John Wilson

Can you start on Monday?

What lies behind that oft-heard request?

Can you start on Monday? These few words can inject a spurt of oxygen into your bloodstream at the interview but, if you have suspicions about your own hopefulness, your intuitions might prove right.

Can you start on Monday? often means the organisation you are joining is less than adept at hiring procedures and is pressed for time. The ‘power-dressing princess' delegated to find new recruits may have had little aptitude for the practicalities of recruitment. She may have little idea how to get the money from accounts to pay for a newspaper ad, or what to write in it. Moreover, she is so bothered people might think her incompetent if she asks, she blunders along in painful solitude when really she should engage in teamwork with her colleagues. (The chances are she has never heard of, where there are more responses and you get it done for nothing.)

Can you start on Monday - or even, can you start tomorrow? - may also mean nobody in the organisation has bothered to recruit until the last moment. A new term looms and managers realise they are a teacher short. In desperation, candidates like yourself are hastily called to interview. When this happens the chances are there are only a couple of interviewees - one of whom turns up in yoga pants and holding a lollipop - after which, when chosen, you will be thrown into the classroom without any preparation. You will have to catch up fast, and use your own initiative. What page are the students on in the book? Which are my rooms? If you are lucky, someone will give you a register with a list of names and, later, a timetable. For some reason, most Thai institutions have no mentoring arrangements for the new teacher, let alone a known inventory of what new recruits must do.

Circumspect welcomes

Worse still, students may be wondering what happened to their old teacher (sick? sacked? dead?) and give you a circumspect welcome. Does this new teacher know how things are done? Apparently not. You are obviously an incompetent yourself. So you will have to brazen it out with spur-of-the-moment adaptations and the hyper-confidence of a Kate Winslet. Thankfully, the students themselves can be often as much help as the one ordinary teacher who, bereft of the acumen needed for political advancement, helpfully befriends you from her lowly status.

You might also find that some of the administration staff are also less than on the ball for recruitment procedures. When you have identified the official responsible for filling out your Work Permit form (much written in Thai) you may, or may not, find her willing and able. Since many Thai office staff are short on international acculturation, you may, or may not, get to feel like a Martian every time you go to the office downstairs trying to find her. And you may, or may not, see a change in her expression after your ‘thank you', or your smile, when the job is done.

Getting a good reputation

On the days that follow, someone in the organization will be worrying whether you are fitting in (rather than providing you with the exact means to do so). Worried ‘Is everything okay?' queries you may have to put under sedation yourself while, at the same time, discreetly helping others to help you with some level-headed questioning. Do I have a mail box? Maybe you can leave a note for me there. Keeping cool in moments of confusion will earn you a reputation as a good performer. And, after a month, everyone will have gotten used to your face and, through trial and error - your trials, their errors - will have forgotten any hiccups along the way. Well done! You are now on the first steps of being kreng-jai (considerate) and if the office staff, next time, don't know how to handle you, you are well on the way to handling them. Mai pen rai!

Can you start on Monday? Wow! You are in luck. But don't think that too much a celebration of your perceived aptitudes at the whiteboard. You might find you are expected to conduct administrative tasks beyond the call of didactic prowess - and be expected to let a Thai administrator take the credit for it later.■


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