Video virals: Thai student swears at foreign teacher

This video has been doing the rounds on Thai news websites and a number of TEFL teaching groups I’m in. Watching it, I was taken back to many a moment in my own time TEFL teaching in a Thai government school!

A loose translation of what the boy is saying, courtesy of Bangkok Post:

“They’re hiring you to teach. Why the &*$@ do you scratch your foot? Do your work! This is my country. Understand? I’m scolding you and you still don’t look at me. Animal! Monitor Lizard? Look at me!

“You’re wearing black. Are you going to your father’s funeral?

“You’re scratching your foot again. You have no manners.”

Although these words might not appear hugely offensive, cultural differences need to be taken into account.  For example, you do not want to be called a monitor lizard (or a dog, or buffalo equally) in Thailand.  The Thai word for monitor lizard, เหี้ย – hia (sounds like ‘here’) – is a very insulting name reserved for the worst of the worst.

He is clearly highlighting the fact that she has no idea about his country, referencing the fact that she is wearing all black (very much reserved for funerals only) and her foot scratching (feet are the dirtiest part of a person and should not be exposed or touched in public).

Thailand is still very traditional in its hierarchy, with regards to age and social standing.  A person who is older than you, and who is your teacher, should be respected – unfortunately the fact that the teacher in this video is foreign means that this basic social rule is turned on it’s head and is captured on video for all to see.

In fact, it’s not the fact that she’s foreign at all, it’s the fact that she clearly doesn’t understand a word of what he is saying.  But even if she can’t understand, part of me hopes that the mannerisms of the boy, the way he is talking at her, sneering and laughing – all of these things would have made me as the teacher realise that he was more than likely being rude.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with what the teacher did.  I’ve done my own fair share of ignoring the negative behaviour to try and not give it the attention it so desperately seeks.  But if she had just looked up from her marking, had taken in the situation, perhaps she could have reacted in some way.  It’s not always about knowing what is being said; the way it is being said and the reactions of others can often be enough to understand.

When I was fresh in the TEFL game my old trick was, if I got the impression that a student was being rude in class (whether about me directly or not) I would pretend that I understood, would looked shocked and would let them know that I wasn’t happy with that happening in my classroom.  Nine times out of ten the student would be guilty and would apologise, the odd time I was met with huge protests and realsied that I had probably got the wrong end of the stick, I listened to their explanation and let it go (even if I still had no idea what was being said!).

The sad fact is that this video is not an isolated event.  The Thai government classroom (at least at high school age) is full of students shouting unknown things either at the teacher or across the room.  If I were to play devil’s advocate I could say that this is a natural reaction of a teenage boy who has a foreign teacher who doesn’t know the first thing about his country or his language.  Perhaps TEFL teachers should be better prepared during training to be able to spot this kind of behaviour, or should understand enough Thai to be able to listen out for insulting or rude language.  But the fact is that this would categorically never happen in a classroom with a Thai teacher.  Was it her lack of knowledge?  Or a lack of manners on his part?  Wherever the blame lies, it shouldn’t be happening in any classroom in any country.

Have you been in a similar situation?  How did you react?  How would you have reacted if you were the teacher in this video?  I’d be interested to know – please share in the comments below.


18 thoughts on “Video virals: Thai student swears at foreign teacher

  1. Thanks for sharing. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated or rare event as you pointed out. I think this kind of behavior is getting more and more common. I don’t know if this is because “smart phones” are the new babysitters, or younger Thais are trying to break out of their traditional molds.

    But whatever it is, I’m getting that unwelcome feeling. And they certainly don’t pay us enough to put up with this kind of BS. I haven’t had this kind of thing happened, but instead, lots of talking and ignoring my slim authority. My dear friend had endured a “fuck you teacher” on the white board. And I don’t care what anyone says, Thais know what that means.

    I doubt the student in the above video will be expelled or punished. But I do feel student discipline in the Land of Smiles will continue to be a bigger problem.

    1. It’s true, the rise of easy access technology will only help the spread of things like this – but in a way at least it helps to get it out there and expose the issues that are clearly not being resolved. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  2. The video has made me a little nervous now. I have reblogged it; I am glad that I did the Teaching in Thailand module from i-to-i! The class is not speaking English…what’s up with that?!

  3. Reblogged this on My TEFL Adventures and commented:
    The video has made me a little nervous now. I have reblogged it; I am glad that I did the Teaching in Thailand module from i-to-i! The class is not speaking English…what’s up with that?!

    I do not take any of this BS in my current school; but then this behaviour is becoming more and more as technology becomes more advanced.

    Let’s just take note people…

  4. This is an interesting post. Although what the student did is in no way justified and he should be punished in some way in order to discourage the behaviour; I do agree with you that it’s extremely important for TEFL teachers to take note of cultural norms such as not touching your feet in public. I would also try and make an effort beforehand and during my stay to pick up some of the language. I suspect that her complete non-reaction is something that added fuel to the fire as well…

    1. It’s a tricky one – he shouldn’t have said those things, she probably should have cottoned on and stopped him. In fact, regardless of what he was saying or how he was saying it, maybe it is a better idea to fill classroom time with activities rather than sitting at the front of the classroom marking work and ignoring a noisy bunch of students…?!?!

  5. The root of the problem is the fact the teacher has attracted adverse attention by displaying her ignorance of local customs. Her behaviour will be considered equally remiss by her adult colleagues who, however, are probably too polite to point it out. However, kids being kids can be relied upon to react as they have in this case. A teacher cannot expect respect unless they also show it and that is especially the case when teaching abroad.

