Stephen Louw

Recruitment season

To find the 'right' teacher, you first need to know what the 'right teacher' means.


It's the time of the year for schools and teachers to twirl and whirl in a ceremony of wooing and courting, the season of new academic nuptials and the blossoming of hopeful ardor. It has the exciting air of Rasme Saifee – those large collective weddings. 

Schools are (or will soon be) getting anxious about filling positions with the 'right' teacher, and teachers are out here and there hunting for the 'right' job. But how does anyone know what's 'right'? Is it written in the stars, or is there some more mundane way to know which matching is best?

Finding Mr/s Right

To explore this question, let's turn something that's probably familiar to us all: finding Mr/s Right (excuse the gender binaries for the moment, just play along). 

Have a look at the following two pictures, and decide which you think better presents a successful relationship.

Couple 1:

Couple 2:

Any naive 18-year-old suffering from the misty pleasure of first love will say unequivocally the first picture represents a successful relationship. That might be correct, but the more mature and worldly-wise will point out that both pictures might represent a successful relationship, and in fact, could even be same couple at different points in the same day (give or take the hair color, I guess). 

Those with a bent towards psychology might argue that couple 2 have a better chance of success if this picture represents their capacity to communicate with one another effectively 

These psychologists will tell you that a photo of the rosy romantic moment is not what relationships are about – the tough conversations that are a struggle to get through are what make for tough, resilient, lasting relationships.

The 'right' teacher

As with love, so with classrooms. This time use your imagination: teacher 1, a classroom with students sitting and working quietly; teacher 2, a classroom with the students out of their seats and the teacher smiling vacantly in front of the board. Which is a successful classroom? 

A naive administrator, most parents, and perhaps the beginner teacher will point to the first. But as with the photos of the couples, the worldly-wise teacher might rightly suggest that these could be photos of the same classroom at different points of the lesson, or perhaps photos of two equally effective teachers with different conceptions of how language teaching works.

Troy, who some of you will know as the most dashing of the trainers on the Chichester College TESOL course, tells an amusing story of when he was working in a government secondary school. 

After much coaxing and encouragement, he finally managed to get his students out of their seats to engage in a speaking activity. As things were just starting to get deliciously noisy, a well-intentioned teacher popped her head through the door, shouted something at the students in their L1, and they all promptly went back to their desks and sat down quietly. 

To her, it looked suspiciously like Troy had lost control of the class, and she duly went in to save the day.

Clashes of teaching paradigms aside, let's say our imaginary photo of teacher 2 represents a lesson which has descended into chaos. Does that necessarily mean the classroom is unsuccessful or the teacher incompetent? Should the manager burst into the room and save the day, or should the school decide the teacher needs to be 'moved on'? 

This happens, unfortunately. The reality, however, is that every teacher has had (at one point or another) chaotic lessons that have been a complete embarrassment. I could write entire books about mine!

Experienced or well-qualified teachers don't have unending runs of successful lessons. What they do have is a large repertoire of tools and tricks to draw from when lessons start failing, or a meaningful understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses which allows them to deftly avoid situations which might lead to failure. 

Novice teachers have fewer tricks, and are still experimenting with what feels right, and so the first few months, or even the first few years, may feel like a series of dismal failures. It's easy to chalk this up to incompetence, when in fact it's part of the capricious nature of a young career.

Tough resilient teachers

We lose potentially good teachers all the time. They come into the profession, suffer through a year of these apparent dismal failures, conclude the job of teaching is just too hard, and wander off to a simpler life in aeronautical engineering.  Or the school interprets novice teacher behavior as incompetence, decides the teacher is 'not good' and (without apparent irony) goes hunting for a new one. 

Or there is a paradigm clash, and the hard-working communicatively-minded teacher loses heart and decides to find solace in the melancholy of accounting. Or even, as is becoming common, a perfectly good teacher is deemed 'unqualified' by some controlling body and made to feel unwelcome. With a gap in the schedule, the school now goes on the arduous task of courting a new teacher.

Losing these teachers is regrettable because teachers are needed, and the conveyor belt of teachers that constitutes April is expensive, time-consuming and a terrible waste of a year's worth of good experience.

A loving relationship

The analogy of a teacher/school relationship with a pair of happy lovers doesn't bear close scrutiny, but there are parallels. 

In both cases, doom strikes if there is mutual faultfinding, distrust, and the inability to have those tough conversations the psychologists say are so important. Finding the 'right' partner is probably not so much a matter of money, looks, or long term prospects (although these are compelling considerations) as it is about whether or not there is scope for meaningful communication. 

