Memoirs of a Grizzled Expat 5 – TeachingJune 17, 2012
So, the job front. I’d got off to a bit of a frustrating start since every educational establishment puts a dolly-bird on their front desk who has no idea what they’re holding when I deliver my CV. I knew damn well half of them would be stuffed in a folder with the unqualified backpackers’ CVs and never get referred up.
I did get past the bimbo in a few cases and saw the workings of private English language schools. It’s a world of factory schools where education is proudly and unapologetically a business, and business in the most extreme capitalist sense – the competition between schools can be extremely vicious and in many places teachers can be treated like chattel.
I saw a lot of bloody awful teaching; I saw the semi-literate junkie teachers and I saw the ‘best’ teachers who genuinely believe that there is nothing to distinguish the skills of a teacher from those of a second-hand car salesman.
Given the educational environment, when directors do get their mits on my CV, they tend to insist that they want me badly, however that didn’t prevent them telling me the same pack of lies they sell to an idiot backpacker; I’ve done my homework and I know the wider politics, who pays what etcetera.
I had a few meetings with the director of a major language-factory and was gently suggesting that he needs to distinguish between a smart and well-informed professional teacher and a passing backpacking muppet, not just through a charm offensive but through respect and honesty and, er, pay. On first meeting he quoted me the bog-standard figure of $8 per hour which is what unqualified alcoholics can expect.
He quickly upped the figure to $10; I smiled and left. A couple of days later he called me to up the fee to $12 which is reasonable but I remained cool. Finally he called me in to offer me $15 per hour – which would actually make me the highest paid teacher in the college. It was at this point that I agreed and came in for the grilling. I was asked to take a class beginning at 8 a.m. the next morning and was up a 6 and in the office at 7.30. In our conversation before the lesson it emerged that I was due to be paid ….. $8 per hour.
I didn’t take the class; I was polite but firm in reminding him what we’d agreed and left the door open to him to contact me should he decide to meet my terms. For me, it’s not really about the money; throughout my career in education in England I was used to operating in an environment where people generally treated each other with a reasonable level of professionalism and respect. That culture doesn’t exist here so I feel it necessary to create a clear and unambiguous position – namely, I’ll do a damned good professional job for you, but don’t mess with me.
Here’s one university post I didn’t apply for: ‘The Essential Requirements for the position are: * Be good-looking and open-minded.’ This university sets up a dormitory in the hallways during the night – i.e. the students sleep in the corridors between classrooms. I was offered a job on the spot in another university to design and deliver a whole slew of BA and MA courses – on a salary of $8 per hour. See above.
Actually let me just outline my likely upcoming financial situation, assuming I get the work I want. Whilst my tax-free income will be very modest by western standards I’ll likely earn more in a three-hour day that a Khmer teacher will make in a month (and the Khmer support staff; in one university office I witnessed a very pleasant, well-educated and capable office lady being treated like shit by a rude American teacher who’d pulled a sicky – probably as a result of a hangover, probably one of the many incompetent, ill-prepared disgraces that comprises my competition out here).
I’ll likely cover all my monthly rent and bills in around one working week. If I hire a cook/cleaner (thus saving on food expenses) her monthly salary will be my daily income. The point I’m making is that up to 50% of my salary (for a three-hour day remember; I could always pull my finger out and work longer hours) will be disposable income (note that Cambodia has the most national holidays of any nation on Earth and with other vacations factored in there be an awful lot of days that I’m not working or being paid). The pay differential between my Khmer friends working twenty-hour days with never a day’s holiday and us colonial expats is simply disgusting – global injustice in microcosm.