Phil Roeland

Person of odd jobs

Let's hear it for the good old head teacher


Every language school has one in every branch. They are loved by some and loathed by others. They seem to have the best schedules and the prettiest students. They seem to lead a comfortable life. A lot of teachers tend to think that, at worst, they make a teacher’s life miserable, and at best, they just leave teachers alone to do their thing. Who am I talking about? The head teacher!

I think the two sides of the coin I just mentioned are too extreme. Indeed, teachers shouldn’t despise the head teacher just because he’s the boss, nor should they start kissing a certain body part of his just because he’s the boss. Luckily, many teachers don’t, simply because there’s no need to. By the way, I think a good head teacher isn’t just the big cheese of the branch he is working in; he is also a manager, coach and facilitator. And let’s not forget, a teacher.

Why is the head teacher the topic of this month’s column? Because I became one at the beginning of this year, CE* 2006, at a newly opened branch of the language school I work for. Instead of giving a mission statement in this article and explaining in detail what my job involves and what the difficulties and the perks are, I have tried to make it a little more interesting and easier to read by putting on paper what others say about me.

The branch manager
When I first met Philip, I thought he was very serious. It was during a meeting with the Thai staff, director of studies, marketing manager and head teacher. Man, did he fool us. It turned out he was neither serious nor sedate. He just wanted to make a good impression during our first meeting, I suppose. I thought it was a bit strange, because after all, every foreign teacher is some kind of clown, no? Prejudice or stereotype? I don’t think so. They all like onions and beer, don’t they? They all like lying in the sun to get a tan and they like dark-skinned girls. It’s clear that they’ve got a few screws loose. Come to think of it, Philip didn’t eat onions during our last staff dinner and he’s fairly white-skinned. There must be something really wrong with him.
He does the scheduling for all the branch teachers, so that’s one headache less for me. We discuss branch policy and needs regularly, though I have to admit that I don’t get all of what he says. Sometimes when he speaks I hear him but don’t listen, I listen but I don’t understand all of it, I understand but I forget, or I don’t understand at all but pretend to. He’s really good with kids and I think he’s a good teacher.

A teacher
Phil’s a good guy. Does the scheduling, gives us days off, arranges fill-ins when needed. Observes once in a while, gives us some tips and tricks. Can’t complain about him really. Does some teaching himself, keeps the teachers happy and seems to put in a lot of hours. I suppose that’s what they pay him for. The bastard gets two days a week off though.
Come to think of it, he does have some unreasonable demands sometimes, like starting classes on time and doing a minimum of lesson preparation. He doesn’t demand formal lesson plans, but he insists the teachers know what they’re doing, for example by using a simplified lesson plan or a brief running order of activities in the classroom. Bizarre, isn’t it?

The director of studies
Philip is one of our new head teachers and he seems to be doing a good job. I get a lot of positive comments about him from both the Thai staff and the teachers at the branch he works at. He’s conscientious and hard-working.
He’s a funny fellow though. When the branch was about to open, I asked him to set up the school’s library and make a list of useful books to supplement lessons with. He did an excellent job and put together an impressive, yet not expensive list of resource materials. The funny thing is that he actually believed that we were going to provide the money to buy these materials. Hilarious, isn’t it? Instead, we just sent his branch a box of copied books and stuff other branches didn’t need or want anymore.
To his credit, he didn’t keep bugging me about it, but seemed quite content with some of the materials. He’s apparently integrated himself well in Thai society and he’s quite knowledgeable about the way things are done here.

A maid
Mr Philip? Who? Oh, head teacher. Yes, I know him. He usually sits at his desk looking busy or chats with the manager about new courses and teacher needs. My main responsibility in the branch is making sure that I clear his empty coffee cup from his desk as soon as he finishes it. It’s quite a tiring and time-consuming task, as he usually drinks only one cup a day. I have to keep vigilant all the time.
Mr Philip has this big computer and is always doing things. I don’t have any idea what he does exactly, but I’m sure it’s very important. He is a bit weird sometimes. The other day he instructed me to leave the crust on the bread that I use to make sandwiches for the weekend teachers. I thought he was joking, but no, he really wanted these poor bastards to eat crust. Incredible. After all, they’re not chickens or pigs or fish, are they? Well, maybe some of them behave like pigs in their free time, but I still don’t think that’s a reason to make them eat crust.

A student
Mr Philip he okay, we have fun, learn some things, he not boring and make us talk many time. Even when doing an activity or playing a game he make us talk English. He make us pay money when we don’t use English while playing Monopoly. I don’t think it good idea to lose money, but he calls it fine. Not fine for me! My English no good when I first come here, but now it getting more good, I mean more better.

A job applicant
He seemed nice at first, but then he started asking me these totally ridiculous questions. He asked me where I lived, how long I had been living in Thailand, why I wanted the job and so on. None of his bloody business, was it? Then he wanted me to explain the difference between past simple and present perfect. Can you believe it? It’s obvious, isn’t it? Past simple is used for the past, it’s that simple. Present perfect is used for the present, if you want to speak perfect English, I suppose. What more can a man say about verbs? It’s not as if it’s important, is it, I mean, who’s going to lose sleep over such nonsense, know what I mean? I don’t know why he gave me such a hard time. It’s not that I’m a freak or an alcoholic. Everybody calls me Handsome Man and I limited myself to a couple of vodkas before I went to the interview, just to ease my nerves, so I’m sure he couldn’t have smelled anything on my breath. I did put on a fairly clean and unwrinkled shirt and my Homer Simpson tie. I was only 20 minutes late. What more can a man do? I don’t know why I didn’t get the job.

=====

This is how different people can experience or describe the same person or situation. The story isn’t exactly 100% true, as I wrote the whole thing myself, but it’s definitely based on a true story. I didn’t exactly invent this writing style myself. I saw it in one of Stephen Leather’s books, Private Dancer. Private Dancer tells the story of an expat who gets entangled in a web of lies and deceit when he starts a relationship with a go-go dancer. The author describes the situation through the eyes of different characters, all in the first person. It’s an easy and addictive read and definitely a must for anyone coming to Thailand in search of more than just sea and sun. Originally, the quite popular Stephen Leather’s couldn’t find anyone to publish this book (as his publishers were used to his crime fiction), so he made it available as a free download. Although he finally managed to get it published in 2005, free downloading is still possible at www.stephenleather.com/unpub.html.

That’s it folks. I hope you enjoyed the column this month. As always, suggestions are welcome.

* If you’ve never heard of CE, it stands for Common Era, a non-religious alternative for the Christian A.D. (anno Domini or the Year of the Lord). BCE (before common era) can replace B.C. I suppose atheists should use it to show their contempt for all the religious nutters who want to rule, terrorise and take over our world and impose their crummy values upon everyone. It’s not that I’m completely anti-religious (well, I am actually), I just can’t stand short-sighted people who try to convince others of their ideas, be it prohibiting women from voting in an election, men from drinking alcohol or convincing school children that Darwin was wrong.




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