Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men (Or: 20 Years in the Making)

Today is the 20th anniversary of the day I started my first teaching job in Bangkok, Thailand. April 16th, 1995. In honor of, here's an update on what I've been up to recently.

* * *

I had a plan.

It seemed like an okay plan, as far as plans go.

As far as my plans go, anyway.

I left my last position in the Kingdom with more than $175,000. I decided to take a year off to do some bucket-list type activities, after which I would get a job in the UAE (which usually have three-year contracts) and hopefully the Girlfriend could come (married or not) and then I'd live happily ever after.

A plan!


I had intended to look for a job at the TESOL Arabia job fair, which is in March.

My only point of reference for doing that was a colleague in the Kingdom who told me that a friend of his had found a good job at an oil company there. I figured it would be a new way to get a job, anyway, rather than the tedious anonymous internet application process.

As the fair drew closer, however, it began to look like less of a good idea. Most of the companies that were recruiting there were in fact for positions in Saudi Arabia and Oman. There were none in Dubai and only a couple in the other Emirates, all of which requested a master's degree as a minimum qualification.

I spoke to an agent from a recruiting company, and she was not particularly encouraging about positions in the UAE. She said that mostly they were seeking women, at the moment, as most of the new students in the UAE were women, and they'd had a lot of applications in the last couple of years from people downsized out of their university and college positions in the UK and US. (She did say however, that my combination of an English BA plus a DELTA is still a pretty formidable one.)

In addition, it cost about $300 to attend the job fair, although that got you a free lunch voucher and free attendance to all the TEFL seminars they were having. "Social Media and Your Classroom" and "Re-thinking the Learner-Centered Approach for the 21st Century" and so forth.

I decided to go to the hotel and check it out, regardless: I arrived and saw a lot of remarkably non-insane looking people with resumes printed on nice paper. Most of them were there through recruitment agencies and their agents were coaching them on what to say and not to say during the interview. There was a line of hundreds of people, stretching out into the lobby of the hotel in Dubai where it was being held.

I said "Fuck it," and decided to instead go on a 36-hour drinking binge with Crazy Bob.


Now if you're looking for a job in the Emirates, you've probably seen the two big recruiters, who recruit through website portals. Basically, you make an application through their website, uploading not only your resume and information, but copies of your certificates and diplomas and references.

So I filled out applications for those two places (I shall not name them, but you can find them easily enough should you care.) And uploaded scanned copies of all my shit. It took most of one day, six or seven hours.

Then I pissed off to Sri Lanka for a month.

Both places said to expect a reply within a month.

One place -- the place that employs Crazy Bob -- responded only by sending me an advertisement for their affiliated online master's degree program, and closing out the two applications for positions I'd made, without any further ado.

The other place -- which is generally better regarded -- called me in for an interview. I was in Dubai that week with the Girlfriend, so it couldn't have worked out more perfectly.

I went to the interview and a couple hours later received an emasculatingly-worded form letter rejection.


Now I thought the interview went okay; perhaps not perfect, but certainly just as well as the ones after which I'd gotten my last two jobs in the Kingdom. I'm better-looking, better-qualified, and better-spoken than a LOT of TEFL teachers. (Believe it or not.) I wore a white shirt and tie and had recently had a haircut.

But the thing was recorded, which I wouldn't have minded except that they had the video of my face being broadcast on a huge screen in front of me during the interview. It made me a little more nervous than I otherwise would have been. (It had a weird bit of lag to it; I thought I looked disturbingly like Max Headroom.)

The British guy seemed to like all my answer to questions about the classroom stuff, but the Emirati guy asked several times about why I changed jobs so frequently and why I hadn't done a master's degree. (In fact, I've almost started an online one several times, and told them about the one I chose and my intentions to begin it soon.)

I had a good cover story, I thought, and told them about my parents' illnesses and my attempt to take my girlfriend to America on a student visa. I told them I was looking for a good position and a place to settle down and raise a family. (True enough, actually.)


Obviously they're not obliged to give me a reason why; there's a lot of room for conjecture. Was it the lack of Master's degree? Probably not only. Gaps in my employment history? Surely that didn't help. Did I stink of the backpacker, with my sunburned nose? Was my fresh haircut a little too cropped, making me look a bit too Aryan?

Or, more worryingly, is the residual creepiness of months of self-employment as a porn writer showing through? (I don't think so, because I was with the Girlfriend that week so I was as well-socialized as I get these days.) My age -- 45 -- is about right for the Middle East. (Young enough not to be close to the mandatory retirement age of 60, old enough not to be too much of a flight risk.)

