It had been a good five years or so since I had taught in Thailand, but I had kept in touch with a few of the teachers from my old government school.
Part of our family holiday was to be spent in Kalasin so I decided to reach out to these ex-colleagues and see how they were. Truth be told, I was also curious to learn about the school and if my replacements had been successful or not.
We arrived in Kalasin late on Thursday night and whilst my wife had made arrangements to reconnect with her family and friends, I had an early night. The next day I planned to meet up with Ajarn Wannee, and the next day I was invited to visit Ajarn Kwan and his wife.
On Friday morning, just before Wannee arrived at the hotel, I received a Facebook message from Kwan telling me that they would not be able to make the appointment and would probably be busy for the rest of my time in Kalasin. I was a little disappointed as I had been looking forward to meeting them.
Ajarn Kwan was the head of the Foreign Language department, he had taken the role after Ajarn Wannee. There was no love lost between the two. When I told Wannee about the cancelled meeting, she smiled softly and explained that the reason for this was because I was meeting with her today. This seemed a tad childish but after a little while, I realised that she was most probably correct.
I cast my mind back to 2013 and remembered the many times where I was caught between the two parties and this triggered a few more memories that I’d stored away. I wonder how many of you have had similar experiences? I’m talking about the way that staff rooms can be divided into mini turf wars in Thai schools.
Here are a few less than pleasant incidents that come to mind:
Soon after starting my teaching job I noticed that the Foreign Language Department room seemed to be split into 5 or 6 distinct groups.
Initially I assumed that this was down to the language taught by that group or something as fundamental. But I was wrong. These little sects were in fact rival groups who had a massive grudge against one or more of their opposite numbers.
They all seemed to be led by a Thai female teacher of a certain again and all had one or two Western teachers also. Typically these would be attractive and young, almost like a mascot for each little coven. Needless to say, I came up short in the physical charms scoresheet so I was not invited to join during my time at this school.
On more than one occasion I did fall foul of these groups as I had occasion to speak to certain people in another group for work reasons, Thereafter I was pretty much blanked by the opposing numbers and it did make things a little awkward on occasion.
I was amazed to see that the more attractive the student, the more leeway they received from the Thai teachers.
Once, I had an issue with one of the M3 girls who was clearly cheating, little did I know at the time as this was the norm. I spoke to the head of department who was disinterested to say the least. When I brought the girl to his desk, he pretty much told her it was a mistake and gave me a filthy look.
The same demographic of students were usually chosen for the many inter-school competitions, even though they were not always, if ever, the best person for that role.
The annual sports day was a pretty grand affair and when I saw that even us foreign teachers were told to wear the house colours to support our teams, I really expected something special. Special it was, but possibly for the wrong reasons.
Most of the students were on their respective grandstands and these were alongside the back straight of the oval 800 metre track. The finish line and the podium were on the other side where the teachers were sitting in the shade. The poor students were literally roasting alive as the cheerleaders tried to whip them into a frenzy aided with an umbrella and copious amounts of cool drink.
The poor buggers couldn’t even see the home straight thanks to a massive stage that was erected in the centre for the celebrations which were to be held much later. Again, this was all about the staff and the visiting dignitaries, not the students.
During my first term I was struggling with the rather spartan teaching materials and decided to put a fun spin on my lessons.
As a one time guitar teacher I thought it would be fun to ask the students to form groups and perform their favourite track. Each class of around 50 went ahead and created their own band, some with instruments, some with backing tracks and some just singing for the sheer hell of it. They also made up their group names and designed logos.
This proved to be a great idea and although we managed most of this in lunch time and after school, the lessons flowed a lot more smoothly because they were actually interested in this activity. Eventually each class was whittled down to a single group and some of them were really decent. I wanted to put on a show for the school and asked the director if they could perhaps hold the ‘final’ one evening after school. After all, there were over 5000 students here and surely this would be a big deal?
He flat out dismissed the idea and I was forced to scrap the last stage of this fun event. The students weren’t at all surprised, it was as if they knew the outcome already.
After the initial anger, I moved on, but about a month later, during the long break, I was chilling in the garden when I could hear some loud music that was clearly coming from the nearby school. It sounded like students voices over a recorded backing track. My interest got the better of me and I eventually got on my moped and went to see what was going on.
After driving into the school grounds I saw that the talent show final had indeed gone ahead but without yours truly being involved. In fact the winning group then went on to compete in an inter-school competition except the teachers had pretty much swapped out the ordinary looking students for their own particular favourites…they lost by the way ?
I could go on, in fact I’ll write a bit more next month. I’m sure many of you have just as good or even better tales to share – I’d love to read about them!