If I talk, will I be heard? If there is a problem, will I be told about it? If there is a problem, will we be able to work together to find a solution and move forward? 

If you're a school looking for a teacher, or a teacher looking for a school, there is someone out there for you. But if you're looking for more than a one-night stand, find the one you feel you can comfortably talk to.

For more on how to find your perfect school-love, perhaps you'll also find this interesting Ajarn blog useful. It features a doctor and a cup!


Steve Louw is the lead trainer of the popular Chichester College TEFL Course in Bangkok.




Comments

I have been offered 2 jobs in the last month, one I lasted 2 days until I realized what the conditions were and I left. I think the questions you must ask in the interview are.
1. What is the salary (of course).
2. You may assume to assume this is paid per day …. Wrong – so if you were paid let’s say 44000 over 22 days you would think that is 2000 a day right…?? Wrong – what I found out is some schools offer you say 44000 a month and then pay you per calender day = 1419 per day…. Interesting.
3. They will then pay you for the weekends and if you do not come on Monday you do not get paid for the weekends. If you take Friday off they do not pay you for the weekends.
4. Also late fee – many schools have started to charge late fee. Now having been around for years and years and years, have seen various schools doing this (which I am sure is illegal). The fee they charge is over the top, and they say if you are one minute late – they charge you 200 baht. If you late one minute the next day they will charge 500 baht. If you late one minute the next day they will charge 1000 baht.
5. Some schools say if you are late 30 minutes they do not pay you for the day. So why go then.
6. Are you paid for the holidays? Yes or No.
7. Do you have to do anything during the holidays? Summer Camp/ work on the weekends? Go to a training course somewhere.
8. Are you paid for visa days when you have to go to Immigration? We all have to do it.
9. Who pays for the visa?
10. Do they take a bond (or deposit) and if you leave they keep it?
11. When is the housing paid – some pay on the 5th of the month, and then keep it if you leave at the end of the month?
12. When are paid until? Some agencies pay until the 25th and pay the rest on the next month (and so you are always 5 days short until the end of the month?
13. Is there a bonus for completing the contract?
Yeah teaching kids can be fun, but you want to be paid right. Be careful. Lots of scams out there. Do not take the first job that comes your way.

By Jonny Jon, Bangkok (16th June 2019)

I read this article on facebook yesterday but didn't wanna comment there. Too many angry and inane posters there.

One poster asked if all members of staff should be checked. Yes - of course! Every person who works in a school should have a criminal check and should be vetted more seriously than in any other job. It's not hard for the Thai staff. I had to get my criminal check from Scotland. It was a pain but no complaints from me. I have nothing to hide and this isn't a stupid requirement like a syphilis test.

I worked with two guys who shouldn't be working in schools but who probably still are. The first teacher was teaching young kids. One of the kids in class kept pulling his shorts down and flashing the other kids. The teacher pulled his trousers down and did the same. I never met the guy but he was talked about for a while. He was let go. That's all. Just let go.

The second guy was a teacher who lasted 4 days. He seemed nice enough until he told us he was friends with a Hollywood celebrity. He told us his celebrity friend comes to Thailand often and they would sometimes hang out. When we asked what they did together, he told us "Let's just say we share the same interests" and he smiled creepily and said no more. He was let go and the school were really angry with him. No one ever found out why. That really creeped everyone out because we couldn't work out what had gone on.

From the female cleaners to the principal. I really hope schools are doing everything they can to make sure the staff they employ are vetted as much as they can. When it comes to employing people to take care of children, you should always err on the side of caution.

By Iain, Hua Hin (2nd April 2019)

I started teaching in Thailand 15 years ago. After I finished university I drove a school minivan for a posh school in the UK. The ballache I went through to get criminal checks etc, so I could drive these kids to and from school. I'm glad they did a proper check on me but it was hard work getting through all the red tape.

I moved to Bangkok not long after. I had saved enough money and got a teaching job pretty quick. I started on 37,000 with a end of term bonus of 24,000 baht. 2000 baht for every month I completed. I got basic healthcare and quite a bit of paid holiday. At the time it was a good deal for a 23 year old who didn't know anything about teaching.

Going back to the first part where I had to get criminal checks to drive a school bus, I assumed I'd have to do the same for Thailand. I started working on a tourist visa. They set me up to get my non-b but it took until October when they wanted me to go as I had time off. I got my non-b and then applied for the work permit. I basically worked 6 months on a tourist visa and not one person asked for any criminal check. I was teaching P1&2. It was quite shocking they just trusted me. This is quite a well known school as well.

