LiBeL Column

Life’s Been Good to Me

Columns from The Nation newspaper

Living the vida loca

I’ve noticed a few teachers mentioning a bit of an ‘us and them’ divide developing between language schools ruling class and the proletariat. In an effort to lay these fears to rest once and for all I asked a prominent DoS for his take on the gap in understanding between himself and those he likes to call ‘Generation Whine’

Dear Colleagues

There’s been a lot said recently about the cushy, jet setting lifestyle that Academic Directors, Directors of Studies and School Managers are rumoured by some to lead. Stories abound about how we live off the fruits of the labour of downtrodden teachers whilst barely a thought of your enduring hardship enters our minds.

Personally, I don’t stop working, I cant just clock on and off like an illegal Burmese factory worker, as some of you are fortunate enough to be able to do. It’s a 24/7 position. At present I’m sitting here, on the poolside terrace, contemplating this month’s ‘Grand Idea’ which, in order to tighten our belts in these hard times, revolves around you being paid a salary based on the actual amount your students learn during a course and not on the number of hours you teach them. I think it’s a winner. More about that in our Monday morning meeting.

Of course, I can turn off from work for brief periods for example on yesterday I spent a pleasant evening sipping imported Vimto with a fellow high ranking educator. The Vimto, I should add, courtesy of Patel’s in West Bromwich who actually deliver. A fact which surprised both myself and my chum who bet me that we couldn’t blow the entire staff profit sharing scheme on flying a 2 litre bottle of the UK’s finest carbonated fruit drink half way around the world business class. Looks like I lose again, Tim.

I do occasionally think to myself “What more can I do for my staff to make their lives as good as mine?” However such thoughts of pity don’t linger long as I know constantly commiserating people on their bad luck doesn’t build a happy team as my members of staff with the misfortune to hail from Canada will, no doubt testify – albeit it anonymously on a discussion board in far off cyberspace. I realise that should they see me, with my considerable wealth, knowledge and smooth, almost teflon-like ability to get out of tricky situations, moping around, they’ll wonder what hope is there for themselves in this dog eat dog ( or man eat dog, for the upcountry staff) world.

Little do they realise it wasn’t always like this. There was a time when I’d wish that marker board pen salesman returned my calls, now I’ve got a guy bugging me to have my likeness on the “EZ Write 500” the Mont Blanc of boardmarkers. Not that I’ve got time to get involved with mundane marketing ideas designed to enhance my public image when there are more important concerns to pay lips service to on a daily basis.

Last Friday I had a ‘to do’ list a mile long to clear before the driver came to pick me up at 3pm. Choosing the correct time to leave the office is always a minefield. Leave too early and your employees get the wrong impression. This can be avoided by walking out with your mobile stuck to your ear. Talking loudly to no-one about “urgent meeting . . . OK 10 minutes . . . . Head Office . . . . . .need my input . . . . .6 million baht contract . . . . ” can lend an air of authenticity to the lunchtime flit. It’s on fair I share some of the secrets of my success and the real beauty of this particular one is that you don’t have to tell anyone face to face and you can rely on one of the Thai staff to overhear you. Then, when a teacher fretting about a few thousand baht he’s owed that disappeared into the ether that is the Thai banking system, comes looking for you the Thai staff will pipe up and relay their overheard, indirect message.

Of course, being a professional I’d never do such a thing. Therefore, I took an early lunch in order to give me some time to gather my thoughts about the best way to organise my valuable time. By pure coincidence I ran into an old friend at a noodle stall on Ratchadapisk Rd. It goes without saying that these two international bright young things (ourselves) couldn’t very well sit and chat at an outdoor food stall. Glancing over my left shoulder I spied the welcoming neon of the Poseidon Complex. Having checked our respective wallets for corporate credit cards we decided that a chat in an aircon atmosphere would be more in keeping with chaps of our status.

Networking is all part of the job, another aspect that some ‘newbies’ fail to grasp. It can be a chore, as in the above case or it can be a pleasure as in the annual Thai TESOL get togethers where the farang and Thai hierarchy get to mingle for an hour or two’s mindless waffle in an all expense paid setting. This is usually followed by two separate working parties being formed – one Thai and one farang. The former will stay in the conference hall and attend enlightening plenary speeches by booksellers and guys with Italian names who have an annoying ability to churn out international best selling grammar reference books.

The Farang working party will often be forced, due to the sheer number of hotel staff getting under their feet, to retreat to a cosy bar across the street where opinions will be sought, tips on psychology and body language discussed and marketing strategies reviewed. Then once the girls have finally agreed a price it’s back to the penthouse suite, that the Aussie guys always seem to con their Rajabhat into paying for, for some private teaching. Three days straight of that carry on does tend to leave you needing a few days break when you get back to work. But hey, you’ve schmoozed, mingled and pressed more than your fair share of flesh (if you know what I mean) and you owe it to yourself to spend a few days replenishing your bodily fluids.

But such freeloading jaunts seldom happen more than once a month. The daily grind begins with arriving at the office at 9 am, 30 minutes before the Thai staff who aren’t due until 8.30 am (Thai time) arrive, and a full 5 hours before our most dynamic educator can shake himself out of his comatose state, drag himself backwards through a hedge or whatever they do to achieve that authentic ‘teacher’ look. The morning will be spent in endless meetings, the minutes of which are subject to an in house 30 year secrecy law. Undemocratic, maybe but with an obvious reason, if you knew in advance you’d be fired you’d quit wouldn’t you? There’s no ‘I’ in team – make a note of that. Afternoons are spent on the phone finalising deals, checking on teachers in other locations and keeping tabs on the latest TEFL related news – courtesy of Stickman’s Weekly. And then the drive back to the house in late afternoon, a quick walk with the dogs in the park, dinner on the gazebo, and then to bed.

Having lifted the veil of secrecy that has shrouded the elevated ranks of your superiors I hope you now have a better understanding of what makes them tick. We’re human too, but understand that during this difficult period, it’s important to ensure the survival of the great trees and not the brushwood. Guess who’s the brushwood?