Monday, June 26, 2006

Dont Look Back At The Pictures

To break the monotony, here is a picture of a couple of my good Prathom 3 kids at Assumption. They still talked too much but at least they listened some of the time, had a few thoughts of their own and used a few brain cells in class.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dont Look Back At Corporates

For the first year and a half I basically needed to make more money.

For teachers this basically means doing privates, more hours in the original job ( only really applies if you are in a language school ), working for a second language school or doing corporate work.

Normally corporate work is done through an agency as it is a real pain to sort out a corporate job for yourself. This does have advantages and disadvantages. The advantages being you dont need to find work, you might be able to choose the general locations you work in and the levels. This is of course dependent on the agency having more than one course running at one time and has lots of work available. The downside being they get a cut and sometimes a large cut of the fee the company takes. Tales tell of 2000Baht an hour being charged and only 450B being paid to the teachers. But some agencies have narrower margins than others.

Doing corporate opens you to all sorts of places that you are expected to teach in. Again tales out of school have people teaching in canteens, storage areas up to purpose built conference areas, boardrooms and everything in between. It also means that unless you are lucky the lessons will be early in the morning or in the evening, there are very few morning or afternoon lessons simply because the employer wants their workers working and not "skiving off" learning english. Unfortunately, this attitude also applies the the morning and evening slots. So basically if the boss has a rush on you might have one person turning up!

Because of the official work permit regulations being so open to interpretation, almost every official says that the address you work must be stated on the work permit. In a sense that makes 99% of all corporate teachers illegal as corporates are almost always the second job! There are a few folk I have heard about that have "various" on the location or are classed as consultants which again lets them to work in multiple locations but they are few and far between.

During my spell I ended up working for only three corporate agencies. Elite, British School of Bangkok and BiTS.

Elite, for all their faults on the school side were fair on the corporate side. I think this had a lot to do with Brendon who is in charge of that side of things. I alsways found him a straightforward guy who called a spade a spade and at least tried to tell you the full story . They never could be accused of being the highest paid for corporate work ( the most I got was 450B an hour ) but at least they paid on time and if something was wrong it was corrected fairly quickly. Another drawback was that they witheld 100B an hour whill you were working and then gave it to you at the end of teh course as a "bonus". A bit of a cheeky description I have to say. They did have lots of work available during the time I was there and basically could have continued up to the end working for them if I had wanted to. But, I didnt, so I didnt.

British School of Bangkok
This shower was one of the worst organised places I have ever worked for and indeed looking the likes of read about. The rate of pay was reasonable - 500B an hour and the location was to be a mere 15 minutes away. Sorted. I should have realised however that it might not have been so good at the interview. Their office was basically about 30msq and piles of paperwork and stuff everywhere. The directions to the office were not that good either and took a few more phone calls to sort out. Then came the lessons. Despite promises no books appeared for the first 5 weeks for the students and no teachers book for me. You can teach out of the student book but its not ideal at all. The teachers book gives you ideas, structures and so on.... Basically it lets you plan the lesson properly. No timetable of lessons was given out which basically meant I turned up on days the company didnt want lessons!

The first pay check cleared ok, the second was a few days late and then the problems began. Oh the accountant is sorting out the check now, the accountant isnt here, the two partners suddenly became difficult to contact. Not answering their phones, not being in their office. Of course once you start working you always get paid in arrears. You have the option of quitting and hoping they will pay you the money owed or carrying on to work and hope that because you are still working they will pay you before those who have quit.

It ended up I was paid all the money I was owed but up to two months late. And it wasnt just me, it seemed to be almost everyone except the partners who got paid late. Obviously they made sure they paid themselves first. It seems to have been that they were not very good at business. As soon as a new course came in, they paid money owed to old teachers. They didnt put any money back into the business as reserves. Hardly surprising when they didnt have the company set up properly, they were still on the wrong visas themselves and had to go on visa runs!

It wasnt just me, they had been doing it to almost everyone and for a long time. I think it closed down about 18 months ago but it seems that all they did was change the name and carried on.

The last one was BiTS
This was a bit weird as it was my first corporate job and not long after I started at Wat Plabachai. In other words I was a green teacher! I had to give a demo lesson to the head man and he seemed quite impressed with it. So off I went to the class in the office and I thought got on ok with the class. I was actually enjoying it as I had a book to work from which was a great change from Plabachai where I was flying by the seat of my pants. I could actually plan! However, I was warned that I was going in halfway through the set of lessons and that the previous teacher was very popular. OK, no problem I thought.

