October 27, 2010

Bureaucracy insanity: What makes a good Thai teacher?

Just when you think you've gotten used to the quirks of Thai society, you get blindsided by something so unthinkably backwards you question your grasp on reality. There's no October equivalent of April Fool's Day in Thailand, is there?


This little ditty is a form a friend asked me to fill out. She is a recent university graduate who just completed her teaching certification, and is now looking for teaching work at the primary school level. When she asked if I would provide her a recommendation, I was surprised that instead of a recommendation letter, or a phone call from the school, I am expected to fill out a form that rates this grown adult on the following  traits, based on a three-point scale of 'good', 'average', or 'needs improvement':

Outer personality
  1. Hairstyle
  2. Face
  3. Teeth
  4. Weight
  5. Attire
  6. Jewelry/accessories
  7. Shoes and socks
Inner personality
  1. Self-esteem
  2. Responsibility
  3. Self-discipline
  4. Patience
  5. Control of temper
Manner
  1. Speaking
  2. Listening
  3. Looking
  4. Sitting
  5. Standing
  6. Walking
Now, I understand the need for a system of recommendation and evaluation. But I was blown away by how pointless and demeaning most of the items on this list are. Naturally, I gave my friend perfect marks by way of protest against such an asinine questionnaire.

Maybe if we want to fix the moribund Thai education system we should worry less about whether teachers wear socks and know how to stand properly, and focus more on, I don't know, modern pedagogical techniques? Egads.

32 comments:

  1. That's probably why tutoring places increase more and more and more! ^^

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  2. It's sad, but I want to laugh; how ridiculous is that!

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  3. Besides that it's utterly, outrageously idiotic, wonder how much weight is given to such a "personality evaluation" -- assuming of course consequential qualifications such as education background, teaching ability, communication skills, etc. are also considered.

    No wonder why Thai education is in shambles and arrested development.

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  4. I want to share a good laugh on this, but it's kind of sad. Where did she get this form from?
    I would love to know more about this institution.

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  5. I would have given her a "needs improvement" in the teeth category, just to see her reaction. I thought การมีวินัย means "discipline" and "self-discipline" would be การมีวินัยในตนเอง

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  6. Strictly speaking you're right, but I'm not sure there's a practical difference. If someone 'lacks discipline' vs 'lacks self-discipline' -- when we're talking about adults, isn't that the same thing? Adults don't have teachers around slapping them with rulers.

    Also, the section is about internal traits, so it just seemed clear to me from the context that self-discipline was the intended meaning. YMMV.

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  7. Now I understand our fellow Thai teachers

    At last! !

    James

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  8. Joe Messervy10/31/2010 1:09 AM

    This is hilarious! I guess a teacher that wears socks with sandals would be given a "needs improvement"

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  9. Unbelievable. Did she have access to any other forms such as this? They might be equally mindboggling.

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  10. There are strange question on all kinds of forms. On the application form of the school were my child studies I had to write down my monthly income, religion, my weight, the age of father and so on. I am still wondering why these things relevant for the education of my child. And if you look for a job here, you get even more strange questions, like "How many government officials are willing to recommend you?". Why would anyone like to be associated with government officials - one of the most corrupt groups in Thai society....?

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  11. The form is a real eye opener for me (and funny)..I'm stil learning! I suspect an old boss of mine may have had a hand in developing it.

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  12. Having lived and Taught in Thailand for 5 years you obviously do not understand Thai culture as well as I do. Thais hold the attribute of beauty as one of, if not their highest virtue. There is nothing "utterly, outrageously idiotic" or "asinine" about this value system it just happens to be different than your (presumable western one). Considering the Thai value system in a larger context, I happen to respect and admire a culture that values beauty over such western virtues as world domination...

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  13. @BKK Teacher:

    I've been here longer than 5 years, though the only teaching I have done has been occasional volunteer English teaching.

    It's true that this post is intended to expose and attack the kind of thinking that this evaluation form represents, but I think you are going too far to claim that I am attacking a value system.

    And I think you are dead wrong to believe that this form is actually about beauty.

    Rather, I believe this form is more about subservience and conformity. It perpetuates weaknesses in the education system that are harmful to Thailand's youth and detrimental to their future. Thais recognize that their education system is sick.

    The Ministry of Education is constantly talking about education reform. It seems they usually conclude that they simply don't know how to make it work. People are set in the old ways of rote learning and little critical thought.

    You use the phrase "the Thai value system." To use this phrase is to claim that there is a single, homogeneous value system, which is certainly untrue. Perhaps you will be surprised to learn that many Thais who saw this also found it idiotic.