  6. Hello, Kylie! I read a post on a website a few weeks backs that you wrote in being a mediocre teacher but never replied. Amazingly, you started following me and this was a great opportunity to ask you questions about how life is in Hat Yai.

    But, to focus on this….let’s talk about where the student is. He didn’t say it in English. He probably can’t even speak English as most Thais don’t give a DAMN about English (depends on role models, parenting, your circle of friends)….teaching at a vocational college whereas the students don’t foresee English in their imminent future whatsoever, I’ve been called black, monkey, banana, and all th swear words IN THAI by students who fight with their peers once a week. I’m not going to point out faults in the education system but this comes from PISS. POOR. PARENTING. It’s unfortunate when mom and dad has to work in the fields all day. There are even reports that my students are the hierarchy over their parents and literally hit them at times.

    Las Vegas, my home city, it’s full of shootings and random acts of violence. If you want to see godawful parenting, go to a store in downtown Las Vegas and not only you will see the most overweight human beings on earth, but mouthy and despicable rhetoric spewing from their kissers.

    Parenting. If you teach at a vocational college or a school where the students are notorious….that’s what you get. Close-minded fools like you would in any country. But the teacher wins in this case….why? She knows he’s talking a mess of s***…..but not in English. So, what is he accomplishing other than fitting into the 90% of the ignorant population whom might also reject color people from their society? 😉

    1. Aha, you are in HY? When I read that you were in the south I wondered where you were. It’s a good part of the world down there. I’ve flown the nest and moved to Phuket now – it’s just not the same!

      As for this video, I agree with you completely. I think that in some areas there is a culture of not needing English (why would you need to learn a language you never see or use? especially if you are just going to be a motorbike taxi like your dad). In HY I worked out by the airport. A good chunk of the kids there came from the surrounding farms and rubber plantations. They had absolutely no need or want to learn English, and had no motivation from home to do so either. So it isn’t viewed as an important subject, and English teachers are treated accordingly. Like you said, those parents are out on the fields all day, they aren’t around to teach values like not swearing at your teacher, taping it and putting it all over the internet. But then again, you would hope that common sense would have come into play.

      1. I live in Nakhon Si Thammarat which is the epicenter of racial hatred BUT, it’s not the men who are racist! It’s the women! But then again, I don’t necessarily see Thai women all over farang men at less there’s a go-go bar in town. The white farangs here have snotty attitudes and one actually told me about the “no black farang” policy when I tried applying to one of the top jobs in the district so I think Thai women are rubbing off on them. Who knows….

        Anyways, it’s not the fact that I would LOVE teaching great students….because I’ve had the privilege of teaching at English Camps and Asean Projects. One of the biggest Pathom schools in the district had me teach an English camp with 6 other filipinos and 7 other farangs and the students endlessly swarmed me because of the personality I suppose. I taught 6-12 year olds who were just amazing listeners and wanted to learn English. I taught one girl who knew raw emotion through English which takes YEARS of trying to master…..but when you have no role model, no one to tell you what’s right and wrong in human affairs, and a mother/father who’s never around….you live the most pinnacle years of your youth in indecision that will ultimately lead you down the wrong road.

        I love the entire Thai Culture thing. Teachers always throw their hands in the air about “thai culture” and I laugh..because my argument is clear….is it Thai Culture to deny anyone of color a teaching position? *blank stares*……is it thai culture to berate a foreign teacher on a video? So, her foot was itching. I mean…have you ever had an itch to the point it was unbearable NOT to scratch? What if there was a Thai mosquito who unwittingly left it’s mark on her foot and it was itchy? I mean….it’s a terrible argument. He’s telling her about not scratching her feet but at the same time he’s demonizing and now humiliated her worldwide on the net. So, in the end, HE’S the ignorant little kid but at the end of the day…he doesn’t know English. He’s part of the 95% of the population that lives with blinders up everyday….the future is bleak for not only him, but for the vast majority of them.

      2. The teacher is definitely the winner in the situation despite being completely passive/unaware that she was even in a situation in the first place! And Thailand come off looking bad. That kid basically pulled a big fail.

        By the way, if you are looking for work, the agency I used to work for is run by a really cool African guy who is renowned for being able to place people in jobs despite the colour of their skin (how sad is it that there is a need to have an agency specialised in that sort of thing?) – he’s got some interesting stories himself about when he first rocked up in Thailand fresh from Africa too…! I can put you in touch if you want. Not that I’m saying that you need this guy to get a job. Like you said, the kids clearly love your personality, it’s just getting your foot in the door that is heavily guarded by ignorant people.

      3. Wow! Really?! Absolutely! I got the job here initially in Nakhon through a friend. Without that friend, there’s no telling where I would be right now. She’s now in Aussie and I feel that I’m TOO good (not confidence but I believe I’m a great teacher) to waltz in school by school and receive blank stares from everyone there. That’s not my cup of tea. So, absolutely. I would be more than happy to accept that offer because it’s not a nightmare now, but I honestly don’t want to stay in Nakhon any longer and the way the job outlook is going, it looks like I would have to accept a dirt job in the heart of the city making a disparaging salary. I always believe there’s something greater out there for me. If I don’t like it here in Nakhon…leave. Easy. There’s nothing left for me here so yes…..I can send you my passport, transcript, degree, photos, you name it and you can forward it to him:)

      4. If you email me (you don’t have to attach all that stuff though) I can send him an email with your contact details and I will copy you in so you can his his details too. Start of next term isn’t until October though so I don’t know if he will have many jobs until then, but he does supply stuff too if you really are desperate to get out of Nakhon!

        My email: – it will forward to my personal email which I won’t post on here 🙂

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