- Your brains or your signature -

15th February '18

In my previous two years here it had taken weeks, or even months of managers umming and erring about if we had enough staff to cover, before they would eventually confirm my term off. This year, it was signed and sealed in seconds... literally.

I'd waited until I'd had a chance to speak to my manager personally before putting the request in. And when I did, I handed the form to the admin girl, who handed it to the manager who was standing right behind her. He put it straight down on the table, signed it, and said "right, we just need to get about ten more teachers to take a term off now."

'Well that was easy,' I thought.

This happened just a few moments after the first instance where I'd actually had a chance to get to know this new guy.

I'd come into work typically early, and sat in the teacher's room was just him, and another teacher who I get along really well with, but who dislikes many of the other teachers here.

I guess that you could say that we're very similar in our disdain for bullshit, although where as I try to accept that bullshit is an unfortunate part of life and not react negatively to it, she openly avoids people that piss her off and won't even talk to them. And there is, frankly, a culture of inadequacy among a core group of teachers at this school, that is in some part responsible for our dwindling student numbers.

A culture of tardiness and arriving to class unprepared, and sometimes hungover, and finishing early, and just being generally mediocre at this job.

Yet it's these same people who complain the loudest about the lack of students and the resulting lack of hours, bemoaning others for our predicament, completely oblivious to their role in the problem.

And for the teachers who aren't a part of this group of deficiency, it's endlessly frustrating having to work with such lacklustre peers, but I try not to let it affect my relationship with any of them because... well how is a breakdown in communication like that going to help anything?

I can see the other side of the coin though, where if student numbers are getting so low that it's impacting your salary, why would you be cordial towards people whose own incompetence is part of the reason that you're struggling to make ends meet?

This girl falls into the latter category, so has many people here that she doesn't like. I'm not one of them though, and we get along very well; could talk all day. And as I came into the teacher's room, just her and the new manager were sat there, talking casually, but also rather frankly.

And as I'd expect knowing her, she wasn't holding back her opinions of certain things at this school, and I certainly interjected my view into what they were talking about. And considering this culture of indolence, it was about twenty minutes before anyone else arrived, so was by far the most I've got to know my new manager since he arrived and...

I'm still not sure.

They say that the first step to solving any problem is admitting that there is one. And where as the previous manager had turned a wilful blind eye to this unprofessional culture, this new guy didn't seem quite so accepting. He was very aware of it and seemed somewhat pissed off that it was even up to him to fix it. He certainly felt that his predecessor should have done a better job.

I don't blame him for that, although I can understand why my previous manager wouldn't want to be seen as a tyrant as well.

But this girl then quipped that there wasn't much that could be done about it; that people can act this way without consequence.

"It won't be without consequence anymore," the manager responded.

He continued to say that we simply have too many teachers right now, and although he was hoping that numbers would lessen voluntarily, it's getting so desperate that won't actually be the case.

I can't remember the exact words that he used, but it was basically that he's going to have to start firing people. We have too many teachers here.

Damn, that's... kind of strong. But I don't think that you put something like that out into the ether unless it's true, so my feeling of job security suddenly lessened greatly.

Based on how I've just portrayed a large portion of the teachers here, and how I'm yet to ever go to a class late or unprepared or take a sick day, I would hope that I'm safe from any cull but... well the downside to this regular turnover of managers is that my previous diligence is valueless. So I not very subtly made reference to it in this conversation instead.

And with this impending thinning of our workforce, maybe I should start trying to project myself as a hard-working, dedicated teacher.

And then I asked him if I could take a term off.

Based on current circumstances, I think that anyone would be a fool to look at this as a long-term job. My real hope is that I can keep this job of free time for long enough to make an earnest crack at app development. And regardless of how that turns out, it'll probably be time to move on anyway. Either going back into education (my last resort), or moving forward with app development in the unlikely event that's showing signs of being lucrative. And I just want a year or two more in this job to allow me to figure that out.

I should see everything clearly in 2020.

Will I get those two years?

My belief that I will isn't what it was before this conversation.

With my term off confirmed, I didn't see any need to wait to book flights. Prices were lower now than what I'd paid last year, and I was determined not to make buying flights into the weeks or even months-long process that I tend to do, by watching prices, and seeing how they change, hoping to catch a better deal.

It's perhaps a sign of maturity that I just wanted to get my flights booked as soon as possible, and it was worth potentially paying a few £££ extra to get it done and out of the way quickly.

