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Struggling to Keep My English Teaching Job in Thailand

Author with English Students

Taken on a field trip with my English students in August of 2011

Taken on a field trip with my English students in August of 2011

Struggling to Keep My English Teaching Position

At the start of the 2010 school year, I had been teaching at a private Catholic school for two years. Beginning in March 2010 and continuing until my resignation in March 2014, it was a struggle to keep my English teaching position. 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 my school. Next, I describe the school'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 2014.

The Turbulence of 2010

2010 was a turbulent year both inside and outside of my school. 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 school was seen in political demonstrations that 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 my school 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 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 the 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 teachers in my school 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 instead of 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 2010, all of the unlicensed foreign teachers including me had to take eight hours of tests over two days on four education topics.

Political Turmoil in Bangkok — April and May 2010

During 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 of 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. Many were unqualified or thought teaching at my school 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 my school 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 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 which lasted until the end of the school term in March 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, my school 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, my school's 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 and I were called individually into a meeting with a foreign nun who headed the English Program at our school and a Thai teacher who managed foreign teachers. The colleague and I were both told that we were being terminated at the end of the 2011 school year in March 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, and fellow Thai, and Filipina teachers. In September 2011, however, I became public enemy number one among many foreign western teachers.

My unpopularity stemmed from some articles that I had written on the online website Hubpages. I started writing in April 2011 and by September many of my articles had been about experiences teaching at my school. 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.

Some of my students putting on a play for parents on a Saturday morning in 2011.

Some of my students putting on a play for parents on a Saturday morning in 2011.

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. I was surprised to learn this news until I found out that the other teacher over 60, had threatened the school with legal action if he was terminated. My colleague 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 the terms of resignation.

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Fearing that my colleague would take legal action and demand severance pay if terminated, my school renewed its teaching contract for the 2012 school year. Since I was in this same situation, the school decided to give me one more year, too.

My colleague and I, however, did not receive an extra year without a cost. Both of us were denied an annual salary increase because of our ages 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 School 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 foreign boss first thanked me for my teaching service. 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 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 the 2011 level as it had been during the 2012 school year.

By the way, my colleague 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, the school administration requested that the former principal (R) who had hired me and left in 2009 come to the school and help mediate the dispute that teachers had with the administration. When R met with us, my colleague 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, the school returned benefits to teachers and also agreed to give my colleague 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.

My colleague was terminated around the end of July 2013. He was fired for assaulting and striking a Filipino teacher in a school office. I didn't know about my colleague's firing until he called me to his office on his last day at school. With a big smile on his face, my colleague 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 my school in March 2014. Unlike my colleague, there was no severance pay for me because I had 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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 14, 2020:

Yes, I was, Sister. Didn't you hire me in November 2007? I am retired now in Udonthani where I spend my time writing articles for Hubpages and doing genealogy. I have also been reading and studying the Bible.

Sister Regina on August 14, 2020:

WoW a great insight into how Catholic Schools run. I worked at one of these prolific Catholic schools and can relate to every you have written. Even down to the head of EP being Filipino lol. Can't help but think you were at Saint Joseph's teaching? good luck in the future.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on January 23, 2018:

Devika, I am very happy that you found my teaching articles interesting.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 23, 2018:

You shared interesting articles about teaching abroad. I like that and it enlightens me on how life is there too.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on January 17, 2018:

Thank you very much for your comment, Larry. In the future, I will have more articles about my teaching abroad.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on January 17, 2018:

I'm always interested in your articles about teaching abroad.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on January 14, 2018:

Yes, administration should acknowledge the experience, knowledge, and skills of seniors. Unfortunately, there is an emphasis on "edutainment" in Thailand. The teacher has to be a performer most of the time. Schools in Thailand would prefer a younger "white monkey" to an older one.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on January 14, 2018:

Peggy, if I would have pushed it, I could have still been teaching somewhere today. My wife was also nudging me into retirement out of teaching full-time. I still occasionally tutor students. Most of the time I am writing articles for Hubpages and now a sports article site. I have also been doing genealogy research to keep busy. What are your plans, if I may ask?

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 14, 2018:

Being 60 years of age is hardly old and a reason for forced retirement unless that was all stipulated ahead of time and well known. So sorry that your teaching career had to end in such a fashion. What are your plans moving ahead?

George Dimitriadis from Templestowe on January 14, 2018:

Your experience must be bitter-sweet. Forced retirement is never a good thing if it is based purely on age. I am 62 and keen to return to the classroom in a few weeks, as I have been doing since 1982. The administration must acknowledge the experience, knowledge and skills "oldies" possess.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on January 14, 2018:

Thank you for your comments. I still have regrets about how I left the school, but it was obvious that I wasn't wanted because of my age.

RoadMonkey on January 14, 2018:

It has been interesting reading about your teaching experiences in Thailand. It always seems that new brooms coming in want to sweep clean anything left from the previous brooms. That is not always sensible.

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