"One cannot judge the value of an opinion simply by the amount of courage that is required in holding it."

- George Orwell

"There's no real trick to thinking like an apparatchik. You just keep two sets of ethical books."

- Christopher Hitchens

"Terrorism is the tactic of demanding the impossible...at gunpoint."

- Christopher Hitchens

"Loud, overconfident dismissals of obvious qualms betray the stirrings of an uneasy conscience."

- Christopher Hitchens

"We come to paradise just to burn it to the ground."

- VNV Nation

"Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom."

- Bertrand Russell

"The fundamental defect of fathers, in our competitive society, is that they want their children to be a credit to them."

- Bertrand Russell

"We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practise, and another which we practise but seldom preach."

- Bertrand Russell

"The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell."

- Bertrand Russell

3.14: Quatermass

You know what my most used musical instrument was? It was a concertina.

With one hand, play a long note. With the other, press the button to sample it, then loop it and apply an amplitide envelope.

My other main instrument was called "whatever I recorded from last night's TV".

"Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact."

- Bertrand Russell

"The follies which a man regrets most, in his life, are those which he didn't commit when he had the opportunity."

- Helen Rowland

Class Warfare

The end of another working week. The Dramatis Personae, with their various dramas and tramas, after three weeks all settled into a routine.

There's the low-level young manager who's trying to be the wise old guru. This consists in giving long, ponderous lectures, full of patronising platitudes, to people who know the subject far better than him.

I think we've all worked out how to deal with this 'freely given expert guidence' - stare out of the window until he's talked himself out, and never offer an opinon - because then you'll get another lecture on why you're wrong.

Then there's the highly strung one who focuses all her virtiolic hate on one colleague at a time. For a fortnight it was the manager - she decided he's a binge-drinking repressed homosexual with an absusive father, and probably a sociopath.

Now she's moved on and is ranting about, erm, me. Though I think everyone's stopped listening.

There's the displaced intellectual, with embryonic PhD and 'real career' that's going through a dry spell. The one who sees teaching any subject as a way to teach the high culture that interests him, not what a class of lower-intermediate teenagers from other countries are capable of understanding.

Not without another decade of language study and a college degree before they start.

We've got the plain speaker who bounces between "What you don't understand is that language changes all the time" and "You can't say that! It's not correct English! I don't care that it's common, it's just wrong, wrong, wrong".

And the one who drives for 90 minutes (which he hates) to teach a class (which he hates) on a subject (which he hates) because there's no other jobs around (which he...isn't happy about).

Plus of course the lady who's been teaching for decades. The same dozen lessons, with the same diagrams and 'learning games', endlessly cycled. Also, the only one with the sense to keep out of office politics.

As is traditional, there's the nervous youngster who's already mastered the most important teaching skills without realising it - presenting relevant information in terms the students can understand, and never trying to bullshit or bully them.

Oh yeah, and there's me. Mr laid-back. The one who talks to students outside of class, and possibly the only one who knows how little they think of the school. And the one who yesterday risked showing 20 Germans an episode of 'Allo 'Allo. They said the acting was terrible, but the plot was funny.

Next week...all change. New classes, new colleagues, new site and a whole new smorgasbord of quirks, conflicts and coping strategies.

"Little minds are interested in the extraordinary; great minds in the commonplace."

- Elbert Hubbard

"Until we stop being afraid of death or the dark, we will continue to be primitive."

- Christoper Hitchens

"Marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper think she's a householder."

- Thornton Wilder

"Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them."

- Alfred North Whitehead

"A true proposition is more apt to be interesting than a false one."

- Alfred North Whitehead

"Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time."

- EB White

Scoundrels for School

The trouble with having an all-consuming job is, when it comes to the weekend and you can do other stuff...there's nothing else in your head you want to do.

So here's my list of things I have never seen in teaching EFL:

1) A competent manager. The man (and it almost always is a man) in charge is called the DOS - Director of Studies. Usually they're also qualified teachers, though they think they're above such mundane tasks as acknowledging the existence of students.

I have literally never worked under a DOS who had the first clue about either managing a school, or teaching. Most are insecure blusterers, many are shysters, a few are permanently bewildered and leave all the actual admin to the secretary (who is underpaid, superefficient and a complete battleaxe), and a few fancy themselves as intellectuals.

These last are the ones who try to teach the teachers, preaching garbled versions of theories which haven't been credible for decades, not to inform or help, but to give the impression of being a guru.

There's a special kind of politely disinterested contempt which I reserve for interactions with this kind of pseudointellectual.

2) A hostile class. There are students who don't want to learn. There are those who think they know it all already, and occasionally some who do. There are those who want the holiday that comes with the course, but not the course itself, and those who're full of broiling resentment that they've been forced onto a course that doesn't interest them in the slightest.

There are those who would learn, if only they weren't more interested in romancing their classmates, and those who party all night and doze through the lesson.

None of these are a problem. You can't force someone to pay attention or participate, you can only provide the opportunity for if they want to. Having sat through some worthless courses myself, I'm not going to moralise about work ethic.

There are occasionally problem students - such as those who treat the others as an inconvenient obstacle to their own individual tuition and try to dominate the proceedings, or those who get a rush of power from disrupting other people's learning.

But my point is, if your entire class doesn't like you...if they're all unresponsive, resentful, bored, disrespectful, even violent...then you are the problem. If everyone hates you, then you created the hate.

3) A teetotal teacher. I'm sure there are teachers who don't drink alcohol at all, but I've not yet met one, and in general we're a boozy lot. I've never seen one turn up for work drunk, but seeing one swaying through the front doors in the morning, with flushed face, headache and dark glasses, that's not unusual.

4) A good teacher who's also a normal person.

