Saturday, October 4, 2014

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Retirement ceremonies here in Thailand are joyous events that honor and celebrate the lives of the retirees in a way that their exit from their workplace is memorable and truly grand. I have been to several occasions in three different schools and I have witnessed the usual routines and yet I never get bored in any of those because I marvel at how they honor the teachers who have served the academe for years. 

Teaching Profession in Thailand

Teaching is one of the most highly regarded profession here in Thailand. In 2006, the Basic Education Commission has approximately 610,000 teachers in its list at the basic education level. This number had a considerable increase in the next five years. While it is true that Thailand has a 'teacher shortage' problem, teaching is still one of the most sought after courses in the universities. In 2007, there were 64 universities that offer education programs throughout the country and in 2008, the Teachers Council of Thailand approved more that 800,000 teaching licenses.  

Highly valued as it is, there are two special days regarded as Teachers' Days in Thailand. First is January 16 which is a nationwide public holiday. Although there are few official commemorations, most schools close for the day to give a one-day break for teachers.  The second is the 'Wai Kru' Day which is a traditional Thai ritual wherein students express their gratitude to their teachers and pay them respects and is usually held at the beginning of the school year.

Wai Kru Day 

Wai Kru is a vital part of the Thai educational system and is held formally to signify the start of the academic year. Normally held on a Thursday, students offer their teachers the following items as a symbol of their respect and readiness to learn:

  • Ixora (Local Name: Khem) - it's closed form pointed buds symbolizes sharp wit
  • Cynodon Dactylon or Bermuda Grass (Local Name: Ya Phraek) - it's rapid growth and resilience symbolizes perseverance and the ability to learn
  • Popped Rice (Local Name: Khao Tok) - symbolizes discipline
  • Eggplant Flowers - which bow low when nearing fruiting, symbolizing respect and humility
On this occasion, the teachers are seated in front of the students who are chanting Buddhist prayers and singing songs that depict appreciation to their teachers. The lyrics normally include words of indebtedness, gratefulness and thanksgiving for having taught them well in the past and wishes of good luck in the future. Towards the end of the ceremony, each student must crawl up to their teachers on their knees with their heads down. Then the students offer them their individual bouquet of flowers wrapped with candles and incense. The teachers receive the flowers and give the students some pieces of  advice. Some teachers will also pat the student’s head to encourage the knowledge to absorb into the child’s brain. The flowers from the ceremony are  taken by the teachers and staff to decorate their rooms and offices. As it is a Buddhist ritual, non- Buddhist students only participate during the presentation of flowers. 

Retirement in Thailand


Thai teachers have a mandatory retirement age of 60. In 2013, there was a move to extend the retirement age to 65 for teachers of English, Math and Science to address the 'shortage' problem, but it is not yet clear whether it is already put into law. Depending on the budget, the government also launches early retirement programs for the teachers along with the lucrative offer of regular monthly pension or lump sum buyouts. When teachers choose the latter, they get around one million baht in cash during their retirement. 

Retirement ceremonies here in Thailand are joyous events that honor and celebrate the lives of the retirees in a way that their exit from their workplace is memorable and truly grand. Retirement season is always at the end of the first term - October. So on or before this month, programs and farewell tributes have already been lined up.

Students' Tribute

The students tribute is usually held during the morning ceremony where students are given the opportunity to do their final 'wai kru' to the retirees. In most occasions that I've witnessed, students give bouquet of flowers, chocolates, self-made cards, customized photo frames and garlands. They also sing songs, shout chants and cheers and do their final bow to them.

Final Bow. Chalermkwansatree students paying respects to the retirees of the school.

Teachers' Retirement Party

In a separate occasion, the school administrators and staff will hold an exclusive farewell party in a grand ballroom complete with entertaining music and dances, great Thai food and fine drinks. This occasion will never be complete without tributary speeches for the honorees and video presentations about their lives while in the school.

Radiant Smiles. Ajarn Puangrat , a member of the English department of Buddhachinnaraj School
retires @ a party in Rhuean Phae Hotel. 

 Teachers' Retirement Trip

This is one of the most awaited events during this whole retirement season where all the retirees are treated for a 2 or 3 day trip with the school administrators, teachers and staff. As we are in the Northern part of Thailand, most trips that I've been in were usually headed south for the cool beaches and delectable sea foods.

Dinner by the Beach. At Bankrut Beach @ the Retirement Trip of Phitsanulok Pittayakom School

By Department Retirement Party/Trip

Aside from the one organized by the school, there will always be a separate party thrown by each department where the teacher retiree belongs. The department party that I have attended made me travel to the nicest places, dine in the luxurious Thai hotels and restaurants, wore fancy costumes and visit different temples and markets in the country.

And in one/any of these occasions, some schools give their retirees a parting gift of gold piece of jewelry (ring, bracelet or necklace).

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What better ways to say goodbye to your workplace but with these special tributes. Don't you think all teachers deserve this kind of grand exit? 


15 comments:

  1. I'm watching Hormones (Thai series) and I saw the 'offering' tribute to the teachers. It was a unique way of giving thanks to our beloved teachers. I wonder why we don't have a grand celebration here in the PH although recently a friend of mine who also happens to be a teacher just recently celebrated the national teachers day. True enough, without teachers, there will be no other professions.

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    1. That exactly is my sentiment RM...I know of several teachers who retired from their respective schools but no special tributes were done. Some retirees throw themselves their own party which is the opposite of what they do here in Thailand.

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  2. Teaching is a really noble profession since they influence not only the present but the future as well. It's nice that teachers are treated well in Thailand until their retirement.

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    1. And it's notable that even at a retiring age, most of them still look dashing unlike retired teachers in the Philippines who mostly are already worn out because of too much work.

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    2. That's a good perk of retiring because they have evened out work schedule. I hope we get their programs here.

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  3. Nice to receive a token coming from the school. :) It really seemed that there's scarcity of teachers there in Thailand bec they have to level up to 65 years of age just to fill the educational needs of the students.

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    1. And who would not like GOLD jewelry for a token? :) Awesome right?

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  4. It's nice to read about how teachers are honored in Thailand. The ceremony is so solemn and I bet I'll break into tears if I was one of the teachers.

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    1. Believe me it feels awkward when students come and bow at your feet.

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  5. Maybe many of the students who pursued teaching/education in university as their course went to other countries or moved to a different career. That's explains why the shortage of teachers in Thailand. Now many foreigners are willing to go there to be a teacher.

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    1. Statistics shows that many education graduates are also looking for different jobs other than teaching. This shortage is definitely an opportunity for foreign teachers like me to come and land a teaching job in Thailand.

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  6. wow! this tradition of honoring teachers in Thailand is really worthy of emulation. Students of all ages owe so much to their teachers who toiled + labored to teach + educate them. I hope they would do this ceremony here, too!

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    1. And I hope our government starts honoring our teachers by increasing their salary. Teachers deserve better.

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  7. It looks traditional but a right way to honor teachers.

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