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!
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, jobs.ac.uk, The Bangkok Post, and UniversityWorldNews.com. Tom also has his own blog - Ramblings of an Urban Crazy Man
Out now! - "Watching The Thais" by Tom Tuohy
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