Friday, July 28, 2006

Dont look back in anger part 6

And here we go again for the next instalment.

After John & Tony as bosses, the next willing victim was a guy called Wayne. I had heard a few stories about him before but sort of dismissed them. Then I read the novella / short story ( I cant be bothered finding out which is actually the correct term but I am sure someone out there will know ) and oh dear. It was either quite funny or deeply troubling. If he wrote it seriously and that was his attempt at deep literature, we were in trouble. If it was a light piece of fluff, it might be ok. Lets put it this way it was the sort of story someone from 6th year would write and shove in all the long and obscure words they knew to make it sound intellectual and deep. The trouble it, most people who read it thought WTF?? I am sure you know what the initials are. It just came over as a lot of pretentious attention seeking. And he was being serious. Oh dear.

Again, I have to say that when you are the farang boss in a school, you cant win. Especially if you are the boss employed by an agency working in a school. You are in an even worse situation. You have the teachers on one side, the agency boss on another and the school on another. Definitely a case of surrounded on all sides.

To a certain extent, how you fill the role is up to you. You can piss off the agency and the school by taking the teachers side, piss off the teachers and school by taking the agencies side and so on. The problem we found quite early on and proved to be the case from then on was that no one was ever on our side. Even if they appeared to be. From a period where a lot of effort seemed to go into doing resources, planning, materials for the teachers, it went one way from here on in. Now the question is, who made that decision? Was there one actually made or did it just start to fall apart from its own entropy?

In many ways the first full year was the happiest for me. I was actually enjoying my job – it was pre blog ! – and overall it was a pretty good bunch of folk. There weren’t too many hassles in the staffroom and most of us socialised together to one level or another. It got to be a little club so to speak. Of course if you were looking from outside it probably was described as a clique. But that’s the point of about groups, there is always the looking in and looking out point of view. Was the group I was in perfect? No, not by a long way but it takes allsorts as they say and more importantly, if you are on your own in a foreign country – especially if you are new – it can be a very lonely depressing experience.

A couple of after school bars quickly became favourites and fell out of favour and back in and so on but probably during this period the one that stood out, sometimes by default later on, but initially by choice was Bobbys Arms. I wish I had taken some photographs of the place but I never quite got round to it. I think it was the age old don’t worry it will be around for ever as will I attitude. So, if anyone has some photos of that golden age, please let me know! Others that became honourable mentions or just mentions were The Exchange, O’Reillys, Bar Dog,

There is a great stereotype and reputation about English teachers that we are all sub human because – in no particular order – we are

Sexpats / whoremongers


socially inadequate – ranging from not being able to get laid in our own country, to being marginally or not so marginally looney tunes


scruffily dressed

etc etc

Now I have to admit that some of the people who I met and worked with did indeed play up to those stereotypes. Of course the question is now, did they come to Thailand because they were those types or did they become those types because they came to Thailand. Of the two camps, I would say that they were either those types before or were destined to become those types.

The poor bit is a bit unfair because the poorest English teacher still earns more ( say 30K all in ) than a lot of Thais but we just prefer to spend differently. And most of the people of who go on about poor English teachers are those on true expat packages at 100K a month plus expenses plus plus Which will bring me onto another rant in a while if I remember.

Anyway, in this group we had quite a range of people, some who had married Thai women and had kids, some who were married and hadn’t had kids, some who were living and were going to get married, some who had no intention to get married and were playing the field, some who wanted to get a nice girl somewhere, some who just wanted to have fun in their gap year, some fully qualified teachers – as in qualified to teach in their own country, some Thailand qualified – as in degree plus TEFL certificate, some with degree and some with errr certificates from that well known university of Khao San – allegedly.

On the whole, the agency appeared to care about standards but on a practical level it came down more to pragmatism and getting bodies in the classrooms that mattered. I don’t really remember too much discussion or division about who had what in the staffroom. There was never any great oh look at him we cant talk to him he hasn’t got a degree or he isn’t a fully qualified teacher like us, we cant talk to him. Of course, if it came out that so and so had a fake, it was talked about or more accurately gossiped about but that was the extent of it if the person was decent. If they were a prat then of course bets were off and a few comments were made or information held for future use as a bargaining tool.

That first year was a bit of a blur in some ways as many people came and went. Someone worked out that we had a turnover rate of about 40% give or take. The problem was the usual story of people being hired and not turning up, turning up and staying a day, a week, a month as they didn’t like the job, didn’t like the school, got a better job, their boyfriend / girlfriend moved home so they had to follow, didn’t want to live in Bangkok, couldn’t get up in the morning, couldn’t be arsed or whatever.

Part of the problem of this little retrospective is that the memories are now fading of some details and the bigger situations and rants have already been written about in the early part of the blog. So if you were one of those fools who have been reading this from the start then sorry, here are some repeats.