I could have saved about £100 by transferring in India but... fuck I must be getting old, because £100 for the comfort of flying direct seems quite good value for money to me nowadays. And ruling-out any transfers, only three airlines fly direct from Bangkok to London. So I checked Eva Air and BA (I didn't even bother checking Thai Airways). Eva Air was slightly cheaper, I've flown with them on multiple occasions before and always had a good experience, so I decided on my dates, again not feeling the need to spend weeks mulling over the odd day or two. And I booked my flights.

It took a total of about twenty minutes.

Fuck I'm proud of myself. Two years ago that would have taken me months.

At check-out there was a condition that 'you must use a credit card with the card number and name stamped into it,' of which on my card they aren't. I was determined to book this flight quickly though and... well they've never checked my credit card before. This was the same card that I booked with last year so... at least it'll give me something to worry about for the next six months, so that's nice.

If I'm standing in the airport crying six months from now because they won't let me on the plane though... you'll know why.

My poor Thai bank account. First it had to pay for a MacBook, now for a flight to London. And seeing as all the money in that account is money I've saved from a job where I don't start until 6:45pm everyday... man, no wonder they're going out of business.

In all seriousness, it's more a testament to how careful I am with money than being overpaid by the school, evidenced by people working far more than I do, still always hurting for funds. Mainly because they drink it away, although don't tell them that.

But I can't help sometimes, looking around at my peers, continually taking sick-days, being late to work, looking constantly tired, planning classes like it's their first time ever doing it, looking stressed all the time and just thinking... man, you guys are just really bad at life.

Life is about your ability to adapt, and if you face problems, how do you overcome those problems; what solutions can you find?

Like they'll get sick, moan that they've got sick, take a day off work because they're sick, take medicine to hide the fact that they're sick... but do nothing to fix why they actually got sick in the first place. They'll continue smoking, continue drinking, continue eating shit, and then complain that they got sick again the next month and you're sat there watching this like... how are you so bad at this? How have you not made this connection yet?

Based on that, my utopian existence is one where I'm not impacted by the short-sighted decision making of other people and...

"In programming it's great that you don't get to blame anybody else other than yourself for anything that goes wrong."

This was a quote said in jest, as a part of the £7.55 course that I'm doing. And it made me think, that maybe an unconscious reason that I'm attracted to solo app developent is that, by having to only trust in myself, I could escape the sufferings of the incompetence of others.

Is that an arrogant thing to say on my part?

Probably is but... fuck, sitting in the teachers' room at work can be insufferable sometimes.

I'd intentionally kept the 'people are going to start getting fired' rhetoric to myself because... well I didn't see how it being out in the open would help anything, and for several days it didn't surface. In the teachers' room on Sunday though, I came in on my break in the middle of a conversation, and one of the teachers was talking about how he'd been told by the manager that he was going to be sending-out a 'bad' email on Sunday night.

He hadn't sent it on Saturday, apparently because he wasn't going to be in the school on Sunday, and wanted to be around the next day to answer any questions. So he'd waited, but apparently was going to be sending-out a bad email on Sunday night.

I'd kept these impending firings to myself, but he'd obviously said something to at least one other person, with one teacher claiming that he was told that 'five teachers are going to get fired.'

Obviously this led to rampant speculation about what this email would contain, which became somewhat toxic, because people have a tendency to fear the worst. And actually having that number 'five' out there, whether accurate or not, you could kind of see people looking around the teachers' room, eyeing each other up, thinking... 'if there are five, would I be among them?'

I can't stress enough the mismanagement that this school suffers from head office, known colloquially as "The Other Side," because my school is physically split in half, and all of the upper managers work on the other side of the building. Given the way they operate though, I suppose that 'The Other Side' could also be used metaphorically.

Among their genius decisions, we have an apparent seven-member 'PR' department who... have no PR experience, and are tasked with... no one really seems to know. They're not allowed to advertise. So they endlessly come up with gimmicks like themed "parties" (like this month is Valentine's), that do nothing to help, and in fact probably hinder, students' abilities to learn English.

Which should, with this being an English school, be the primary concern of everyone. But like I said... things have gone off the rails. They're so desperate to get student numbers back up that they've completely lost focus of the fact that people come here to learn English, not for some retarded Valentine's-themed games.

Just my opinion, but if I went to an English school, the only thing that would determine if I decided to stay again the next term, is how much my English improved. And if I was taken out of classes that I'd paid for, to partake in some themed games that have nothing to do with English then...

I'll politely say that I don't necessarily agree with all of the decisions that get made.

