Tom Tuohy

What kind of teacher are you?

When 1+1 doesn’t always = 2

There used to be a programme on British TV called "Who Do You Think You Are?" which selected a celebrity and traced his or her ancestry as far back as could be traced. The idea I guess is that if you look back at someone's past, you might learn something about how they turned out as a person. Taking this idea, I thought about the many and varied teachers I have worked with over my 15 year teaching career, and what kind of teacher I am. I came to the conclusion that I have worked with a lot of great teachers, but more than a few loonies as well!

I mean, given the vast majority of expats working in Thailand are teachers or working in some other capacity within the Thai education sector, it's not surprising that, with so people coming from so many different cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, faiths, and political persuasions, there's always going to be a few oddballs thrown into the mix, too.

I have personally met a lot of teachers in my many years in the Thailand and elsewhere, and I have also noticed some patterns that emerge. Some of these teachers have been very strange indeed. It makes you wonder whether you'd actually send your kids to such a school if you knew more about the backgrounds of your kid's teachers? I suspect you'd probably have second thoughts if your kid was taught by some of the motley crew below. This is about some of the strange teachers I have met and/or read about. After reading it, you might want to ask yourself the same question: What kind of teacher are you?

Experience preferred, but not Required

A former colleague, Paul Murphy, who I worked with in one of the less famous Thai colleges e.g. not Thammasat or Chula, once wrote a book called "Experience preferred, but not Required" (which is still in print) in which he highlighted some of the less salubrious characters who ply their trade in Thai classrooms. There was "The Supreme Educator" - a teacher who thought he was the greatest thing in the classroom since the invention of the wheel. We've all seen this particular type of teacher: the one who thinks he knows more grammar than everyone else or more vocabulary or better teaching methods, or knows just about everything about everything!

In Paul's book, I'm fairly sure this character was based on a S. African teacher called Johann who famously declared the following one day in the staff room -"I am a supreme educator and the best teacher in this college!" Funny thing was - he actually meant it! It was never clear whether this guy was suffering from a mental illness or not, but I'll leave you to decide. This is the same guy who would attend official work functions wearing a bottle green Harvard blazer complete with the Harvard crest emblazoned on it. When asked if he ever attended this venerable institution (which might be the reason why he wore said blazer), he replied, "No, I just like the colour." You could see him walk around, actually I mean strut around, chest puffed out like a peacock during the mating season. What a tool!


Another teacher in Paul's book was called the "The Relentlessly Positive Thinker". Again, we've all seen this type who, for my money, always seems to be American! (I call it "cheesy American optimism" because it always seems to be based on hope for the sake of hope and nothing else! Why are there so many of these types in education?) You know the type. You crawl in on a Monday morning after a weekend of debauchery (ok, maybe in my younger days!), head for the coffee machine (and heaven help anyone who tries to get an intelligible word out of you before consumption of said coffee!) In waltzes Tammy from LA, fresh from saving the lives of some tree-bound kittens or distributing condoms to the Burmese Rohingya. "MORRRRNNNIIIIIG!" she bellows an inch from your eardrums and then proceeds to tell you all about her wild and adventurous weekend and how's she's just got off the phone talking to Jacques Cousteau, and after work, how she's going to free some caged birds from a local temple so "their souls can live again" or release some tigers from a nearby sanctuary. "Oh, and like, you really shouldn't drink that coffee. Caffeine's bad for you! Oh! And did you like, prepare that bran breakfast recipe yet? The one I emailed you?"

Again, this lady was almost certainly based on a Californian lady, let's call her Cynthia (as I think she may still be working there). No matter what stroke of misfortune befell you, she would have a positive spin to put on it."Oh, you just got told by your doctor you only have 6 months to live eh? Well, look on the bright side - at least you won't have to work here for much longer!" No, she never actually said that, but she would invariably come out with a ridiculously optimistic phrase even to the most appalling news, as if somehow that made everything better. No doubt she had hippy parents growing up in the 60s who, before they settled down to a life of corporate domestic bliss, did the kibbutz thing, smoked lots of weed, sang Kum By Yah accompanied on the guitar by an equally stoned ensemble of "far out" hippies, and protested at rallies against the Vietnam war. Like they said of the 1960s though - "If you remember it, you weren't there!"

