Thailand's public education system is in trouble.
We all know it. Thai teachers know it, foreign teachers know it, the schools know it and even The Prime Minister came out recently and gave it a big thumbs down.
Everybody knows it's horrible... and yet, after all this time, attention and cash devoted to it, there's no evidence that it's going to change into anything else. It's always been this way, too. It didn't get worse... it just didn't get better!
Yet there are tens of thousands of foreigners willing to put up with horrible pay to be in a hot classroom full of tired and reluctant kids who don't give a durian about learning English.
Most people who come to Thailand use their naturally learned skills as ‘native English speakers' to get work here so they can prolong their stay. It's a brilliant scam, because no matter how crap you are at English or teaching it, if you look the part you can easily get work here.
It helps if you are under forty years old, white and even more if you are female... but anyone can get in on this gravy train. You can vacation for life using only your charm and appearance as a resources for a moderate income and a laidback lifestyle.
And who can blame anyone for doing this? The wages may be pretty abysmal, but Thailand is so cheap to live in, it hardly matters. There are loads of beaches, bars and beautiful girls (for the guys). Most Thais are very welcoming to foreigners. And the education system itself doesn't seem to give a mangosteen about who you are, how you perform and what mischief in your past you're running away from!
Best of all, nobody can tell that you're crap at your job because nobody is qualified to assess the damage you're doing! But even if they suspect that you are rubbish, most employers are just happy to have anyone show up to their appalling schools and sit in front of the students for a few hours each week.
I can do this, I really can.
But what happens, when professional holiday-makers come over here and then try to act like real teachers?
I should know the answer - I'm one of them! I've managed to take myself too seriously as a ‘teacher' here for many years. No training and no qualifications to be in a classroom. Nothing!
That doesn't mean I don't try to do it properly. I do. And it's not that hard, either. You don't have to be a doctor to be a nurse, right? Or, more accurately, you don't have to be a mechanic to inflate the tyres on your car.
But for many that come here, changing from a visitor into an expat can spell the end of a love affair with Thailand as it turns out that teachers who try their best to teach English are up against many layers of opposition. Everything is seemingly stacked up against foreign ‘teachers', be they good or bad, professional or just enthusiastic.
It would take a much longer essay to explain all of these obstacles, how they impact education and what can be done to stop the rot. What's the point, though? We all have our own ideas about what the problems are and what can be done about them. What's really important is how you react and live with the uncontrollable monsters interfering with your dream life.
Maybe I'm not as tall as I think I am!
The first thing to understand and reconcile yourself with is the miniscule impact that you are having on your students. If you aren't even trying to do a good job at work, then - congratulations - you've already avoided all this particular frustration. You can skip the rest of this and get back to your holiday in the sun.
If you are trying to do the right thing by your classes then you're going to have to come to terms with some very hard facts.
Let's burst some balloons!
It's time to explode a few myths.
The first one being, that you are needed and you provide a valuable service. You aren't and you don't. Many people seriously have the impression that they are doing Thailand a favour by devoting their time to teaching English here. One young lady recently started a ‘GoFundMe' page insisting that she was needed in the classroom and that her courageous migration was in fact some kind of charity work!
Your fellow teachers, employers and the parents value you. This is unlikely... but it's possible, though not for the reasons that you think they might.
You're underpaid and you deserve more. Wrong again. Wages for NES (native English speakers) in the public education system have gotten lower over the past few years. And why not? It's crazy to pay a decent living wage when someone is prepared to show up to the same job for a lot less.
Thais have it all wrong when it comes to education. Partly right, but mostly wrong... and when you look at the alarming mental health issues facing first world countries right now, I tend to believe that Thailand has it about right.
If Thais don't improve their English skills nationally they'll suffer in the global marketplace. Wrong. There are much more important things in business than speaking English. Thailand has a cheap workforce and a good infrastructure. It welcomes foreign industry and investment. Compared to many Asian countries, it's pretty easy to set up shop and start to trade. Knowledge of English will always be an advantage but it's not critical.
You're a good teacher. Nope, sorry, you're not. Seriously, if you are then why are you even here? And how did you discover that you were a good teacher? Your boss likes you because you show up every day when you are supposed to. The parents like you because you tell them that their kids are awesome and clever and your students like you because you're fun in the classroom.
Oh, wait... actually, if the above describes you then it turns out that you ARE a good teacher. You're everything an employer could want. A reliable, friendly liar!
Know your limits... and know theirs, too!
So, what's next for you? How do you work within the system and avoid drinking yourself to death. Or worse, jumping off your apartment building? Can you even make the changes necessary to be happy wallowing in this mess?
First, let's stop with this ‘changing the world' nonsense. Anyone can do your job. Yes, and in fact there are thousands of people a whole lot further down the food chain than you that are doing it. Nobody is complaining about them either... except the ferocious online forums that surround this daft industry.
Next, determine what your employers want from you. They probably don't want to be bothered by your ground-breaking ideas on how to teach English. They don't want you in the office every time the printer is on the blink or the internet isn't working. And they definitely don't want to hear your opinions on anything.
Make peace with yourself and your surroundings. The pavements are dangerous places to traverse but unless you intend on fixing them yourself then quit complaining about them. The paperwork required to legitimise your stay in Thailand is a nuisance. Hating it won't make it go away. There's no Marmite in Big C... learn to live with it!
Finally - everything that happens to you in Thailand isn't a personal attack. You don't have to feel threatened and angry when Thailand works it's magical charms against you.
Ch ch ch ch changes...
Well, I've painted a pretty disparaging and slightly depressing picture so far but if you are smart and willing to make adjustments to your expectations of living in Thailand, you can be a reasonably effective educator and still enjoy the easy going yet often shambolic life that the Kingdom has to offer.
But you will have to make changes to yourself if you want to stay here and stay sane. The honeymoon with Thailand is over too quickly for many people and when the reality of living with someone you don't get on with is an ongoing hangover, it's time to make a choice... You adapt to it or you leave it behind.
It's depressing just how many people have come here and either left with lots of resentment and bitterness - or worse, remained here polluting the place with those same feelings!
Don't be one of them.