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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
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