IN MY OPINION
The idea of having a contract between teachers and institutions is that both parties should benefit from the security it provides. Recent contract negotiations at my university have shed some light on the lack of understanding by Thai employers of the plight of foreigners teaching in Thailand.
If you don't like it, go home
Students are always curious as to why I want to teach in Thailand, especially in Udon Thani. To them, the idea of living in any country other than Thailand seems preferable as the grass is always greener on the other side.
Many foreigners put down their roots and look to spending the rest of their days in Thailand, getting married and bringing up their families and finally retiring in their twilight years.
Recently, I came across some Thai employers who don't appreciate that due to the procedural processes of visa and work permit renewal, it is a concerted effort to pick up sticks and move after roots have been firmly planted. It doesn't matter if you are a family man or if you are in your 70s, there is a lot of work involved in moving on.
For those who are qualified and experienced, finding alternative employment is not a problem. However, finding a job that you really want is a different story. The idea that a foreigner can just "go home" if he or she doesn't like it becomes more difficult the longer that person lives and works abroad. I know that I would find it difficult to live in the UK as I have spent the majority of my working life overseas.
Don't look back
When a parting of the ways has been decided by one of the legally-bound parties, it is normally a time for reflection as to why more attention was not paid to the fine print in the contract when it was initially signed.
It is possible to have contracts that are not renewed due to situations where teachers are considered too old or they are perceived as complaining too much or failing to get on with other members of staff. Some localised contracts have just a 15-day notice period for termination, which doesn't leave much time to find another job before the current visa runs out and you are persona non grata.
In Thailand, it is difficult to counter claims put forward by managers as there seems to be no form of redress, and teachers who are notified that they have to leave can face two extremes: either their employers act as if nothing has happened and then they are gone, or they are "sent to Coventry". I am sure there is no such translation in Thai of the phrase "constructive dismissal", but we know that not too many people will be concerned if one more foreigner is "put out to pasture".
A recent article by Thomas Tuohy in "Education" on April 6 highlighted the difficulties in dealing with different cultures in a business context. In my opinion, it wouldn't harm the status quo if more effort were made by Thai employers to understand the "ways of the foreigner" as, after all, foreign teachers are required to attend culture courses in Thailand, and this foreign resource will soon be in short supply once the new regulations are enforced.
Foreign teachers have a lot to offer, and with the correct management their skills can be harnessed to great effect. Having to function in a foreign country involves understanding the local culture. Is it too much to ask for a little more understanding from our hosts?
Steve Graham is an English-language teacher at the Language Centre, Udon Thani Rajabhat University in northeast Thailand. You may discuss matters related to this article, by sending your comments to 'In My Opinion' at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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