Sunday, May 31, 2009

Summer School Saturnalia [Revisited]

In my previous posting about the sheer folly of committing yourself to a six-week sentence on a residential Summer School, I promised (threatened?) to spill the beans on those other clowns in the equation, your ‘professional’ EFL colleagues. So, here it is, the uncut version. By the way, if you think you can recognise any of your former colleagues here (see picture alongside!), or yourself even, you’re probably right.

Your crackpot colleagues, that mixture of the innocent and the despicable, who have all been mad enough to make the same stupid commitment that you did, will very probably come in three general types: the frequently drunk, the seriously alcoholic, and the totally psychotic. While you’re far more likely to meet the first two types, it’s the third that you really want to look out for, as he (it’s always a bloke) is by far the most dangerous.

Anyway, let me explain in historical terms, as I describe the very first Summer School that I ever did, somewhere near fashionable Folkestone, back in 1990. Our Director of Studies there was a diminutive Scottish guy called Derek, and while he seemed alright at first, it soon became clear that our Derek had a few, erm, ‘medical’ problems.

For starters, he was often a bit unsteady on his legs by lunchtime, and tended to disappear during the afternoons. Then, some time between six and seven o’clock, he would make a spectacular reappearance, usually by crashing into the photocopier, or falling down the stairs. His character would often oscillate between being overtly pally to bawling at people for minor misdemeanours, like leaving a window open, or a door unlocked.

Of course, poor Derek was a sad alcoholic, but did his darnedest to try and hide it. He would even tag along with the teachers to the pub in the evening, as if he hadn’t had enough during the day, and usually rounded off the evening by abusing a few staff members, who meekly accepted it as if it had been written into the job-description. Some nights he would come charging through the teachers' quarters, all lit up on liquor, bellowing that he’d been let down again by a bunch of no-hopers who couldn’t teach a baby to shit.

One night we’d all had enough of our dearest Caledonian Del-boy and his unwanted attention, so we slipped out of the Friday night end-of-course disco one by one, at two or three minute intervals, with the intention of reassembling at the local curry house. And so we did. Only, Derek turned up too, just as we were tucking in to the steaming vindaloos and tandoori chicken, and proceeded to abuse us again for being ‘a fine bunch of mates, leaving me alone like that’.

Well, I’d had enough – in both senses. So I stood up and told him straight that we didn’t like him, didn’t want to be with him, and he could fuck off back to the school right there and then. But he didn’t. Amazingly, he just plonked himself down at an adjacent table, ordered himself a meal, and sat there all by himself, cursing us roundly between mouthfuls of curry. Oh, you poor abandoned soul, Derek!

Then there was Ipswich man, a few years later. Now, he wasn’t so much the alcoholic, more the psycho type – but with a drink habit on top. I saw him ranting one day, his eyes rolling as he was telling some unfortunate Spanish kid of about 10 that Ipswich Town were the best team in the world, and England too, because Alf Ramsey had been their manager. Thrilling stuff, I thought, I’m sure Pablo will appreciate that nugget of wisdom. But it was his habit of rolling fags and ‘prowling’ around the school grounds after dark that marked him out as a true weirdo.

Then one day, on an excursion, Ipswich man abandoned his charges and disappeared for a couple of hours. When he later re-emerged by the coach, he had a few cans of Stella in his hand, and plenty inside him, obviously. On the ride home he started singing, all by himself, and bawdy footy songs, no less. Another clearly disturbed chap, in this case he just had to be given the push.

The saddest thing was that he abandoned his room in such a rush that he left most of his personal belongings there, including his degree certificate (not bad – a 2:2 from Sheffield University) and letters from his parents, indicating their concern for his mental health. Another poor sod – I do sometimes wonder how he’s coping, or whether he’s still alive.

Look, I could go on with similar tales, but I’m sure you get the picture. However, I have left the worst to the end. It’s a case of a guy who, upon arriving on site, appeared to be a bit of a bible-basher, what with his habit of lifting quotes from the Testaments old and new. However, the staff started to become more than just a little agitated when he decided that the building, along with some of its occupants, needed exorcising. This one was clearly not the average Tefl nutter.

Just as our Loony Lord was in the midst of terrorising all the teachers, the cavalry arrived: four burly coppers, who managed to pin him down in a back room, and then carted him off to the local nick. I can’t recall if it was actually true, but somebody did mention there’d been a full moon that night, too.

