) turned up at school as a fill-in teacher.
And then, on 23 January it happened. The head teacher, again in his proud manner, informed me that there were numerous complaints from teachers, parents and students. Apparently they complained about both the maths and my accent. He said the agent was going to come and see me the following day, I was going to get a final written warning and that I would be fired in two weeks' time (7 February). It hit me like a ton of bricks! It was just before the final exams and I knew it would be virtually impossible to find a job before the start of May.
My first reaction was to threaten the agency with the labour court. What else could I do? I was standing with my back against the wall. I've seen it first hand and experienced it first hand: If the school wants to fire a teacher, for whatever reason, then it IS GOING TO HAPPEN. I knew I was a dead man walking.
The next day I had my disciplinary hearing. I was handed a letter with the complaints (the aforementioned complaints) and it stated that should I not drastically improve, I would be dismissed in two weeks' time. I was already guilty even before I had time to defend myself. And besides, how do you drastically improve your accent in two weeks, especially if you had been hired and done probation with exactly that same accent? And how do you get the students to understand maths in two weeks, if you and the teachers before you couldn't achieve it in six years?
I was between a rock and a hard place. It was clear to me that someone wanted to get rid of me and they were just going through the formalities. But the hearing went extremely well. I stayed calm and spent almost an hour explaining to my agent exactly what I did in my Math classes and the results that I was seeing. At this point I was still highly motivated and had some good results with certain classes. I offered to tutor the weaker students after school and/or during my lunch break. I asked them who complained and the answer was again that they couldn't tell me. I got the same answer to my question, "Exactly what is it that they don't understand?"
At the end of the meeting I felt confident that I had cleared yet another misunderstanding. I pointed out to the agent that I was found guilty even before my side was heard. She offered to go back to the school and talk to the teachers. We rescheduled another meeting for two days later. I was happy, but deep down I had this nagging feeling.
Two days later and instead of me getting students with math problems to tutor, five more complaints were added to the list. These allegations ranged from ridiculous things like not enthusiastic enough, not explaining homework to leaving class early. When I saw the list I exploded. I asked the agent if she wanted to go ahead with ‘this' (the hearing/firing me) and she reluctantly said yes. Then I repeated my question and she, more hesitantly answered yes. I pointed to the bottom five allegations and said "Bullshit" to all of them. That was the end of the meeting. I knew that I would be fired in less than two weeks' time.
It was time to take action. I made a list of what I could do to save my sorry ass. When I was finished, I had sixteen possible points of action, and none of them included physically harming anybody, or their property. They were all legitimate. First on my list was to see the Father/Priest (I have mentioned I'm at a catholic school) and also the school principal. I was hoping for a divine intervention to happen.
At the top of my list were Krusapa, the Ministry of Education and the Department of Labour. If I had to go down, I was going to take those responsible for my demise down with me. I had the name and email of someone at the Ministry of Education. Of course I listed the labour court, but it was not going to be useful until I got sacked.
At that time they were arresting foreigners in Phuket who were working illegally. I forwarded these articles from ThaiVisa to the Thai coordinator, who was also in the process of getting sacked. I mentioned to her that as a Thai she had more power than she thought. I'm sure my emails made their way to the boss.
I sent emails to my agent explaining to her that she was not giving me a fair hearing and therefore could not give me a fair dismissal. I researched unfair dismissal in Thailand and learned more about the Thai labour law and its processes. I made it clear to everybody that I had been to the labour court in Thailand before, and that I got a satisfactory settlement. As an employer in South Africa who'd been dragged before the labour court several times, I know the labour law quite well and I knew what my rights were. There is little difference between South African and Thai labour law.
I also listed my previous agency and the tax man. I googled the teacher whom I thought was behind it all to see if I could get some stuff on him. Nothing, but with a stroke of luck a disgruntled ex-employee told me that the teacher replacing me was not allowed to teach in his home country.
As a last resort, or insurance as I called it, I took my camera to work - a Nikon with a powerful zoom lens - and took photos of the Thai teachers and my colleagues that were working illegally.
