Struggling to Keep My English Teaching Job in Thailand
Author with English Students
Struggling to Keep My English Teaching Position
At the start of the 2010 school year, I had been teaching at Saint Joseph Bangna (SJB) Catholic School for two years. Beginning in March of 2010 and continuing until my resignation in March of 2014, it was a struggle to keep my English teaching position at SJB. This is because I was over 60 and eventually pressured to resign.
In this article, I begin with the turbulence of 2010 which affected almost all of the foreign teachers at SJB. Next, I describe SJB's desire to terminate me at the start of the 2012 and 2013 school years. Finally, I relate my efforts to survive as a teacher until March of 2014.
The Turbulence of 2010
2010 was a turbulent year both inside and outside of SJB. The turbulence began at the end of the 2009 school year in February when at least 10 experienced teachers either resigned or were terminated. It continued in March when all foreign teachers without a teaching certificate had to take education proficiency tests sponsored by the Thailand Council of Teachers (TCT.) Turbulence outside of SJB was seen in political demonstrations which occupied some of the important foreign tourist areas in Bangkok during April and May. During the months from May through December, at least 15 new foreign teachers were introduced by employment agencies. Most of these teachers stayed at SJB for only a few days or months. Then, at the beginning of the second term in October, almost all foreign teachers received bad news. Those without a Bachelor's degree would have to attend college in Thailand to get an English teaching certificate or risk being terminated. Teachers over the age of 60 like me would be terminated at the end of the 2011 academic year in March of 2012.
The Resignation and Firing of Experienced Teachers - February 2010
It was no secret that the new school administration which took over in April of 2009 was going to clean house and get rid of undesirable teachers at the end of the 2009 school year. One teaching colleague who had worked for the new principal and right-hand assistant at her previous school warned that this would happen.
Sure enough, at least 10 experienced foreign teachers resigned, were forced to resign or were terminated. All of these teachers had been hired by the previous administration.
Mandatory Thailand Council of Teachers (TCT) Education Exams - March 2010
Since 2008, all SJB teachers had been warned that the TCT was going to crack down on the licensing of foreign teachers. Up until 2010, all unlicensed foreign teachers had received waivers in lieu of having teaching licenses. To keep their waivers, TCT was now requiring that unlicensed teachers take education proficiency tests once every two years until they passed four tests. In March of 2010, all of the unlicensed SJB foreign teachers including I had to take eight hours of tests over a two-day period in four education topics.
Political Turmoil in Bangkok - April and May 2010
During the months of April and May, a major political opposition group occupied an important western tourist area in Bangkok. The occupation climaxed with violence and bloodshed when demonstrators were suppressed by the Army during the first week of school in May. On the final day of the occupation, I looked out of my school window and could see smoke rising from the distant streets of Bangkok where tires had been set ablaze.
Finding and Retaining Foreign Teachers During the First School Term - May-October 2010
During the months May-October, at least 15 new teachers were introduced by employment agencies. Most of them stayed at the school for only a few days or months at the most. In fact, many were unqualified or thought teaching at SJB would be similar to a public school "white monkey" gig. These "teachers" did not realize that non-classroom duties included writing lesson plans, checking student notebooks, and writing and correcting tests.
It was amazing that SJB had to go through four teachers before it found one to complete teaching the fifth grade during the school year. The first teacher was a young Brit who wanted to be a "white monkey." I think he lasted one week. The second was an unqualified young woman who had never taught before. All of her students failed exams because she was testing them on the eighth-grade material. This teacher was only at the school for about seven weeks. The young lady was followed by a man who had come from teaching in Korea after being a music teacher in America. This teacher brought his guitar into each classroom. He resigned after four months because he had fulfilled his mission of finding a Thai wife and was returning to the United States. Finally, a middle-aged man took over the fifth-grade class in December and lasted until the end of the school term in March of 2011.
Mandatory Education Degree and Forced Retirement of Teachers over 60 - October 2010
At the beginning of the second term of the 2010 school year, almost all foreign teachers received shocking undesirable news. The first group affected was teachers who did not have a college degree. The second group included teachers like me who were over the age of 60.
In 2010, SJB had at least 10 foreign western teachers who did not have college degrees. They had all been hired by the previous school administration around 2005 when English Programs were starting to be established in many schools.
On a day in late October, SJB non-degree holding teachers were all informed that they had to enroll in a Thai university to get an education degree with a major in English. If the teachers failed to do this, they would be subject to termination at a future date.
