Cambodia Teaching Update 2- Different Lifestyles/The Thai Exodus?/ The Easiest Ways of Getting FiredNovember 3, 2008
I ended the last piece by examining the differences in pay and working conditions between teachers at the better language schools and those at the lower end places. There are also big differences in lifestyle. His or her Cambodia is air conditioned and pleasant. Their Cambodia is hot and sweaty. His or her meals are often Western. Their meals are noodles or rice three times a day. His or her apartment is spacious and tended by a maid. Their guesthouse rooms are dark and poky. He or she’s been able to buy a motorbike. They take motodops. He or she can afford to leave the country on term breaks. They can’t. In short, it’s worth getting your TESOL as a direct way in to the better schools and the more pleasant lifestyle that comes as a consequence.
A couple of years ago, when Thailand started making it rather more difficult for Westerners to legally find working teaching in the former Land of Smiles, there was much talk in Phnom Penh staff rooms of a vast exodus of ESL teachers from Thailand. This talk was often accompanied by moaning sounds, pawing of the air, and the emitting of strange wounded animal noises.
Therefore, it’s fair to say that the prospect of masses of teachers hopping over the border, tempted by Cambodia’s close geographical proximity to Thailand was not greeted by local expats with gladdened hearts, untrammelled glee or much jumping up and down with joy. In fact, some expats conjured up those images from Werner Herzog’s beautiful film Nosferatu, in which the baleful vampire arrives in Britain from the continent by boat, accompanied by swarms of rats and the terrible stink of decay. This is perhaps overstating the case, but not by much, and many locals thought that the Thais may have had a point in tightening up those visa requirements, all things considered.
Nevertheless, the avalanche of wrong ‘uns, ne’er do wells and other human driftwood hasn’t yet happened. Formerly Thai based teachers are certainly arriving, but the anticipated tsunami hasn’t yet come to pass despite Phnom Penh (unlike Bangkok these days) being a city where it’s still legally possible to have a cigarette and a beer at the same time, anywhere. Maybe the massed ranks are refusing to hop over the border until Phnom Penh has a 7-11, a Mickey Ds and a Burger King on every street corner. (We’re working on that last one. Since earlier this year, locals have been able to sit at home watching the karaoke channel whilst cramming a KFC party bucket down their throats, and soon they’ll be able to BK it too. Perhaps in ten years, Khmer city kids will, just like the blubbery little porkers in the UK and USA, be so obese that they’ll practically have a gravitational pull.)
Last week we looked at finding teaching work in Phnom Penh, so this week we’ll look at a couple of the easiest ways of losing your job.
Arguably the worst thing you can ever do with Khmer students is to lose your temper or throw a tantrum. Even if you’re a highly qualified Superteacher, you’ll quickly find out it’s the easiest way of getting fired as no one is indispensable here and teachers who are one day the monarchs of all they survey can be out of a job the next. Those teachers who enjoy keeping their students on the hop by playing bad cop with relish will soon come up against a brick wall. Remember that you’re not training elite athletes for the Olympics or coaching premiership soccer players. (Alex Ferguson would make a terrible English teacher.)
So challenge and correct gently and be very patient. Give plenty of praise. Allow students the opportunity to self correct instead of barging in with the correct answer – and remember that Khmers hate aggression or confrontation of any sort. Whilst it’s natural to want victory, excellence and salvation, you shouldn’t take it personally when, despite all your best efforts, some students still don’t get it.
Next, that twice monthly pay check comes with several conditions and getting up in the morning is one of them, as more than a few teachers have found to their cost. Thus, a very easy way of getting canned is to take 6.30am classes (which all schools have but which many have trouble getting teachers to volunteer for) when you haven’t got the fortitude for 6.30am starts. Most schools operate a ‘two strikes and you’re out’ policy for teachers who cry out of early morning classes, so if your lifestyle is going to get in the way of making it into work at silly o’clock in the morning, five days a week for an entire term then just don’t box yourself in by taking the hours. On the other hand, if you’re an early bird, doing that 6.30am class could quite easily pay your rent every month and in so doing, turn your day time hours into ‘play money’.