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.


Your article is right on target. What equally troubled me were two or three schools that tried to pressure me into breaking my contract at a school where I was currently employed—all for the advantage of meeting their own current emergency.

Such a short-sighted tactic. If I’d break my contract, what does that say about my integrity? Further, why wouldn’t I also break a contract with the new school too? Their lack of logic and foresight was deeply troubling.

When the schools tried this, immediate red flags flew, and I wrote them off as undesirable places to spend my career.

By John of Isaan, Isaan, Thailand (29th April 2021)

Oh, Jack, you numpty. I am NOT 'John Wilson'.

I did wonder why you were going off on a tangent and posting ad nauseam about how people should adapt to the culture and stop their whining, etc. But having then read through some of your other replies, I noticed you did it a lot. That's why I said that so much of what you were writing didn't apply to anything I had said and asked you not to take my words out of context.

I hope your job here at an international organisation isn't proofreading, ha ha. I jest.

By John, Thailand (12th November 2019)


You seem to be backing away (admitting you were wrong?) from what you wrote in the article. If fact there was nothing in your original article about background checks and child safety.

In your article you implied "Can you start on Monday" is often due to lack of administrative skills of the local administrators and your comment "Since many Thai office staff are short on international acculturation" is surely extremely critical and ethnocentric. I will bet dollars to donuts there are far more Thai office staff who speak English than there are ESL teachers in Thailand who speak Thai. In my experience, Thai staff normally (but not always) meet the foreign teacher more than half-way, and if the foreign teacher wants to have a successful. experience it is best to meet the Thai school the rest of the way.

But if a teacher (or any employee anywhere) wants everything their own way, chances are they will be disappointed.

Oh well, I guess we can agree to disagree. I think a person living and working in a foreign country would spend his or her time more wisely in trying to learn about the culture, history, and language of the place they are working in a non-judgmental fashion. You seem to disagree and seem to think complaining about the foreign people and their actions. is a better use of one's time.

Ok, you haven't changed my mind and I doubt I have changed yours, but maybe we have given the readers some food for thought.

I made my point and will leave it.

By Jack, Around about (12th November 2019)

"I suspect 90% of the time "Can you start on Monday?" is due to a teacher who had previously agreed to teach backing out at the last minute"

I'm sure it is, Jack. It doesn't matter what the reason is. That wasn't my point as well you know. My point is very simple. Employing a teacher without doing at least some basic checks is a very bad idea. You are endangering the welfare of children. This is a fact. You are taking offence to a fact.

Everything else you've written doesn't apply to anything I've said. I simply stated a fact.

By John, Bangkok (12th November 2019)


I suspect 90% of the time "Can you start on Monday?" is due to a teacher who had previously agreed to teach backing out at the last minute.

Ok, there are some things Thai schools and Thai educators do you don't like, and feel it is important to express your judgmental attitudes.

But how is being overly judgmental and ethnocentric going to help you or the schools?

This probably shouldn't be news to anyone interested in Thailand, but it is very much a "developing country" according to any economic classifications , and many practices (in business and education) are more aligned with those found in other developing countries than those found in wealthier countries, like the one I come from.

It is probably unrealistic to expect everything to be done exactly the same way in a developing economy as in a more developed economy.

If a person expects first world business and educational practices, one should work in a first world country or in the top of the pyramid market (for example, a top-tier international school in Bangkok).

If a person chooses to work in a normal school here in Thailand, one can expect developing country conditions, adjust, or whine and be miserable, your choice?

I am currently working for an international organization in Thailand which is to a large extent similar to working back home, but I have worked across Asia in both developed and developing economies, sometimes as an "ex-pat," sometimes as local hire, it has all been good, once I overcame the initial cultural shock and took a more non-judgmental attitude.

By Jack, Around here (11th November 2019)

Thanks for your reply, Jack.

I read through your post but you completely lost me. You've gone off on a tangent, and I'd really appreciate it if you didn't take my comments out of context. Let's be respectful here.

My point was very simple. I don't think employing people to take care of children without doing the proper checks is a good idea. In fact, I think it's a very bad idea. If you think it's okay, that's fine. Say nothing, but don't celebrate a school's right to be putting children's safety at risk under the guise of respecting the local culture.

Again, it's the soft bigotry of low expectations.