There's this hive of activity and expense that does nothing to help students learn English, and yet we're going to start firing the people that actually have the ability to teach it to them. Genius. Just how you want an English school to be run.

If that same expense was put into improving the classrooms, for example... well, it's their decision to make, that's why they get paid the big bucks. And why all our students are leaving, but don't tell them that.

But a part of this term's education-impairing activities, was a ballot asking the students to name the 'Teacher in my heart.'

I won't reveal too much, but I will say that in the distant past (a decade or so ago now), my school had a... colourful teacher. Typing 'John Wrenshall' into Google will probably tell you what I'm referring to. And so having these students, who go as young as fifteen in the adult classes, and younger in the juniors classes, vote on the 'Teacher in their heart', with love hearts all around the paper, it... made some teachers feel uncomfortable. Many, like me, just steered clear of them. I had no choice but to give these papers to my students, but I didn't even tell them how to fill them out or what to say. And the teachers who ultimately won this paedophilic ballot, were just the ones who felt the least uncomfortable about it.

Whoever came up with that idea should be shot.

But then suddenly, as we're stood in the teachers' room on Sunday, someone joked that "the five teachers who got the least votes are going to be the ones that get fired."

Fuck I hope that my manager has more common sense than that, but seeing as Valentine's day has been and gone, and nothing got made of these ballots, I fear that they really were a thinnly-veiled popularity contest.

I don't know who came up with those forms; I don't know for sure that it was my new manager. But something that led me to believe that it probably was, was that over the weekend a very similar set of ballot papers appeared in my locker.

Like normal, there was absolutely no instruction of what we were supposed to do with them. Do we collect them afterwards? Do the students hand them in somewhere?

As is the case with this school, there is never any instruction given, so you just have to figure things out by yourself, which basically just means that everyone does something different.

But on this paper was a question asking these weekend students whether or not they'd prefer to study three hours per day, one day per week for ten weeks, or two and a half hours per day, two days per week for six weeks. And... well seeing as many of our weekend students are teenagers, forced to be here by their parents, what do you think that they're going to choose?

And what made even less sense to me, is that ten classes... for three hours each? Why not just do twelve classes for two and a half hours each?

Our terms are split into six weeks. Over those six weeks, we teach twelve double-pages of a text book. Twelve is a perfect number. It fits into both of those. Doing these classes over ten weeks, it's kind of forcing a round peg into a square hole because... when the teacher finishes their ten weeks, it'll be the middle of the term, they won't be able to get any more classes. Our teaching slots are all two and a half hours as well. It's just...

Again, I'm not paid to make these decisions, so I won't question the logic of them but...

To put it politely, I'd seen more head-scratching decisions already this term, than in the previous two and a half years combined.

I could just go down the list of things happening, and be like... 'that's a bad idea because... and that one's a bad idea because... and that one won't work because...'

I would like to think that these decisions were being made by people with a higher intelligence than myself, and that I just couldn't forsee the reasons for them. I wasn't feeling like that was the case though.

Do you remember how I said in the last blog that reception had started closing at 7pm, despite most of our students learning from 6:45pm to 9:15pm?

I don't know if that was always supposed to be temporary, or my manager realised that it was a bad idea and reversed that decision. But regardless, it was concerning to think that there wasn't the foresight to think that it would be a problem. If you needed hind-site to realise something that obvious, then maybe decision-making isn't your forte. And all of these other decisions were being made, where there were just such obvious problems with them...

It's like I said in the last blog, I'm yet to see any evidence from this manager of the ability to process consequence. Things aren't being thought through. And well it's frankly scary, that someone demonstrating such an inability to foresee the consequences of his actions, is openly talking about firing people.

It's terrifying actually. Losing your job has far greater consequences in a foreign country than when you're at home.

If things are done by the book, you lose your job and have mere days to leave the country. You can likely return on a tourist visa to tie-up any loose ends or look for a new job, but it's still far more disrupting that losing a job in your home country. And now someone that couldn't see that closing reception when the majority of our students were at school was a bad idea, is talking about firing people?

As I was sat on the toilet in my apartment, thinking about that, my phone 'bing-bonged' with a notication titled 'An unpleasant email:'

'There must be a reduction of teaching staff at [school name].'

Well that's a pleasant thing to read. It didn't say how much of a reduction, so this number 'five' is little more than hyperbole at this point. But it did say, more or less, that starting next term, performance is going to be assessed. And what will come of the lowliest performers?

I think that answer was implied.

