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?