I had a lot of ammunition to get revenge, but nothing guaranteed my stay at the school. With a family to support, I was facing two and a half months of unemployment in Thailand. Not a pleasant prospect.
The next couple of days were incredibly stressful. The Thai teachers were relentless, complaining about everything and the students' attitude towards me changed drastically. Teaching had become a nightmare. Clearly a divine intervention was not on the cards anymore.
Three stressful days passed and the coordinator interrupted one of my classes to tell me I was to have a meeting with the agent during my break. "The reason?" I asked. "More complaints," she said. I knew my time was up. But the agent couldn't make it and my meeting was scheduled for the next morning at eight. After a few beers that night, I decided I would be an idiot to go to school the next day to get fired. I called in sick at 8:30.
When I arrived at school two days later, I had been replaced by the previous teacher. I was told to meet the agent at her office and not to come back to the school for the rest of the week. 10:30 was the meeting. I had two more hours of employment.
The agent was nice. I was calm. She showed me my dismissal letter and the list of complaints. It had actually grown to ten! One (in red) was because I went to see the Father. She offered to pay my salary till the end of the month, and pay my bonus and leave as well. Then something strange happened: she asked me if I wanted to sign the letter. Of course. I wanted to get it over and done with and get on with my life. We spoke some more and she asked me again. My answer was yes again. We spoke more and the third time she actually told me that she didn't want to fire me. We agreed I would be at school the next morning!
My colleagues were both surprised and shocked to see me. No one expected me back at school. I know that at least one teacher was either engineering my dismissal or if not, sanctioning it. I saw him going through the books and papers on my desk and I have a witness who saw him deflating my motorcycle tires.
The other teachers were friendly in a professional way, but some were quite distrustful of me. Especially after I had confided in one and told him that a rumour was going around that the teacher I thought responsible was going to have a twenty thousand baht drop in salary. I forgot to mention the rumour about the eight years' overdue tax being paid up.
So four weeks later I'm still at the school. I know they are waiting for an opportunity to fire me. The Thais have lost face and the foreign teacher wants his mate in. It's stressful. When I put in for personal leave to go for an interview, money (2,000 baht per day) and my bonus (2,000 per month) is deducted from my salary. No attempt has been made to do work permit. My contract is up for renewal and my visa runs out in two weeks. I'm putting away money and I'm on the Ajarn job page every day. Just in case.
Getting fired, whether you are guilty of misconduct or not, is very stressful. We have monthly commitments, rent to pay, families to support and we have to take care of our visas. Most of us don't have a strong family support system in Thailand, and with no unemployment benefits, losing your job can be devastating.
When the school tried to fire me, I didn't take it lying down. No one could find anything wrong with my teaching or behavior and they couldn't prove any of the ten allegations brought against me. Three times I offered to tutor the weak students (for free). Up to now no one has taken me up on my offer, nor has anyone told me who the students were that did not understand the maths, or what they did not understand.
I'm still at the school, only because I decided to fight back. I stood my ground and fought for what I believed was right. I pulled out all the stops and used whatever I could: I sent emails; I went to see the head of the school; I threatened them with the courts and the various Thai Ministries; I intimidated and manipulated. But I think despite all this, the school was very lucky: I never had to use that piece of hair for some voodoo.
Update 22nd May 2013
End of March is the time most schools and agents ‘let go' of their unwanted staff. I was hanging on for dear life. When the school asked me to jump, I jumped higher. When they asked me to do fun activities in the Math class, I did fun activities. When they asked me to do kindergarten for summer school, and I did kindergarten. And I did a bloody good job of it. My agent did my work permit and extended my visa. Nirvana, I was going to stay. I bought curtains for my apartment and extended my lease.
Then I got the email during my school break: "We do appreciate your effort in the classroom, but ..." Someone at my agency sent me an attachment to an email, with a signature that was copied and pasted, and said, ‘...we will not be able to offer you a contract for the next school year. I had been fired!