I met a young guy who started teaching here recently. Nice guy but you wouldn't want him involved in education anywhere. He told me his salary is 34k but the school have extra work. He doesn't have any qualifications and hasn't done any form of criminal check.

Now, I don't care about teachers working in schools with no qualifications. The salaries are low so schools have to make do with what they can get. What really does bother me is that there are still schools employing people and not doing a criminal check. That is gross negligence on the behalf of the school who doesn't check their teachers. This is the thing that worries me the most about recruitment here.

By Dillon, Thailand (1st April 2019)

Josh

“What is it about Thailand that differentiates itself from locations such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan...and the type of teachers they attract? “

If this is a serious question, here is a response.

Level of economic development and culture primarily.

Japan, Korea and Taiwan each have a GDP per capita many times what does Thailand and therefore of course average wages (and cost of living) are higher. Level of economic development might not be so obvious or important if one is teaching the children of the wealthy at an elite international school in downtown Bangkok, but it sure makes a huge difference if you are teaching at a government school in a rural area. Alongside the on-average level of economic development the much higher level of income inequality plays a factor in making Thailand different. Japan, Taiwan and Korea all have much lower levels of income inequality (as measured using the Gina-coefficient scale).

There is a huge difference between living and working in a wealthier and more egalitarian society than working in a less wealthy and more unequal society.

And of course culture, which is a very fuzzy and abstract concept but nevertheless has a huge influence on our environments. Thailand has a unique national culture but shares many traditions and values with its neighbors where Theravada Buddhism is also the primary religion, which most “experts” would consider makes it belong to a different category than the Confucius-inspired cultures of East Asia.

Comparing Thailand to these more developed economies is as much an apple versus oranges comparison as would be comparing Thailand to Nepal.

If Thailand’s moderate level of economic development and its unique culture makes it “bad” in your subjective opinion then it is probably better not to work here. If the higher levels of income and different cultures make these other places “good” in your opinion, you should seek work there.

As pointed out by Stephen in the article, finding the right job and right employee is about “fit” and not every teacher works out in every situation, and what makes a “good” teacher or a “good” job is very subjective.

Current genetic and psychological research seems to indicate our openness to people who are “different” from ourselves is to a large extent genetically influenced (in other words there are some people born more likely to adjust to a cross-cultural teaching environment and others who are less likely) although one’s openness is also moderated by many other environmental factors, if we believe the research results.

Thailand is neither good nor bad, it is Thailand, teaching in Thailand may be a good fit for some people but not for others, and liking or hating Thailand is neither right nor wrong, just a viewpoint.

By Jack, LOS (22nd March 2019)

"Phil, you should do a poll asking teachers if they think the quality of teaching has dropped over the years and if their schools are finding it harder to recruit new teachers. I would really love to see the feedback. I know from previous and current first hand experience it's getting worse, stagnant wages and not being able work on tourist visa for long are huge factors, but it would be interesting to see the results."

Liam, I think it's a fantastic idea and indeed I get the very same idea myself from time to time. However, I always seem to run into a brick wall. Recruiters, academic directors, hirers and firers (whoever they are) always seem reluctant to give an opinion, especially if the situation is negative.

I think between us though, we can say with a degree of authority, that is has gotten MUCH harder to recruit decent teachers.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (21st March 2019)

Jack -

"I have been hearing how teaching English in Thailand has been going to the dogs for over 20 years, but many of the same people soldier on and the ones who leave are pretty easily replaced by new faces and the show goes on"

Sorry, but this simply isn't true. Teachers aren't "pretty easily replaced" anymore. It's getting more and more difficult to find new teachers. It's a problem that gets worse every year.

Phil, you should do a poll asking teachers if they think the quality of teaching has dropped over the years and if their schools are finding it harder to recruit new teachers. I would really love to see the feedback. I know from previous and current first hand experience it's getting worse, stagnant wages and not being able work on tourist visa for long are huge factors, but it would be interesting to see the results.

By Liam, Thailand (21st March 2019)

@Josh

There's normally a big difference between your 35-40k teachers and your 70k+ with benefits lot. I've done the crappy 35-40k jobs years ago. These positions are typically filled by three types of teachers;

Your young and carefree teacher who'll do a year or two at most. They are here for a working holiday and spend all their money on holidaying and partying. God bless this lot. They're doing it right.

Your stagnant teacher (often good teachers who kinda get stuck in a rut and think there isn't anything better out there) These are the good guys who just need to be more assertive.

