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.

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