The school made me come back and work another two weeks before they sent me this email: "...not to return to school for the remainder of the term." The reason "It seems the Thai management at the school have been complaining about you being absent and (the agency) not replacing you." I missed one day and I got fired (again)!
I emailed my agent who was on holiday and told her that I had been unfairly dismissed. This is what she had to say: "WE HAVE NEVER FIRED YOU. And we still let the contract being ON UNTIL THE END. Again I don't fire you. The contract is end and we don't want to renew." I explained to her that I was not a fixed term worker, nor have I signed a contract for a specified term with the school or the agency. Logic has it that if I was not working at the school anymore, then I was fired.
I then wrote my agent a factual email, detailing that I had been unfairly dismissed. I have records and proof for every allegation I made - taped conversations, letters, emails, photos, etc. etc. Here's the email:
Dear XXXX I know why you have sent me this email: It's because you are scared that you will lose the agency at the school. And you have reason to be: You have dismissed me unfairly. Let's not forget how it started. Previous Maths Teacher returns and started working as a fill-in teacher. My motorcycle is sabotaged at the school and I saw him and the Head Teacher going through the contents of my desk and drawer.
On Jan 23 I was informed that there were problems and I was getting a formal written warning and that in two weeks time I would be out of the school. During my hearing I explained what I had achieved the past five months. I offered to tutor maths during my free time. I followed up on my offer by email and during my next hearing. I even said I would tutor for free. I was never given any students to tutor, nor was I told who did not understand the maths.
Instead of supporting me, you fabricated the following untruths to expedite my dismissal; I quote from your letter:
"Over the last two months, despite numerous attempts to encourage better teaching, there has been little improvement." And, "I must remind you that you have had previous verbal warnings as to these points. You have also received advice and guidance to help you."
I will repeat what I have said earlier: Apart from the first verbal warning there were no attempts, advice, guidance or verbal warnings, (I stress the plural in warnings), from you, the head teacher or the Thai staff.
Your agency sent me an anonymous email saying my contract won't be renewed. The signature on the letter seems to be fake as I can clearly see that it had been scanned and pasted into the letter. The letter also does not have any dates.
When confronted (March 28) that you are replacing me with previous Math teacher you denied it and said you were still looking for a replacement. I am in possession of the schedule for the term starting May 2013 and Math Teacher's name is on the roaster replacing mine for teaching Maths P3 - P6. In fact, when I left on April 16, he walked straight into my Math P6 class.
I was summarily dismissed for being absent two days and then one day (total 3 days). I called in sick on all 3 days and informed you that I was not feeling well. I suffer from hypertension and have a heart condition which is a direct result of the stress I suffered at school. I have an ECG test and a cardiologist report.
I also need to add that another teacher at the school took more than consecutive 30 days sick leave. He never got penalized.
There exists no contract between me and the school, nor was I contracted to teach for a fixed time. Neither you nor the school could substantiate any of the ten allegations brought against me, and when they couldn't get a reason to fire me, they fired me because I was absent.
I don't think you ever wanted to fire me. I am the only qualified teacher at the school and I am also the only teacher who was working there legally with a work permit. Furthermore, I am one of a handful teachers working there with a degree (the minimum legal requirement for teaching at a private school in Thailand). Shall I remind you that I have a taped conversation with your director of studies casually stating that ‘someone' will pay the police off should the school be reported for hiring illegal workers.
I hope we can settle this matter in a mutually agreeable way.
It's been over a month now since I've been fired, and I haven't done anything. My question is: If you were in my shoes, would you let sleeping dogs lie, or will you ask for justice? Not revenge, not to get even, just fairness to do your job and teach your students?
Update 5th August 2013
Please note that the last two updates have now been removed and also any comments connected with those updates. Ajarn.com apologises for any inconvenience caused.
