Teachers Tales

January 2003

A veritable trinket box crammed with TEFL oddments

Ajarn Chok Dee (Good luck)

Without hesitation, 50% of teachers currently teaching in Bangkok would rather do ‘something else' given the chance, and yes, some teachers do luck out big time. A colleague of mine at Berlitz in the early 90's was teaching a private student from an oil company, when out of the blue, the student offered him an office position with his firm. The result - an 80,000 baht a month salary with a luxury apartment on Soi Convent thrown in.

One of my greatest friends also has a similar tale. He was a 20,000 baht a month struggling teacher, but thanks to a chance meeting with a certain student, he's now head of advertising at a major company on Chidlom. He recently paid cash for a new condominium in a select area of Sukhumvit Rd. When we stayed in the same crummy apartment building in Yannawa 6 years back, he didn't know where the next meal was coming from. There's hope for us all.

Textbook Terrors

One item on the Stickman web site that really caught my eye was his opinion on the interchange series of textbooks, and how ‘flat' it is. I can only stand up and applaud, and agree whole-heartedly. The more I teach from this textbook, the more I loathe it. The main reason many Bangkok language schools use Interchange, is because re-ordering new stocks is always easy. AUA, for example, go through tremendous quantities of this textbook. In fact, I heard from a reliable source that Thailand is the book's biggest market, or certainly one of them. The main textbook wholesalers in Bangkok (I won't mention their names because Longman and Heinemann won't like it) do an appalling job in the stock-control of language textbooks. I can't begin to imagine the number of times I've been informed by a Longman or Heinemann representative that a particular textbook is out of stock, and a wait of several months is necessary before the book may arrive.

The Freelance Teacher - Perils and Pitfalls

Many teachers in Bangkok decide to go it alone and break free from the shackles of a private language school, and become a freelance teacher. This kind of teacher can operate in two ways: firstly (and most commonly) is to establish a clientele of private students which the teacher will give lessons to in the students own homes, or secondly, to throw open the doors of his / her own apartment/house and invite students to come and study there.

The freelance teacher role always sounds very appealing. No AD or head teacher breathing down your neck asking for lesson plans, none of your lessons being monitored, the option to work when you like. I've had several friends who have made a real go of it, but sadly, all too many teachers fail miserably.

You have to consider what the freelance teacher has to organise himself without the backing of a language school. 1. Organise a work permit or face doing the dreaded visa runs. 2. Have a good supply of materials to make the lessons entertaining 3. Organise photocopying 4. Find the students 5. See monthly income take a nosedive during the months of December, January, and April, when there are many Thai holidays, and lesson cancellations are rife.

In fact, lesson cancellations in Bangkok are almost a national pastime!

Many smarter teachers get around this problem by demanding money in advance from new students for say, a block of 10 hours. Lessons must be cancelled 24 hours in advance. However, you also don't want to appear ‘hardnosed' to your new customers.

Many freelance teachers have made good money teaching the hordes of Japanese housewives and businessmen who live in the Sukhumvit Rd area between Nana and Ekkamai. Most of these Japanese families are sent here by Japanese companies, and the father of the family is usually on some obscenely high salary. Both husband and wife, and even the kids are often willing to pay upwards of 500 baht an hour for simple conversation lessons. And once you get into 2 or 3 households, and become known as a good. Solid, reliable performer, the word will spread very quickly. Just be aware that in December, most Japanese go back to see the rising sun.

What about the second option for the freelance teacher? - using your own home as a classroom. Spare a thought for the students. Do they want to come to a 20 metre square studio apartment and sit there perched on the end of your bed while your dirty laundry festers in a dark corner, and a jazz mag sticks out from under the mattress. You need to have somewhere halfway decent that operates as your ‘classroom'. I had a go at this aspect of the business a couple of years ago. I spent months looking for a suitable place, eventually settling for a modest 2-storey house on a very quiet, middle-class Thai housing estate (moobarn).

Having 3 good - size rooms upstairs, I converted one of them at considerable cost, into a classroom / office with quality furniture and a small library of textbooks. I put a couple of signs on the front gate and distributed about 2000 leaflets to local houses. I still have the scars from the dog-bites to prove it. Anyway, I was now ready for business.

To cut a long story short , I was very glad that I didn't give up my day job, because students , although keen to study , weren't so keen to part with more than 400 baht an hour , and this is the absolute minimum that I would accept for teaching at home. Cancellations were a nightmare ! and there's just something shitty about people invading the privacy of your humble abode on a weekend. No more lounging around in T-shirt and shorts and no more dirty dishes lying in the sink. I have to admit that I gave it all up after several months. I enjoy my job at the institute I now work at, but at the end of the day, I like to get home and put my feet up in front of the TV. Perhaps an Englishman's home should always just be his castle !!!!



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