The Fun Teacher - Mr. Sanook

I've worked with more than a few of this kind of teacher who is simply just a Peter Pan type who refuses to grow up. Invariably this kind of teacher will end up working with kids which of course suits their personality, not to mention IQ level. A few years ago, I worked with a teacher at a well known international kids' program in Bangkok who was just such a teacher. One day I walked into his classroom full of expectant 5-year olds just in time to hear him say: "Now class. We're going to have some fun today aren't we?" The kids nod unconvincingly. "What are we going to study today?" The kids shake their heads. "Today, we're going to study... prepoooositiooooons!" This latter sentence was shouted at the top of his voice as he jumped up and down! "Now, who can tell me what a preposition is?" Not surprisingly, the class fell silent.

On another occasion I had to take over a class at the last minute because the regular teacher had to leave unexpectedly owing to the fact that someone had passed away in his family. I taught the class and did what I thought was a reasonable job given the last minute take over. The next day the manager of the school came up to me and said he had re-arranged my schedule. When I asked why I was no longer teaching the said class, he replied that the students said my lesson was "mai sanook" which, as just about everyone knows in Thailand, means it was "not fun" enough!

Other Mentionables

In Paul's book we also have "The Malcontent" - the teacher we all recognize who criticizes everything from the schedules to the pay, and from the attitude of the students to the brand of staff room coffee - Mr. Unsatisfied and unsatisfiable. We also have "The Middle Aged Divorcee" (where would Thailand be with this type of teacher!) who has left his crappy job as a bus conductor in Birmingham to start a new life in sunny Kon Kaen. It won't be long before he's fleeced of his life savings by some bar girl from Isaan. Then there's "The Unqualified Teacher" who once studied car mechanics in Denver and failed, but who now thinks he's perfectly suited to teaching phrasal verbs in the present continuous tense to a class of giggling 7-11 check out girls. He only came to Thailand for 4 weeks, ran out of money, then saw an advertisement that said Teacher Wanted. After a quick visit to Khaosan Road to pick up his freshly minted MBA, off he goes to start his new career as an English teacher.

Perhaps it's time you asked yourself the same question. What kind of teacher are you?

Tom Tuohy is a teacher and writer. He has written for a number of newspapers, magazines and websites including: The Guardian Weekly, the EL Gazette,, The Bangkok Post, and Tom also has his own blog - Ramblings of an Urban Crazy Man

Out now! - "Watching The Thais" by Tom Tuohy

Available on Amazon

Buy in print version / Buy in Kindle version / Buy E-book format



"I see Phil recently gave space to another couple who wrote and self-published their book on teaching in Thailand, maybe this is a new trend on"

It isn't a new trend Jack. Not at all. I've always been willing to give up a bit of space on the ajarn site if someone wants to promote a book that's based on Thailand or teaching in Thailand. I think I've done about four or five reviews over the past eight years or so. Perhaps more people are starting to write more books nowadays?

By philip, (12th January 2013)

Hey Tom, I did say something nice! Your post reads like it was written by an English teacher who knows his grammar rules pretty well.

A quick question, I know the book publishing business is rotten these days, but why did you decide to go with self-publishing? Was it a choice or couldn’t you find anyone to publish it?

Did you hire an editor or just edit it as well as write it yourself?

Did you use one of those vanity (self-publishing) services that have popped up recently? How much did it cost?

How many copies do you need to sell to recoup the costs of self-publishing?

I see Phil recently gave space to another couple who wrote and self-published their book on teaching in Thailand, maybe this is a new trend on

Anyway, good luck with the book. Hope you recoup or at least come close to recouping the costs of self-publishing the book.

By Jack, Next to my coffee (11th January 2013)

Ha ha Jack! Glad you're in a comfy chair but I can almost see the icicles hanging from the letters of your words. Better to have said nothing than offer such a barbed icy comment. Didn't your mother ever tell you that if you don't have anything good to say, then don't say anything at all!

By Tom Tuohy, Re: Riyadh (11th January 2013)

Sorry Tom,

I didn’t intend to give the impression the article was all bad. It wasn’t.

Although it relied on stereotypes and was mostly a rehash of other people’s ideas and lacked originality, the grammar in the article seemed pretty good.

By Jack, In a comfy chair (10th January 2013)


absolutely, and I think that was what Paul Murphy was getting at in his own way. It's a funny book but which has a darker side as well.

It's all very well being funny and engaging with the students, but it's far too easy in Thailand to forget why you're there in the first place.