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I would say Del has a very nasty poison pen
attitude about this, someone has the guts
to fight the well known Thai corruption, and he plays
the part of the good little company boy kiss a __ __,
a do nothing attitude that is self involved betrayal
THe man did give the other side of the story
in giving the detailed account of the charges,
contrary to Dels superficial analysis, and
as to future employment, does he really think
a Thai employer reads this, not likely, and
the man can simply omit that school from his resume,
end of story
By todd saed, south (7th August 2013)
Just a quick reply to Del regarding his comment about schools being able to prove gross misconduct etc.
Despite this country having the obvious slight problem of corruption and paying people off etc smoothing the way and all that jazz.
The Thai Labor Court is one of the few places where this is not the case. The court require the employer, should they wish to avoid severance pay and claim gross misconduct, to have written records of all warnings issued and a written or verifiable recorded comment that the warning was received. I believe the court suggest's that 3 warnings are reasonable before dismissal.
The idea that an employer can turn up at the court with some quickly drafted letters or the like is not permitted. Any claim for gross misconduct has to be recorded in full before the Thai Labor court will even entertain hearing a misconduct claim.
It is fair to say this rarely happens as not many employers have the foresight to keep exact records and any employee is easily able to defend against any employers attempt to present false documents. Most employers won't try this as the Thai Labor court views this behavior as unacceptable and will punish the employers with the harshest they can. One should remember that depending on length of service the court has the ability to award damages outside anything written in a contract and these have no limits.
By Jonathan, Thailand (25th July 2013)
Agree or not, this is an interesting read for sure! Looking forward to the next update.
By Liam, (25th July 2013)
This is quite interesting as previously pointed out by someone there are no doubt two sides to this story. However, as we only have the benefit of one side it's difficult to say who is right. I have to say though that in general it is pretty much irrelevant who you are at the end of the day the Labor Law is very straight forward and is weighted on the side of the employee and not the employer.
One can argue that the person filing the complaint could be a fruit cake and the employer has every right not to pay out anything even though under the law they will have to regardless that is the simple truth.
Or, the employer may be a complete nightmare and not easy to work for therefore any complaint is just.
It doesn't really matter the law is the law and this gentleman is entitled to severance as any other employee. So rather than say walk away if you are owed money fro whatever reason you don't walk away so stick with it and take what the court decides is fair. They will find in your favour anyway.
By Jonathan, Thailand (24th July 2013)
I am a little surprised by the comments so far...
It seems like most are saying just to walk away and not follow up the claim for severance and not sure I understand their reasoning.
Under the Thai Labor Law, an employer can fire you for any reason, but they are required to pay severance based upon the time worked.
There are only a few reasons for termination that will allow the employer to dismiss without severance.
Even if no contract, employees are still covered under the basic labor laws. Actually I would venture that his position is stronger based upon the fact that he does not have a contract.
Since it can not be then argued by employer that he was only employed for a specific time period or for a specific task. So no contract by its very nature means that no special employment terms... just the standard terms that cover all employees in Thailand laid out by the labor department.
Seems pretty straight forward...
By Charlie, Bangkok (24th July 2013)
There are 2 sides to every story,and I would love to hear the other side of this one! You had better watch out as you are probably well on your way to making yourself unemployable. Not only is this, by your own admission, not the first time you've had to take legal action against an employer, but you're also giving long-winded accounts of it in a public forum. You are not doing yourself any favours, and even if you do get satisfaction through the courts it probably won't even cover your legal fees Is it really worth the hassle? Drop it. get the chip off your shoulder and get your life back !
BTW, I imagine that any school or agency wouldn't have a problem proving gross misconduct, whether it actually occurred or not! T,I.T after all!
By Del, Thailand (23rd July 2013)
Stick to your guns. People who write in and say walk away are saying through ignorance and not because they know the law.
I had to take an employer to the labor court because they decided to cancel a contract when they realized that they had less pupils than expected. Luckily I had only been there for 3 weeks however I went away and started to prepare for the new term and worked at home for 5 days before they terminated me. They paid me for the time I was in school but not the 5 days I worked at home. Having warned them they were obliged to pay severance they ignored me so I took them to court and was awarded 30000 baht which was two thirds of what I asked for but nonetheless it's mediation and we mediated. DON'T GIVE UP
By Jonathan, Thailand (21st July 2013)
Good reliable teachers are hard to find, and therefore they don't normally get fired.
