Scott Hipsher

Win-win teachers

How to become a more valued employee

I have had the opportunities to work in a number of positions, industries and countries. While there are many differences between these places of work, one thing all these jobs had in common was the vast majority of the workers complained about the management.

Whether in the staffroom, lunchroom, shop floor, barracks, or around the water cooler next to the cubicles, the main topic of conversation has always been how incompetent the bosses and management were. Even when working in management, there were always complaints about the higher levels of management. For example, managers of foreign subsidiaries constantly complain about the head office back home which it is claimed has no clue how things are done "out here."

So the next time you hear your fellow teachers griping about the management of your school, don't worry, it does not automatically mean you are working at some hell hole, chances are approximately the same number of complaints are being heard by different teachers at nearly every other school in the country.

From listening you would think, enlisted soldiers and sailors know how to win the wars better than do the generals and admirals, factory workers know how to run the factories better than the factory managers, football players (and fans) know how to run the teams better than the coaches, teachers know how to run the schools better than the administrators and of course all of us know how to run our respective countries better than the politicians.

It is human nature, but the problem is, of course, all of us see a situation from our own vantage point and wanting our own objectives achieved. For example, there have been studies done in business where different managers are given the exact same business problem and asked to find a solution. Marketing managers usually come up with a marketing solution, operational managers normally come up with an operational solution and of course financial managers see the problem as primarily a financial one and find a financial solution.

Teachers working in a school quite naturally look at things from a teacher's perspective. Teachers generally are not overly concerned with budgets, disgruntled parents or requirements from government regulatory agencies. School administrators don't have the luxury of only focusing on the needs of the teachers and need to take a broader view and take into consideration the needs of a variety of other stakeholders.

Just like teachers, there are good administrators and bad ones, although to hear conversations in most staffrooms one could get the false impression the number of bad administrators greatly outnumber of good ones. But teachers, much like other employees in other professions, might often be unfair in their assessments of their bosses. A teacher normally thinks a "good" administrator is one that does what the teacher wants more times than not. But the criteria used by the administrator's superiors to judge performance may be quite different.

Administrators are not in reality some strange species that acts and behaves in ways that are incomprehensible to mortal teachers. In fact, they mostly want from their jobs a balance between gaining personal benefits and helping the students, just like the teachers. As teachers think of a good administrator as being one who gives teachers what they want, it is logical to think a good teacher in the eyes of an administrator is one who does want the administration wants more times than not.

When I teach management, one of the concepts I focus on is the idea all jobs have to be a win-win situation (Yes I know it is an overused cliché but the concept is very relevant) to be sustainable. The days of slavery are gone, and schools can only get and hold onto good teachers by giving the teachers want they want. If the teachers don't benefit from an employment situation or they have better options elsewhere they voluntary walk. Teachers can only get and hold onto desirable jobs by giving the schools what they want. If a school doesn't benefit from a teacher's contributions that teacher will be asked to walk.

Taking a militant stance and demanding what one wants from a school without giving some thought to what one is expected to give to an employer will probably not be the best strategy to find and keep one's dream job. Assuming one decides to not take the options to start one's own school or work totally freelance, a teacher will be an employee and should consider what he or she can contribute in creating the win-win situation with his employer needed for sustainable success of the employment relationship.

At the risk of having some readers claim I am an Uncle Tom and advocating kowtowing to Thai administrators, I will provide a few suggestions teachers can work on to make themselves more valuable to their schools.

1. Be a popular teacher.

I did not write be a good teacher because, good is too subjective and if one asks 10 different teachers what makes a good teacher it is likely one will get 10 different answers, each one more descriptive of the teacher answering the question than actually defining a good teacher. A teacher my think he or she is a good teacher, but if the student's and others don't, one's own opinion of being good will not be very helpful. But a popular teacher makes life for the administration better. If you work for a profit making language school, a popular teacher brings in and keeps students. For-profit schools need tuition fees from students to survive and pay salaries, and if a teacher helps bring in fees, that teacher is of value and we have considerable power when contract negotiation time comes.

Even non-profit government schools prefer popular teachers, popular teachers make students happy and result in fewer complaints from students and parents the administrators have to deal with. I have yet to find an administrator who enjoys defending the actions of his or her teachers to a string of disgruntled students or parents.