I didn't approve so much of the quote that 'Everyone has a clean slate and I've not looked at any previous observations,' because for the last two and a half years, I've not taken a day off or ever gone to class late or unprepared. And the fact that all of this is ignored, is a bit of a kick in the teeth to my previous hard work.

Although I did kind of appreciate that he seems to have a disregard for seniority, because if this decision was based purely on tenure, I think that I'd just be in the bottom five.

Not at my branch specifically, but many of the teachers we've taken on board in my time, transferred here from other branches so probably outrank me. So I guess that you take the good with the bad.

And it does demonstrate the discord between management, when just two terms ago, two new teachers were hired. And now we're so overstaffed that five have to be fired.

So yeah... it's fun at work. Morale is at an all time high.

I'm not really letting it bother me to be honest. You've got to live with the hand you're dealt, and if I have to find a new job... well it's not the end of the world, so I'm just getting on with things, because despite the way this blog has sounded, I've actually really enjoyed this term. I'm sad that it's soon coming to an end. All the bullshit that I've detailed in this blog hasn't once taken the smile from my face.

I've found a nice balance to life, and I didn't even have the typical lull in mood that most people seem to suffer at around week four.

My PS4 is basically non-existent to me now; I'm spending my free time when I get it, on my app development course, which is challenging me mentally. I'm exercising and eating with more unpredictability, which makes it more demanding and exciting. There's no monotony to it. I haven't had a second of boredom this term, yet I haven't once felt stressed either.

Even now, I'm suffering from an identical rib injury, but on the other side, to a couple of blogs ago. Done in the same way, in the same yoga pose and... are you fucking kidding me? But it's meant that I haven't been able to exercise for a few days, which again, adds variety and allows me to do things like write this blog. My body probably needed the rest anyway.

Even injuries have been coming at the perfect time. This term's been great, and it's almost over fuck's sake.

With the abolition of preference forms (and don't mistake my manager's reference to them in the email; he just means the slips of paper that we signed for the whole year), I highly doubt that my schedule next term will allow me to live the same way as this term so... I kind of want this term to just keep on going.

All good things must come to an end though. And with a week-off next week, there isn't even a thought of me going away anywhere.

Not only is my bank account suffering, but I didn't quite appreciate what I was getting myself into when I bought this £7.55, 49 hour course, which as I said in the last blog, translates to more like 150 - 200 hours in practice.

I'm trying to do an hour per day. And even though I could force myself to do more, a person can only focus for so long everyday. And I don't want to try and learn things so complicated when I'm of anything but sound mind.

Without the distraction of my job though, I'm hoping that I can make significantly more progress by staying here for the week off.

I'm currently 26% of the way through this course, so I've got April in my head as a realistic target to have finished it by. And by staying here for the week off, I actually give myself a chance of doing that. So I won't be going on holiday anywhere. That's kind of become normal for me.

Apart from my annual trip to London, I haven't gone anywhere during my week off since last February I think. Mainly because whenever I do, staying in cheap hotel rooms and struggling to find decent food, I regret not being in my nice apartment with its kitchen. And that's ok.

I kind of like it that I enjoy where I live so much.

The next day at work, people were actually more upbeat that I'd anticipated. But you could definitely feel an underlying tension.

The ideal scenario when things are tough, is that you want people to pull together and help each other to make things better again, meaning working together to get student numbers up. What this email did kind of had the opposite effect, because now people were talking about who should go, and instead of helping each other to raise the collective standard, there was more an attitude of who's the weakest link.

I've said before how there are two teachers' rooms at my school, and that I am quite literally the only teacher who spends time in both of them.

I get along with everyone perfectly well, so just go into whichever room I feel like that day. That usually means the room with the most free table space.

No one else is like that though. It's almost tribal; they're either a part of one staff room or the other.

And on this day, I spent time in both rooms, and was party to snide comments aimed at the other room from both sides.

That's not uncommon anyway, given the peculiar nature of this school. But this email amplified it.

The older teachers were, justifiably so, taking aim at the younger teachers for having a bad record of punctuality and absenteeism. The younger teachers were, justifiably so, taking aim at the older teachers for their lack of flexibility and willingness to only work certain hours.

The latter of those has been a problem since long before I started here. The longest-tenured teachers have felt that they have the right to work at the most desirable times (mornings), based upon their incumbency, and have invariably got their wish.

Well apparently on this morning, they'd all gone to the manager and told him that 'actually, we are available to teach at other times after all.'