    You go on to imply that I do not "respect and admire" Thai culture, which I maintain is patently untrue. I have immersed myself in the language and culture since arriving.

    Then you make the puzzling leap of logic from the fact that I am criticizing an ineffective education system to the assumption that I consider world domination a virtue. The mind boggles as to how to refute such an olympian logical gap.

    Thailand has been my home for most of my adult life. I criticize things when I see them holding the country back. Not because I take glee in mockery, but because I want Thailand to overcome its obstacles and improve. I fail to see how reforming the educational system and employing modern pedagogy can be construed as some kind of cultural imperialism.

    Teachers who are 'riap roi' but incompetent can only be expected to produce students who are the same. And I know Thailand can do better.

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  14. Surely one can admire the virtue of beauty without prioritising it over, say, reality?

    Ooops, sorry, I must have my world domination hat on today.

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  15. BKK Teacher

    As I know Rikker personally I can safely say that you are unlikely to meet any Westerner in Thailand who is more embedded into local culture than him.

    He is not only completely fluent in both spoken and written Thai (to the point that Rikker speaks the language so perfectly he freaks the locals out) but is positioning himself as one of the leading foreign students of Thai history. He is also married to a Thai, has lived in a couple of locations around the country, has two kids and is, to boot, a completely stand up person.

    It is noted that you left your comment anonymously. Wise move. Otherwise you would be ridiculed for the complete novice moron that you most certainly are.

    As for your amoral, depoliticised and deeply flawed comment well, it would be like taking sweets from a candy to tear it into little pieces.

    It seems to me that you're just another fool who has romanticised quite a violent, materialistic culture whose elites rely on bullets to keep power and where beauty is a overly-sacrialised, dehistoricised tradition rammed down peoples throats.

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  16. Hey BKK Teacher,

    Clearly you got your job based on your hairdo, your teeth and how you walk...

    Cos, you certainly wouldn't get it based on smarts...

    just sayin'

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  17. this form is a specific form on personality and appearance and not a complete recommendation. not that i think it is good but it is not as ridiculous as if it is meant for recommendation. perhaps your friend could explain to you clearer. would she ba able to explain anything to her students???

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  18. [I tried not to make a sarcastic reply to the most recent Anonymous comment, but as you can see I failed.]

    Yes, if only she had explained it more clearly, I would realize how useful and valuable it really is! She must be an unsuitable teacher because she was unable to make me see the light.

    You've missed the point. It's not like I think this is the only thing a teacher is evaluated upon. Rather, it is offensive to human dignity that an adult would be graded at all by fellow adults on superficial things that have little to no bearing on how they do their work.

    Honestly, what benefit does it have for a teacher's students if that teacher has good teeth?

    I'm beginning to think this form is a shibboleth for determining who needs to lay off the Kool-Aid.

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  19. BKK Teacher is right!11/20/2010 10:03 AM

    I agree with BKK Teacher. Rikker he didn't say you didn't respect and admire Thailand he said you don't understand it and clearly you don't. Foreign teachers in Thailand are not curing cancer... you guys need to take a vacation and come back to the real world!

    Did you ever notice that ALL Thai students have to wear a uniform? Perhaps you are so "embedded into local culture" that this little fact escaped your observation. Well the reason why Thai teachers have to be judged on physical appearance is because they have to set the standard for their students. Even Thai students have to have a certain hair style. Thai's value these things. Outward appearance "outlook" is very important to Thais, especially things like grooming and clothing. Their society is based upon a social hierarchy and one Thai judges another's social position based upon these criteria. If a teacher does not personally maintain the standard of physical appearance they are not in a position to correct their students and this would be a determent to those students as they progress though Thai society.

    Rikker you also said "I want Thailand to overcome its obstacles and improve" and "I know Thailand can do better." Did you ever consider that maybe Thailand doesn't want your improvements nor does desire to overcome your perceived obstacles?

    Maybe they are happy AS THEY ARE and maybe as a society they value harmony over the turmoil and constant stress of obstacles overcoming and improvement that you would impose on them. It is called accepting things as they are. Have you ever heard about mai-pen-rai?

    Perhaps if you went to the temple and studied the Dharma you would begin to understand that not everyone perceives things though your eyes. I for one like Thailand, just the way it is!

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  20. [Part 1 of 2, because Blogger has a comment length limit.]

    @BKK Teacher is right!:

    > Rikker he didn't say you didn't respect and admire Thailand he said you don't understand it and clearly you don't.

    Clearly. The old "You just don't understand Thailand" argument. I'm an American, we invented national exceptionalism. (And yes, it is an example of American exceptionalism to claim that we invented it. :P)

    > Foreign teachers in Thailand are not curing cancer... you guys need to take a vacation and come back to the real world!

