Getting along with Thai staff at school

 

School is back in session and that means staffrooms will be brimming with hard-working teachers who are planning their lessons, marking students’ books or pretending to do one or the other.

 

Teachers spend about half of their workweek sat inside a staff office.  While a teacher who is new to Thailand has plenty of resources for understanding students and classroom dynamics, there isn’t much out there for understanding Thai colleagues or the staffroom.   We hope these suggestions will help ensure good relations between domestic and foreign staff.

 

Schools require staff and students to stand at attention during the national anthem.  If you find yourself running late for 8am assembly, or you’re on campus at 6pm, stop where you are and stand for the duration of the song.  If a Thai flag is within sight, look in its direction.  Do not attempt to justify silent protest because you’re not Thai.  Most Thais are incredibly proud of their country; any perception of disrespect for the anthem is tantamount to disrespecting the country itself.

 

On any given day Thai teachers will bring in food for their colleagues.  When asked to try some, and you will be asked to try some, just eat it. That includes the florescent pink ooze poured over ice shavings (naam- khaeng sai), the salty fish (plah khem) that smells like a trawler’s bottom deck and anything else that might leave you feeling squeamish.  Food is incredibly important in Thai culture and a bit of an adventurous appetite will go a long way to show your Thai colleagues that you’re willing to embrace local traditions.

 

On that same note, it’s a good idea to bring in food of your own from time to time.  Fruit seems to be the most popular option.  When you see the season’s first bounty of mangosteen, rambutan or ripe mango, splurge and pick some up for our office mates.  Just don’t go too far and open up a fresh durian in the office.  Dried meat is also a decent option and you can never go wrong with desserts.

 

By now it will be obvious that women say ‘khaa’ and men say ‘krap’ when being polite.  Just bear in mind that regardless of one’s gender, male teachers might say ‘khaa’ to girls and women teachers will say ‘krap’ to boys.  This is done so as not to confuse the little ones while they’re learning how to speak and most likely stops after the students have left kindergarten (anuban).

 

Finally, it is Thai tradition for those in mourning to wear black and white clothing, and they are almost always be allowed to dress accordingly for as long as they would like.  Tradition states this is meant to last 100 days, but 1-2 weeks is usually as long as it lasts.

 

We hope all the teachers out there have a great year.  Whatever happens in the office, roll with it and when you smell the salty fish, run and hide!