LiBeL Column

Bitchin’, Fussin’ Cussin’

Columns from The Nation newspaper

Let’s all have a good moan why don’t we

As part of an ongoing anthropological study I’m presently conducting, concerning social interaction amongst ex-travellers, I set out to prove that the English teacher is one of the most sociable and intelligent species on the planet, second only to the cute, lovable, life saving dolphin.

I arranged for a group of English teachers to be holed up for an hour in a locked, but not airtight, room. The door closed and dozen educators were thrown together for an hour. Initially a few nonchalant nods of acquaintance were noted, followed by a few mumbled “Alright”s. A couple peered out of the window and showed unusual interest in an orange number 4 aircon bus. “Bloody rip off – 16 Baht” Subject A muttered. C, standing within earshot, added ” Too right, I never use ’em. Take the red buses. Only 3½ baht”. “I always walk.” chipped in a rather unkempt D.

And so, with this rather inane conversation, linguistic intercourse had begun. But where would it lead? What topics would be explored by these fine young minds? Would a creative brainstorming session result from the initial bus fare related complaint, which in turn would lead us to a solution for Bangkok’s transport woes? I guess you may accuse me of being over optimistic and, after reading the results of the research, you may well accuse the subjects of being over pessimistic, but that’s the wacky world of research for you.

The topics discussed over the course of the 60 minute session can be broken down as follows: Silence -1 minute, Halfhearted greetings – 30 seconds, Complaints about buses – 2 minutes, Complaints about the hardships suffered by English teachers – 56 minutes 30 seconds, Constructive criticism & plans of action to improve one’s lot – 0 minutes.

But what did they complain about? Surely life must be pretty peachy. The average farang teacher earns over 4 times as much as a Thai counterpart. Big Macs are half the US price. The beer is cold and the girls hot – contrary to the UK. You can watch live Premier League matches for free. The sun is shining and U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’ is on the radio. What’s there to gripe about?

A lot it would seem. In addition to a heated conflagration, regarding which illicit substances the characters on ‘The Magic Roundabout’ represented (Dylan was dope – that’s taken as an absolute, as for Zebedee, Brian and Ermintrude the cow, the jury is still out.), the main ire inducing subject matters were money and the bosses.

M-O-N-E-Y. At the end of the day it’s the owners of the schools who determine the rate teachers will be paid. The Manager has to produce a profit and find teachers who are willing to work for a pittance, hereafter referred to as ‘a salary commensurate with your experience’. Perception is reality. Pine veneer, chrome and frosted glass are an obvious sign of quality. As one of the specimens under the microscope commented “To think that the owner would consider increasing a teachers salary, because they would receive better service, increased student satisfaction and increased student re-enrolments is, quite frankly, an anathema.” By which he meant ‘bollocks’.

Conversely an outspoken lab rat commented “You all think a 4 week RSA entitles you too a decent salary. Most Thais study for 16 years and are lucky if they can get half of what you earn”. The fact that many Thais study English for 16 years but still leave university, degree in hand, without being able to string a coherent sentence together will be discussed in a future column, when I’m in a less culturally sensitive mood.

After all who really gives a toss, they’re the ones who keep language schools in business. Conspiracy theorists could well link the state of English tuition in Thai schools with a cunning farang devised plot to ensure employment for thousands of white boys who can’t hack it in their own countries.

Reading between the lines and bypassing common sense, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that most teacher’s would be happy to work for 20% less if a) they were required to teach 40% fewer hours and b) the ratio of ” totty” to “natural born wasters” was above 7:1 in each class.

Academic Directors, Directors of Studies or Pet Farangs? The titles on the embossed business cards may vary but the complaints remain constant. Being a good teacher doesn’t always equate to being a good manager. Throw in a power trip, mix with a healthy disregard for others, add a pinch of nepotism and top with an ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude and you have the recipe for both a disaster and for whinging subordinates. “This is Captain Chaos welcoming you aboard ‘The Mary Celeste’, next stop . . . . oblivion.” If that’s the case, abandon ship now and head to a school where a concerned boss will show just enough interest in you to convince you that, “Hey, we care”.

Wasn’t that Union Carbide’s slogan at one time?