At the same time, a teaching colleague, Peter, and I were called individually into a meeting with a Filipina nun who headed the English Program at SJB and a Thai teacher who managed foreign teachers. Peter and I were both told that we were being terminated at the end of the 2011 school year in March of 2012. The reasoning was that because we were both over the age of 60 we had to retire. We were being given advance notice so that we could find any future employment if desired.
Becoming Public Enemy Number One - 2011 School Year
During the 2010 and 2011 school years, I was assigned to teach English to sixth-graders. I was a model teacher and well liked by my students and their parents, fellow Thai, and Filipina teachers. In September of 2011, however, I became public enemy number one among many foreign western teachers.
My unpopularity stemmed from some articles which I had written on the online website Hubpages. I started writing in April of 2011 and by September many of my articles had been about experiences teaching at SJB. In at least five of the articles, I had been very critical of my colleagues who were teaching without college degrees. I called these teachers "white monkeys" and ridiculed them in other ways.
When my colleagues first read the articles, it was between terms and the school was convening a seminar. At the beginning of the afternoon session on the second day, one of my fellow teachers called me out on the damning articles. Later, all of the non-degree holding colleagues would not speak to me for the remainder of the school year.
I did my best in damage control by removing all of the offending articles from Hubpages and by apologizing in writing to all of the teachers. Amazingly, the head of the English Program did not terminate my contract when she found out what I had done. It was hell, however, seeing my colleagues for the next six to eight months until they finally forgave me.
Continued Employment but with a Frozen Salary - 2012 School Year
Toward the end of the 2011 school year in January 2012, the Thai head of personnel asked me if I wanted to teach one more year at SJB. I was surprised to learn this news until I found out that Peter, the other teacher over 60, had threatened the school with legal action if he was terminated. Peter had seen a lawyer and was advised that according to Thai labor law, teachers were entitled to severance pay unless both employer and employee agreed to terms of resignation.
Fearing that Peter would take legal action and demand severance pay if terminated, SJB renewed his teaching contract for the 2012 school year. Since I was in this same situation, the school decided to give me one more year, too.
Peter and I, however, did not receive an extra year without a cost. Both of us were denied an annual salary increase because of our age being over 60. We did not fight the school on this matter because we wanted to stay at least one more year.
Final Year at SJB Prior to Retirement - 2013 School Year
Around the end of the 2012 school year in January 2013, the same two individuals who had warned about termination in October 2010 called me in for a meeting. In the office of the head of the English Program, the Filipina boss first thanked me for my teaching service to SJB. Sister then said that I would not be given a teaching contract for the 2013 school year. When I asked about the reason for my termination, she indicated that I was too old and needed to retire.
In response, I pointed out my right to severance pay according to Thai labor law because I had not agreed to retire. I further indicated that I would avoid legal action with the school if I were allowed to teach one more year before voluntary retirement. This extra year was needed because my daughter was still attending high school in Bangkok and would not graduate until March 2014. Sister then told me to make this appeal to the SJB school principal. After writing a letter of appeal, I was given a teaching contract for the 2013 school year. My salary, however, would still be frozen to a 2011 level as it had been during the 2012 school year.
By the way, Peter was also given a teaching contract for 2013 although he had not agreed to voluntarily retire in March 2014.
All foreign teachers were given employment contracts in March for the 2013 school year. Many of my colleagues, however, would not sign their contracts because a lot of our benefits were being taken away.
To resolve this problem, school administration requested that the former principal (R) who had hired me and left in 2009 come to SJB and help mediate the dispute which teachers had with the administration. When R met with us, Peter and I personally told her that we had been denied salary increases since May 2012 due to our age. R noted that this was unfair. After R met with the current principal, SJB returned benefits to teachers and also agreed to give Peter and me salary increases. My salary increase began in May 2013 and I was earning 65,000 Thai baht per month instead of the 55,000 monthly frozen at a 2011 level. I had to wait, however, until I retired in March of 2014 to recoup the 60,000 Thai baht (approximately $2,000) owed to me for the 2012 school year.
Peter was terminated around the end of July 2013. He was fired for assaulting and striking a Filipino teacher in an SJB office. I didn't know about Peter's firing until he called me to his office on his last day at SJB. With a big smile on his face, Peter showed me a check for over 300,000 Thai baht (about $10,000) from the school. This amounted to severance pay and he amazingly received it even though he had assaulted a teaching colleague.
I retired quietly from SJB in March 2014. Unlike Peter, there was no severance pay for me because I agreed to retire. Two or three of my non-degree holding colleagues who had refused to study for a teaching degree were terminated on the same day I retired.
© 2018 Paul Richard Kuehn