    First, I'm not a teacher and have never been one, so "you guys" doesn't apply to me.

    Second, I think you're belittling an extremely important profession. I know you're using the cancer line idiomatically, but if you permit me to take you literally, I believe that education is far more important than curing cancer. Compare the cancer-curing budget of every nation on earth with its education budget.

    Education directly affects every child in a society, and a large swath of adults.

    > Did you ever notice that ALL Thai students have to wear a uniform? Perhaps you are so "embedded into local culture" that this little fact escaped your observation.

    I snarked at another commenter, so I won't begrudge you your snarking here. The "embedded into local culture" line was from another anonymous commenter though, just to be clear that I didn't say that about myself.

    > Well the reason why Thai teachers have to be judged on physical appearance is because they have to set the standard for their students. Even Thai students have to have a certain hair style.

    I find this argument extremely weak and unconvincing. Teachers don't have to have a particular hair style. How would not being scrutinized for their teeth and weight make them poor examples for their students?

    Of course it's true that most professions in any developed country require you to maintain basic standards of appearance, but how does judging teachers with such a specific, delineated rubric way make them more effective examples to their students than, say, letting them dress and groom themselves, and if a problem arose with hygiene or attire, address it with that specific person as needed?

    > Thai's value these things. Outward appearance "outlook" is very important to Thais, especially things like grooming and clothing. Their society is based upon a social hierarchy and one Thai judges another's social position based upon these criteria.

    It's true, Thais value this. Maybe even more than other countries (though that's questionable). But is there any reason to believe that a Thai adult would not maintain satisfactory standards of grooming and hygiene on their own? Why subject teachers to such evaluations? How would you respond if your employer started asking you if you'd brushed your teeth today? And then required you to open your mouth and prove it?

    The only reason I can think of for justifying such detailed scrutiny would be if in the past all of Thailand's teachers were huge slobs, until this system was introduced, and now they're all neat and tidy. But clearly that has never been the case.

    > If a teacher does not personally maintain the standard of physical appearance they are not in a position to correct their students and this would be a determent to those students as they progress though Thai society.

    Again, is there any reason to believe a Thai teacher would not maintain a standard without close scrutiny? If there are dress standards, make the employees aware of it, but it's degrading to nanny them about it.

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  21. [Part 2 of 2, because Blogger has a comment length limit.]

    @BKK Teacher was right!:

    > Rikker you also said "I want Thailand to overcome its obstacles and improve" and "I know Thailand can do better." Did you ever consider that maybe Thailand doesn't want your improvements nor does desire to overcome your perceived obstacles?

    It's clear that some people don't. But you're creating a false dichotomy here, as if all Thais are happy with everything exactly the way it is, and I (as a representative of Foreignerdom) am shoving changes down their throats.

    Try Googling the phrase ปฏิรูประบบการศึกษา, which means 'education reform'. There are in excess of 800,000 search hits. This is a big issue in Thai society, not Big Bad White Man trying to destroy traditional Thai society.

    A sampling of reports you might read to see how Thais want to improve and recognize the need to change.

    Report from the Office of the Basic Education Commission

    "Recommendations for education reform 2009-2018," Office of the Higher Education Commission

    "Development of a Learning Process Reform Model," Naresuan University

    "Strategies for Learning Process Reform," from a Ministry of Education research report

    Master's Thesis on education reform pilot schools, 2003

    There are dozens--if not hundreds--of Master's and Doctoral theses on education reform. You can search for them here or here, for instance.

    Have I made my point yet?

    >Maybe they are happy AS THEY ARE and maybe as a society they value harmony over the turmoil and constant stress of obstacles overcoming and improvement that you would impose on them. It is called accepting things as they are. Have you ever heard about mai-pen-rai?

    Given the overwhelming lack of harmony and the abundance of turmoil in Thai society, I'm surprised you would even go there. I don't really think this needs serious refuting though. Obviously 'mai-pen-rai' doesn't solve all problems of Thai society.

    > Perhaps if you went to the temple and studied the Dharma you would begin to understand that not everyone perceives things though your eyes.

    You're certainly correct that not everyone perceives things the same as I do. I've never lived with that delusion. But perhaps you need to begin to understand that not all Thais see things the same way, and not all Thais agree that everything is hunky dory as it is.

    I'm not advocating change for change's sake, or to press some Western imperialist agenda. I'm pointing to a specific things that I think need improving.

    > I for one like Thailand, just the way it is!

    I like Thailand, too. That doesn't mean I want it to stagnate as it is forever, though.

