Memoirs of a Grizzled Expat 5 – Teaching

Posted on by Andy Ahmed


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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.

Andy Ahmed

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6 Responses to Memoirs of a Grizzled Expat 5 – Teaching

  1. Dermot Sheehan says:

    “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.

    I understand what you are getting at, but doesn’t a lot of it depend on their skills and experience? I work at a couple of places that pay their local and foreign staff equally, but I’d expect the local staff to be as competent as the foreigners, and often they aren’t.

  2. Angry Teacher says:

    Please be clear, that may be a picture of my locker but I am certainly not the author! Welcome to our world Andy. Regardless of the politics and business of the school system, we’re paid to teach. The rest of it is unfortunate and makes our jobs harder but if you give a shit about the kids you’ll do your best. When the door closes it’s just you and them. That student didn’t run anyone over in his Lexus or chase residents off their land this weekend. His pops may have but he didn’t. The students aren’t fixing the grades and trying to hire cheap unskilled labor. The administrators might be. If you ever think “I’m not paid enough to give a shit.” you’re in the wrong place. Just my 2 cents on teaching. Good luck and I hope you’re one of the few that end up giving a shit because all these kids deserve better than what they’re getting and a few of these families are busting their balls and making sacrifices to put these kids through school.

    • Gerard says:

      Have your comments been ‘edited’! Last time I read this reply you referred to another article via a ‘link’.

  3. andyinasia says:

    AT – these are my memoirs from seven years ago. I’m still here, still teaching, am now very well paid and thoroughly enjoying myself these days.

  4. Gerard says:

    “…next morning 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”.

    So Andy, does this story from your memoirs reflect today’s behaviour with schools in PP? In what ways have things changed, not changed or whatever? What can today’s ‘newbie’ expect?

    • Gerard says:

      Did you pop my question into the ‘too hard’ basket Andy? Never mind, still enjoy your memoirs…episode 6 was interesting.

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