I might be jumping the gun here a little, but as I’m sitting in the office of Thung Song Municipality High School (as opposed to Satree Thungsong), as scheduled, for my first day of work I think I can shed light on our recent and endlessly frustrating transition between jobs. I’ll spare some of the more sordid details, but I’m going to be fairly thorough in the event that someone seeking information about teaching, particularly through an agency, in Thailand stumbles on this post.
As for our previous agency, we’d written up a laundry list of issues we’d had with them, including instances of dishonesty, untrustworthy employees, and just general communication issues. Since we’ve more-or-less made amends with our former boss, and after talking to some of his new hires it does seem like he’s learning from at least a few of his mistakes, I won’t use this as an opportunity to slander that agency in particular (as we’d had the urge to do when in some of our more frustrating times, like when we were being quite literally extorted) or recount that full laundry list. But there are some things that potential new teachers should know about this agency system in general before signing on.
First, the government of Thailand is in the process of providing every public school in the country with funds intended specifically to hire foreign teachers. I won’t go so far as to say every school is currently receiving these funds or has foreign teachers, and I won’t even herald the stock 60,000 Baht/month ($2000US) I’ve heard tell of as fact– could be more or less in some cases. What we’ve seen in practice is that, while agencies can (andshould, and sometimes do) provide services to the school that make it less desirable to hire a teacher directly; oftentimes they offer a “kickback” of sorts to the schools that make use of an agency particularly desirable.
In other words, say the school’s been allotted 60,000 Baht/month for a foreign teacher. Their records must show the money is, in fact, serving its intended purpose, so legitimately it can either be given to a teacher directly or given to an agency. If it’s given to an agency suddenly only 30,000 Baht/month (which is, admittedly, a perfectly livable salary) is set aside for the teacher, maybe 10,000 Baht/month goes to the agency, and the rest (or at least another portion) gets stashed away for a gift to the school at the end of the term. I heard one trusted account of an agency giving the school lots of resources, which actually does seem to be educationally appropriate. I also witnessed the “gift” in the form of a trip to Australia for four of the Thai teachers, which seems less so. There doesn’t appear to be anything illegal about this, but it did put a bad taste in my mouth about the whole agency system once I began to learn about and see evidence of this, and I thought perhaps the word should spread.
I should mention here that not all agencies are created equally. Some seem to exist simply for the purpose of placement– they find a school, charge a fee, and that’s the last you see of them (and the last of the money that goes to them). Others will get a monthly cut for providing certain services to you outside placement– reminding and even assisting you with Work Permit and visa matters, providing substitutes in the event of planned and unplanned absences, other such administrative tasks. In our case (and undoubtedly others, and I do blame the schools themselves for this as well), in addition to all these administrative tasks (performed with varying degrees of quality), the agency was expected to be a sort of mouthpiece for the school. Whence arrived a number of the aforementioned communication issues, as it just seems counterintuitive for my boss to sit next to me all day, and then forward any pertinent information through my agent (who oftentimes was not even in our town) even though there were a number of people in the office with proficient English. I would just recommend finding out exactly what role your potential agency is meant to play in your relationship with the school, and would go so far as to say that sometimes less is more.
And onto our own particular fiasco. We all know the old cautionary phrase: Don’t sign anything before you’ve read it. We’ve (probably) all broken the rule once or twice, (probably) to little consequence. In light of recent circumstances, however, it’s something I’ve learnt to take a little more seriously. The problem is that this becomes a little more difficult to adhere to when you live in, say, Thailand. And when the secretary hands you a stack of papers to be signed before getting your long-awaited Work Permit, and you come across one paper entirely in Thai, and you ask her, “Wait… what’s this?” and she says, “Oh, not important, just for work permit,” you might just be foolish enough to sign it. And after asking your agent many times for a contract in English with all the specifics of your school on it, and not receiving one, you might even go around parading to your friends that you don’t have a contract. Until you go to change schools, and people from your new school go to Bangkok to get a new Teacher’s License for you, and somehow in some office in Bangkok they have on file this “unimportant” paper you signed “for your Work Permit,” and the problems start.
In the past two weeks we’ve experienced (with varying degrees of detriment to our mental health) threats to have any number of our documents canceled, threats of extortion, warnings of potential threats against Wayne’s life, eviction (essentially), and a general not-knowing of whether certain actions on the parts of others could result in our presence in the country becoming a matter of illegality. But now, here we are, fresh from delivering the dearly sought-after letters releasing us from our former contract, old Work Permits in the process of being canceled with allegedly no affect on our visas, hard at work in our new schools (or… soon to be, anyway), with a gorgeous new house just a 5-minute walk away. It took some doing, but it seems the transition’s nearly complete, and as of yet has been much less of a financial burden and has caused far fewer hurt feelings than it was looking like it might initially.
But yes, this does mean that my time at Satree has officially come to an end. Despite a few frustrations I did quite enjoy my time there, and the students and teachers who were almost always very good to me. So here’s the last of my Satree paraphernalia: one more video, and photos I forgot I’d taken of some of my M1s’ final test responses to the extra credit question of, “What do you look like?” Let’s just say it’s a good thing it was extra credit.