I work for a teaching agency which operates the largest private language and computer school in Thailand with over 50 branches. They contract me out to a Thai school run by the municipal government. I work there during the daytime hours and also do some in-house work at the agency’s Phuket branch, located in the basement of a large shopping mall. I’ve been at both for a little over a year. Before that, I taught at a large privately-operated school in the center of the island for more than three-and-a-half years.
All three of my Thailand-based teaching jobs have been completely different from each other and all differ greatly from teaching in America and elsewhere. I’ve enjoyed each of these jobs and the varied experiences. True, there have been difficulties and annoyances along the way but I’ve learned from them and truly love what I do.
Sometimes, in this blog and my postings on Facebook, it may seem as if I’m complaining about the schools or the kids, etc. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I am simply reporting events and my personal observations to give the reader some idea of living and working in Thailand can be like. Different people do have different experiences. The overriding theme is to “expect the unexpected” when in the Land of Smiles.
When the unexpected happens (and it does on an almost daily basis – even after almost seven years of permanent residency I find things that surprise me), you just smile and proceed. You don’t question it, just move on. In fact, the best policy is to accept that at any moment something will happen that changes your plans and to plan for that. If nothing happens at all, you can consider yourself quite lucky.
Take this week, for example.
Tuesday morning I was five minutes into teaching my first lesson. I’d done some board-work for my warmer and had begun taking attendance when another teacher ran in from the hallway (I’m the only non-Thai at the municipal school). She explained in a mix of Thai and Thinglish (very simple English mixed with Thai) that the students needed to “have a meeting” for an hour in a part of Phuket some distance from the school.
“Okay no problem,” I said, and let the Thai teacher explain what they needed to do. As they rushed from he classroom, I noticed that it was only that one class. The students in the other two classes that I was scheduled to teach in later remained behind. Instead of a full day off, I just had an hour break. If I hadn’t been that observant, I probably would have gone home and been in trouble for being absent from those classes. Of course, none of this was explained to me and the dismissal of that first class wasn’t told in advance. Was I upset? No, I welcomed the extra hour of relaxation in a quiet room…
I teach an adult student at the mall language school on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. After I finish teaching at the municipal school (at noon on Wednesdays and three o’clock Thursdays), I take a bus to the shopping center. The bus stop is about a fifteen minute walk from my school so I arrive soaked in sweat. If I miss the first bus, it can be as long as an hour wait for the next one.
I prefer to arrive at the language school as early as possible because of the air-conditioning (which sometimes is way too cold) and the fast wireless internet. Thus, I can set a few movies or music albums to download while I prepare for my lessons. This past Wednesday, I skipped lunch so I could get there a bit earlier than usual; I wanted to try and download some of this week’s events at the Olympics among other things. My lesson was scheduled to begin at five o’clock and the sole student usually arrives ten or fifteen minutes early. However, this week she hadn’t shown up by ten past so a staff member phoned her. At that point, the student cancelled both the Wednesday and Thursday lessons. Last minute cancellations are very common in Thailand so you can’t get too upset (although if I don’t teach, I don’t get paid).
The bus stop I use is right outside another very large school in Phuket and at the time I need to catch the bus there are usually fifty or more students all trying to do the same thing. Often, the first one or two pass by without stopping because they are already full. That can be rather stressful as I always worry if I’ll arrive at the mall late for my lesson. Last week, I ended up walking all the way because of this. This Thursday, I went to school happy knowing I wouldn’t have to dash to the bus stop after the last lesson.
At lunchtime I was told that there wouldn’t be any lessons the following day due to Mother’s Day activities. In Thailand, Mother’s Day occurs on 12 August in honor of HRH the Queen’s birthday. I was told that the Friday activities would begin at 9:00 (well, I received that information after some extensive back-and-forth with the language barrier slowing things down) and last all day. I was expected to attend; the teacher said that they wanted me to “enjoy” the activities. That usually means that they want me to play games with the students while the other teachers go somewhere to eat.
Later, I was told that they wanted me to “teach” the kids about the holiday. After my last lesson of the day, I scanned through a few Wikipedia pages so that I could give a speech on the history of the holiday in America and various other nations as well as Thailand (a former prime minister started the holiday in 1976 as a way to promote the royal family). I planned to tell the children how the celebrations of the day are different in America and Thailand and tell them a bit about my own mother. But I also knew that out of the assembled masses, perhaps one or two of the teachers would understand anything that I said and the kids would probably be squirming all over the place.
In Thailand, we wear pink shirts to honor HRH the King and blue to honor HRH the Queen. Friday morning, I put on my pressed blue dress shirt and chose my favorite tie (blue books on the front, red worms on the back – it’s the “bookworm” tie that my mother gave me on our last Christmas together before she passed away; she’s been gone eleven years now). And, of course, I had on my black slacks. In other words, I was wearing a sweat factory – it doesn’t take much for me to begin sweating profusely.
I arrived at the school to find all the students and teachers gathered in the large multipurpose room rather than the auditorium. The latter is equipped with powerful fans that at least move the air around; the former is not. Most of the Thai teachers had already soaked through their own blue shirts by the time I got there (at a quarter till nine). It was a strange mix of blue – some wore Phuket Games polo shirts, one had a t-shirt with a large Boy Scouts emblem on the back, there were several nice Phuket-style batik shirts as well – and more than a few of the female teachers were wearing jogging pants as they usually wear skirts and couldn’t afford to buy slacks. One young lady was wearing black corduroys that were so tight they appeared to be painted on!
At any rate, the ceremony was typically Thai – a solemn speech and candle lighting, the signing of the memorial book (lots of photos were taken when I ascended the stage to perform this honor), a mass singing of the Royal Anthem, a Thai dance performance, the giving of gifts to the kids who won various art contests, another speech by the school’s director (during which the kids were talking loudly, rolling around on the ground, and fighting), and then the teacher’s group photos in many different configurations (in almost every one I was situated next to the director). At ten-thirty, I was told I could go home. No speech, no games, and – most frustratingly – no food! Well, okay. I hung around a bit longer to take photos with the kids. I didn’t think to give my camera to somebody during the teacher group photos so I’ll have to try to ask for those next week. Oh, and school is closed on Monday…
This blog will continue to detail such changes in plan. As you can see from my experiences just this past week, they are frequent. It’s such things that truly make living and working here so darn interesting (not to mention entertaining). That’s one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. Yes, I expect the unexpected to the point that I’m actually a bit disappointed when things stay the same. But I’m never disappointed for very long. If things are the same, just wait a little longer because they will change sooner than later.