Again there was the painful task of gathering up his belongings and sending them on. In this case, there were several doses of anti-psychotic drugs, a well-thumbed copy of The Bible, and, strangely, some First Aid manuals. A very sad business indeed. Later that week we phoned one of the people who had given him a reference, and told them if they’d known he was on medication. The woman sounded apologetic, although not enough, and merely informed us that, when he’d worked for her the previous year, he’d been ‘having problems with his sexuality’. Obviously he’d moved on to more serious matters – God and the Devil.

So, have I managed to put you off doing a Summer School this year? I certainly hope so, for your sake!

First Published: Monday, 9 May 2005

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

UK Summer Schools - A Masochist Writes...

Well, as the dreadful summer school season is swiftly marching towards us, I thought I'd dig out a few of my old 'dissertations' on the unfortunate subject, and present a sort of thematic approach to the coming few weeks' blogs on The TEFL Tradesman. Skillful, ain't I?

Have you ever done a Summer School? No? That's excellent. Best try and keep things that way, actually. Having volunteered for many (far too many!) summer-time incarcerations in the past, I am very probably the least enthusiastic about the whole charade, as I know what working on a summer school really involves. After all, I did about a dozen of them in the 1990s, before the proverbial penny dropped. So, never mind the crap entreaties to ‘join in the summer fun’, and such tosh, which you can read on these days – the reality is utterly different. Let me provide you with a few examples, served up, with no apparent relish, from my bitter memories…

If you’re a virtual novice teacher, with a Celta and say a year or two’s experience in taming teenagers in Mediterranean classrooms, you can expect to earn around 200 quid a week, after you’ve paid your tax and National Insurance. On top of this you’ll be provided with free accommodation and meals, although not all schools guarantee this. This might sound like a lot of money if you’ve been earning peanuts in Poland, but on the UK salary scale it’s probably about the same as you’d get doing a McJob – or washing cars at your local Tesco car-park.

The real downside is, of course, the hours you’ll be expected to put in – around 12 or 14 a day, for six days a week. In other words, your 200 quid works out at around three quid an hour for your six-day sentence! You do get a little time off for good behaviour, though - the nightmare of the weekly excursion, where you, a 'responsible adult' have to escort groups of spoilt foreign teenage brats to castles and museums,, and listen to them moaning about how expensive and crap the souvenirs are, they can’t find the toilets, and 'Teacher, I feel sick..." on the coach.

A typical day (although there never is a ‘typical day’, really) could involve struggling to get the kids up around 7:00, and making sure they’re dressed, breakfasted and ready for class at 9:00. This might sound like a relatively unformidable task, but don't forget it does involve finding the delightful buggers in the first place, as many will have 'travelled' during the night to a neighbour's bed or floor. On top of that, you have to ensure they're not still wanking, putting on the right clothes, and all manner of things that they manage to find extremely difficult now they're in a foreign country. Somehow, at the same time, you have to remember to get your own breakfast too, and attend a morning meeting before classes begin, with your DoS, who is probably a survivor from the previous year’s course - perhaps the only one, in fact.

She or he will take great pleasure in giving you the worst possible classroom combination of teenage angst and ebullient hormones to manage. Even worse, as a non-teaching DoS (which doesn’t necessarily mean he/she can’t teach, but might well) your unpleasant boss will be swilling cheap coffee and working off a hangover in the morning while you’re trying to keep vicious Vladimir from attacking gentle Julio, whilst at the same time making sure romantic Mario doesn’t try to shaft pretty Paula in the mid-morning break.

Then, after three hours of quite pointless classroom games, exercises and activities, you’ll be expected to escort your charges to the dining hall and watch over them whilst they chuck the revolting English food at each other. This is all on a typical day, remember. On the atypical ones, you’ll be expected to wipe up their puke after they’ve delivered a gastronomic thumbs down on the British pie and chips; and later you'll probably be expected to keep them from escaping off the site, or you may even have to chain Sergei the Russian anarchist (or shoplifter/brains behind the school's chocolate ice-cream racket) to a litter bin until the police arrive.

It gets better, though. In the afternoons you get to don the company t-shirt, perhaps even a clean one, and – hey presto! – you’re transformed into a sports and activities supervisor. Now you’re expected to entertain them with games of rounders and sack races, keeping them from smoking too much grass at the same time, and generally make sure they’re too shagged out to want to do anything else (especially shagging) after dinner.

