17 January 2009

Teacher, my arse!

Foreign teachers who work in Thailand seem to have a bit of a bad reputation; especially those from western countries. The harshest critics tend to be other westerners. Some of these criticisms can be very harsh, while others seem to me to be just plain silly. The attitude to westerners who teach in Thailand always puts me in mind of Jim Royle, from the UK sitcom ‘The Royle Family’, who would sneer at everything that irritated him by adding the words. ‘my arse’. I can easily imagine him responding to the news that a westerner is teaching in Thailand with the words ‘teacher, my arse!’.

The most frequent criticism that I hear about the western teacher is that they are only doing it to stay in Thailand. Opportunists. This is probably true for most, but so what? I think the criticism here is that our motivations for doing a job should be somehow more noble. We should have a calling to do it. Maybe we should have dreamed about it as a child and devoted our youth to obtaining the proper qualifications. Surely it’s not right that we should decide to become teachers because it suits our lifestyle in our thirties, forties, or older. Is it?

I think that there is a major misunderstanding here. The belief that people usually enter professions because of some noble calling. I am sure that some do, but many don’t. I know a lot of professionals. The reasons given for beginning their careers are often far from noble and are usually quite mundane and sometimes even strange. I know doctors who became doctors because their parents were doctors, I know nurses who became nurses so they could meet a rich doctor, I know people who decided to become teachers because they quite fancied the long holidays. Most people seem to just fall into professions, and their motives are seldom given much scrutiny from their peers. Why you want to be such and such, is usually a question reserved for job interviews.

I fell into nursing. I would not have even considered it a few months prior to applying to begin my nursing degree. This did not stop me being a good nurse who did his job efficiently. No one ever really questioned my motives joining for the profession, and no one accused me of becoming a nurse for the wrong reasons. Nobody cared. So long as I could do the job well, what did it matter?

I also fell into teaching in Thailand. I had left a job in Saudi Arabia and had nowhere really to go. A friend said I should try teaching. I did, and I soon found that I really liked it. It was a challenge, but I now believe on most days that I am good at my job. The fact that I didn’t plan to be a teacher no more matters to the quality of my work than the fact that I never planned to be a nurse. Life takes us places that we never planned to be and that is what is so great about it.

Another favourite criticism is that any white face can get a job teaching in Thailand; they don’t even need to be able to speak English! Is that really true? If you visit some of the Thailand related web forums you will see posts from people, almost every day, who are desperate to get a teaching job in Thailand. There are many who have tried to teach here but failed. I would actually say that most people who try to land a teaching job in Thailand don’t last very long. Ok, they might get a job, but teaching is not an easy thing to do. If you do not have what it takes then the job will be unbearable and most people will quickly give up.

Nowadays having a white faced English teacher is not so important in Thailand. Schools know that they can get two Indian or Filipino teachers for the wage they would need to pay a westerner. The level of English may not be as good with these non-native speakers, but at least most have had some teaching training, and their level of English is usually sufficient to teach Thai students. The schools still want to have at least one white face though for the school brochure, but I don’t think that demand is as high as it once was. The need for native English speakers is falling in my opinion so jobs are harder to come by.

It is now more difficult to get a job in Thailand without at least a university degree. Moves are underway to make an education qualification mandatory as well. People do still get jobs without degrees, but I think that most would agree that if you want a future teaching in Thailand then a degree is the bare minimum. The parents expect it, and it seems to me to be a reasonable expectation. I don’t think that a degree necessarily makes somebody a good teacher, but it does at least demonstrate an interest in learning.

I enjoy teaching in Thailand and believe myself to be a professional educator. I believe that the same can be said about most other foreign teachers here. Still, I believe that the stereotypical image will linger on. It can’t really be helped. Luckily we don’t need to look to other westerners for affirmation of our worth. The greatest reward for a teacher is going to a class where you have struggled with motivating the students and suddenly realising that they are getting it. You are teaching, and they are learning. When this happens I leave the class convinced that I am one of the best teachers ever, but knowing later another class will make me feel like the worst teacher in the world. Best teacher, my arse!

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