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.


Some Observations of the Thai Classroom #4 – The Know-it-all.


The Know-it-all can come in two breeds; the cute and enthusiastic or the ‘you are not worthy of my knowledge’ type.  I guess you can tell which one is more annoying to have in your class.

Ask any question, pose any lexical conundrum to the class, and this student will shout out the answer before their classmates have had the chance to comprehend what is being asked of them.  “Raise your hands, please”; the teacher tries to maintain some level of control over the Know-it-all’s outbursts, only to find that they are the only kid to sit, straining their arm above their head, fingers waggling in excited anticipation of being correct, once again.

Fellow students groan at their never ending knowledge.  Teachers try their hardest to direct questions away from them.  “Anyone other than [insert name of Know-it-all] like to give it a go? … No?”  Their position as lead in answering questions and always being the first to finish is firmly set in place.  It becomes the teacher’s objective to not only congratulate the clever child, but to keep them grounded and try to let the other students try for themselves.

Maybe they are naturally good at languages.  Maybe they are extremely studious.  Perhaps their parents can’t afford to put them on a higher level of academic programme.  Private lessons on evenings and weekends often have a part to play.

Extra work is brought to class by the teacher, their key objective of occupy the Know-it-all put into action.  A premature “Teacher, finished!” is met with yet another worksheet, each increasing in difficulty.  Maybe this one will be the one to break the know it all.

The teacher lives for the day when the Know-it-all is stumped by something.  Not that we like to see the students fail, but just for them to be challenged by something and for their classmates to see that the Know-it-all can sometimes get stuck too – they really are human after all.

Do you have a Know-it-all in one of your classes?  How do you keep them occupied and control their ever-raising hand?

This is part of a series of ‘Some Observations of the Thai Classroom’ posts.  See below for my previous entries.

Some Observations of the Thai Classroom #1 – The Buffalo Boy

Some Observations of the Thai Classroom #2 – Keen Bean

Some Observations of the Thai Classroom #3 – The Monkey Boys


Some Observations of the Thai Classroom #3 – the Monkey Boys

Image source: me!
Image source: me!

Characterised by their behaviour, the Monkey Boys operate in a herd formation, claiming the territory of the back left of the classroom.

It’s not difficult to spot a Monkey Boy.  When the class is asked to take out their notebooks and pens, a distinct patch of students will remain book-less and pen-less.  “Mai mee teacher, mai mee…” (I don’t have it, teacher…).  Scraps of paper are pulled from back pockets and uncrumpled to make a start at taking notes.  They will probably manage the date.

Monkey Boys like to monkey around.  A lot of the time it’s fun, even for the teacher.  You can play on it, grabbing them as they swing past to use them for an example conversation or to demonstrate something.  They enjoy high energy games although they often don’t quite grasp the actual concept of the competition.  Occasionally the monkeying around can go too far, and you have to reprimand them – but the cheeky grin on their faces makes it hard to follow through with any discipline.

Monkey Boys like to disrupt their more studious counterparts, throwing plastic bottles at the back of Keen Bean girls’ heads or stealing pencils.  Playground stuff.  They also like to try and lure the Buffalo Boy into their antics, convincing him to do things while they watch on in glee.

Back in the UK these are the boys that I would be working with as a youth worker.  These are the boys who would be given behavioural assessments, the school searching for an explanatory reason for their monkeying around be it dyslexia, ADHD, or some disorder on some spectrum that would allow the school to separate them from the mainstream education.  They would be placed in what is usually named something like ‘the hub’ where they can be offered a watered down curriculum padded out with life skills and trips to the fire station.  But not in Thailand.  These boys are simply left to their own devices in the back left of the classroom.  With 45 other students to take care of, sometimes it is much easier for everyone to leave them to monkey around while the lesson continues at the front of the class.  At least they inject some energy into the classroom!

The curse of the copy cat.

Due to my sick leave last week, my classes were being covered by a combination of substitute teachers and Thai teachers. I’m not sure who was overseeing this class but they obviously haven’t grasped the simple rule of walking around the classroom not only to offer assistance and answer questions but also to spot if any students are copying their fellow classmates.
We had spent the previous week planning a holiday for Mr. Bean and writing an itinerary for his trip. It was a really fun lesson and the students were engaged and got a lot done so I thought it would be nice to round off the mini holiday project by writing postcards home from Mr. Bean. All they had to do was look at their iteneraries and write a little note home, accompanied with a nice picture on the other side. Nice and easy for a sub teacher to get their head around. I’m not sure what went wrong where but a group of students got completely distracted by the fact that it was soon to be Mother’s Day – not mentioned at all in the lesson plan.
The most frustrating thing is that they copied an INCORRECT piece of work. Like they can’t even be bothered to seek out something that actually looks half decent.
Behold; my wonderful MINI ENGLISH PROGRAMME class and their postcards home from Mr. Bean….
Dear Mother, Hello Mother how are you? Mother Day this me hook give Mother happy and health robust very I love mother
I look forward to seeing the rest of the work that was produced in my absence!