Benito Vacio

An unwanted duty

Is this Thai tradition pain or pleasure?


In many schools in Thailand, Thai teachers, as well as foreign teachers, take turns in standing at the school gate to greet parents and students. Two or more teachers are assigned, depending on the size of the school, to do this each day. Many Thai teachers do gate duty religiously, but others don’t. On the other hand most foreign teachers never skip their obligation. They stand at the gate before seven o’clock in the morning and finish at 8:00 o ‘clock, usually when the flag ceremony begins. Thai teachers greet parents and students in Thai but foreign teachers usually initiate greetings in English.

When I was first assigned to do gate duty five years ago, I was hesitant to do it because I was made to do it one hour every morning for five days a week. You see, in our country, we never do this. Greeting students and parents is done naturally. When students see their teachers, they greet them and vice versa.

Having no choice but to comply with the policies of the school I was assigned to, I soon realized that gate duty had its advantages. I learned the benefits of doing it. Firstly, gate duty gave my students more opportunity to practice lessons learned on personal information and greetings, which they had not yet fully mastered.  For example, when some students were asked, “How old are you?” They answered confidently, “I am fine, thank you.” Or before you had finished your greeting, “Good morning,” they had already said, “My name is…”

It was also an opportunity to meet parents who brought their children to school and make them aware of what their children were being taught. Gate duty also helped me remember students’ names and know them better outside the classroom. Of course, it gave me the chance to interact with Thai teachers and learn their language.

One Englishman teaching in an international school in Udon Thani loves doing gate duty. Foreign teachers in his school (five of them in total) are not required to greet students at the school gate but he does it once in a while simply to meet the parents and get to know the students better.

When I taught in an international school in Chiangmai, gate duty was a compulsory requirement. I would help little kids with their bags and even check their temperatures. There were three foreign teachers in that school. Two were native speakers and I was the lone Filipino. I also noticed that I was the only foreign teacher doing gate duty regularly. The two native speakers would only appear during the flag ceremony. So after a month, I stopped attending. As far as I remember, no one questioned my absence - not even the school director. 

At my present school, gate duty is not a problem anymore. I’m only required to stand at the gate for ten minutes. To compare notes on this topic with my friends from the Nonthaburi English Teachers Project, very few said they never did gate duty. Only Thai teachers did this. Their directors never demanded it. For many teachers, they said they only did it once a week.

I have learned from experience that no matter how long or short my gate duty is, I consider it the best time to learn Thai with the Thai teachers, make new acquaintances with parents and learn about my students. And of course by doing this, I am also giving my students more opportunity to practice English with me.

So, have you finally dismissed the idea that gate duty ia useless and unwanted task while teaching English here in Thailand?


For more reading and opinions on Thai gate duty, there is this ajarn.com article from 2010.




Comments

After 2 years of 'gate duty' & 'attending assembly' I have recently changed jobs to a position of a 'teacher', in a school, where I teach children for the period of lessons on my timetable, instead of being the 'western monkey'.

I have to say, I enjoy my job more, i use the time to prepare my lessons and concentrate on my job, rather than appeasing the school.

I do actually see the point of standing on the gate, IF it is pro-active, but more often than not, its a waste of time, standing, deliberating which door of the tinted window SUV to open as a previous poster pointed out.

In the past i felt, that all extra duties were loaded on after the contract had been signed in an effort by the school to maximize their investment.

We should remember that a fair percentage of the parents aren't convinced by a stupid grin and a tie (initiating a wai to a 5 year old ??), they know we are forced there. What has more impact is if its a non-requirement that you do willingly on a casual basis.

Unfortunately, it takes a progressive thinking school to trust the teachers to do this, and equally we are our worst own enemies at times.

By tweedledee, HY (1st July 2012)

If it's really a paradise, why are we doing any work at all?

By JBKK, BKK (24th June 2012)

Why are you guys so troubled by the idea of committing yourself to your job? This is a part of the job, so do it already.

If you have a problem with doing what is asked of you, why not find another job, or go to a country where gate duty is not required?

I am confounded by the countless teachers who do nothing but complain.

Get a life. You came to a paradise, and yet all you guys do is complain.