By Jack, In my chair (23rd June 2013)
While I sympathise with you having been fired, I just don't understand why you would want to stay at a school which clearly does not appreciate your hard work. If a school threatens to fire me once, that's all it takes for me to start looking for jobs for the next school year. If a school puts me through the ringer, it's not that I won't take it lying down; it's that I just don't take it, plain and simple.
With regards to your contract (more specifically the fact that you didn't have a contract), while I'm not expert on contracts or contract law, but I'm pretty sure that without a contract you are not protected against anything. If you were working at the school without a contract, you're lucky they let you more-or-less finish the year because without a contract, they really weren't bound to keeping you on.
Teaching in Asia can be frustrating and unfair, but you have to learn what is worth fighting for and what is just so far gone that there's nothing you can do. It sounds like you should just cut your losses and walk away.
By Alice, Wonderland (1st June 2013)
What puzzles me is why on earth you would want to stay on at this school/agency! There are so many job opportunities out there, so why stay on in a position where the working environment is less than ideal. I understand wanting to finish the term for the sake of your students, but wouldn't it have been wiser to start making other plans as soon as the problems started.. Always good to have a Plan B to fall back on!
By Del, Thailand (27th May 2013)
Stories like the above are all too common and allegations (on both sides) are difficult to prove/substantiate. Also, there are always 2 sides to every story. After having been here for over 12 years, I find that some schools are a great fit and others are not so much. When stuck in a position where the school is not appreciating the teacher's effort, or the teacher is not appreciating the school, it is best to find a better "home" or, quite simply, time to make a change. And, IMHO, Labour courts don't always offer the long-term satisfaction (or short term results) one desires but they do serve a valuable purpose.
To say this type of situation is a "Thai thing" is disingenuous because we have all read to the "horror stories" of teaching in China or Korea. In addition, all you need to do is read CNN, BBC or any other news outlet from the U.S. and U.K. to see the battles and bitterness surrounding education/teaching there (vocal parents with an agenda, over crowded classrooms, lack of resources, learning-disabled or emotional unstable students, teachers being paid based on standardized test results, schools loosing funding or being closed based on standardized test results, teachers without qualifications being hired by local education boards, and teachers prior to obtaining tenure being forced out for nebulous reasons...the concept of tenure itself is under attack).
Racism, or judging one by their appearance, is also not a uniquely Thai attribute. I grew up in an area of outright racism...violent, ignorant racism... Regardless, judging someone based on the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their religion, their economic status, etc. is wrong whatever the location or industry (or reasons). I spent years "preaching" equality but, in the end, it came down individual connections that changed people's thinking. All I can suggest is to focus on changing each individual's perception rather than feeding into their preconceived (and wrong-headed) notions. Nothing that is said will change a person's mind until they meet someone that defies what they believe to be true.
Finally, I don't believe the finger can be pointed at agencies since there are good and bad agencies just as there are good and bad schools...or even good and bad teachers. Each situation, teacher, agency, and school is unique. Just as some schools are not a good fit for a teacher, some agencies are not as well (and vice-versa). The truly bad agencies don't stay in business in the long run...and the truly bad schools change their tune after "too much bad press"...and the truly bad teachers end up leaving because they can't find gainful, stable employment.
I wish you the best of luck but if you are an experienced, qualified maths teacher then employment will be quite easy to find. Go out there and find a more positive working environment but remember to leave the past (experience) behind you. Don't bring any animosity into a new job...judge the new position based on what it is...new and unique..a chance to start fresh and show them who you are and what you can do.
By Mike, Bangkok (19th April 2013)
Quote: I googled the teacher whom I thought was behind it all to see if I could get some stuff on him. Nothing, but with a stroke of luck a disgruntled ex-employee told me that the teacher replacing me was not allowed to teach in his home country.