As if that wasn’t enough, in the evenings you become a Butlins Redcoat and run the entertainment programme. You name it, you’ll be doing it – bingo caller, quiz master, DJ; or any combination of all three. Of course, you might be lucky and get posted on video duty, which means you’ll only have to endure a couple of hours of adolescent films and teenage farting, plus supervise some heavy petting in the back row behind the sofas.

And then, just as you thought you were about to slope off up the stairs to Bedfordshire, your Course Director reminds you that you’re on ‘put-down duty’. Much as you might like to put some of the loathsome miscreants down for good, with a sharp jab from a vet’s syringe, this actually means you have to make sure the boys stay in their beds and do not scamp across the playing fields for a midnight rendezvous with the opposite sex on the cricket square.

Finally, some time after midnight, as some of your colleagues are coming back from the pub and rowdily chanting racist football songs, you get to take that slither of valium and fall into a sweet, dreamy oblivion - for about six hours or so. Then it’s up again at seven to repeat the whole pointless fiasco, just to keep some rich kids amused for a couple of weeks or so.

You get the picture? And as for those crackpot colleagues, well – that’ll take another posting, perhaps next week.

By the way, if you do decide to do a summer school this year, just don’t say you weren’t warned, OK?

First Published: Friday, 15 April 2005

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sandy's Guide to Student-Centred Learning

Welcome to “You're Talking Out Yer Arse”, an occasional series in which Sandy McManus poos all over some of the more extreme teaching methodologies by teasing off the thin veneer of shiny bullshit and revealing them in all their turdly glory. Today's subject is student-centred learning, a sort of constructivist hell in which the teacher is heavily sidelined and reduced to arranging the desks and supervising the toilet breaks.

However, let's do the needful and start with a bit of solid theory, shall we? I mean, what trendy Tefler worth his Celta could possibly disagree with the following?

"Student-centred learning is an approach to education that focuses exclusively on the student's needs, abilities, interests, and learning styles, rather than those of others involved in the educational process, such as teachers and administrators. This process of putting students first views the teacher as a facilitator of learning, and is in stark contrast to existing establishment/teacher-centred lecturing and careerism, which has the teacher at its centre in an active role and students in a passive, receptive role."

So, the students get to make all the decisions and do all the graft - not bad, eh? This approach, of course, relieves us teachers of most of our tedious traditional pedagogical roles and duties, and means we can spend more time in the pub or the betting shop. A typical student-centred classroom would include the following shenanigans...

  • The students set their own objectives. These could be meaningful, authentic problems which serve to further their understandings of the subject matter and themselves; or just something simple like colouring-in the empty bits on page 94 of Headache Intermediate.
  • Students complete their own activities, designed by themselves to achieve goals determined by themselves. The teacher sits in the staff-room smoking roll-ups, drinking tea and reading Viz all day, but is available for 'consultation' the whole time.
  • Students can happily ignore any directions and step by step instructions from the teacher as they progress through their activities. In fact, they'd be lucky to find the teacher in the class at all if I had my way here.
  • Students are motivated by intrinsic factors such as the desire to learn, succeed, impress their colleagues, shag that horny Brazilian bit, etc. Those students who do not already possess the full range of intrinsic motivators can purchase them at a discounted price from the teacher.
  • Students can work in groups determined by themselves, or alone. Or perhaps not even at all? Maybe they'd rather stay in bed - group-sex or working in pairs, according to their self-defined objectives. It's a real shame the poor old teacher gets excluded here!
  • Student work is evaluated solely by the other students, and any differences in opinion are settled by a punch-up in the classroom (preferably without you, dear teacher, unless you're happy to be sued and lose your job).

So, do you think you have what it takes to be a modern student-centred EFL teacher? Are you happy to be an over-educated doormat? Could you feel comfortable being relegated to the status of a mere collaborator in the process of learning - maybe just doing the photocopying and bringing in the sandwiches? Would you feel unconcerned if your students told you to bugger off while they tried to successfully set up a student-centred classroom?

No, I thought not.

Coming Next: You're (not) Talking Out Yer Arse #2 – The Silent Way

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rockin' with Rodent Language Holidays!

