Boys of Summer

They voted me "Best Teacher".

It's not difficult to be the students' favourite - you just have to be the one out of fifty temps on zero-hour contracts who's on their side and admits the obvious.

  • Yes, the timetable is wrong.
  • Yes, speaking and listening is more interesting and useful than reading and writing.
  • Yes, you do learn more vocabulary from watching kids TV than a textbook chapter on marriage ceremonies in outer mongolia.
  • Yes, you're supposed to spell country names like mongolia with a capital letter, but it's okay if you forget.
  • Yes, this exercise is incredibly boring and doesn't teach anything you'll ever need. So yes, we will abandon it - but mark it as "completed" in my pointless pile of paperwork that I have to fill out but no one will ever read.
  • Yes, the managers are idiots, and so are their rules, and yes, if we want a productive lesson, we have to find ways around them.
  • Yes, the school's very own custom-made textbook which I'm under strict instructions to follow is boring, unclear, irrelevant, badly thought out and often just plain wrong. Which is why we just have it open on the desk in case an idiot manager looks in.
  • Oh, and yes, that other teacher is a complete moron who fills out very neat paperwork but couldn't teach to save her life.
Well, I don't actually have to say that exactly. The students say it themselves on their official "feedback" forms. The bits of paper they fill out at the end of the course, where I ask them to *not* emphasise just how much they learned from the Dr Who transcripts we went through and the Dr Who videos I'm not supposed to show.

I got an email today from someone I taught two years ago - just to say she's taking a baccalaureate in biology.

You can never predict who'll stay in touch. But you can usually predict who'll make progress while you teach them and after they leave. The best speakers have the confidence to stand up and make mistakes, to accept correction...and to not mind that there is no single correct way to say things.

They're also the ones who aren't bored by grammar but also aren't really interested in it either. Which means the best speakers are the worst linguists. Which is why I'm such a lousy language student myself.

Most teachers have a particular view of what students are capable of. Specifically, that:

  • They can learn the base meanings of 10 words at a time, but can't handle simultaneously learning three meanings of one word.
  • They can learn a grammatical rule, but can't cope with there being more than one opinion about what the rule is.
  • Anything the teacher doesn't know how to explain, they can learn by a magical process called "osmosis".

I always learn from my students. The only reason I know about drifting and slenderman is a class of ten year olds told me. Usually what I learn though, is that my book about their language is wrong.

The german word for "bullshit" is..."bullshit". Not even "bulschitt".

And no one has said "Angenehm" on meeting someone for the first time in a century.
In seven years doing this, two students have figured out I'm gay - and both were called Alex. Alejandro, nerdy bespectacled spanish polyglot. One of those clearly advanced-level students who gets miscategorised as lower...and thus gets to be the unofficial teaching assistant.

When we did the dumb lesson on "What do you want to be when you grow up?", he wanted to be a pole dancer. Then changed his mind to "dandy".

He lent me his Jeanette Winterson novel...and I lent him my William Burroughs. He said he was "interested in androgeny and sexual ambiguity...but liked girls". Can you say that in your second language?

The other, from this last month: Alexander, big blond handsome german metrosexual. Straight but loved flirting with everyone - boy or girl, staff or student.

The kind of guy who will offer, in front of the whole class, to do anything - "Anything at all, mein Kapitano" - if only I give him an A-grade. Which he deserved anyway. And he knew it.

I've actually never been tempted to try it on with any student. The idea isn't repulsive - just as the idea of sex with a tree isn't repulsive, just a bit surreal with no attraction.

I guess I'm nonpedagogicosexual.

It's not quite over yet. There's a few classes still running for the next one or two weeks. After which I'm officially unemployed again...or officially emigrating for work again.


  1. Congratulations, Best Teacher!

    And doesn't one have to be from Poland to be a pole dancer?

  2. It probably depends on whose pole they're dancing on.