And then there's your last-resort teacher (the one that had to be employed otherwise the kids wouldn't have a teacher at all, or more importantly for the school or agency is they wouldn't make their money). They're drifters and outlaws (some literally are on the run from the old bill). These guys are the legends of TEFL. They've given me so many stories to tell over the years. Stories ranging from a teacher who wore a shirt and tie with tracksuit bottoms and brogues because he didn't do his laundry, to a teacher getting stabbed by his partner after he got caught cheating with a Nana ladyboy. You would see these teachers around school (when they showed up) and you knew you weren't doing too bad.

Once you go into your 70k+ plus with benefit jobs (I use this as a reference to my first proper teaching job) it becomes quite boring. The young teachers take it very seriously as it's their career and they want to impress. The stagnant teachers aren't really stagnating. They've just got older and want the quiet life. And the last-resort teachers don't exist. They simply would never be employed as they have no place inside any school or near children.

By Simon, Thailand (20th March 2019)

I realize this is not exactly a discussion board and could easily devolve into something not desired, here.

However...I should ask: What is it about Thailand (in this industry) in which the type of teachers folks complain about, draws them in? Better yet, what is it about Thailand that differentiates itself from locations such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan...and the type of teachers they attract?

I'll give one answer...the locations mentioned actually have a culture that promotes the importance of education. They have strict guidelines in terms of whom they will accept and offer reasonable benefits that come with the job. And, while their way of teaching (regarding a foreign language) can be considered to be outdated, the landing is more smooth and there is more opportunity of success, for the teacher.

So, why continue to blame the flies that are attracted to the waste and play the role of backslapper, when it is obvious that there is much that can be done to actually attract the crowd more desired?

By Josh, Land of Kimchi (20th March 2019)

I mean no offence when I say this, but trying to recruit tefl teachers is eerily similar to recruiting a local full-time cleaner for your house. You hope they can maintain the performance they put in for their demo, and you hope they don't just leave one day without giving you any notice. The bar is set quite low. Hell, so many times I've had to show the new teacher how to teach and the cleaner how to clean.

I've always paid more than the going rate for a cleaner to basically get them in the door. I told them that if they do a good job I'll up their salary after 3 months. Maybe I'm unlucky, but I just can't keep hold of a good cleaner. The work rate always drops off and they eventually go home to "take care" of their dying parent or just up and vanish like a fart in the wind. As much as I'd like to, I can't afford to pay them more and I can't offer them anything other than their monthly salary. Same applies for many teachers who come through our school.

In life, you get what you pay for. I accept that teachers and cleaners will come and go. Just have to suck it up. This whole romantic notion of being on a panel, sifting through 100's of well-written resumes, shortlisting candidates and inviting them for an interview doesn't apply to my school. We are just happy if they turn up looking presentable. It's lock-the-doors time, then.

By Cassidy, Thailand (20th March 2019)

Simon

"Do you or don't you still work in the teaching industry in Thailand? Your posts confuse me as I thought you left. "

If it matters, I live and work in Thailand, but not currently involved in ESL teaching or the "industry."

I have been hearing how teaching English in Thailand has been going to the dogs for over 20 years, but many of the same people soldier on and the ones who leave are pretty easily replaced by new faces and the show goes on.

Of course the industry has changed over time to some extent, but the constants are most ESL jobs in Thailand still pay less than does cooking fries at a fast food restaurant back home (But to be fair the cost of living is a bit lower here), the main requirement for a NES is the ability to speak one's native language (not too difficult for most NESs), and Thailand (for fairly obvious reasons) attracts some interesting and slightly non-conformist personalities who often end up in a classroom. Oh, and one more constant, a large percentage of ESL teachers come to Thailand with no or little training, preparation, or understanding of working in a cross-cultural environment, and therefore end up having problems with working with Thais, especially Thai supervisors.

I personally really enjoyed my time as an ESL teacher in Thailand, it was a great experience, but it was not an occupation I wanted to spend my life in or make a career out of. But others might want to make English teaching their life's work, nothing wrong with that.

By Jack, Land of smiles (19th March 2019)

@Jack

"Blaming students, schools or the country one is working is in a waste of time"

It's a waste of time if you want to change anything. I don't want to change anything. I'm simply pointing out why so many schools and agencies struggle to find or keep decent teachers. I'm stating the reason not the solution.

"If you don’t like the students assigned to you, or the school, or the culture of the country you are working, leave or accept the conditions"

I'm talking about bad schools and agencies. I don't work for one. Again, I'm simply stating the reasons. Not all schools are bad. Agencies? They're bad by default as they run purely as a business.

"If you opinion is Thai schools are “bad” places to work, you can either accept the “bad” conditions or you can leave"

Or, you can state the reasons why and have a conversation like adults. You've said the same thing three times and you haven't once said anything insightful.