By Jack, Bangkok (22nd June 2012)

Great piece, this brought back memories for me, I used to do duty whilst working at a bi-lingual school. Have I finally dismissed the idea that gate duty is a useless and unwanted task while teaching English here in Thailand? Er, no ... my enduring memory is of several occasions where MPVs like Toyota Alphards rolled up with their tinted windows and the shrieks from the drivers of 'No close, auto! auto!' emanating from inside when I reached forward to close the sliding doors, not realizing they are automatic. I quickly learnt to simply stand and smile; uselessness exemplified.

By John, Bangkok, Thailand (21st June 2012)

You can refuse to sell things in the canteen.
Gate duty is a school function but not selling things in canteen. This is absurd and insulting.
Sometime, teachers have to show their teeth to the school as they are always ready to take andvantage of teachers.
And, if you are working directly with the school and if you refuse, they might terminate your contact but anyway if they are forcing you to sell things in canteen, let them fire you really so you can get a better honorable job somewhere else.
If you are working through an agency that can back you up, you can refuse right away.
good luck.

By KD, Bangkok (19th June 2012)

Hill, thanks for reading my blog. I don't know if refusing to sell in the canteen can be a ground for dismissal. All I know is that it can be part of insubodination.Like me, I could not refuse and can not refuse doing gate duty even if it is not stated in the contract because one item in our contract says, "...has to cooperate in school policies." For teachers to sell in the canteen can be a school policy. It's a bit degrading in our part as professionals, but I guess, we have no choice. This is Thailand.

By Benito Vacio, Nonthaburi, Thailand (19th June 2012)

We do the same thing in our school. We stand at the gate for an hour to greet students.And they also wanted us to sell at the canteen. I would like to ask if this is really mandatory for the foreign teachers. If we say No to selling at the school canteen, would it be the ground to terminate us from school? Do we have any defense against them if ever they make this as a ground to terminate us?

By Hill, Rayong (18th June 2012)

what is wrong with gate duty?
just because, you need to come to the school 30 minutes early does not make it nasty.
It is a good way to be within society and you will have a better and smoother working life as they will close their eyes to your mistakes just because you can be a part of the school and community as a foreigner. It is good to see the parents at the gate as you might get some private tutoring jobs and some new opportunities.
Still, doing it for 5 days a week is crazy. It is good for one day per week more than that, please do not accept.
And, commenting on 'wai' as a hollow gesture means you do not understand where you are or what you are doing? As a foreigner so you have to follow the traditions and culture of Thailand like a Thai following yours once they are in UK or USA. Someone might define shaking hands as dirty and hollow as well, right?

By KD Eryarar, Bangkok (10th June 2012)

I've got gate duties on Mondays with other Thai teachers. Our duty is to make sure that all students will enter the premises of the school.
I remember one time when some of the students ask permission to buy something outside. I wouldn't allow them but my co-teacher give them the permission. After sometime we heard that there was a brawl outside. It was our students who didn't attend their classes, who were very drunk and sad to say the same students that we gave permisson to go out. And as a result was, a brawl of words also at the office. Luckily I was busy with lots of classes, making me unaware of the happenings.

By Bakuts, Udornthani (6th June 2012)

I was asked at one school to perform gate duty and I refused - no one made an issue out of my refusal. Compelling students to bow or curtsy as they enter or exit a school is a hollow gesture intended only to intimidate; this 'duty' has little to do with creating genuine respect for teachers.

By Guy, bkk (5th June 2012)

Bravo, I'm glad you like gate duty, Benito! Most people don't like it simply because you have to be at the school so much earlier than normal. And you don't have as much time for lesson preparation, coffee/tea, breakfast, reading the news or chatting with some of your fellow colleagues. You must be a morning person. Some people are barely awake around 7am when gate duty starts;

By Lisa, (4th June 2012)

I agree with some of what you say but thai schools making it mandatory in a contract is not. If you feel like showing your presence to students/parents is rewarding then do it. At then end the most students will not care, maybe their parents will but it does not matter. They have paid for the school fees and just want to drop their child/children off as soon as possible before the police notice that they are blocking traffic with their SUV. I find the best time to interact with students is during lunch time. Play some games with them, be it football, ping-pong or basketball. Gate duty is just a way for the school to advertise themselves............look theres a farang.............and he is sweating.

By Anthony, Uttaradit (3rd June 2012)

Well, if you're mad enough to accept the contract and gate duty along with it, you have yourself to blame and can't moan.

By joseph, ayutthaya (2nd June 2012)

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