Phil Roeland

Full-time teacher, part-time thief

Light-fingered shenanigans in the teachers' room

For many foreigners wanting to settle in Thailand, becoming an English teacher is just about the only option when trying to get a job locally. Some foreigners working in the Kingdom have a teaching background; many don’t, but a lot of them have nonetheless become fully or partly qualified teachers. Many Westerners working or posing as teachers have made a dramatic career change; it is not unusual to find teachers in Thailand that were mechanics, welders, bricklayers or even pastry chefs in a former life.

Wages in Thailand are relatively low compared to what teachers might make in their home countries; hence it’s a very bad idea to assume that because you were a well-paid professional in Farangland, you’ll be able to secure a teaching job paying a similar salary in Thailand. If you want to have a rough idea of what teachers make here, just have a look at the job section of this website. Most advertised jobs promise salaries varying from 30,000 to 45,000 baht ($1 = 35 baht; €1 = 45 baht; ₤1 = 70 baht at the time of writing). The jobs offered are usually teaching positions in either government schools (lower end of the salary range) or private schools (higher end).

There is another kind of schools where salaries are markedly higher (ranging from 50,000 to more than 100,000 baht) – but where securing a job is a lot more difficult: international schools. The lower end of the salary range is usually paid by schools with a lesser reputation that aren’t that international at all (with sometimes up to 90% or more Thai students), the higher end can be had at the more reputable schools such as Harrow or Bangkok Pattana, just to name a few.

Getting a job at the latter institutions is a lot harder, as many require prospective teachers to be fully qualified and experienced, often including degrees that would be needed to teach in the Western world such as a B.Ed. and PGCE qualifications. Moreover, the top flight often seems to recruit directly overseas, thus making it harder for in-country teachers to get in.

Bottom line: the majority of farangs working in Thailand – excluding diplomats and ‘real’ expats – are teachers. Although most of them make a relatively decent salary according to local standards, quite a few have an extra part-time job to supplement their monthly income. The most popular part-time jobs are undoubtedly teaching students privately after hours and working for a language school. For some individuals, even this isn’t enough, so they resort to yet another activity: stealing. Yes, you read that correctly, a number of so-called teachers are actually full-time teachers and part-time thieves.

Don’t start thinking that these highly skilled education professionals resort to stealing luxury cars or become successful pickpockets in busy Bangkok. It’s much simpler and a lot less lucrative than that: some ‘teachers’ seem to think there’s nothing wrong with nicking books and teaching materials from the schools they work at. In a few cases teachers have even run off with computers, but let’s focus on the issue of disappearing books because that’s my main reason for writing this article.

A couple of months ago, a number of books – resource packs in particular – started disappearing at the branch of the language school where I work. Although it had never really been a problem before, no fewer than eight photocopiable resource packs vanished into thin air in about six weeks time. The teachers among the readers will know what I’m talking about: those handy books full of photocopiable materials such as Timesaver, Activity Box, Penguin, etc. These materials are very useful to supplement a lesson, popular with most students and require a minimum of preparation time.

One might argue that it’s half a miracle that they hadn’t disappeared earlier, but let’s dig a bit deeper. The stolen books weren’t originals; they were photocopies (yes, I know we’re supposed to have the originals), stamped front, back and side with the school’s stamp. As a book can be copied for very little money, the monetary value of these books was minimal (less than 100 baht each), but they were invaluable teaching resources. As the branch doesn’t have the originals, getting other copies is doable for some but time-consuming.

To me, however, it is not just the act of unlawfully taking the books that is reprehensible; more so is the fact that the thief (thieves) deprived his (their) colleagues of the use of these precious materials. On top of that, who in his right mind would want to be seen by others using stolen books? If I saw one of my teachers using materials bearing stamps from other schools, I would immediately catalogue him as a thief and not trust him around the teachers’ room anymore. Are teachers that poor they can’t afford to buy some stuff of their own – or at least copy the school’s resources instead of pinching them?

In order to give the suspect(s) a little benefit of the doubt, it could be argued that they mistakenly took the books home (yeah right, all eight of them?). I made it clear to the teachers that it wasn’t too late to bring the loot back – even anonymously – and thus redeem themselves. Nothing has happened so far (it’s still not too late, but I don’t count on it anymore). You might think this is just my pet peeve or much ado about nothing. Fact is, however, that this is happening in many schools and I’m sure I’m not the only one being pissed off by this.

Teachers who misappropriate books or who handle teaching materials with an utter lack of respect (throwing books around, not bothering to replace materials properly, etc.) are a nuisance to their colleagues and bring the very essence of being a teacher and educator into disrepute. Some might say that I’m feeling too strongly about this, but I can’t help myself.

I think that there should be a number of commandments for teachers. Here’s a possible selection:

1. Thou shalt not steal materials from the school.
2. Thou shalt not behave like a troglodyte on the school premises.
3. Thou shalt not imbibe prior to teaching.
4. Thou shalt teach with or without a hangover.
5. Thou shalt be punctual.
6. Thou shalt not be absent unless fatally ill or seriously injured.
7. Thou shalt be smartly dressed.
8. Thou shalt not engage in carnal pleasure with students.
9. Thou shalt do a minimum of lesson preparation.
10. Thou shalt worship thy head teacher like a demigod.

We might need en extra set of rules tailored to the Thai situation. They could go like this:

11. Thou shalt not yell at little Ploy because she’s hiding under the table.
12. Thou shalt not call little Somchai stupid because he doesn’t understand a word you say.
13. Thou shalt not hit little Dodo because he’s continually turning off the lights.
14. Thou shalt not get angry because half of the students aren’t interested in a word you say.
15. Thou shalt not expect total silence from three dozen children.
16. Thou shalt not think Miss Porn is hitting on you just because she’s wearing an ultra-short mini-skirt.
17. Thou shalt not expect the Thai staff to be as understanding or westernised as yourself.
18. Thou shalt not boast loudly in school about your nightly, extra-curricular exploits.
19. Thou shalt not think Mekong rum can be drunk like water because is bears the name of a river.
20. Thou shalt not wear a tank top, shorts and flip-flops in the vicinity of the school and think you look cool.

Let me finish with a final comment concerning the 6th commandment. In another unprofessional behavioural quirk, some teachers – luckily a minority - seem to think it is perfectly acceptable not to show up for class without even bothering to call. It should be evident to everyone with more brain cells than a trilobite that unannounced no-shows are highly disruptive for the schools, not to mention totally unprofessional in the eyes of the parents, thus tainting the reputation of other teachers. Although not as much as before, teachers are still fairly well-respected in Thailand. Let’s try to keep it that way.


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