Well, there I was, a-rootin’ and a-rummagin’ amongst my old teaching stuff (notice I didn’t say ‘EFL stuff’ there – teaching is teaching, after all), when I came across a little piece of useful gear from the last ever summer school I did, many years ago. So naturally my first thought was to share it with you, dear reader(s).

Anyway, back then I worked for an outfit called Regent, a name that swiftly morphed into Rodent, as the boss was an exceptionally oily git called Alistair, a sort of underachieving privately-educated ultra-middle class twat with no ambition other than to lord it over us plebby Teflers and soothe his half-concealed inferiority complex. As for the DOS - ooh, it pains me to recall her twisted Ulster vowels and her natural ability to bring chaos wherever there was formerly harmony.

However, I'm digressing. What I have for you fortunate Tefl-twerps is a sort of ‘report generator’, one which helps teachers to write those irritating little student reports that most EFL schools appear to insist on, even for shorter-than-short Summer courses.

The thing is, you’re still expected to pen a few lines of blistering prose about, for example, Eduardo’s skill in handling abstract grammar notions, or his exemplary pronunciation of awkward consonant clusters - even if he is a snotty-nosed indolent little sprog that has only been in your class for a week. The reasoning behind such reports has never been clear, to my mind, but I do suspect it has something to do with the following.

Firstly, it satisfies the need for dear little Boris, for example, to be able to show his parents (who probably run half of some obscure Russian province in a vice-like grip of mafia-induced fear and brutality) that he wasn’t just intimidating the other darlings in the tuck-shop queue and laundering the family’s cash on ice-pops during his stay in England. It also serves as some sort of ‘pedagogical receipt’ for all the money his folks spent in sending the little terror away for a fortnight, and in effect means that they’re more likely to inflict him on you again the following year.

Anyway, my immediate thoughts were to chuck it, and send it the same way as my Concorde (the fastest swindlers in the business) baseball cap, the Rodent (sorry, Regent) pencil-case, and the undersized Churchill House sweatshirt. But then I thought, ‘hold on, this has some value to my half-dozen or so readers’ – especially the poor suckers who have signed themselves up for six weeks of torture at their local Summer school.

So, here it is, with just a few red herrings included included, just to keep you from falling asleep. It’s quite easy to use – just select the most appropriate sentence from each section, until you have a simple paragraph like the following example:

Victor has worked hard with a lot of enthusiasm and made good progress. He has also participated well in class activities, gaining much confidence, and is beginning to express himself more fluently. He is now at pre-intermediate level, and with further study should soon reach intermediate level. Well done Victor!

Rodent Language Holidays
Summer School Student Progress Reports
Teacher’s Comments

Comments on Participation and Progress

1. Andrea has worked hard and with enthusiasm during her stay with us, and has made good progress (in the boys' dormitories after lights).
2. Boris has worked well during his time at Rodent Language Holidays, participating enthusiastically in all classroom activities (and has excelled in violent sports).
3. Catherine has only been with us for a few weeks, but she is now able to communicate effectively in many situations (especially with her hands).
4. Daniel is a confident speaker of English, and communicates effectively at Intermediate level (as long as it's to do with porn).
5. Edith has a good general command of English, and is able to communicate in a wide range of everyday situations (especially shoplifting).
6. Georgy has participated well in all class activities, and has made great progress (in bullying the smaller kids).
7. Ines has worked hard with a lot of enthusiasm, and has made good progress (... in something). 8. Josef has enthusiastically participated in his activities, and has made the most of his time with us here at Rodent Language Holidays. (Shame he rarely stayed in class for more than five minutes, though).
9. Katya has been extremely popular with the boys, and has always given the most of herself.
10. The whole class has enjoyed Lena’s oral contributions, especially the extra-curricular ones.


1. She is confident at communication, and now has good all-round skills (she can swear in both oral and written form).
2. He is a confident speaker, and during the course has been able to build on his knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, and also develop his listening and writing skills (cocky little git).
3. He has worked hard during his time at Rodent Language Holidays to expand his knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, and also develop his speaking and listening skills (and has no mates, little swot).
4. She speaks accurately and uses a wide range of appropriate vocabulary (e.g., 'fuck off', 'piss off' etc...).
5. She has a sound passive knowledge of the English language (and never said a word the whole fortnight).
6. He communicates well and is able to express himself clearly in most situations (especially with his fists and boots).
7. He is a confident communicator, always makes himself understood, and is able to follow native-speaker speech fully (shame about the body-odour, though).
8. She has gained in confidence, now has a good knowledge of English, and is beginning to express herself more fluently (especially when she wants a shag).
9. Her speaking is fluent, her pronunciation excellent, and her vocabulary is wide-ranging (so why the fuck did you send her?).
10. Apart from her bad breath, she has been a pleasure to teach.