Replacement teacher speaking now! I believe you have seriously belittled your credibility as a teacher. Taking photos of colleagues and Thai Teachers who believed you to be inadequate to do your job does not give anyone the right to blacken "well respected professionals" even on the web.
As for a comment about me, the replacement teacher (whom you replaced, whilst I was looking after my sick mother back home) does the quote - "not allowed" - mean I am struck-off due to inappropriate actions whilst in a teacher's role? This to me is slanderous to the extent of possible prosecution!!! I can assure everyone who has read this man's account of his dismissal is truely over-exaggerated!! IT WAS THE END OF HIS CONTRACT !!! Of which he was lucky to achieve.
"disgruntled teacher" -- Get your facts correct
By Stu, Bangkok (19th April 2013)
Steve from Ubon you've either been living in a bubble for the last 15 years in Thailand or maybe you have actually have been involved in a few witch hunts yourself but do not even consider it that. From the tone of your comment I have a feeling it is the latter!
By Thomas, Thailand (22nd March 2013)
To answer the questions below: I'm a 47 year old white male from South Africa. I'm still working at my school. They even did my workpermit!
But don't get too optimistic too soon - it's only valid for 3 months. Guess I'll have to go and buy a couple of voodoo dolls...
By Andre Park, Bangkok (21st March 2013)
This sadly is just the norm here. Everything is fake and only for show. Move to Taiwan or South Korea if you want to teach.
By John Peters, Bangkok (13th March 2013)
This comment is to all farang teachers in thailand but inspired by steve ubons post.Every school i have worked in the senior teachers bitch about the new teachers saying they dont know what they're doing or like steve that they are crap why wouldn't they all help them they all were in the same boat at one stage.I have never experienced the bitchiness that i have experienced among teachers in Thailand. People that are good at things dont need to look down on other people to make them feel good about their own performance.I also find it amazing that the same teachers bitch about the level of their own students when they after many years can just about order a couple of beers.I would bet serious money steve after his fifteen years is in this boat and although he is a great teacher his wife's english is laughable.
By John joe o connor, bangkok (13th March 2013)
It's not nice when your face doesn't fit. Best thing to do is to find somewhere else. Not sure I agree with you trying to get other staff into trouble (taking photos and stuff). Making enemies won't help you.
By Neil, Bangkok (12th March 2013)
Poor T. Andre! After 15 years teaching here I have never encountered any kind of witch hunting like you went through.You mentioned everything that went on except you forgot to say that you are probably a "crap" disturber who most likely should have been dumped. Your confession about previous labour issues in S.A. says volumes about you! Just learn to accept defeat! A "good teacher" such as yourself should have no problem in finding excellent employment elsewhere-just don't come near my school.
By Steve, Ubon (11th March 2013)
Its all Bullshit in Thai schools, And you get this guy in a school with his blog talking about how wonderful and interesting it is Fake Thai Education from top to bottom, and Thai heads of Dept, Directors , deputies etc havent even the balls to be honest, "You are Falang" . "Low life" We can do what we want to you . completely insincere, glad to be shut of the system.
By Mark, Bangkok (11th March 2013)
Sounds like the typical Thai teaching BS that is why I left last year for China, nowhardly any BS or stress!
By Thomas, Chinas (9th March 2013)
This situation is not uncommon. Good job standing your ground. Some schools consider teachers disposable and will judge you on whether or not your fingernails are dirty instead of your teaching ability.
By Jon Jackson, Thailand (9th March 2013)
Amazing story. I know I would have just walked away (but then, I don't have a family to support). You must have a really good agent, too.
Look forward to read the next chapter, but I really wish you well.
By Mike, Thailand (8th March 2013)
what sort of accent do you have?
By anton gaylord, bangkok (8th March 2013)
Is he black ? I think ajarn .com should start a campaign to boycott agencies never heard a good story
By john joe o connor, bangkok (8th March 2013)