By John, Thailand (11th November 2019)


Ok, you find the way some Thai school do things "unacceptable." So what? If you are a parent, choose the best school available you can afford and if you are seeking employment seek out the "best" place to work.

These basic actions as a consumer or seeker of employment are the same whether in Asia or Farangland.

But what do you hope to achieve by whining and complaining about your host country? Do you think expressing your ethnocentric and negative opinions will "change" Thailand to suit your preferences better?

Shouldn't one expect to be a little uncomfortable when working in a foreign country?

You and the rest of the whiny club are not unique, I suspect everyone from a different cultural environment who has worked in Thailand or other foreign country for any length of time has found some aspects difficult, but how should a person deal with these differences? Whine, complain, attempt to change Thailand (or other country you might be in) and get little out of the experience, or adjust, remain flexible and non-judgmental, and try to learn about living and working in a cross-cultural environment and get something positive out of the experience, whether it is for one year or a life time?

You are free to take the former approach if you think whining and complaining will lead you to success and happiness, but I decided long ago to take the second path, I think it has worked out pretty well for me over a lengthy career in many countries in many different types of positions.

Just sayin

By Jack, Around about (10th November 2019)

I remember being a 16 year old in Scotland looking for work during the summer. I walked past a building site and asked if they needed any labourers. The guy looked me up and down and asked me if I was reliable...... I got the job.

"Can you start on Monday?" is what I'd expect someone looking for a labourer or kitchen hand to say. There are zero qualifications needed and you can't really do much damage. If you're crap, you're out on your ear by the end of the day, but there's no real risk taken by the employer.

"Can you start on Monday?" isn't something you should be hearing from a school, or any place, where your job is to take care of 'children'. If you have someone start off so quickly without doing at least some basic checks, you're putting those children's safety at risk. If my Thai wife knew that we were sending our daughter to a school who weren't doing a police-check on their teachers, our daughter would be pulled out quicker than you can say, "gross negligence". Yes, we can afford to send our kid to a good school, but that still doesn't make it okay or justifiable for others to be doing this.

If schools here don't mind employing any Tom, Dick or Harry who applies, that's up to them. I won't actively protest it. But dear God, don't celebrate it. It's up to schools how to run and manage themselves, but if you're employing random people without due diligence, you are putting children's safety and well-being at risk. That's a fact.

Celebrating (please note that this word has more than more definition) someone's right to put a child at risk because, "that's how they do it" isn't being open-minded and adaptable. It's actually looking down your nose at the local culture. Or to articulate it better, "it's the soft bigotry of low expectation".

By John, Thailand (7th November 2019)

Can see where you're coming from in your story, but I partly agree with Jack.

Many westerners assume it's the Thais who should feel priveleged to work with the farang and must take note of his proper ways of doing things.

I've heard many a teacher moaning ''That would never happen in the UK'' or ''They wouldn't last long in a British office''

Gets kinda tiresome

By PMcKBkk, Bangkok (1st October 2019)

Seems this whiny piece is filled with negative stereotypes and a false sense of importance of the job of an English teacher.

Thais can be difficult for those of us from Western Countries to work with and those of us from Western cultures can be difficult for Thais to work with.

Is this surprising?

For a person from a Western culture to successfully work in Thailand, it usually requires some respect for different ways of doing things and adjustments from both sides.

To blame every problem one encounters on the Thai person or the Thai way of doing things is unlikely to lead to a successful adjustment to working in a different country and culture.

Teachers who refuse to adjust usually do not last long and get little out of what should be a great opportunity to gain new experiences and skills in working in a cross-cultural environment.

At least that has been my experience.

By Jack, LOS (25th September 2019)

This is the blueprint to lterally every job I had in my decade long teaching career in Thailand. The unwilling, leading the blind into the herding of the future blind/ unwilling. Waste of a decade for me, wasted lives of countless for the enrichment of a few. Some nam nar just doesn't cut it. This is counterproductive & wilfully so. Don't dare embarrass the embezzler!

By Ed, Barcelona (24th September 2019)

This article tells exactly my experience at the moment. I am asking about the documents for my visa and work permit extension but the person in-charge is not that knowledgeable in her task and keeps telling me to find an example. How do i know? I cannot read Thai. Hopefully I can extend this week.

By Anne, Bangkok (24th September 2019)

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