Areas to Work on

1. At times she is grammatically inaccurate, and also needs to work on her pronunciation and vocabulary (OK, she's a dead loss really...).
2. He now needs further reading and writing practice (so tie him to a chair).
3. She should now concentrate on deepening her knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, as these are her main weaknesses (her other weaknesses are also deep, but how much space do I have?).
4. He sometimes lacks confidence during listening and/or speaking activities (and needs more shouting at).
5. She now needs more practice to consolidate and extend her knowledge of the language (which is abysmally small).
6. He now needs to work on his pronunciation and extend his vocabulary (beyond monosyllabic grunts).
7. With further studies and practice, he should continue to make good progress (given another 25 years).
8. He is an idle tosser, a total waste of space, and should not bother returning next year

Good Wishes

1. I/We wish him/her all the best for the future.
2. I/We wish him/her well.
3. I/We wish him/her luck for the future.
4. I/We would like to wish him/her very well for the future.
5. I/We wish him/her all the best for his/her future studies.
6. I/We sincerely hope that he/she will never return to this school again.
7. I/We sincerely hope that you, as his/her parents, feel sufficient remorse for having raised such a loathsome spoilt bastard!
8. Please ensure this odious little cunt never comes back this way again!

Useful, eh? Now don't say I never have anything useful to say (again)!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Six Awkward Questions (part 2)

So, here we have part two of the interview with Lindsay Clandfield, upcoming TEFL guru, and general good sport for doing this. As a measure of my gratitude to Lindsay, and to help raise his profile amongst the more discerning Teflers that read this blog, I am bringing you a picture of him in his earlier, more youthful days. Here we can plainly see Lindsay, when he had a full head of hair, undertaking a bit of 'personal tuition' with a young teacher-training greenhorn at International House in London. My, the things we'll do to get a trainee past the finishing line, eh?!


4. What's the whackiest thing you've ever done with a class?
I had a small group of ten-year olds at a private academy. It was the typical after-school English class, and they were often tired from school. They didn’t like the book we were using, and neither did I. I tried several things with little success until I noticed that they were completely obsessed with a role-playing game: one of those games with cards (like Magic, I think). I asked if they wanted to play in class, as long as it was English. They ended up making a whole fantasy game of their own, including their own cards, decorated with pictures from the internet. It was called Gladiators (the film had just come out) and they spent hours working on character cards, dice combinations and situations, all in English. We even made a cardboard coliseum. I suppose it was getting wacky when the vocabulary they were demanding included words like: impale, gore, coup de grace, execute… I also had to hide the arena and the cards at the end of each class so the director of studies (see q. 2 above) wouldn’t find them.

5. Why did you decide to become an EFL teacher; and what regrets do you have (if any)?
My parents were both teachers, so it was one of those things I guess. I also fit the psychological profile of the bleeding heart liberal who is drawn to helping professions. I originally wanted to be a full-time, professional aid worker or someone in international politics but those two things never worked out and so I became… a teacher. Still, I don’t have any regrets. There are one or two jobs I took on that I wished I hadn’t perhaps, but I quit them pretty quickly. Discovering writing and teacher training has helped stave off a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. It’s easy to burn out in this world of EFL, there is no shortage of things that can grind you down especially if you are in the private sector. Variety has helped me keep going and meant that I don’t really have any regrets.

6. If you could change just one thing in contemporary EFL, what would it be - and why?
Can I say two things please? One thing I’d change would be the pervasive sense of contempt that many schools hold for their teachers and the teachers who provoke that kind of contempt. By this I mean schools that hire people that aren’t trained at all as teachers and the people who happily go off a teach without any training at all and charge ridiculously low prices (enough to pay for beer, and even then…). It has created a situation in which the dog bites its own tail and won’t let go. I know sites like yours and others like Alex Case’s site have gone on at length about this so I’ll stop there.