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  22. Wow, it seems a little poke at Thai bureaucratic insanity has yielded some interesting comments, Rikker! :) Let me add mine to spice it up a little further. ;)

    As a Thai I find the comment by "Bangkok Teacher is right!" not only ill-informed but also unhelpful and offensive to Thai people. He or she likes Thailand "just the way it is!", including it seems all the nonsensical and destructive things that go on in Thai society. If "Bangkok Teacher is right!" has any critical faculty or real familiarity with Thai culture, s/he would see that an education system that infantilizes school teachers is indicative of many things that are wrong in this country.

    To reiterate Rikker's point, it's not just about the teeth, the appearance and the mai-pen-rai attitude. And on behalf of my fellow country women and men, let me also inform our friends, "Bangkok Teacher" and "Bangkok Teacher is right!" (whom I'll hereafter refer to as "BT Duo") that we Thais exist not only to entertain foreign visitors with our quaintly amusing ways of being or doing things, but also to live our lives with dignity and aspirations that we can achieve our full potential. (Is that a lofty ideal? Perhaps, but Thais can dream too, you know.) Like your people, BT Duo, wherever you come from, we have our problems--some of our systems are broken and need fixing. Unlike what the TAT (that is Tourism Authority of Thailand) might have repeated ad nauseam, all is not smiles and mai pen rai in Amazing Thailand.

    Like Rikker (who probably has more knowledge of Thai culture in his little finger than all that BT Duo have combined, judging by their comments), I expect Thailand and Thai people to do better than this! As a Thai who was born and live here, I understand mai-pen-rai too well to see that it's good for my country.

    If BT Duo are serious about learning *and respecting* Thai society and people, they are well advised to look further and deeper, beyond the equivalents of Thai Culture for Dummies for sources of learning about Thai culture which they claim to admire.

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  23. Are you channeling Vonnegut there, Tom? ;P

    So it goes...

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  24. @BKK Teacher is Right

    There were 200K+ THAI people on the streets of Bangkok back in April/May SCREAMING for change.

    Every single democratic vote in Thailand since 2001 has been about one thing only, CHANGE.

    It's tourists like yourself, with your idealised view of what a nation like Thailand could and should be, and the loonies in the PAD who think that Thailand can be ossified and remain beyond the reach of history.

    And as for Buddhism - isn't one of its central tenets impermanence? I mean at least check out the core of an argument before you attempt to use it to validate your "ideas".

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  25. Oh whatever guys, get over yourselves!

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  26. Rikker, David and I are getting a kick out of imagining you as imperialistic. Seriously I am giggling as I write this. Excellent post.

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  27. Yeah great post. I have never heard of farang in Thailand complaining about Thai methods or not understanding Thai culture. I have also never heard a farang in Thailand proclaiming themselves to be experts on all things Thai and then going on about how they know better and telling everyone they know just what Thailand needs ...never.

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  28. Yeah great comment. I have never heard of an anonymous commenter on the internet responding snidely to someone without actually addressing the relative merits of the subject they are responding to ...never.

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  29. I have to agree with kaewmala. I too am Thai although live and work abroad. To suggest we Thais do not want change is simply laughable.

    Remember BKK Teacher it was part of YOUR culture to send kids down mines (if you are a Brit) or work in cotton fields for zero salary if you are from over the pond. Wherever you do come from you will have had aspects of your historic culture that were wrong! So what did you do? You changed them.

    Thais hide behind the culture argument when they feel backed in a corner. they know its wrong but cannot admit it publicly. Cuture should never be used as an argument to resist change, if that change is for the better.

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  30. Hey Rikker, just stumbled across this post and it brought to mind a document I translated recently. It was a school report rating a primary school student on "desirable characteristics" including the love of nation, religion and king, and the extent to which they อยู่อย่างพอเพียง.

    All the best, aanon

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  31. Gregory Bates7/25/2012 5:30 AM

    I can attest to the problems of the Thai education system, as I have experienced it firsthand. During my sojourn abroad I was lucky enough through my chosen profession to meet some of the more high-ranking individuals at the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) in the บางกะปิ area on ถ. เสรีไทย, if anyone is familiar with that area. Through my interactions with these individuals, I was offered a full-ride scholarship to their international MBA program, the most expensive program offered at the institute. It was only later that I found out that NIDA, as a school, doesn't actually offer scholarships; never has, never will is what I was told. I got the scholarship solely based on the merits of being white.

    Don't misunderstand me in that fact that I am grateful for the education and the experience, I wouldn't trade it for the world, but there is a problem when many deserving Thai students, who are more than qualified for the same accolades, are subjected to menial, low-wage jobs because of the inability to pay for higher education, while I didn't have to do anything other than be born with a slightly different color of skin.

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