Life in the Bus Lane – Words from AJARN
23 April 2002
Let’s look back at a year of Ajarn and pluck some pearls of wisdom from his twisted mind for the benefit of all those involved in the teaching of English here in Bangkok.
On English Teachers…
In Thailand your standing in the social hierarchy is somewhere between the Yakult delivery woman and the “lucky” one-armed lottery ticket vendor you pass on the way home. As with any commodity, teachers’ worth seems to diminish in line with availability.
On ‘Newbie’ Teachers…
After the initial acclimatisation period many language facilitators will decide to leave Thailand for greener (better paying) pastures. Those who decide to stay must now take the plunge and invest in some new threads. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Pratunam you go. Providing you’re of average size then you can get hold of a half-decent outfit here. Fake Polo shirts abound and they’ll last at least several months. You’re a bit savvier now, having had some bad experiences with your plastic Bata shoes. Sure they were cheap but, after a few weeks of wear and tear, you’d been forced to alter their composition from 100 per cent plastic to 60 per cent plastic and 40 per cent superglue. In addition you were getting a bit sick of having your socks meld to the inside of your shoes during hot weather.
On Child-Centered Learning
Child-centered education on the way out – a lost cause say teachers who gave it their all. Through my network of informants, which would put any military junta, and even Thai Rak Thai to shame, I managed to get hold of a diary from the Head Teacher at St Judas’ Academy for the Future Occupants of Inactive Positions.
Day 1 – It won’t work, mark my words
Day 2 – Absolutely no hope of it working
Day 3 – No point in trying – believe me it’s not suitable for Thai kids.
Day 4 – I can give you 34 reasons why it won’t work, they’re all in the staff room at this very moment.
And so on . . . .
Day 365 – See, told you so! On ISO
Private Thai schools have fallen in love with ISO9002. However, this only guarantees that endless procedures will be followed. Applied to a factory environment, for which ISO was originally intended, this means that all the products will be produced in an identical manner. The product may well be a pile of crap but that’s irrelevant as long as the specified procedures were carried out during the manufacturing process. It has been mentioned that the only companies that apply for ISO 9002 are those who cant compete either because their products are of low quality or over priced. It’s hoped that having an ISO seal of approval will increase sales amongst gullible consumers i.e. parents.
On Multiple Choice Test Papers…
Multiple guess tests are the test of choice in the majority of educational establishments. It’s easy for the teachers to mark — a computer usually does it — and most of the students can manage to make some form of blot in one of the four boxes available — so no loss of face about handing in a blank test paper.
On Private Students…
A phone call the day before your first class is the initial warning sign; the class is postponed due to a family visit up-country. Slowly the weeks pass. You begin to dread that now familiar phone call –
“Oh Mr. Ian, Nong has to practice her piano”,
“Oh Mr. Ian, it’s yet another long weekend due to yet another public holiday.”
Then, at last, “Oh Mr. Ian, can you teach the class tomorrow?” and there it is, a bolt from the blue, you’re left speechless. The Thai version of ‘Endurance’ is over and you’ve been declared the winner.
On Graduation Day…
With respect to successful attendance and participation in a graduation ceremony is directly proportional to the length of time spent in the beautician’s chair. Having allowed a top make-up artist or enthusiastic gay friend, depending on budget, to work their magic the goofy, plain Jane is transformed into radiant butterfly or at least that’s the theory. In practice it often turns out that the make-up artist is really a frustrated plasterer with an insatiable L’Oreal obsession. And so the butterfly is smothered under quantities of gunk that even Coco the clown would consider overkill. Prior to the economic slowdown things were different of course. Old hands still remember the anti talcum powder & mascara hoarding messages put out by the first Chuan government and the great blusher shortage of ’91 which resulted in 70 per cent of Chula’s new alumni being photographed in right profile only.
On The Weakest Link…
The gist of the problem seems to be that this game show would be all fine and dandy if losers didn’t lose face. Why not just give them a ‘Hello Kitty’ gift bag and applaud them for a jolly good all round effort instead. Just like we do on every other inane monkey show on TV.