Thailand University Teacher Extraordinaire

The trials and tribulations of a young English teacher

Trying to Take Leave

on Wed,Jan,2011

Anyone out there that has a job will be unsurprised to hear that the biggest irritation in my job is management.

I’m actually quite lucky in my job; I very rarely have to deal with management in a normal day at work. So long as I teach my lessons to a certain standard and make sure that all my final grades are submitted in time, I can enjoy working without having anyone looking over my shoulder.

The problem comes when something out of the ordinary happens or when you want to take time off. Everything quickly turns into an extended nightmare.

About a month ago, my university announced that the University Games, a week where students from many different universities compete in a dozen events, would be extended to two weeks, and that all classes without exception would be cancelled. At first glance, this would seem like great news. Every teacher would get a fortnight off from teaching and would have time to rest as well as to catch up with the backlog of paperwork that tends to pile up around this time of the year. The problem is that this pushes all classes back by two weeks (as these weeks cannot  be lost) and the tiny 2 week window in May that I had to fly home the previous year has now disappeared.

As soon as it was finally confirmed by management when this semester would finally end, I realized that the only chance I would get to fly home in 2011 would be during these two weeks. This meant that I had 8 days to arrange leave before the University Games began.

On paper, it appears to be straightforward. I could ask my boss for leave, she would accept, I could book my flight, and then I could fly home for two weeks. There should be no reason why everything couldn’t be arranged in one day.

In reality, it was a complicated affair. I went to speak to Aim, one of my many bosses, who seemed shocked and quite annoyed that I would even think about taking leave with such little notice. She demanded to know why I wanted to take leave, and what I would be doing during my time off. I want to take leave because I’m entitled to it and I want to spend time with my family. What I do during those 2 weeks is none of your business! I diplomatically explained that this would be the only chance I would get to fly home this year and that it would be nice to spend some time with my grandfather, who had been in declining health for the last few months. The second part may not have been completely true, he’s currently in fine health other than a cold, but I was over the first hurdle. I was sent downstairs to fill out an official request form, which would need to be approved or rejected by the faculty director.

Downstairs at the faculty personnel unit, Ning, the member of staff who speaks the most English (almost none) patiently helped me fill in the request form, which was helpfully written in Thai. Through patient pidgin English and mimes that verged on interpretive dance, she told me that the form would have to be signed by the Thai coordinator for each course I was currently teaching. I was apparently on my way over the second hurdle and under a bus.

Two days passed without a mention of whether my request had been accepted or denied or if it had even been heard. Frequent searches of the Emirates’ website showed that only a few seats on flights were still available. Feeling frustrated, I returned downstairs to Ning, who after a few phone calls confirmed that my application for leave had been accepted. Massive relief. The day before I left, I bought some Thai snacks from a local market for Ning, who had gone above and beyond her duties. She had personally tracked down each coordinator herself to get my request through as quickly as possible. So here I am typing this post out from my family’s computer in England.

At first glance, this may seem to have been a slightly dramatic but otherwise uneventful process. In reality, I’ve likely damaged my job security and my standing with my bosses. I’ve now taken leave from work 3 times in the 3 years I’ve worked in Thailand, and each time has been frustrating. Each boss has acted as if my request for leave is a huge incovenience to them and the school/university, and that by granting my request, they would be doing me a huge favour. At risk of this turning into a rant, there’s a feeling from myself and many of my workmates that management seems to feel as if they own us just because we’re being paid a monthly salary. It seems telling that the first question I’m asked when requesting leave isn’t ‘when’ but ‘why’. Because I need a break. Because I can’t always be working my hands to the bone for a crap salary and very little appreciation. To quote my workmate “we’re all working on a very Asian contract”.

I’m very happy to be enjoying some time off in England, but the thought of going through the whole process again next year makes my blood pressure begin to slowly increase.

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