Saturday, October 24, 2009 - a True Repository of Useless Advice?

I came across this wonderful little item on the pages of the other day, and I immediately felt that it was suitable for a spot of close attention from Sandy McManus. Who could resist a gentle bit of leg-pulling when a novice Tefler asks a bright question such as “Can you give me some tips for teaching unruly teenagers?”? I certainly can’t...

Q: Dear Lucy: I've been brought in to teach 17 teenagers from the eastern bloc. [Oh, you lucky bastard!] The last teacher quit because of stress and in some ways I can see why [Ooh, aren’t you the sharp one, eh?!]. I am a newly qualified CELTA teacher, and today was my first day teaching a real class. [Congratulations! Welcome to The Club of Queer Trades!] I didn't have any lesson plan prepared as the appointment was very short notice [Now that IS a surprise!]. So I kind of just led a conversation class with them [Join the club, indeed – it’s called ‘winging it’!]. By the end of our three-hour slot, I still had 17 students in the classroom, i.e no-one had left, and I didn't feel distraught. [Stop trying to kid us, babes.] So that's a result I suppose. [An extremely good one, I reckon – nobody got shot, stabbed or crucified, and you’re still breathing too.]

The group all know each other and have a pretty good grasp of English. [Oh, that’s good too - you won’t have to teach them much, then.] Upper Intermediate - I'd say. How do I get them to not talk over each other and actually pay attention? [Try humiliation, degradation, and psychological torture – the CIA manual’s a great help for this.] They shout, speak in their own language, mobile phones go off, etc. [You don’t say? I find all that quite unexpected...] This is despite me setting rules at the beginning forbidding all this. [Fascist teacher!] I guess this is about classroom management. [Well done – you ARE a bright spark, aren’t you!] Is it just wishful thinking to believe that if I go in with a structured lesson plan tomorrow, I'll have less trouble? [Ah, wishful thinking, cosy pipe-dreams ... how would we Teflers exist without them?]

Yours, Simpler

A: Dear Simpler: I can totally sympathise with you. [While I’m laughing satanically.] Teaching teenagers is not easy, even for experienced teachers, and it is all the more difficult when they are unruly. [I bet you hadn’t thought of that, had you?] It's unfortunate that you didn't have time to plan the first lesson and I think it's a good idea to plan your next lesson with the students. [Oh yes, a lesson plan is ALWAYS a good idea – especially if you’re a TEFL greenhorn.] They might see structure in the lesson and you will feel more in control of what is happening in the classroom. [Or somebody might just be taking the piss here.] If you feel in control, you will be better able to handle the situation. [Amazing! I’d really never thought of that before...!] You were right to set rules at the beginning... [But unfortunately, the rules were all ignored, and not strict enough anyway...] ...

And so it continues. Well done Lucy Bollard (pictured alongside) for that truly fine repository of useless advice, don’t you think? To think it’s called a ‘Help Desk’ is dangerously misleading, I reckon, and a case should be brought against the author for wilfully leading poor young Teflers up the proverbial garden path. In fact, it’s much more of a ‘Helpless Desk’, and poor old Lucy, whoever she might be, should be stripped of her Tefl certificate and sent back to stacking shelves at Sainsbury’s.

Anyway, here’s your chance to get some real advice – so take a tip or two from Sandy. I reckon that if you adopt and adapt the following shimmering slithers of wisdom, you’ll be sure to emerge victorious from every lesson, every time.

Right now, the first piece of meaningful advice should be, of course, DON’T teach teenagers at all! Unless, you really, really have to; in which case, it’s essential that you show them who’s boss from the moment they walk in the door. This usually involves a good number of pre- and post-lesson activities, as well as constant attention during the in-class encounter.

So, for starters it’s essential to make sure that you’re actually in the classroom before the teenagers arrive, so that you can frisk them for phones, knives, guns, etc., as they enter. Any offensive weapons found should be dumped with great ceremony in the bucket full of water that you have cleverly prepared in advance and placed conspicuously in a visible corner of the room. This really sets the tone for the lesson – you will submit to my will! – and shows them who the real boss is.

What’s important here is that you don’t believe any of this lefty crap about the classroom being a democratic place, or a place for the fertile exchange of ideas between two equals. No, it’s a battle ground, and a chance for the efficient EFL teacher to display his or her skills at inflicting immense suffering on a fellow human being in a foreign language – a skill which is highly under-rated, in my opinion.

As for maneouvres during the lesson, the main point is to remember that your students are your skivvies, so get them to do all the grubby little jobs that make your teaching life so miserable. For example, order Pavel to clean the whiteboard - and if he refuses, pull him out of his seat by his hair and lead him (gently, though) to the board. Invite your little darlings to clean your shoes during the break, on a rota-basis; and remind them to bring you sweetmeats from home, if they want a good grade at the end of the year. It's such small and simple stuff, really, but it works.

Likewise, don’t forget to reward those who speak out of turn with a one-minute session licking the windows clean – from the outside. And if a mobile phone goes off, pick it up and shoot a good round of Anglo-Saxon abuse into it. Remember, all this intelligible input will be doing wonders for their language abilities, if you believe Krashen – or even if you don’t!

For those dimwits who venture to give an answer to one of your exceedingly difficult questions, you have two options. For an incorrect answer, scowl visibly for a moment and then burst into hysterical laughter. For a correct reply, mumble something like “smart-arsed little creep” under your breath. Your darling students will soon come to appreciate this predictable behaviour of yours, and it will help them to come to terms with the top-down nature of your classroom management style.

Finally, just because the class is over, don’t let them think they are free of your caring attention. For those students who fail to complete the reams of homework that you’ll set them, threaten to tie them to their chair and suspend them from a third floor window. You’ll be quite surprised at the response you get, believe me!

First Published: Tuesday, 22 January 2008

'A visitor' left this comment on 27 Jan 08

Yeah. Get to the classroom early and scent mark the room. Much easier for male Teflers, but you have a CELTA, you're smart, figure something out iof if you are a squatter, not a stander-upper. Remember, you are the Alpha beast. Kick the weaker ones out of the pride--if you can't dismiss them from class, maul then eat their offsprings, thin the herd. Works for me.


mchammered said...

God you're a crap writer. All that effort and no-one gives a toss

The TEFL Tradesman said...

I strive to improve, dear mchammered. But the public are IGNORANT!