October 16, 2007

What do “English teachers” get up to in Thailand?

Filed under: asia,culture,Thailand — Kim @ 12:48 pm

My heart sank a little when I read that the identity of the notorious paedophile “Vico” has been discovered and that he has been revealed as Christopher Paul Neil, a 32-year-old Canadian and – yes – an English teacher.

And – worse – he is on the run in Thailand.

This will confirm an lot of gossipy prejudice about both “English teachers” and Thailand. Having been an English teacher all my working life, I am used by now to the occasional patronising comments: “Ah, teaching English are you? That sounds fun…and when do you think you’ll get a proper job?”,”That sounds like a good way to travel”, “Ah, so you couldn’t find a job at home then?” etc. And I don’t let it get to me because I like what I do and because most of the people who say things like this aren’t worth arguing with anyway.

Expat English teachers also have a reputation for being alcoholics, fruitcakes, and/or sexpats. Well, there is indeed no smoke without fire and, admittedly, a few of the colleagues I’ve had over the years have been a little eccentric and fond of a drink.

And I lived in Thailand for a couple of years and am forced to say that in some ways Bangkok deserves its reputation.

However, I could go on at much much greater length about how the overwhelming majority of my English teacher colleagues over the years have been decent, clued-in people and how most of the guys I met working in Bangkok were no more sex-crazed than men anywhere else…but that would be less interesting, although much more fair and accurate.

The point is that for whatever reason even educated and intellectually scrupulous people can let themselves lapse into massive generalisations about a group of people based on the behaviour of a minority of them.

There are gradations of course and I think that comments like “the Russians like a drink” is probably only unfair on about half of the Russian population. But what about stuff like “Catholic priests are kiddy-fiddlers” or “Muslims are terrorists”?

I guess we’ll never get rid of lazy thinking like this.

Some of these comments are meant as jokey/harmless/throwaway and I know it can come across as a bit pompous to call people on them too often. But most of the time it’s just annoying and encourages sloppy thinking and contributes to building up harmful and unfair stereotypes.

I guess the next time I get pissed off with Chinese telling me that “laowai can’t use chopsticks” or “western food has no taste”, I will remind myself how many similar comments get spouted in “the west” too. (Though I’ll also tell them what nonsense they are talking.)

3 Comments

  1. […] You can read more here […]

    Pingback by expressqz » What do “English teachers” get up to in Thailand? — October 22, 2007 @ 10:33 am

  2. This is exactly my problem with extrapohating, and I’ve been surprised that Ryan has been so willing to indulge recently. Awwww yeah….I’m calling you out, canuck.

    I’ve taken a job in an international school. The pay was more than double our university income. The position was the only way that Emily could stay home with the newborn Artemis.

    I enjoy my students, but I’ve noticed that ESL teachers aren’t considered to be teachers at all. Through a number of bungles, I’m teaching 4th grade (Science, Math and the like). Some people tried to welcome me to teaching (as if I haven’t been doing it for a while now,) and I’ve already heard (from our guidance counselor) that ESL teachers are “a dime a dozen.”

    By the way, our school took months to fill the open ESL positions.

    What I’ve noticed is that there is an evaluation by State-side certified teachers as “those who can”. I have to guess that the others are those who do.

    That sure throws a wrench into the old joke, doesn’t it?

    I’ll say that most of the people I’ve met teaching ESL are freaks, but not in an unhealthy way.

    Even you, Arya.

    I hope…

    Comment by Josh — October 26, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

  3. […] as I have written before, I am used to comments like this and I suppose there is some justification for them. There’s no […]

    Pingback by East-West Station » Who “exactly” are we English teachers? — September 29, 2008 @ 12:45 pm

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