LiBeL Column

Welcome to the Heart of Nowhere

Columns from The Nation newspaper

Running a language school with no teachers

Language school website design – truly an amateur’s guide.

Take a remote Isaan hamlet and a hatful of ill gotten money, add a desire to launder it somehow, hit on an idea which doesn’t involve food, gambling or naked girls, throw in a connection with some old school chums at the Min of Ed, blend in a token farang who’s been here seen it & done it and top with a sprinkling of teenagers and disillusioned secretaries and what have you got?

A language school . . . . with no teachers.

Next step, get teachers. But where? If you’re paying peanuts you know you’re going to get monkeys. But God didn’t create all monkeys equally. Some are bitter, cynical hardened monkeys who are guaranteed to give the token farang grief when it comes to quibbling about the reimbursement of bus fares or missing 10 baht per hour course completion bonus. These are rather too thick on the ground in Thailand for many schools liking. The other, more sedate monkeys are those that currently inhabit colder more inhospitable climes – such as Skegness. (A town so bland that the most interesting fact about it is that it’s name is an anagram of ‘ Ngesseks’ an ancient Zimbabwean tribe who disappeared off the face of the earth in a mass suicide. The cordless bungee from Victoria Falls was prompted by an officer from the Queen’s Own remarking on the fact that ‘Ngesseks’ was in fact an anagram of the name of his home town in Blighty.)

So, the conundrum facing the owner, of what the promotional flyers proudly proclaim as a “Center for English genius ability and computer”, is how to lure the chilled peanut munchers across the sea to sunnier climes. The answer is simple, use the internet. “Build it and they will come.” a great man, or possibly Kevin Costner in ‘Field of Dreams’, once said. So a website is hastily assembled with all the information bonded labourers could ask for – in a lurid day-glo font.

There’s got to be a section on the country itself. Remember you’re dealing with people who have difficulty finding their own capitol city on a map let alone a country in another continent. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve ended up in Taiwan when they meant Thailand – and vice versa. But this is nothing when it comes to getting a grip on locations within a new and exotic country. As a rule, if you’ve never heard of the place, don’t go there – there’s always a painfully obvious reason why you’ve never heard of it. However, this will only become apparent within 2 hours of signing a contract and handing over you last travelers cheque as a ‘deposit’ on something, exactly what, you aren’t sure of, as you stumble, jet lagged, into the school in the heart of nowhere.”

Another section will give some more specific information about the school and what you as a pliant pawn in the grand scheme of things would like to read about. Any resemblance between this section of the site and the reality the unsuspecting newcomer will experience is can be put down solely to amazingly good fortune or possessing the type of karma Mother Theresa will experience next time around.

Knowing that after trawling through half a dozen pages of the written equivalent of mock flock wallpaper even the brain of the most desperate escapee from reality will begin to numb, the front page will therefore often include a “Welcome message” highlighting the key points that will be drilled into applicants brains on the coming pages.

“Welcome fellow educators !!!” ( Informal, matey and yet bordering on academic. No longer will I be a 29 year old pizza boy, in this new land I’ll be a respected educator, damn it! )

“The discovery of a lifetime awaits YOU !!!” (Take us up on this offer and you’ve only got yourself to blame. Also note that the number of exclamation marks is proportional to the lack of visitors the site receives and reflects the school’s desperation to hire teachers)

“Come teach at our newly appointed language facility in Nakhon Blackhole. (Ever heard of it? No, see above)

A state of the art school with multimedia lab” (The secretary’s got a 56K modem hooked up to her Pentium 2 PC and an incoming phone line which doubles as the neighbour’s washing line.)

“and well stocked teacher’s resource center, awaits you.” (We subscribe to the Thai TESOL mag and have a photocopied copy of the near legendary “Advanced grammar and yet more grammar – the revised non-illustrated version with 14-page preface and extensive bibliography”, by P. Williams, knocking around somewhere)

“We’re only 4 hours from the city of Khon Kaen” (Or we would be if there was a sealed road. By the same token we’re also only 4 hours from Tokyo, or would be if there was an international airport in place of the endless sea of neglected paddy fields that pass for scenery in this neck of the woods. “Look a tree, quick take a photo before someone logs it. . . . . . Shit, too late”)

“and the cost of living is far cheaper.” (And therefore is easy to for us to justify paying you 120 Baht per hour – less tax and incidental deductions)

“You’ll be working with fellow native speakers” (The token farang and his Filipino wife, who spent 10 years in the US, attaining prestigious ‘illegal immigrant’ status in the process)

“and will be provided with rent free accommodation.” (Even we can’t justify charging you for the ramshackle hut where the school owner’s grandmother grew up – and died . . . very recently).

“Applications from abroad welcomed.” (Yup, our reputation’s so low even local British-American rejects won’t touch us. If you’ve managed to find our site and can read this paragraph in less that 5 minutes without the aid of a Talking Dic then you’ve got the job)

“Feel free to browse the site for more photos of the school” (If you had doubts about the wonders of Photoshop 6 then they’ll be dispelled after you see how grim reality was transformed by the M.3 graduate who enjoys the title of ‘Administrative Assistant’ at this academy of learning.)

“and insider’s hints on successful living in Thailand.” (Some stuff, circa 1996, we salvaged from a Google search of the ‘soc.culture.thai’ newsgroup.)

But what about the actual teaching?

Next week . . . .