More terrifyingly still, I considered whether my English Teacher X "cover" might have been blown somehow, but I've seen no online evidence of that, and I suppose I probably never would have gotten the interview in that case.

The form letter simply says that they have " identified other candidates who presented a better fit for the position and thus, we regret to inform you that we will not be moving forward with your application at this time." (Translated: You're a square peg, motherfucker.) 

There's also an addendum that I can re-apply in a minimum of six months, after I "update my candidate profile." (Translated: Come back when you stop sucking so much.) 


The only tactical mistake I felt I made in the interview was being a bit too critical of the last place I worked, remarking that I mainly left due to the pollution, lack of availability of married housing and long-term contracts, inconsistent policies of treatment of different students, and students who were "very motivated not to study." (That got a laugh out of the British guy, as I'd hoped but perhaps the Emirati guy didn't like it.)

With what I know about the layers of bureaucracy there in Middle East, the rejection could have come from a completely different source than the two people who actually interviewed me, and could have been completely arbitrary.

Another friend who applied for a position there and was rejected said that he thought they just interviewed constantly, even when they didn't have positions to offer, so that the recruitment staff could justify their bloated salaries. (It is a government body, after all.)

But the fact that the rejection came so quickly was the most worrying part. Lots of applications drag on forever before an eventual rejection; this was so swift and resounding, though, that it has seriously gotten me down.


Obviously, I see which way the wind is blowing. I can afford a master's degree, and I'm sure it's just going to become more and more necessary in the next and final 15 years of my working life. (This isn't the first time I've been rejected for a job, but it's the first time since the late 90s, when my lack of a CELTA was often-mentioned.)

Both Crazy Bob and our other colleague, Chuck, got jobs at the other place, the rival outfit, without master's degrees, as did another guy I know, but they don't have much good to say about the program anyway. (Still pretty much fuckups, drunks, and a total lack of organization.) Chuck left his position in the middle of the night, as mentioned in my last memoir. 

So ... time to lick my wounds and regroup.

The 16th of April, 1995, is the date that I began my first English teaching job in Bangkok, Thailand, 20 fucking years ago. (If I had joined the Navy instead, I could be retiring with a full pension now.) In fact I am in Bangkok at the moment, staying at the same hotel that I stayed in back then. (More on that later.)

I'm in a much better position than a lot of guys, anyway. Still got some money and options and some years to put them into practice.

When life hands you poop, make poop-juice, you know? Chin up, X. Down but never out.

Not yet, anyway.

20 years down, 20 to go!

As a 20-year anniversary present don't forget you can quite a lot of free books from me:

Get it FREE for 5 days, starting on the 17th on Amazon and it's free to read on Kindle Unlimited, if you have that

Countdown special stars the 17th on Amazon, 99 cents for three days, then $1.99, then $2.99. Or read that fucker free on Kindle Unlimited! Get it HERE ON AMAZON!


Piotr said...

Did you say at one point that you're going to edit the memoirs into one big consistent book? I'll buy it.

Ken said...

I am surprised! A lot of people on the reddit you featured on recommend never paying to attend a job fair. You are perhaps the only one I've read about who has attended one. There was a big one in London recently. I said no when they demanded £225 fee on the door.

TBH you got screwed by a combination of things. The UK education reforms (which cut 6th form college funding in half).

The UK Adult ed budget cuts
2012 -15%
2013 -22%
2014 -26%
2015 -19%

Also the introduction tougher student visa rules and increased fees. All of which meant lots of UK ESOL lecturers and teachers at all sorts of levels were unemployed. Salford had it pretty brutal... after the defection of 17 staff from one college to another they let them all go with one day notice.

So there is tons of competition in the UK and worsening conditions (University lecturers are now zero hour staff what I think they call in the US at will).

A lot of people are choosing to go overseas. A lot of these people do PGCE/PGDE qualifications and do the M component (which means one extra essay per module + a masters level dissertation) and it gets you an almost but not quite free masters qualification.

A lot of the DELTA holders do a combo degree which gives them a masters as well. Back in 2011 a lot of them were complaining that they had to go do an MEd or a PGCE because it wasn't considered equal in NQF rankings (even though DELTA is L7 and PGCE is L7).

Add in the fact that the wild east is not to wild any more with places like China cracking down on Kao Sahn Road degree certificate holders you've got a whole bunch of people seeking somewhere to go.

Though of course there are dangerous places...

