One of my duties at the school is looking after the Foreign Teacher’s Department. This is actually quite an important job as I act as a kind of buffer between the foreign staff and the Thai administration. When the teachers first arrive at our school I give them an orientation and then we have weekly meetings. The following are some of my notes for the orientation meeting.
Do’s and Don’ts at School and in the Community
As a visitor to Thailand, you will probably make some cultural blunders without realizing it. Thai people are so forgiving that they probably wouldn’t even tell you but as representatives of your country, you should do your best not to act like “uncivilized people”. You should also remember that teachers hold a very respected place in the local community. We ask you to act and behave properly both in and outside of the school. This includes around the area where you live.
The following “do’s and don’ts” are guidelines for your stay at our school. Please don’t look at it like we are trying to control both your school and private life. These are only suggestions that will help you get along better with Thai people. Having said that, you may see some contradictions from time to time made by Thai teachers. You must understand that as one of only a few foreigners in the local community, anything you do and say will be given more notice and importance.
1. The head is regarded as sacred by Thai people so don’t touch the students on the head or ruffle their hair.
2. The foot is regarded as “unclean” and shouldn’t be used to do tasks otherwise used by your hand (for example gesturing or switching on/off appliances). If sitting down, try to keep both feet on the ground. If you have to put one foot up on a knee, don’t point it at anyone or any sacred object such as a Buddha image or King’s portrait.
3. Thai people take their monarchy and religion very seriously. Please refrain from making any criticism against these institutions. Also, any portraits or images should be treated with the utmost of respect. A newspaper with the king’s picture on it or a Buddha image shouldn’t, for example, be used to line the bottom of a drawer or to wipe the dirt from the floor.
4. A word you will pick up quickly is “sanook”. This means “to have fun”. This is an important concept for Thai people. Work must be “sanook” otherwise they won’t do it. Although we ask you to act professionally, we also ask you not to take life so seriously while working at the school. DO have fun!
5. In the West, bosses expect their employees to make suggestions to improve productivity. However, in Thailand, any suggestions will be seen as criticism and are not generally welcome. Even constructive criticism is frowned upon. If you need to suggest or criticize something, please approach your liaison officer first.
6. Do try and learn some Thai and use it in the local community. You will find Thai people to be very enthusiastic and helpful if they know you are learning some Thai. However, please do your best to refrain from using Thai during your English lessons.
7. Make sure you offer and receive objects with your right hand even though you might be left-handed. To offer and receive things properly, your left hand should support your right hand.
8. Although times are changing in Bangkok, signs of affection are generally frowned upon. This includes holding hands with your partner in public and certainly kissing.
9. You need to be aware of the level of your head at all times. You will probably notice students dip their head as they walk past you. This rule includes adults too. You should dip your head as you pass in front of and behind someone superior to you. Be careful during shows at the school. You might have to walk past some parents sitting down on chairs. Although we are not suggesting you dip your head lower than theirs, it is showing respect to them if you at least dip your head a little as you walk in front of someone.
10. Also be careful where you sit. Please refrain from sitting on the ground and especially in corridors/steps as this will make it awkward for people trying to walk past you. Decorum insists that they dip their head lower than yours. If your legs are stretched out then it will make the situation worse. It is bad manners to climb over someone sitting on the floor.
11. The Thai greeting is a “wai”. If any adult wais you first you should wai them back straight away. The exception is if that person is a student. For them you just smile and nod. To wai, you raise your hands in a prayer like gesture to just above chest level and then bow your head down to meet your hands. As a rough rule, your thumb tips should meet your nose. All teachers at the school wai each other in the morning and also at the end of the day. You are expected to do the same.
12. If you are a male teacher, be careful of being alone with a female teacher or student. You will notice that older women will be nervous about being alone with you – they might stand by the door and if they come in they will make sure the door stays open. In Thai culture it is not correct for a male and female to be alone in a room. Students won’t understand that so much, so you have to set a good example.
13. Thai people tend to laugh to cover embarrassment or avoid loss of face. They are not laughing at you so don’t take it personally.
14. There are a lot of rules the students have to obey and as a teacher you have to set a good example. One rule you should be aware of is don’t eat and walk! Then there are things like, take off your shoes before entering a room, walk on the right on the stairs, have neat and tidy hair, etc.
14. You will be expected to dress smartly and behave correctly while at school and on your journeys to and from school. Everyone in the local community will know that you are a teacher from our school and anything “undesirable” you may do (even unintentional) will reflect badly on the school.
15. Teachers cannot wear piercings other than small ear-rings for female teachers. Any forms of body art (i.e. tattoos) also have to be covered up. Beards are also frowned upon. Your clothes must be smart at all times and for women not too revealing. Personal hygiene is very important. Shower often and wear fresh clothes every day.
16. By law, smoking is not allowed in the school grounds. If you need to smoke during the day, we ask you to smoke outside the school grounds and also to be discreet.