There are plenty of bad teachers who are bad people - sadists, control freaks, predators, people who've failed at what they wanted to do and now just want someone weak to take their anger out on...and just plain self-important arseholes.

There are also plenty of bad teachers who have nothing wrong with them at all. Apart from the parochialism and mash of contradictory prejudices called 'common sense' spouted by the type who chat about mortgages and life insurance when they're relaxing. They're just boring, interchangable, and unable to quite grasp that anyone could be any other way.

Maybe two in five teachers are adequately competent in this way, but they only educate in the sense of writing their notes on the board for the students to copy into their books without passing through the minds of either.

Maybe one in five are good at what they do. And that can mean either being the charismatic guide of a journey through the subject, or being the inspiration (and safety net) for the student's own explorations.

Either way, it's a matter of enjoying teaching, and of empathy - putting yourself in your student's place and asking 'Where have I come from and where do I want to go? Do I know where I want to go? What are my reference points and cultural background? What's my way in, what's interesting to me?"

You don't even need to be an expert in the subject to teach it well - in fact, very few teachers of non-science subjects are particularly knowledgeable about their field. To teach at an elementary level, you only need to be at an intermediate level.

Every single good teacher I've ever met, been taught by, or had as a colleague, was an eccentric. And if there's one thing eccentrics do, it's clash with each other.

So once you've realised you're a good teacher - and that's a difficult process, because if you really are good, you'll be full of doubts - the first thing you'll need to accept is that all the other good teachers will find your methods and personality bizarre and quite possibly offensive. And vice versa.

The second thing of course is that your manager will find them bizarre and offensive, but that's because all managers are idiots.

So far, at least.

3.14: Ark

I now know the technique of vinyl scratching using tape was invented independantly by many different bedroom DJs and bankrupt musicians, especially in Eastern Europe.

But in 1989, I thought it was my idea alone.

"Journalism - an ability to meet the challenge of filling the space."

- Rebecca West

"It's better to be looked over than overlooked."

- Mae West

"I do not believe that friends are necessarily the people you like best, they are merely the people who got there first."

- Peter Ustinov

"You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward."

- James Thurber

"You call me crazy, but crazy's not so bad."

- CagedBaby

"The crusade against Communism was even more imaginary than the spectre of Communism."

- AJP Taylor

"Happiness is an imaginary condition, formerly often attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed by adults to children, and by children to adults."

- Thomas Szasz

3.14: Wait

Still using tape loops, wound around the mechanism at one end, and a knitting needle selotaped to the end of the table at the other.

Plus a BBC sound effects cassette, drums sampled from the Beastie Boys sampled from Led Zeppelin, not much sense of rhythm, and some help from a quartet of androids from Dusselldorf.

"Arguments which explain everything explain nothing."

- Christoper Hitchens

"Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic."

- Thomas Szasz

"Two wrongs don't make a right, but they make a good excuse."

- Thomas Szasz

Educational TV

Apparently I'm quite a good teacher. And apparently that's quite rare.

Each class gets 200 minutes of me a day. Three hours and twenty minutes of providing distractions, conversations and games in the guise of teaching words and grammar.

That's 'grammar' as in the distinction between:
1) I used it
2) I'm used to it
3) I used to do it
...which took a good half hour to explain today. How would you explain it?

The art of teaching is one third making the students like you, one third coming up with ways to make the time pass painlessly, and one third making it look like you've got it all planned in advance. Any actual teaching that gets done in the process is a bonus for any students that want it.

Yesterday I cobbled together an 80 minute lesson on the theme of comedy - a group discussion on the different senses of humour of different nations, puns, absurdity, and the politics/history of acceptable victimisation.

My source material: Two subtitled Monty Python videos hastily found on Youtube. The Black Knight sketch from Holy Grail seems to appeal to teenagers.

Oh, and I learned one thing in the discussion - blond jokes are international. Whether you're in Kazakstan, Austria or Portugal, everyone knows jokes about how blond women are stupid.

So, how to fill the time? Videos are good, but you've got to justify them educationally. So here's my list of words, phrases and discussion points for tomorrow's video: Doctor Who, The Impossible Planet.

Queasy, Indigestion
Kit, Cupboard
Base, Sanctuary
Storm, Hurricane
Feed, Refreshment, Dinner lady
Earthquake (quake)
Log in/Log on, Log out, Online, Offline
Cattle, Herd, Livestock, Beast
Scriptures, Worship
Impact, Drill, Crush
Cave, Cave in
Black hole
Field (area, Electromagnetics)

Handy: Useful
Track: A piece of music
Confirm: To say yes
Aeon/Eon: 1 billion years
Vacuum: An area with no air
Crave: To want greatly
Trapdoor: A door in the floor
Pit: A hole in the ground
Laundry: Cleaning of clothes

We've gone way out.
Who's in charge?
What the hell?
You're not gonna believe this.
Oh my god.
That wasn't so bad.
Brace yourselves.
And yet...
Off the scale.
Pine away,
...and that's saying something.
I've changed my mind.
Kind of...
We've made it.


Life in space
Home and travel
Good and evil
Language (word magic)
And here's the phrases for the video after that - Doctor Who, The Satan Pit.
Fat lot of good
No such thing
Where angels fear to tread
For starters...
Get to work.
How's it going?
Ever since...
Over and over again
At the back of the mind.
Act of faith
All the way
Go to hell
Yes, I am introducing my students to the world of timelords and Tardises, a founding stone of British language and culture.

"Masturbation: the primary sexual activity of mankind. In the nineteenth century, it was a disease; in the twentieth, it's a cure."

- Thomas Szasz

"A child becomes an adult when he realizes that he has a right not only to be right but also to be wrong."

- Thomas Szasz

"The only person I have a deal with is the person who might read this."

- Christopher Hitchens

"Writing is not a pleasure. It’s a discipline."

- Edward Upward