I got a job offer in Baghdad of all places recently. I suspect the pay was mostly danger money though but $9000 a month...

englishteacherx said...

Oh, did I not make it clear? I just went and looked at it and didn't pay to go into the main part of it. I think I probably spent about $300 on a Dubai drinking binge, though.

Doi Nak said...

Ken above has it right - Far more candidates than positions, period. Demographics + Supply & Demand, Occam's Razor, blah blah.

As an ETX fiction fan (the travel stuff, not the enema books, ha) I was proud to read about our protagonist intuitively bailing on the conference.

For the interview, in 90% of hiring situations the "team" already knows who they are going to hire and you are just part of the show. Seems like you did just about everything right anyway - the only potential flaw was your honesty. Personally I'd suggest not mentioning any of the family/marriage factors or say anything remotely negative about past employer/students. It's all a game.

I've sorta been where you are now (flush with cash, coming out of semi-independent gigs) and where you wanted to be (girlfriend from overseas acquired & domesticated Stateside) and believe me, the grass is always greener... you know the rest. Just remember our baseline happiness will stay constant - for the most part - no matter what we do. Enjoy the moment... take it easy. It's a chance to do more writing and find something better!

Just to consider: You can buy a nice mid-grade studio condo with a view in Bangkok for 80 grand, land a steady (but low-paying, of course) gig at a reputable international school or uni, and supplement income via self-publishing, tutoring, & consulting. If GF is not wishing to fly regularly into Bangkok, there are plenty of nice, intelligent, lovely others who would/will jump at the opportunity.
NOTE: please revise studio apt. recommendation above to 2 bedroom for 120 grand - obviously you'll want a reasonably sound-proof wall between you and Crazy Bob when he comes to visit. And - shuddering to say this - I suppose Bangkok is a great place to research for your enema stream of fiction (tons of specialty clinics for them) (pun intended).

Everything will work out. You will have more relationships, earn more money, publish more cool books, and receive more oddball, rambling blog comments (like this one).

Now go out there and enjoy some delicious street food, then hit one of those 4-story massage joints. Take time to relax before the happy hour drink specials start, and the real fun begins. Do it for your readers, ETX!

englishteacherx said...

Thanks for the moral support. Actually still got a couple Skype interviews brewing for more positions in the UAE so it's not a completely closed book. I'm leaning towards taking another year off to complete the Master's degree (and live cheap in Bangkok and maybe Ecuador while I do it.)

Ken, could you pass on the company that's hiring for Baghdad? By e-mail or here, as you wish. Not for me, but Crazy Bob asked me recently if I'd heard of any good war zone positions. Someething of a bucket list for him, apparently.

Anonymous said...

Kinda a random question but did you ever consider making the jump to international schools? I'm in the early stages of my ESL career and have been considering trying to make the switch in a few years. Is it something you saw a lot of people do?

Also best of luck with interviews! And congrats on the 1500 words for the new memoir. Hopefully it continues to progress nicely.

englishteacherx said...

Yeah, the old international schools route is a possibility, I've seen a few people do that. Regular hours and holidays, but man, a lot of tests and shit to check.

Chris said...

Spoken like a true TEFLer! lol. But, no, testing is a bitch.

Only a guy like Crazy Bob could essentially list 'risk of getting kidnapped and beheaded by ISIS' as a bucket list entry. Hats off, I guess? heh..

I'd be into a 'Bangkok Redux' memoir at this point. Though, I'd imagine that it wouldn't be the best for family aspirations with the gf, theoretically speaking. But whatevs. I'd do it. Can't speak to Ecuador.

I think that the main benefit to International Schools is that you get to make a first world income, more or less depending, outside of the sandbox. If you want the experience without committing to the educational process yet, there are a variety of private higher end high schools for wealthy kids in South Korea, for instance, who would easily hire you. The trick is staying on top of them during hiring periods. The curriculum requirements will likely not be as structured as in International Schools, but you'll get the general environment experience. It's not bad, I must say. They tend to actually care about you and have large budgets to do so. Of course, you could find these in other countries than South Korea. Finding them is the trick, as they are less likely to have websites in English.

Anonymous said...

English Teacher B Here

I would say that while Ecuador is nice in so many aspects, prices have gone through the roof. The last time I was there last summer so many things were the same price if not higher than in my suburbia environment in the states. You could do a year there by renting a house or apartment at a decent price on the coast or in Cuenca. There are also the volunteer positions in Galapagos that let you stay there for about 3 months before going back to the mainland. If you are willing to teach at any salary, you will be hired instantly with your credentials. You just won't be paid much, but I would say it is better to have something on the resume then a gap of no employment.