The other is from the point of view of a materials writer. I don’t mind if people or institutions decide not to use a coursebook because they use their own materials. Great! What does bug me is when some school says in a high-and-mighty way that they “make their own local materials”, but they are in essence a bunch of photocopies from several coursebooks or online places (worse when it includes lessons I’ve written). Worse still is when an institution does this, binds them into a book format, puts their logo on it, and then sells it to their students. If I could change one thing it would be to make those schools go bankrupt, instantly. If you are going to make and sell your own books, then do it all yourselves.

So, many thanks again to the brave man from Canada. Who's gonna be next?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Six Awkward Questions The TEFL Tradesman Asked Me...

Yes, that's right. I asked some Tefl geezer six rather perverse questions about his EFL career, and he was mad enough to give me an answer! So, my unashamed congratulations to the 'geezer' concerned, Lindsay Clandfield, whose Six Things website is almost as interesting as this blog.

Here we go with those questions and answers...

1. What's the worst EFL job you've ever had?
Easy to answer this one. It was a high school in the south of Mexico (Chiapas state). I had a full time job at the university there, which was actually quite good except for the fact that my net take-home pay was around 500 US dollars/month. So when I heard that a local high school needed an English teacher urgently I took it for the extra cash.

Class size was forty students, all with their hormones raging. I was totally unprepared. Materials = zero (there was supposed to be a book I think but it had been long abandoned… I saw ripped pages of it in the corner of the room). Support = zero. I was gleefully escorted to the class, the director opened the door and roared something at the kids and then closed it firmly, trapping me inside.

The students basically had a good time laughing at me (not with me) and I learned how to scream at them. After two weeks I found I was losing sleep over this. I finally quit after one term. An Israeli woman took over. She had come to Mexico after finishing her obligatory service in the Israeli military, so was perhaps better prepared. I never found out.

It was thanks to this experience that, some ten years later, I started writing my first book for teachers Dealing with Difficulties. This was the worst job because I felt completely out of my depth. It wasn’t one of those awful TEFL jobs, with an exploitative boss, weird colleagues and all that. That would come later. See below.

2. Compare and Contrast: your worst colleague and worst boss
I worked at a private academy in Spain which holds the distinction of having both my worst colleague and worst boss. The colleague was was an aggressive bloke who would mutter insults at everyone in the staff room (when sober) and then pick fights on a Friday afternoon when the teachers would go out for a beer. He left under a cloud, and we discovered some of his lesson plans at the school. It was like finding the notebooks of the psychotic killer played by Kevin Spacey in Seven.

The boss, the director of studies, was a tough-as-nails British woman who got her kicks playing teachers off against each other (in competition for hours, classes etc). Her favourite line was “You do as I tell you to, or else find yourself another job.” She kept to her word too. She insisted we all use a coursebook she had used some ten years previously – the teachers’ copies were falling apart at the seams. Poetic justice though – she was unceremoniously fired by the owner of the school (a Spaniard) when she got pregnant. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

3. Your worst lesson - does it haunt you still?
A composite of terrible things floats up in my mind. I will give you snippets:
  • I am trying to teach a beginner class only in English without using any tense other than present simple because that’s what the head teacher told me to do (“Ok class, today we read some English, do some exercises. First we check homework. You do homework?”)

  • I’m standing in front of a class of bored Barcelona businessmen and women. I am trying to get them to stand up and sing a song with me. I don’t take no for an answer. I am pulling a student from her chair.

  • I am giving my first teacher training session to a group of young Brits and Americans. I have become completely unused to talking to native English speakers in a class. One twentysomething says “Are you trying to talk like the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?”
  • I am trying to do a guided visualisation for an observed lesson. I am telling the students to close their eyes and imagine a scene. I am going red and sweating bullets because I hate guided visualisations. My students are not closing their eyes and are looking at me with hostility.
  • I am feeling pretty good about a class of mine at the university. I have inherited them from the 75 year old cantankerous teacher they had last year. It is my second year as a teacher. I am young and energetic. We have lots of fun in class. At the end of the year, I boldly ask them what they think of me as a teacher. “Your classes are lots of fun, but we learned so much more with the other teacher from last year,” they answer.

Christ, Lindsay - you must be a right bloody chatterbox in person! I was only expecting a couple of hundred words, but you've sent me an introduction to your next book, I feel. It's good stuff, too, I have to admit it - despite the lack of foul language and libelous accusations.