Well I'll be damned. A years-old problem, fixed by a single email.

Say what you will about the methods of this new manager, and I'm yet to be convinced by the way he's going about things. Say what you will though... well this was effective.

It remains to be seen if this email causes more problems than it fixes, because the tension was palpable in the school on this day. But... well a long-standing problem, fixed by sending a single email. Props to him for that.

It does beg the question of whether the method is irrelevant, so long as it gets the desired result. And it kind of reminded me of the scene from The Godfather, where 'either your brains or your signature will be on the contract.'

Comply or die.

A part of me wants to believe that my new manager's an evil genius. That we're all playing checkers while he's playing chess, and actually there is no prospect of anyone getting fired, he just did this as a means to get people to do their jobs properly, in which case... bravo sir.

And there is some indication that's the case.

One teacher was told that he couldn't take term 4 off (our busiest term) because there wouldn't be enough teachers to cover him. On weekends, where the money is better, one teacher this term has three classes. That's never happened before. And if money really is so tight, then why did the school's teacher trainer, who I have a mixed opinion of, just get to hire her own foreign assistant.

All she does is host a workshop every few weeks, and not all of them are very good. We all host classes everyday and don't feel the need to have an assistant so... why is she getting one if money is so tight?

There are indications that we aren't as overstaffed as we're being led to believe, and that this was just a ploy to get people to start doing their jobs properly, and if it was... well fuckin' eh, it got the desired result.

Unfortunately I don't think it's the case though, and I think these are just other indications of even more mismanagement. The fuck does this girl need an assistant for? To help her plan the one class she teaches every four weeks?

Regardless, with teachers actually attempting to do their jobs well for once, it might help with our declining student numbers slightly. Although did you notice the quote from the email 'You might be wondering what "the other side" is going to do. I can tell you: nothing.'

That one quote signifies the real problem that we have here.

Maybe we'll get a slowing decline in students if the teaching staff start acting more professionally. Numbers aren't going to go up until this school stops being mismanaged from the top though. And neither this new manager nor anyone else is willing to tell them what they're doing wrong; you don't really do that in Thai culture.

For better or worse, you don't question your boss here, so for all this tension and change and stress that we're enduring now, which might ultimately yield small results, it won't change anything in the grand scheme of things. It's all a waste of time, really.

That was the most telling part of this email. I might lose my job. Other might lose their jobs. That'll impact me obviously. But in the grand scheme of this school, 'I can tell you what the other side is going to do: nothing.' That says all you really need to know.

For me the focus is just... can I get the two more years out of this job that I'm hoping for?

And where as prior to all that I've detailed in this blog, I was optimistically hopeful that the answer would be 'yes'. Now... it's maybe 50/50.

I've often longed for someone to fix the problems of this school, and to do something about the unprofessionalism of other teachers because... well it reflects badly on me when others don't do their jobs. But I guess you've got to be careful what you wish for, because I didn't want to have a sword of Damocles hanging over my own head in the process but... it is what it is.

All you can really do is make the best of the situation that you're in. No point dwelling on how you got there.

What will be will be, and if I do find myself jobless in the near future, then I'll make the best of it and maybe move onto something better.

That's the way that I wish I'd been able to write this blog, because that's how I've felt all term. It's been a great term, nothing has stopped me from smiling or feeling positive. It was just hard to frame all of this in a positive light. So I hope that it didn't all sound too bad.

"Stop trying to find yourself, start trying to define yourself" (Matt Brown) was a quote that I heard this week that I rather liked.

And one thing that's actually kind of impressive, is do you remember how I said that my current manager is actually managing two branches. Well as he told me and this other girl when he was talking to us, of the two applicants that applied to fill his role at his other branch, neither was qualified so he's going to be managing two branches indefinitely.

Considering that and various management meetings/commitments (he's had to go away twice this term), he's probably only been into my centre on maybe ten different days.

All of this furore, by only coming here ten times.

He gets things done, I'll say that much for him. He does get things done.

I'm yet to be convinced that he gets things done positively or thoughtfully but... well I'm being as open-minded as I can. There are some positives to take from all of this, so I'll hang onto them.

At least until I get my next schedule, and I don't have time to exercise or work on my course anymore because we no longer have preference forms, so my mood turns to shit and I hate the world but... I'll wait until I get my next schedule before then.

For now I'll enjoy the last few days of perhaps the most enjoyable term that I've had at this school, and look forward to a week-off of doing nothing but exercising and working through my course.

And believe it or not, I'm actually looking forward to that.