In various ways we all have our buttons that others can press and from the mild mannered Bruce Banner we are suddenly shouting “Don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I am angry” and from there it is but a little trip down Straws Lane along Camels Backs and the world is suddenly green. On the whole I think I got on pretty well with the vast majority of people I worked with. Yes, some things annoyed me and I have no doubt some things I did annoyed others but mostly they were quickly forgotten about or written about and forgotten about. But, but, but, there are two people that I graded beyond annoying, beyond being a prat into that area of actual dislike.

One is, well, actually they both are American as it happens. Da Daa daa da DAAAAA!

Eric. He is not to be confused with Canadian Eric, who just happens to be even larger – as in both well over six foot and big. This is basically fat yank Eric. If you imagine the worst sort of ambassador for you country abroad and he would be pretty much up there.

Despite having no experience at all, within about a week of arriving he was the expert in everything, he knew how to change things, to make them better. Even when things were explained to him again he didn’t like it. My main beef with him arose when we started doing the exams. The previous year myself, Simon, Blake and John ( in other words all the P1 teachers ) all agreed to test our kids together. Two people would look after the Speaking test, one the listening and the other the Reading and Writing and whoever did the test did the marking. If you did the Listening test, you did the Listening marking and so on. It worked very well in practice as the workload was evenly spread out and was far better than doing it individually. This time I outlined how it would work to the group and suggested we all do the same. Everyone agreed. I said I would do the speaking test with someone else which meant we would do the marking for that. In some ways it was the easiest in that you were doing the marking as you went along and there was nothing to do after the exam. But, it meant you HAD to complete all the tests during the allotted time. You couldn’t suddenly say ok, times up, oh dear we haven’t tested 5 kids so they get zero.

Great, so we start the exams and its going fine then fat boy comes up and says it isn’t fair. What isn’t fair? I say. The marking he says. ? Its not fair. You aren’t sharing all the work. You wont have any marking to do after and I have spoken to the others and they agree.

In other words fuckwit had realised that he had a cushy number during the exams but would have to work afterwards and thought it wasn’t fair. When again the differing amounts of work was pointed out to him again he still didn’t get it. We all had the same amount of marking as each other, we all had the same amount of work as each other, it was just in a different time slot. If those doing the Speaking test started marking the other tests, they would end up doing more work than the others. He still didn’t get it. He said everyone else felt the same and that basically I had bullied them into accepting this arrangement. Now for those that know me, that is a farcical suggestion, I couldn’t bully a paper bag!

When I spoke to the others, it turns out that they weren’t that bothered. It was just fat boy. I stood my ground and that was basically that, we never got on again. He also tried to pull a fast one in the next batch of tests ( that him and Scrappydoo did together ) and mark his kids with a Bell Curve instead of a flat score. Nice one, make his scores look good and better than the rest of his. Not to tell tales, but I soon put a stop to that :)

Oh yes, another reason is that he brought his little university girlfriend in at the end of term time and she actually helped him do some of his work – I think the marking!! Because of this old Wayne boy was persuaded by Eric that it would be ok for the gf to have on her CV that she worked in the school!!! Unbelievable.

And I havent yet started about his teaching techniques which mostly consisted of showing videos almost every lesson. It got so bad that our corridor was showing more movies in a week than SFX! ( a cinema chain in Thailand )

He was the sort of guy who when asked to wait a minute he would be stamping up and down demanding to see the manager for the perceived slight to his americanhood. Although we never got much into political discussions, I would imagine his foreign policy would be basically carry a big gun, do what you want and screw the rest of the world if they want something different – like say, free choice. He was the sort of a guy who would shout loudly in a shop if he wasn’t getting his own way and be proud afterwards that he managed to “talk” them round into giving in. Of course, the local thai populace would be smiling as they were secretly pleased that he did this as he only did what they wanted to do, but were too scared to do it. Yeh right. More like, its too hot to get all bothered, why is that big fat farang shouting and making everyone nervous?

The most amazing thing is, that every time you spoke to him it was very clear that he didn’t like Thailand. He was only there for as long as it took to get his girlfriend back to America where they would marry and live happily every after in a decent country i.e. America. Just about every time someone spoke to him about Thais and Thailand he would always be running them and it down. Every so often we had cultural seminars to cope with during the school downtime but agency up time. On one occasion, we were asked why we came to Thailand etc and he replied to come get my girlfriend to marry me and get the hell out. Well you can imagine the faces of those attending – especially the Thais!

He said he had a background in IT and basically had his own company. But the thing was that when he was going back, he was going back to be a long distance truck driver. I don’t know about you but that seems a bizarre choice and indeed change of careers. Anyhoo, at the end of the contract, they duly departed to the land of the free to set his plan in motion. I believe it was only 4 months or so later than they were back in Bangkok and he was back teaching. I am not really sure how or why, I mean surely its not that difficult to learn to drive one of those big trucks. Is it?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Dont look back at the pictures - again!

Well, another picture for you to peruse and discuss since I am still trying to sumon the right amount of energy, sarcasm, disgust, fondness and so on to type up the next section.

This unlikely trio are folk I used to work with, they might recognise themselves, they might not. Hopefully you lot wont!