It's so good, in fact, I'm gonna keep the second part of the 'interview' for later in the week, and save myself the bother of making up an interesting post myself this week.

BTW, anyone else fancy doing six quirky questions from Yours Truly?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Suspended Sentence!

Yes, it gives me truly immense pleasure to report that the TEFL charlatan and parasite known as Paul Lowe, a.k.a. 'The Windsor Swindler', has been given his just desserts at a court in Reading. In fact, I'm almost speechless with uncontainable joy, knowing that the cheating bastard has finally gotten himself nailed, so I'll detain you no further and leave you with the facts below!

College Owner Learns a Lesson
(from official press release)

The owner of a Windsor adult education college has been given a 40 week prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and along with the General Manager of the college a combined total of 450 hours community work, ordered to pay a total of £5,000 prosecution costs and £900 compensation related to making false statements about the courses offered.

Paul Lowe, owner of Windsor Schools in Osborne Road , was sentenced at Reading Crown Court on Friday 8 May for 15 offences under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and Fraud Act 2006 to which he had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing in August 2008.

The school’s general manager, Ashley Arnold, was sentenced for five offences under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 following guilty pleas at an earlier hearing in March 2009.

All the offences relate to making false claims about a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) teacher training course. The men claimed their college was validated by Trinity College London, a recognised and respected provider of TEFL courses.

The court heard how students signed up to courses after seeing glossy brochures and a slick website, meeting for pre-course interviews and sitting entrance exams, only to discover once they were on the course that it was a sham as official validation had already been taken away.

The prosecution was brought by Royal Borough trading standards service following a lengthy and involved investigation into Windsor Schools’ trading practices, with a total of 17 statements being taken from students, former tutors and representatives of Trinity College London.

The students’ suspicions were first alerted when their tutors began raising concerns about the value of the qualifications, at which point they involved trading standards. Trading Standards began investigating in January 2007, after beginning to receive complaints which eventually totalled 16 individual complaints. This is the third Crown court hearing for this case on top of three earlier Magistrates Court hearings.

Cllr Phil Bicknell, lead member for public protection, said: “The Royal Borough does not take formal action like this lightly. However, where businesses fail to have regard for trading laws and deliberately or recklessly mislead the public we will have no hesitation in prosecuting them.”

Steve Johnson, trading standards manager, added: “This has been a long, complicated and thorough investigation and credit should go to the officers involved. I hope this will be a warning to other institutions offering qualifications, diplomas and degrees – they must not make claims about their businesses or the courses which are untrue or misleading.“

Mr Lowe was given a 40 week prison custodial sentence that is suspended for 18 months and ordered to undertake 200 hours of community work, to pay £450 compensation to one of the consumers still left out of pocket, and £3000 of prosecution costs. Mr Arnold was sentenced to 250 hours community work, to pay £450 compensation to the consumer and £2000 prosecution costs.

In mitigation, and asking for a non custodial sentence, Mr Lowe's barrister claimed that his client suffers from a heart condition, depression, and has been diagnosed with depersonalization since he was 22. It is unclear as to whether the barrister was referring to depersonalization disorder, which is an accepted psychiatric diagnosis.

In summing up His Honour Judge Reddihough said “Students put their trust in each of you. You both knew the Trinity accreditation was of importance to students. You took their money knowing the accreditation was not available to them. This was a breach of trust in respect of those various students.”

After delivering the sentencing he went on to say ”I hope you have both learnt your lesson not to do anything dishonest or stupid like this again”.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Terrific Teaching Colleagues

Well, it's time for that madcap midget again - Mario Rinvoludicrous! Actually, he's one of my EFL heroes, being, as he is, absolutely unafraid to swim against the tide of tacky mediocrity that often floods the whacky world of modern EFL. The fact that he often swims accompanied by a large rubber ring in the shape of a cute yellow duck is irrelevant, in my eyes.

Anyway, here's an offering of his that I've managed to 'bowdlerise' (must look that one up some day) in order to make it more acceptable for the discerning Tefl Tradesman public. It's been adapted from an article in Humanising Language Teaching, concerning teachers who are deemed to be failing, and how they are 'revealed' in school inspectors’ reports.

Although Mario invites us into his world of dysfunctional teachers by stating "Let us look at three teachers ... who are clearly totally out of place in any school environment", I rather feel quite at home with all of them. My comments are, of course, in italics, as measured responses to the school inspector's callous and undeserved verbal lashings.