I have done the international school route which is not bad, but it is not a U.S. salary by any means (it is usually double the adult TEFL salary for a country which could be a decent salary anywhere). The U.S. salary or higher comes if you have been in the circuit a while and a get into the top school in your country.

If you want to do the Master's approach while abroad, why not go to Korea to teach? You will probably have a decent amount of time to do the masters and you would still bring in enough money that you will be able to maintain your savings and maybe add a little to it. From your writings, I know that your experience in Korea was not so rosy. However, you survived the Sandbox for years, so I think Korea would not be so bad.

If you want to go the international school route, you might want to look at teach Texas and some other Golf Coast States where the teacher certification requirements are not as strict. The nice thing with teach Texas is that you can get certified in a year, and do most of it online. You just have to do the certification tests in Texas and arrange your student teaching experience. If I were you, I would do that and get a double Master's in TEFL/TESOL and English. That way you could teach English at an international school. You could also get a master's in so many other areas like History or other related fields which would allow you to teach in two to three areas at an international school and make you really marketable.

If you really want to stay teaching adults, but have a nice job. I would get the Doctorate in applied linguistics and maybe dip into a master's in English lit as well. Again you could branch out into fields that are related. I see a lot of people here in the states want to teach adults and then complain the jobs are awful when the best job conditions come as a tenure track faculty member at a Uni.

englishteacherx said...

The master's I was looking at was a "master of education in learning, teaching, and curriculum with an emphasis in learning and instruction and a focus in TESOL" An impresive mouthful, yes?

I didn't find Ecuador expensive. Decent hotel room for $15 - $20 and a rice-and-fish kind of meal for $3 or $4. Typical 21st century developing country prices. Thailand about similar prices now.

Still waiting from an answer about the final Skype interview I did for a position in Abu Dhabi, for which they wanted someone to start as soon as possible. Should have an answer by the end of the day.

Chris said...

I like that Masters Degree much better than one in Linguistics or TEFL. It's much more versatile and yet it still encompasses TEFL. Even without the TEFL component, I'd do something akin to it. Also, I think that a Doctorate would be a complete waste of time, money, and sanity for the pay and opportunities awaiting you upon graduation. Honestly, I truly believe that the only people who pursue Doctorates in linguistics, with an eye on TEFL rather than a position teaching linguistics at an American University, are either the incredibly naïve or people who have yet o find out what it is to burn themselves out over-committing to an academic goal. This one would under-deliver for the effort spent. It's not worth it. However, I assume that you know this. In TEFL, I think that it's smartest to do the least for the minimum acceptable position, whatever that is. In your case it is likely something akin to an international school at this point. Though, I'm sure that you've worked all of this out many times over. I'm just stating the obvious.

Chris said...

I just wanted to mention that you might want to look into any age discrimination realities in more mainstream international schools. Specifically, insofar as their evaluation as to when you begin your first year of teaching is concerned; if you decide to go that route. They truly don't really count anything other than real school certified teaching experience as experience. I heard once that they don't like to see a first year start beyond 37-38. That may have been a false rumor, but I believe that my source was an IS teacher. I'd encourage you to affirm or debunk the rumor. I just mention this so that you don't potentially waste any time or money.

englishteacherx said...

While I would consider an international school job, it's not really my goal. I'm aiming at a decent university or oil company gig in the middle east, mainly. I gotta sock the money away.

Anonymous said...

Good lord X. You're doing it wrong. I've tried to tell you so many times buy you never believe me because I'm younger (only got 10 years in this game). The chain schools are TERRIBLE to work at as teachers. But they are decidedly NOT terrible for teacher freaking trainers. And the chain school you worked for in Rusia doesn't qualify. Teacher training is where it's at. Only a sucker works in the mid east as an actual teacher. Difference between Chuck and Crazy Bob. Chuck got freaking PROMOTED. Only then did he quit and move on and is happy in a similar position. Please understand that a lesser salary in a teacher training position is much better than actual TEACHING freaking foreigners. I know you got burned by 'admin' once, but please don't be so naive to think it's all like that.

englishteacherx said...

You seem like you don't understand that I was making TEN TIMES the amount of money you were!!! Are you losing some zeros somewhere? Hmm, let me think, $800 a month or $8000 a month in my 40s, let me just consider that a while ...

englishteacherx said...

Plus, Chuck hated his job, he didn't train teachers he entered test results into computers and stuff.