"I have worked in and around Thailand for many years, and I have heard an amazing number of complaints and claims Thailand will go down the tubes unless it starts paying and treating foreign teachers better. I haven’t seen any of these complaints or claims of disaster have any impact on changing the teaching environment in Thailand over the last few decades and doubt this will change in the near future"

Do you or don't you still work in the teaching industry in Thailand? Your posts confuse me as I thought you left.

Is it harder to find semi-decent teachers now compared to even five years ago? Yes. of course it is. Do I care? No. I'm simply pointing it out as this is an article written about finding new teachers.

By Simon, Thailand (19th March 2019)

A thought-provoking and well written article, I would stress one issue you pointed out which is the subjective nature of good “teaching.” The results or impact of education are extremely difficult to measure and standardized testing trying to do so create as many or more problems than they solve. Therefore our ideas about good teaching are mostly focused on the process as the results are very difficult to measure.

Our ideas about what makes a good teacher can be quite subjective and greatly influenced by our personality, experiences and of course culture we come from. But when one is an employee, the subjective opinions of those paying you are more important than your own subjective opinions. It is probably a good idea to find a place to work where the ideas about what is good teaching do not differ too far from your own, or if you are more flexible (I am not really) than you can adjust more to the expected style of your employer.

I am willing to bend a little, but not too far in my values and work style, so I really try to find employment where I either have the freedom to work my way or my way is fairly closely aligned with my employer’s expectations.

If you want to teach exactly your own way with no adjustment for the expectations of others than start your own school or teach only privately and recruit your own students.

Simon, Josh, Jeremy

Blaming students, schools or the country one is working is in a waste of time. When you are hired as a TEACHER you are expected to do your best with the students assigned to you under the culture and rules of the school employing you which is obviously going to be influenced by the national culture where the school is located.

If you don’t like the students assigned to you, or the school, or the culture of the country you are working, leave or accept the conditions. As a foreign teacher in a local school you will have very little impact on determining the recruitment of students, or changing the culture of the country you are working.

If you opinion is Thai schools are “bad” places to work, you can either accept the “bad” conditions or you can leave, all the whinging isn’t going to change the educational system and the national culture.

I have worked in and around Thailand for many years, and I have heard an amazing number of complaints and claims Thailand will go down the tubes unless it starts paying and treating foreign teachers better. I haven’t seen any of these complaints or claims of disaster have any impact on changing the teaching environment in Thailand over the last few decades and doubt this will change in the near future.

By Jack, LOS (19th March 2019)

Extraordinary that terrible disrespectful student behaviour somehow translates into the 'teacher being incompetent'

Read the best most brilliant prose ever written on the topic in DH Lawrence's The Rainbow. The chapter entitled 'The Man's World'. And then run screaming out of the gates of whatever Thai government school you happen to be working in.

By Jeremy, Udon (19th March 2019)

I think anyone that has taught, or currently teaching, in Thailand can appreciate the piece.

I will say, however, it just seems that the problems teachers face always come down to common narratives.

1. Working with the Thai teaching staff (and sometimes Filipinas).

2. Awful salary with proper benefits.

3. Using the "Thai Way" or culture card, as a constant excuse to avoid actual situations that need to be addressed.

4. A blatant refusal to explore new and BETTER teaching methods.

5. The fact that many teaching environments set up the eager and willing expat teacher for failure, not success.

6. People in positions of leadership, that do not know what that really means.

There can be more points listed but it is already obvious and it would be considered "running up the score". Yet, I do acknowledge the side of the debate, to be fair. But, in my opinion, Thailand contributes enough to create and promulgate its own stigma, regarding this issue.

Perhaps it gets what it deserves?

By Josh, Land of the Morning Calm (19th March 2019)

The pool of even barely capable teachers is getting smaller by the day. That pool gets even smaller when you're paying 30-40k a month with little to no benefits. Less of the "Mr Right" and more of the "Mr Right Now" for most schools looking for TEFL teachers.

Beggars can't be choosers. I wouldn't wish the job of having to find teachers now in Thailand on anyone. It's a thankless task which will more than likely come back to bite you. Even ten years ago the standard of your average TEFL teacher was pretty bad.

For schools and agencies, just try not to employ the kind of teacher who runs away from paying their beer and food bill and breaks their ankle in the process. The kind of teacher who admits this when asked by their boss what happened, when in front of all the other teachers. It makes us serious teachers feel pretty shitty knowing we're probably making similar money to these sort of clowns.

You own your own shirt and tie? Congratulations, you got the job!

By Simon, Thailand? (18th March 2019)

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