One thing that splits many a foreign teachers' room right down the middle is the topic of gate duty.
On one side, there are those who say it's degrading and merely an opportunity for a school to show off its foreign teachers to the fee-paying parents. And then there are those teachers who accept gate duty as part of their teaching responsibilities.
For those readers who have spent their teaching career cooped up in private language schools and don't have a clue what I'm talking about, gate duty is when a foreign teacher, at say a government or Thai secondary school, is told to stand in front of the school building - usually in the morning or at the end of the school day - and look like an asset to the institution.
However, the actual reasons for standing outside and putting on your best smile in ninety degrees heat, does seem to vary from school to school.
Let's call them reasons
Some employers see it as a health and safety issue. When little Somchai arrives at morning class on his skateboard and goes hurtling through the computer room window, at least there will be someone there to sweep up the broken glass with a brush and pan.
Some schools see it as a chance for parents to chat with the foreign teachers face to face and find out how their little treasures are performing in class. Although Thai parents are usually in a rush to drop off their kids and get to work on time, many welcome the opportunity for some quick words of reassurance from the friendly ‘ajarn farang' - even at such an ungodly hour for academic chit-chat.
Gate duty is not every teacher's box of board markers. Much depends on a teacher's personality and character.
Those teachers who feel they are employed to teach English and teach English only, are usually the ones to be found skulking in the shade of the security guard's hut, gripping a ciggy between nicotine-stained thumb and forefinger - or heaven forbid, behind the tool shed enjoying a clandestine swig from the hip-flask.
But for every sourpuss standing there with a face like thunder and muttering something about ‘bloody performing monkeys' there are dedicated chalkies who take to gate duty like frogs to a lily pond. Some are just born for the role of mom, nurse and guardian angel all rolled into one.
Remember the dinner lady?
The concept of having a grown-up person around to supervise an environment where accidents are waiting to happen is not unique to Thailand. I remember back to my primary school days in the UK. Morning and afternoon breaks were always supervised by teachers who would stroll up and down the playground, sipping a mug of coffee, while telling students to ‘stop running' and confiscating anything illegal.
In those days it was usually tennis balls and marbles that were confiscated you understand - not knives, guns and knuckle-dusters.
Dinner hours, when kids were let out for a longer period of time, were supervised by ‘dinner ladies'. These were plump, ruddy-faced, middle-aged women who worked in the school canteen (I can't bring myself to call them cooks) and part of their job description - when they weren't scooping unappetizing dollops of baked beans and mash on to metal plates - was to patrol the school playground and keep the kids in check.
A dinner lady's meaty arms were often a safe haven for those kids who didn't fit in with the rest of their school year. Perhaps a kid who wore glasses or played the violin, anything that made him a social outcast.
Rather in the way a petty criminal would be safe from arrest if he hung onto the knocker of a church door in medieval times, a violin playing eight-year old with freckles would be safe from the school bullies if he clung to a dinner lady's ample bosom. He might have got tormented and threatened from a distance but for that one hour a day he was perfectly safe.
Where was I? Oh yes. Thailand. When we brought up the topic of gate duty on a teacher discussion forum, it got something of a mixed reaction. One teacher admitted it wasn't the greatest part of his working day, but he could put up with doing it twice a month. And that's all the foreign teachers at his school were asked to do.
Some teachers are not quite so lucky. For some, gate duty is a weekly chore and some foreign ajarns are out there every single day come rain, come shine, but they accept the responsibility as part and parcel of being a teacher in Thailand.
One thing's for certain - if you relish your role as the foreign ‘face at the gate', the kids will love you for it, the parents will love you for it, and the school director will know he's got the best man for the job.
Being asked to perform non-teaching tasks ‘outside' the classroom doesn't begin and end with gate duty though.
Foreign teachers are usually viewed as fair game when it comes to that time-honored tradition of ‘dressing up' and making a complete tit of yourself.
When the festive season comes around and the school needs a Father Christmas, guess who's going to get volunteered? The old Thai teacher with the long white beard, the booming voice and the beer gut? Or the rail-thin foreigner who has to run around in the shower to get wet?
You'd better grab hold of Rudolph and pick up that big sack of prezzies sunshine because this is your moment. And if someone's beaten you to the job, don't worry. The school still needs a samba-dancing king prawn at the next parents evening.