Whilst most of the Thai teachers were pleasant enough, there were one or two who were clearly less than impressed with the foreign contingent. True to form, I managed to bump heads with one of these fine fellows.
Many of the classes that I taught involved me travelling to that particular form room, and most of the time it was devoid of teachers so I could simply stroll in, say hello and crack on with the lesson in hand. This was the case with 3/6, with whom, despite their being a rowdy bunch of kids, I had some kind of connection.
The door was usually open and they could see me approaching as I left the stairwell on the second floor, and ambled towards them. But one day the door was closed and as I got closer I could hear a male Thai voice bellowing out instructions, so I decided to wait outside until this lesson ended.
Except it didn’t end.
I was due to start teaching 3/6 at 15:00. By 15:10 the previous lesson was still in full flow. At this point I decided to make my presence known with a loud knock on the door. The lesson continued and, if anything, his voice was even louder. I waited five more minutes and knocked again, but this time I also opened the door and was met with a sea of rather fearful faces – as if warning me of my impending doom.
I walked in and smiled at the 50-something Thai teacher, who was a pretty big guy. He sneered at me and returned to the whiteboard. Feeling rather non-plussed I retreated and waited politely outside.
Eventually he packed up and left, but as he walked passed me there wasn’t an ounce of recognition, let alone an apology. I re-entered the room and could sense the relief on the faces of my poor students. I looked at my watch and realised that this oaf had stolen a good half hour of my lesson; by the time I had explained today’s task, the bloody thing was over.
The class explained to me that this teacher was considered to be a bully by all of the students, and even some of his peers. He also had little time for foreign teachers, especially middle-aged bald ones such as yours truly.
I spoke to Ajarn Kwan and Wannee about this problem and they both gave the same answer: ‘This man is very stubborn Phil, and he doesn’t like foreign teachers.’ They offered little in the way of help. I was pretty much left to deal with this dilemma alone.
I was learning that Thai people do not like confrontation and will usually do what they can to avoid them. I had no issue with this, but was mindful that I couldn’t go around upsetting other teachers; this was not my stamping ground. I was here to help, not to make enemies.
The next week it was a repeat performance, and I could sense that he was getting some small pleasure out of the whole thing. So I decided to do something about it. I spoke to Ajarn Kwan and told him that I was thinking
about helping the Thai teachers with their English. I would come 5 or 6 minutes early to my classes, and if the Thai teacher was happy with this arrangement, I would include them in my English lessons and hopefully they would get something positive from this experience.
He agreed, and by the end of the week Kwan had told all of the Thai teachers who taught directly before me that I was hoping to include them in my English lessons.
But another Thai trait is their absolute fear of losing face – teachers were especially known for this. I figured that if he held the English language in such disdain it probably stemmed from a fear of the unknown, and I guessed that he would definitely not want to appear to know less than the very students he’d been berating just a few minutes earlier.
My plan had an amazing effect, because the next time I went to teach 3/6, the big man was nowhere to be seen. In fact, I never saw him in the classroom again. I’d had a minor win, and was really pleased that it hadn’t resorted to a more basic ending.
The only downside was that about seven of the teachers were more than happy to be included in my lessons, and this created a lot more work on my behalf.
You win some, you lose more?
Thanks for reading my words and if you’re interested in my book, it is now available from Asia Books in shops all over Thailand.
Phil Hall was lucky enough to teach at a government school in Isaan from 2012 to 2013 and thoroughly enjoyed this experience. He also has a book published called Bangkok to Ben Nevis Backwards.
It takes the reader on a journey from the UK to India and finally Thailand. Debts, Dementia, poorly planned emigration, self discovery, family bonding and attempted murder are all part of the highs and lows of this 18-month true tale. This is an excerpt from the same book with a few alterations.