Nu Skool Breaks

I may be working for the least organised school in the world. In fact, I may be working for the least organised company in the world. But I think I like it.

Not knowing who I'm going to teach, how many, at what level, what age, where - and therefore what - until two minutes before I do not normal in most schools.

I've worked for places where paychecks regularly bounced, and almost worked for places the manager regarded as his personal hareem, but this place seems to "Not Do" forward planning.

Monday was the day for meeting the students - about 40 of them, not including the inevitable few who cancelled but decided not to say they'd cancelled. Actually it was the day for sitting them all in an echoy gymnasium and giving them tests for writing, grammar and comprehension.

Every school does these tests, for the very good reason that every single agency, embassy and parent-slash-guardian lies about their student's abilities.

If a student is "Advanced" according to their official documentation, there's a reasonable chance they can string together a basic sentence - but don't bet on it. If they're "Intermediate", break out the "Absolute Beginner" books.

Of course there's one other group that lies shamelessly about student proficiency: Schools. At the end of this brief course, I have no doubt I'll be expected to exaggerate any small advances that have been made - otherwise There Shall Be Complaints.

Complaints almost as loud as the ones from parents about how we've sullied the little angel's morals by teaching them swear words and sex terms. One day parents might realise children learn far more from other children than from teachers, but I doubt it. There's no need to teach them about sex and swearing - often those are their subjects of greatest fluency, long before they meet us.

So anyway, we gave them tests. Which is to say, management promised they'd have a brand new exam written and published well in advance - so on the day it fell to an old lag teacher to sift through her files from decades ago to find a tenth generation photocopy of and old exam...and make forty eleventh generation copies.

While they were being marked, I helped out in another teacher's class. The student intake averages about age fourteen, but ranges from eleven up to eighteen - in other words, they all love to provoke authority figures.

The attitude ranges from immature to staggeringly immature. Attention span ranges from two minutes to, well, negative figures. Ability to find ways to annoy the teacher reaches genius levels.

Which must be why the supposedly qualified and experienced teacher was reduced to an ineffective screeching schoolmarm at least once a minute.

And why such a person, when faced which a class who swivel on their chairs only when he's looking, specifically to make him react, falls for it every single time.

One boy was in The Naughty Corner because he'd Been Disruptive, and was continuing to Be Disruptive in the corner. While I was minding the class alone, he said he was bored, I gave him a book to read and he was happily quiet.

Today, I got my first proper class.

Five French boys and three French girls. The girls sat in the front row and answered all the questions, the boys sat in the back row and...didn't listen. Often, they didn't listen in quite loud French.

Their level wasn't just below their official level, it was below the first chapter of the lowest level book I had. Exactly why someone should think it was a good idea to send eight beginners to England for two weeks to be taught by someone who doesn't speak French, I'm not sure. But obviously someone had, and the many schools who make a tidy profit out of it aren't going to question it.

I was provided with a godsend - a relatively advanced French student of English as an assistant. I was able to introduce to concepts of Noun, Verb and Adjective in English - yes, I really did have to start with grammar that basic - and she translated.

This lasted ninety minutes, then inexplicably I swapped my all-French class for a different all-French class for another ninety minutes. I soon discovered the reasoning behind this timetabling.

The contract with the agency specifies that students will be taught at least part of the time by a native English speaker - on the intriguing grounds that, not having studied the language at school, native speakers can explain it better.

So the school employs a native French speaker who's quite fluent in English to teach them half the time, and picks up stray native speakers for short contracts to be the Other One. Which means, even in England, I'm the token Englishman.

Tomorrow I'm taking both classes on a nature walk. Which is to say, we're visiting a park and seeing some exotic birds in cages, and possibly practicing our English skills buying from an ice cream stall. The reason for this is...a screw up with room bookings.

With no rooms available, and two teachers taking the day off for their university graduation ceremonies, I'm making a checklist of "things to look for" in a park.

One of the skills of a teacher is to find teaching opportunities in apparent non-events. One of the others is to pretend non-events are teaching opportunities.

We'll see which this is.


  1. YAY!!! Congratulations on the job! And have fun in the park. Why is it you can't walk on the grass?

  2. Congratulations on job. You enjoy challenges, right?

    even in England, I'm the token Englishman.

    brilliant line!

  3. @Camy: Oh you can always walk on the grass. It's just there's an employment creation scheme to pay people to tell you you can't. If you tell them they've done a good job, they'll go away.

    @THG: I enjoy challenges. Most jobs aren't challenges - 'cos there's no solution. I'm not sure which this is yet.

    @Eros: The walk in the park was...a walk in the park. Apart from me getting a bit of sunstroke. But the kids enjoyed it - once they discovered the swings.