Part of was BiTS does ( or at least did ) is about 3 weeks into the course, they send someone to do a survey to see how the class is getting on. The day after the survey I was called in and fired. Well, ok, removed. The official story was that the class wanted the old teacher back and I would be given another class. But I never was. I never found out if that was the real story or that I was actually rubbish. At least I got one of their black document folders to keep as a souvenir. :)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Dont Look Back In Anger Part 5

And here we go for the next instalment.

At the time I was working everyday apart from Sundays and I was starting to wear myself out which was one of the reasons I had left my job in the UK.

So basically I was on the lookout for a new job. The agency I had been doing corporate work for - Elite - had actually offered me a job not long after starting with them, about the middle of June I think. But they offered me about 25k, although that would have increased my income, it meant working more hours. Nah.

About 6 weeks later, I was chatting with the head man and the subject came up again and this time the offer was 28k. More interesting but still not enough to tempt me. Another 6 weeks or so and the offer was upped to 32k. Well, ok I though, that’s a bit better I might as well give it a go and see what happens.

So, off I trot to have the interview with the DOS – Raymond Kerr - at Assumption and he comes across as very competent, very clued up and a fellow countryman. Sorted. The only problem was, this was now October and I wouldn’t start working there until the end of the holidays.

My first day brought a shock as I discovered the DOS had moved on. The story is that it was one of these “mutual decisions” or at least it was mutual from the sense of both parties realised that they couldnt work with each other. The DOS was too outspoken, too knowledgable, too ready to fight the corner of his staff against the agency. In other words the sort of guy you want on the teachers side, your side against the agency.

The set up was a little bit odd in the sense that the agency had a contract to provide all staff to the school. So we were all teachers in a school but employed by the agency. We had in effect two bosses, the agency and the school, this as you can imagine led to some strange situations where communications broke down, were interrupted and in some cases invented!

It has to be said that I learnt a lot from my first six months there. The TEFL course gave me an idea, Wat Plabachai school taught me a lot about self preservation, if not teaching, but Assumption taught me a lot about teaching. Or at least the teachers in my year group did. In a way I was quite fortunate in that I had a “real” teacher in the group PGCE – UK teacher - qualified and all that. That group Simon, Blake, me and John ( or was that the group in my first full year? I cant quite remember ), anyway we all got on pretty well, we co-operated on lesson plans, ideas and it was really good for a new teacher. Something else that was pretty good was that we were all teaching in rooms beside each other, so that if we set tasks for our class and they were quiet we could pop into someone elses’ room for a few minutes or more drastically call for reinforcements.

One of the consequences of the boss leaving was that they had to promote someone to replace him. The choices were to be honest not that successful. One was a decent teacher but the man management skills were definitely lacking, a point which he readily acknowledged himself. The other appointee was a very nice chap who was the other extreme, who took ages to make a decision and didn’t want to upset anyone. Step forward John and Tony. Admittedly they did have the awkward position of being between the good, the bad, the ugly and the downright stupid. You can decide yourself who are the teachers, the school, the management and the agency. Having seen what goes on in all schools over the last four years, it would take a lot more than 60k a month to make me take that sort of job. Moaning from one side, moaning from the other sid, moaning from both sides and all the bitching and none of the credit.

Out of school John was a fairly decent person ( if he brought money for his drinks ) and Tony was a quiet soul who largely kept himself to himself and his wife who then came in as a curriculum development consultant or a similar title.

The other teachers were the usual mix of folk in either Thailand or the school for a year, people with too much alcohol in their blood stream or too much blood in their alcohol stream, people who had been there for years, people there for a week, a day or be the invisible man and not turn up at all.

Just to show my naievity at that point, at the end of the year I had to go home. I needed a new visa and my original ticket was going to expire, so I asked if I could use the sick days that I hadn’t used instead of taking unpaid leave. And the answer was no I couldn’t. Instead of being like everyone else and taking a sickie I was the berk who tried to be honest. I learned that lesson.

The new school year started and a new boss appeared. At first we thought OK it should be an improvement. Ah, the dreams of the forlorn! No it wasn’t. In the end it proved to be the start of the decline of the Roman Empire. Well, ok that’s a bit of an exaggeration but it was the beginning of the end of the beginning etc etc