Teachers Tales

February 2003

A bulging toast-rack full of buttered TEFL slices


What makes a good teacher great

Male, female, gay, straight, British, Irish, Canadian, Scottish - you name it. I tried to analyse what makes a highly employable teacher. I perused this list of some 200 plus names and decided that one factor is above all others - reliability !!!!

Fairly recently , I made a list of all the teachers I have worked with in my 11 years in Bangkok - a staggering 257 different individuals ( the ones I could remember ) I came to the conclusion that a teacher doesn't have to be a great educator - just good enough. A teacher doesn't have to be well-qualified ( I've worked with PhD's in Linguistics who shouldn't have been let anywhere near a classroom )

A teacher doesn't have to be particularly attractive or handsome - because enthusiasm and friendliness can make up for that. Teachers don't have to be experienced. I firmly believe that teaching is a natural ability that you either have or you don't have. No TEFL course in the world will turn you into a teacher if you don't possess any natural skill. But a teacher must be reliable.

I think that language schools place far too much emphasis on the qualifications / experience side of an applicant's resume , when in reality , a well-qualified , experienced teacher ain't worth the time of day if they can't get up in the morning.

The Greatest teacher story . . . .ever !

I have to admit that this story has never ever been confirmed as gospel, but it's done the rounds a few times and it's a classic. It concerns a male teacher of rather dubious qualifications, working for a well-known language school several years ago. As the story goes, he was teaching a large class of about 20-25 students, and the subject got onto the rather risque topic of sexual diseases ( OK, Thais are just as curious as any other nationality ). One of the class made a jocular observation that perhaps the teacher suffered from such an affliction.

The teacher was horrified at the very thought and protested his innocence amid howls of laughter from his rather immature group of students. Only one thing for it - there was the unmistakeable sound of a zip being pulled down and there stood the teacher in the middle of the room proudly waving. for want of a better expression - his crown jewels. The class fell silent. Legend has it that one or two fainted.

The teacher held his pink sword aloft and announced triumphantly " told you - nothing wrong with that "

The only sound that could be heard for the next two minutes were scraping chairs and quickening footsteps as a bewildered array of students beat a path to the receptionist's desk. The teacher was fired on the spot.

One of my teacher trainers always told me that usage of realistic material was a good thing to bring to an EFL classroom , but yes, you do have to draw the line somewhere.

What amused me about the story was wondering how the Thai students, knowing how shy and protected they are, explained the event to the centre manager.

The dreaded visa run

If you are unlucky enough to work for an institution that doesn't provide you with a yearly work permit, then you are faced with the terror of having to leave the country every 3 months to re-new your visa - the visa run.

However, there are now many agents and law offices in Bangkok that provide a work permit service without you, the teacher, having to go anywhere. Of course, this costs money, and I'm not absolutely sure, but you possibly wouldn't get much change out of 10,000 baht. What! 10,000 baht? - go ahead and pay it.

I wouldn't hesitate. Anything, absolutely anything to avoid those damn visa runs to Malaysia (quite possibly the world's most unexciting country).

Let me tell you this. 20 hours plus on a train from Bangkok to Butterworth is quite a novelty the first time you do it , but it all wears very thin next time around. I thank the Lord that I haven't had to make these trips for some five years now, but the awful memories are still with me.

Never, on not one occasion did I sit opposite some young, dolly bird who would engage in light, sporadic conversation and giggle nervously. No way!  I always had 25 hours sitting opposite the overweight Thai- Chinese woman, who spent the whole journey scoffing a veritable banquet and picking her nose.

Still there's always the scenery from the carriage window. What scenery is that!!! Now the north of Thailand may be mountainous and spectacular, but the Muslim south is flatter than a billiard table and marginally less exciting. You can't even have a good gander at the local totty as the train weaves its way through the fertile plains. Well, they do have beautiful eyes, and that's about all you can see.

I must say that I've always found the sleeper carriages to be surprisingly comfortable, but not so comfortable that I want the bed made up at 7.00 in the evening like all my fellow passengers. I can't go to sleep at 7.00 in the evening. So it's a choice of lying on your bunk listening to the pitch and roll of the rickety old train, or attempting to locate the buffet car.

The buffet car is always an interesting place. You have two sets of customers and two only. Firstly, the Pattaya bar owners downing copious amounts of ‘Beer Sing', and trying to ascertain where they can get a woman for the night. Old habits die hard. And secondly, there's the group of off-duty Thai policemen talking loudly around a small table awash with water, soda and Mekhong whisky.

If you're really lucky, one of them will start waving his new gun around like Billy the Kid , and pretend to shoot everyone in the buffet car. Hey you Farang !!! Then as all his pissed mates howl with laughter, he remembers the safety catch.

The morning of the next day brings precious little to smile about. The 7.00 to bed crowd are all up performing their morning ablutions well before sunrise. There's people stretching , groaning , gargling , spitting , belching - a whole cacophony of sounds more at home in a zoo. You are lying motionless on your bunk just praying for the journey's end.




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