What is your background?
I have a background in language teaching (Business English, TOEFL, Literature, English for Academic Purposes) at all levels, socio-economic backgrounds, age groups etc.
What initially attracted you to your job?
Interacting with people from all walks of life. One day I might be teaching a group of executives how to write FPs (Financial proposals) in English, while in the evening I am teaching a group of undergraduates how to write an opinion paragraph.
Define your job?
Nowadays, I teach English for Academic Purposes (EAP) at a university in Thailand and have been here for the last 4 and a half years. Before that, I worked in a Contuinuing Education Centre. The EAP involves getting the students to understand the 'nuts and bolts' of academic language which will enable them to successfully write a good, coherent, well-thought out essay. We teach things like simple, compound, and complex sentences; why the imperative voice works well in a 'process' paragraph; why the passive voice works well in a 'cause/effect' paragraph.
Can you walk me through your day to day activities?
A typical day would involve anywhere from one to three classes of two fifty minute periods. It might be a listening/speaking class where the emphasis would be on developing something like notetaking skills for lectures, or making a presentation on a topic discussed previously with me and then researched. Alternatively, it could be a reading class where we might discuss things like making inferences, how to spot main ideas and support sentences in a reading, or connotation/denotation e.g. why 'emaciated', 'gaunt' or 'skinny' have an extra meaning when compared to 'slim' or 'slender'.
Lunch is at 12:30 for an hour which involves a walk over the road to a canteen in the brilliant Thai sunshine in 35'C heat. A typical lunch might involve spicy pork with rice, or some roast cashew nuts with chicken and rice, or if you're feeling like something a bit different, you might want to try some Thai noodles called 'quit deeow'. Then it's back to work for another class till 3:30 and then home.
How has your job changed in the last 5 to 10 years?
I wouldn't say that it really has all that much. The pay is the same, the work fairly constant too. Of course, whilst my salary remains the same, I have managed to get an MA Writing from an Australian university along with another Business Teaching certificate and now I've almost completed my first year of a Ph.D Writing program, again from the same Australian university.
What are the key issues facing your sector?
A genuine lack of management input which corresponds to a lack of leadership and direction. This in turn leads to a lack of teacher development and eventually all the best teachers leave only for the most mediocre minds to remain.
How does government legislation affect your job?
Not at all, really. The place where I work is partly private funded, and partly government controlled, so there is a genuine mix of influences which probably cancel each other out.
What impact has technology had on your job?
A lot. In the past, students had to rely on the meagre resources of a library. In Thailand, this is often a moot point as in smaller colleges and universitiesy a lot of the finances go directly into a Dean or Academic Director's pocket which has meant that only the wealthier students can afford to go to bookshops to buy good quality, up-to-date books for their courses. Nowadays, with the advent of technology and especially the Internet, there is what Thomas L. Friedman calls in his book 'The World is Flat', a 'more level playing field'. In other words, students who didn't have access to well-stocked libraries, or money enough to buy good quality textbooks, now have a fair chance of getting the information they need from the ubiquitous nature of the World Wide Web. In effect, the Internet has become the biggest library in the world.
What are the best things and worst things about your job?
I know it may sound trite, but the best thing is seeing the joy on the student's faces at the end of a term when all their hard work has paid off. Our courses are really intensive and the students really need to 'buckle down' and put their social lives 'on hold' if they are serious about passing. This is often a difficult thing to do when you've left home for the first time and have met so many new friends from several different cointinents. As a new teacher, I soon realised that I am one part educator, two parts motivator, four fifths an objective but fair critic, twenty per cent a father figure, and ninety per cent a social worker trying to work miracles! The worst part is not having the support of the management and seeing people who've come after you gain promotion to a senior or coordinator position in front of you.
Do you have any horror stories?
Actually, yes, but you'll have to read them in my book called 'Almost Thai' which should be out next year if I get my finger out. I will tell you one though.
After getting back from a short stint in Japan, I went for an interview for a teaching job with my girlfriend at a Teachers' Training college in Bangkok. The interview went well enough, certificates changed hands, polite smile were pleasantly exchanged all around. When the Dean came and introduced himself more smiles and pleasantries ensued. The Dean took up one of my girlfriend's certifcates and murmured to himself 'Oxford!' Of course he didn't know that the certificate had originated from Oxford Poly, not the bastion of education the university itself. However, that didn't seem to matter for he seemed totally impressed by the word 'Oxford'. As if to reciprocate, he told the fellow who'd been assigned to take care oif us to show us around the college.
A few minutes later, at our own request, we made it to the library which was large enough but probably cpouldn't have held more than about 200 to 300 books. As we had been assigned to teach literature courses, we asked to see the literature section. Imagine our horror when we found a sum total of…wait for it…three books: Mark Twain's 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn', a book of poems by Byron, and a 1953 edition of a grammar textbook that gave advice about diction, tone, metaphor, and synedoches! I doubt my students could spell any of these words let alone read about them! And then to cap it all we were told that by the following Monday, we would have to plan, write, and photocopy three syllabi each for classes that would consist of between 50 and 60 students each, none of whom had any textbooks! Er…thanks…is that the time? Oops! Must dash! Bye!
What attributes do you need/ what are you looking for when hiring someone in your role?
If it's in Thailand – then don't! Period. Find a place where there's a degree of professional development and a management that will actually listen to your needs and back you up when there's a problem. Flexibility is of course the key, and if you're teaching in Thailand, you'd better be prepared to accept that your qualifications and experience pale in comparison to others who are more astute at networking and have no qualms about jumping the 'pecking order' even if it means stepping over you to get there.
What are your tips/ advice for those starting out?
Buy a hard hat or a helmet; sleep with one eye open at all times; practice saying the following – 'Good morning Dean! You look lovely today. Did you get that frock at DKNY? It's wonderful!'