Teacher 1

Mr. R seems happy to ignore the minimum obligations of his job. [Too right - ignorance is bliss, after all!]
This state of affairs is fully known to Mr. R’s colleagues, superiors and students. [Damn right - and they don't give a toss either!]
In this situation Mr. R lives a state of permanent aggression and takes every opportunity to create conflict and tension in the school. [There's my man - a born fighter!]
Mr. R does not know the curriculum and does not wish to get to know it. [Absolutely - no careerist crap for Mr R!]
In class he reads the newspaper. [Shame on him - should be into Viz and Loaded!]
Mr. R has other interests. [Oh dear - a teacher with a real life!]

Working as he does in an evening school, he has another daytime job. [Ha - underpaid, that's his problem!]
His absences are numerous and he never lets people know in advance, which makes it very hard to find people to stand in for him. [Right on, Mr R - keep the bastards on their toes!]
Mr. R spends his time verbally attacking the Head and the Deputy Head. [What else are they for - we all slag them off relentlessly, don't we?!]
During my meeting with him, Mr. R declared that his students “are animals who are worthy only of my contempt.” [I salute you, Mr R - you take no prisoners, and tell it like it is!]

Apparently, Mr. R went even further and physically attacked the Deputy Head, and nearly had a fight with his own angry students. The man was a true hero! I guess even the inspectors were impressed with his feisty attitude, as after initially demanding his transfer to a daytime school, it was then decided to keep him where he was and merely monitor his teaching for a year. No doubt they wanted to see even more of him and his idiosyncratic approach to the pedagogical profession!

Teacher 2

At times when Ms G was quiet she would lean on the window sill and look out, staying silent for hours on end. [Ah - a practitioner of Taoism and the dogme approach.]
At other times she would pull a novel out of her bag and settle down to read it. [So? Don't teachers have the right to read in class, as well as the students?!]
Occasionally she would cry for the whole of the lesson. [Hmm. Usually I cry after a lesson, but rarely during it.]

The class representatives in the January of that year complained that “so far we have done nothing; the teacher never explains anything, she writes a few phrases on the blackboard and then quickly rubs them out.” [As much as that, eh? And the students have the nerve to bloody complain!]
If a student asks her anything she responds with insults and threats. [Perfectly acceptable teaching method in my opinion.]
Most of her class groups have decided to ignore her. [My classes often end up the same way - again, what's the problem here?]
To avoid being got at during her lessons, the students do their homework, study other subjects, and read the paper - the inspector says that a modus vivendi has been created, based on mutual silence. [See - a mutually acceptable outcome, just like a class contract!]

According to Mario, in her interview with the inspector Ms G let on that "for many years the idea of entering into dialogue with the students has seemed to her to be immensely psychologically difficult, and even to say the name of the subject she is meant to teach leaves her feeling sick." Well, we can ALL sympathise with that, can't we...

Amazingly, our practitioner of the Silent Way got through four inspections! In fact, the inspector’s final decision in the case of Ms G was that “given her state of strong demotivation, total absence of didactic intent and dramatic relational difficulties, Ms G should be transferred to non-teaching duties.” Exactly - promotion to Director of Studies!!

Teacher 3

For the last one, I'll just leave you with the inspector's comments. As you can see, she is a victim of cruel and teasing students, all of whom need to be gassed or dealt with in a suitably extreme way. The final remarks, that she "feels liberated" as she is relieved of her teaching duties upon doctor's orders, evoke a lot of sympathy, I believe.

For fifteen years she’s been teaching in the same school without any complaints against her. In October 2004 Mrs. C began to feel got at by her colleagues. “they’ve marginalized me,” she told the inspector. Her students have no pity. They see her in difficulties and take full advantage. They laugh in her face and mock her for being badly dressed.

Mrs. C is absent from school more and more often; she is sucked into a negative spiral. At first she tells the inspector that there is nothing wrong, but then finally admits, in her last meeting with him, that there has been a change:

“I have always taught. I do the same things I did years ago. It’s the students that have changed. I can’t understand them anymore, and I don’t see why they don’t follow me.”

She then admits she is in the grip of anxiety and that the very idea of leaving home and walking into her classroom fills her with moral and physical dread. A medical examination allows her to give up teaching. She feels liberated.

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