Richard McCully

School closures

Some teachers may be in for a nasty surprise if their school is closed for an extended period

With news that many schools are closed across China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and several other countries in the region, it got me thinking back to the last time this happened, en masse, in Bangkok. I’m talking about the huge floods which hit Bangkok back in 2011. 

I actually moved here a couple of years after but many of my colleagues were here and shared their experiences. 

As a bit of background, the floods started in October 2011 and, in some areas, didn’t recede until January 2012. Certain areas of Bangkok were more affected than others. 

The school I started teaching in at the time on the outskirts of Bangkok flooded. Obviously this meant classes had to be canceled and teachers allowed to stay home. You may think that this act of God was a nice little break for teachers but they were in for a nasty surprise… 

You see, after spending a couple of days at home, the school realized the flood wasn’t going anywhere quickly and decided that these days off work would be taken from the teacher’s, rather meager, holiday allowance. That’s right, teachers were stuck in their condos as their roads were flooded, and these days were being taken from their annual leave. 

What’s more, if they had already taken leave, or had more booked for the rest of the year, it was decided to count these extra days as unpaid leave.  Teachers had money deducted from their salary despite having no control over what was happening. Unsurprisingly a lot of them quit the first day they could get back to the school to hand in their notice. 

I’ve also talked about this topic with many Thai students who told me their October school breaks were extended by an extra week or so. Some left Bangkok for a month or so to avoid the flood and this meant many of them also missed the extra English classes they took at the weekend at shopping malls or with local tutors. 

A lot of adults also worked from home which meant those evening English business classes were empty too. A lot of teachers are either paid per hour they work or a salary based on teaching X number of hours a month.

I’m sure they would be in a spot of bother if their school shut for a few weeks. I can’t imagine them getting paid for not working at all, even if the circumstances are beyond their control. 

I’ve not heard of similar stories from teachers currently off work due to 2019-nCoV.  However, knowing the tricks that some schools here in Thailand get up to with 10 month contracts etc, I’d hate to see how teachers would be affected if schools were ordered shut for a prolonged period of time. 

I guess the moral of the story here is that shutting down schools in Thailand may seem like a great little holiday but will probably negatively affect many teachers here. 

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It's quite unnerving. I am on a ten month contract with my company, who hires is and sends into Thai public schools. Of course this means October, March, and April are months when I'm not paid.

In the past I have relied heavily on the extra classes that I teach on nights and weekends.
I find the students on my own, or better I get new students based on referrals from my current students.

During March and April I can usually get close to my regular salary from working in the Thai school. But not this year. Of my 15 private students all but three are taking a Corona virus break.

So if the schools don't start and I don't get pay.....well that'd be terrible.

By William, Bang Sue, Bangkok (23rd March 2020)

Once in the UK, my salary (and about 50 others) was bailed out by someone who didn't have to. He paid salaries amounting to about 200k I think. He wasn't poor but didn't need to and you never forget that.

I think online options are more prevalent now that 9 years ago so there are options that means you will still get paid. Many schools are transferring lessons online and online teaching is booming.

Also, some good news to show that not all places are the same, my school has just bought CoVID insurance for us, which is nice. Certainly you have as much if not more chance of being fully paid here than as a service worker, builder, factory worker in the UK or USA.

By Rob, Bangkok (19th March 2020)

My school will keep us on but I can see how other schools might pull a dozen stunts to redirect salaries into different pockets. I'd advise all if you are a marginal teacher at a marginal school like the author there is not much you can do about it but be absolutely certain your not paying the tax for the person who's stealing your salary because that's a bigger loss and insult to injury. Of course, the best method to avoid this is to be a quality teacher that schools want and want to retain. Everyone is replaceable but when the school genuinely takes a hit by you leaving that's the best and only insurance you have. Stupid enough to work for an agency? You get what you deserve.

Finally, we should all be planning to:
1 start school 1-2 weeks late
2 start a month late
3 miss the entire first semester
4 teach your students at home
5 manage assessments and grades away from school.

Or take a holiday and hope there's a job when you return.

It's not that massive numbers of students will become ill. Rather, it's the fallout and sweeping cautionary procedures that may be all encompassing. This might sweep us all up like a tidal wave.

Already we've had four school closures.

Fail to plan > Plan to fail

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (29th February 2020)

I am commenting on your blog, Mr. McCully, because I would like some clarification. You begin by talking about school closures in Bangkok in late 2011 due to floods. You end your blog by speculating on a repeat of this happening due to the coronavirus. I hope that you are not comparing a flood to a pandemic. School closures due to a flood are certainly inconvenient; school closures due to a pandemic is tragic. There is no comparison.

There seemed to be a disconnect in your blog between any tragedy of a pandemic nature and an appropriate response. It would be like informing someone staying in the same hotel as you about the overnight fire on one of the upper floors only to receive the response, "Oh, I hope they don't cancel the buffet breakfast. I was looking forward to the eggs benedict." I cover these inappropriate responses in my own blog titled, "My Friend Moishe the Beadle."

The Diamond Princess Cruise Ship is the perfect laboratory when it comes to the coronavirus outbreak and the study of human behaviour. When the passengers were ordered to quarantine in their rooms, the crew had the run of the ship. They took care of the passengers. They also ate lobster and jumped into the swimming pool. A few days later, 99 people became infected including 12 crew members. The following day the crew took care of the passengers. They also had their fill of shrimp and roast beef from the buffet, and jumped into the swimming pool... and... what do you know... 88 more people infected. This is why the virus will spread even further. By the way, I think it's time to re-read George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Regardless of whether we think the CCP is fudging the numbers, let's keep something in perspective: if the coronavirus ever takes serious hold in Thailand, the last thing you and your colleagues need to worry about is a few thousand baht.

By Steve Schertzer, Thailand (20th February 2020)

Our school didn't give us any information, any support or even contact us once. We had to contact them. About 3 weeks into the floods people started to think we wouldn't get paid because of the school's silence. All the teachers got together and we contacted the school. When asked if we would be getting paid, they told us "we're working on it'. We kept contacting them but they kept ignoring us. Teachers got very pissed off because many were paying for another accommodation elsewhere and wouldn't have any money come payday. The school deliberately kept quiet and didn't say anything because they were worried we would find work elsewhere.

About 3 days before payday the school said we wouldn't be getting paid. It went from "we're working on it" to "of course you won't get paid. You haven't been working!" We got together and told them two days before payday that no one would be returning if we didn't receive a full pay check come the last working day of the month. The school bitched and moaned but eventually paid us all in full.

When teachers get together and demand what's rightfully theirs, they'll usually get it. I've seen it happen.

By Craig, Thailand (20th February 2020)

The school where I worked (and still work) closed early October for the midterm break. Flooding hit the school around October 23 and the school didn't open until early December. Everyone got paid their full salaries during all this time. I'll never forget that.

By cor, Bangkok (20th February 2020)

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