The Thai education system has its plusses but, by and large, it's in a real mess and the education reforms I have written about in Thailand for the E L Gazette have largely been a total failure.

Far too much sanook has been going on and language schools in particular have placed far too much emphasis on populism e.g. getting the students in to study in front of a handsome, blue eyed, doe skinned foreigner who has an O level in carpentry but doesn't know his/her passive voice from a gerund noun.

Going to have to change though if Thailand is to be at the forefront of ASEAN!


By Tom Tuohy, Re: Riyadh (8th January 2013)


you won't last long in Thailand if you don't have at least a bit of sanook in you. Yes, you're absoluitely right that many schools and even colleges expect you to provide entertainment as well as knowledge. That's why I've always maintained that teaching in Thailand is 3 parts social worker, 2 parts educator,l and the rest a Vaudevillian entertainer!


By Tom Tuohy, Re: Riyadh (8th January 2013)


yes, the book is funny and really captures the spirit of the age: the zeitgeist of Thailand based TEFL teachers circa pre/post millennium and beyond.

When I read it back in 2004-5, I too chuckled at the sense that I had already met such teachers.


By Tom Tuohy, Re: Riyadh (8th January 2013)

I would definitely class myself as the 'sanook' teacher but was always very wary of doing it to excess (as Tom rightly pointed out) because the class then regard you as something of a 'stand-up comedian' - and on days when you need to get a little more serious, it can be hard to change the students' mindset. They're looking at you thinking "where have all the laughs gone"

The legendary comedian Ken Dodd always says "there is nothing more wonderful than the sound of laughter" and I think there's nothing at all wrong with hearing it in an EFL classroom - in controlled moderation of course.

I always enjoyed being the sanook teacher. Firstly, why wouldn't you want to make the job, any job, as enjoyable for yourself as possible. And as Matthew rightly pointed out - in some schools it's virtually a requirement. Students will always learn more I think from a teacher who's easy to get along with. But that doesn't mean you need to be a stand-up comic. It's all about balance.

By philip, (8th January 2013)

Hi Jack,

Thanks for your comment although sadly, there wasn't much that was positive to take away from it.

Yes, I agree, "I have never found anything wrong with a person who knows how to have a little sanuck or the positive type of co-worker..." The problem comes when this is done to excess which is what I was focussing on.

Again, you are quite right, "If one complains about teachers with positive attitudes or teachers who have some fun with the students, it is a pretty good indication the one doing the complaining is neither." Yes, I am not someone who has an excessively positive atitude nor am I a teacher who takes having fun in a classroom to an extreme level.

I think by now you should be starting to see a pattern emerging here. Like Aristotle said, "all things in moderation" and I was focusing on what happens when that doesn't happen.

You're on a roll becasue again you are quite correct, "but hasn’t this type of piece with more or less the same categories been posted here many times before in more humorous forms?"

For me, talking about the different styles of teachers never goes out of fashion.

Finally, was there nothing you liked about it, or is it your custom to criticise in toto?

By Tom Tuohy, Riyadh (8th January 2013)

Being a sanook teacher isn't bad at all. Its just what is required by some schools and/or language schools.
My first job in Thailand was required of me to teach sanook sanook.

By Matthew, Trang, Nigeria (8th January 2013)

I remember skimming through that book at Asia books once, it was a hilarious collection of pieces written by teachers. The part that made me laugh was a teacher relating his first 50-minute lesson was grade-school students; after taking attendance he was delighted that only 45 minutes remained!

By John, Bangkok, Thailand (8th January 2013)

I have never found anything wrong with a person who knows how to have a little sanuck or the positive type of co-worker, and those who complain about these types usually seem to fall into that third category listed.

If one complains about teachers with positive attitudes or teachers who have some fun with the students, it is a pretty good indication the one doing the complaining is neither.

This was probably too serious of a comment for what was most likely intended as a light-hearted piece, but hasn’t this type of piece with more or less the same categories been posted here many times before in more humorous forms?

By Jack, At Home (8th January 2013)

Awesome article. I may be a new teacher, but I'll certainly start noticing just where I might fit!

Love the humour, Tom.

By Sam, Bangkok (8th January 2013)

Terry, the best kind: loyal, sincere, dedicated. Were you expecting another answer? Lol

By Tom Tuohy, Re: Riyadh (7th January 2013)

One thing I didn't learn from this article was what kind of teacher is Tom?

By Terry, Australia (7th January 2013)

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