1.What's the worst EFL job you've ever had?
I look back on all my jobs fondly, but there are some bits of several which are funny looking back:
- Adult students who copied all their homework from each other and then complained when they failed the final test until they were passed by the school owner (Turkey)
- Asking if I could use the computer to prepare a lesson and being asked “Why? No one has ever done that before” by the school boss (London, near Piccadilly Circus)
- Being told that the fact that we could guess the answers to a reading comprehension in Dutch despite not understanding a word was the definition of a good reading comprehension task (pre summer school training week, UK)
- Being told I wouldn’t get my full bonus because I didn’t drive, even though they knew that when I signed up (same summer camp)
- Being told to spend less time planning my lessons and more time chatting with the kids between lessons (ditto)
- Showing my best flexibility by saying that I didn’t care which classes I got as long as there was variety and being given just two levels in four days a week in a private primary school and so having to repeat each lesson 6 times (Thailand)
- A student who picked his scabs in class (Japan- nice students, bad skin!)
- Being told in an accusing voice that a sixty five year old student who studied thirty minutes a week (if she arrived on time) and never did her homework had dropped out because she felt like she wasn’t making progress (Japan)
2. Compare and Contrast: your worst colleague and your worst boss
Again, some bits and pieces rather than one person:
Colleagues - one continually mentioning that he went to Cambridge in every conversation, playing his home made techno music on the teachers’ room CD player, installing file sharing software on the school computer so he could illegally download music while other teachers were waiting to print out their lessons, hanging around the summer camp in Turkey telling all the students he got sacked because he was a Muslim; another, a Welsh guy teaching a lesson on Irish English to a group of Elementary level Turkish kids; a teacher in Thailand who tried to move in on my girlfriend by telling her she was the one to cure him of his addiction to prozzies
Boss - one tried to introduce a policy that teachers had to wear a suit once a week (even though most of our students will still never see us in a suit and no other school in Spain had that policy), boasted that in his previous job he spent the entire year’s marketing budget in two weeks, finished some lessons 25 minutes late and was usually unshaven and with bloodshot eyes but would nag the teachers about their own organization and appearance; another, a former Catholic priest and boys’ school headmaster with a penchant for cross dressing shows in the summer school cabarets, giving the first full time contract in 2 years to the least qualified teacher who had the most complaints from students because he had a thing for Welsh girls, and being told to tell more jokes in my classes
3. Your worst lesson - does it haunt you still?
- An observed DELTA lesson on skimming and scanning where the students neither skimmed nor scanned. Don’t know how I passed that one!
- A worksheet using Hole in my Bucket by Spearhead, for which I only had a really bad tape recording. The class revolted and I lost it a bit and said “I did this yesterday with a lower level class and they did fine, so you are just going to do your best and that is that”. As usually seems to be the case, the students seemed to actually appreciate me showing my real feelings in class, but I was horribly embarrassed about snapping at them when actually the task was pants. Actually, lessons I have tried with one group and try to make go exactly the same with another is a consistent theme of bad lessons throughout my career. Same thing happened with another disastrous DELTA observed lesson, this time the “humanistic classic” Empty Chair
- I have a terrible skill for mentioning I don’t like things and then finding that the students have brought me precisely that for an end of course present and have it sitting in their bags. I did this again the other week with chocolate.
- Any number of times when you find out the next day or week that what you told your students was totally wrong. I can still picture the look of polite disbelief on the face of a Japanese engineer as I told them that metres squared and square metres was the same thing.
- Times when your native speaker intuition abandons you, e.g. not being able to hear if something is wrong or not because you have heard it so many times
- As anyone who reads my blog and my O Level English teacher can tell you, my spelling is shocking, and many times that shocking spelling has gone onto the board and then into their notebooks
- Describing vocab with pictures that accidentally look very rude indeed
- Saying “Right, this is your homework and pausing, then realizing or being told “But teacher, there is half an hour left” -usually due to having a teaching body clock that suddenly flashed back to another school where I finished at that time every day
- Breaking my flies in the toilet just before going into the first session I was giving on a 4 week TEFL course. Luckily had a long jumper on
- Any time I had to raise my arms in a kindergarten summer school in a non air conditioned building, especially when wearing blue or grey shirts (white shirts with yellow patterns- the most useful teaching tip they never tell you on your TEFL courses)
- The two 4 year old kids in the class running into each other while searching for hidden flashcards and getting a nose bleed and a black eye, all while their mothers were observing for the first time that year
4. What's the whackiest thing you've ever done with a class?
The thing where you all link hands and have to untangle yourselves, and loads of other similar warmers. The students seemed to quite like them, but there was hardly ever any language use or link to the rest of the lesson. I’d never do those now, but actually I miss being experimental like that, and it did seem to help class dynamics. I also had that trust building thing where you fall back into each others’ arms on my lesson plan many times, but chickened out each and every time.
Another one, which was theoretically a good idea to practice directions, was to design a treasure hunt in the local area in Waterloo. Unfortunately, half of them just went to the pub (which wasn’t on the route!) and didn’t see them until the first lesson the next day.
5. Why did you decide to become an EFL teacher; and what regrets do you have (if any)?
I had done three years of care work, and was thinking of taking the diploma in social work, but thought it might be a good idea to take a break and travel for a bit first. I’d done a one-week intro to TEFL years before when I was on the dole, and suddenly had enough cash due to getting paid to sleep in care homes, so I did one and off I went. No regrets, as social work is all paperwork and so not really my kind of thing at all. I still have no idea of what else I could have done.
6. If you could change just one thing in contemporary EFL, what would it be - and why?
I would make all accredited schools in the UK (e.g., the ones that could issue documents for students to use to get student visas) only employ teachers with a PGCE-equivalent one-year full-time TEFL qualification or people who were in the process of getting such a qualification. The government would then find that they had to provide at least some funding for said training, as they should for an industry that brings so much money into the economy. Those teachers would inevitably go abroad at least half the time, but as many of them would work for British chains like International House and the British Council and hopefully spread a reputation for good teaching from British teachers, I hardly think the government would live to regret that. There was recently a suggestion in one of the UK newspapers that there should be regulations on who could call themselves a college, in a similar way to universities, and we could do something similar with “Approved English School” or suchlike for schools that kept to those qualifications.
So, thanks very much Alex. In fact, there's another victim in the pipeline, but she's being a little coy with me. Come on, you know who you are!