2. Be flexible.

It is difficult for many schools, especially smaller schools, to schedule classes based on each teacher's skills. If you can competently teach reading, writing, speaking, great, add to the list math and science and you have increased your job security and value to your employer considerably.

3. Be professional.

Ok, stating the obvious here, but professionalism is not as common as might be expected for 1,000 to 1,500 dollar a month jobs in a land where booze, drugs and other delights attract many to come and look for work. Come to work on time, wear presentable clothes and all the other obvious things employers expect of a professional teacher.

4. Be low maintenance.

Most administrators are busy, or even if not, they really don't want to spend significant portions of their work day dealing with your problems. True the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but is also the first wheel replaced when a new wheel is found. Learn your job and stay visible, but restrict your requests to things you really need to do your job well. Stand up for yourself, but learn to pick your fights and don't turn every perceived slight into a major battle.

5. Remember what you were hired to do.

Foreign teachers are generally hired to teach. Most of the time, the teachers have quite a bit of freedom in how they teach and are held responsible for the results. But on the other hand, foreign teachers are generally not hired to be management consultants for the school or to revamp the entire curriculum of the Thai educational system. Do what you can in your role to make the lives of your students better, but leave the responsibilities of others to others. If you are asked your opinion about managerial or curriculum matters (which is unlikely), go ahead and give it, but don't feel the need to tell your Thai bosses at every chance you get how it is done at home and why he or she is doing everything wrong. Remember the "Face" thing; it applies when working with Westerners as well as Asians.

Most experienced teachers don't like to be told by the administrators how to teach each day and therefore it is not surprising my administrators don't like to be told how to manage each and every day by the teachers.

Many native English teachers in Thailand complain that they can be easily replaced by backpackers, or others willing to work cheaper. This is only the case if those willing to work cheaper can provide the organization with as much value. If you want more from your job, chances are you are going to have to provide the school more value than your competitors for employment can.

While it is important to know what one wants from teaching, it is also a good idea to know what employers and administrators want. If you want to "win" at teaching in Thailand make sure you help your bosses win also.

You do not work for the school or your boss, you work with them to achieve the objectives of the school, the students and yourself.

Scott Hipsher is the author of
Expatriates in Asia: Breaking Free from the Colonial Paradigm,

The Nature of Asian Firms: An Evolutionary Perspective,

Business Practices in Southeast Asia: An interdisciplinary analysis of Theravada Buddhist countries

as well as numerous book chapter, academic journal articles, conference papers and other articles on international business and other topics.

The author has also written about entrepreneurship in the book, Contemporary Microenterprise: Concepts and cases publish by Edward Elgar 


Ok, stating the obvious here, but professionalism is not as common as might be expected for 1,000 to 1,500 dollar a month jobs in a land where booze, drugs and other delights attract many to come and look for work. Come to work on time, wear presentable clothes and all the other obvious things employers expect of a professional teacher.

So how do you propose to quell unprofessionalism given so many jobs start out by paying a child's salary? (And yes, 30K baht a month is a disgraceful salary for any falang who considers himself professional)

It's odd that an article like this has to be written. So much of it is common sense. Good read, though. Well done!

By James Piper, Saudi Arabia (18th November 2011)

I can't agree any more...
The writer is spot on...
good one there.

By J Bosco, Rayong (22nd October 2011)

Simply have shared something that I only thought of in my mind and never had the courage to express it in an open blog like this....You have shared a valuable 'mass' of information

By Sanjit, Thailand (29th May 2011)

I think this article is for people who know nothing of teaching in Thailand. Having worked there 3 times, I just kept thinking, why write about things that are so obvious to expat teachers in Thailand.

Phil - "well, there are plenty of people who know little or nothing about teaching in Thailand. That's partly the reason they come to this website isn't it?"

By Greg, Australia (27th May 2011)

I have to say that Scott's 5 suggestions are the basis of becoming a successful teacher in Thailand, whether you like it or not.

It'll also save yourself a lot of frustration and headaches if you follow these rules.

By Hippolyte, Bangkok (26th May 2011)

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