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.

 

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