Agent D, hereafter known as TTS - for Tired Tefl Sucker - relates a recent attempt to find gainful employment at one of London's best-known and highly-respected private EFL outfits. Out of deference to Agent D, I won't be giving the school's name - probably the first time I've held back from nominating a wanky EFL school ever!
*******Friday 6th February.
The mobile rings as I enter Starbucks to get out of the rain.
It’s Richard Stanley-Waite from the Leather Imperial School of English in London. He’s course-director at LISE, on of Britain’s most venerated EFL schools.
‘Would you have a few Moments?’ he asks.
TTS ‘Of course let me just sit down…. OK, fire away’
RSW: ‘Thanks for sending in your CV. So you’ve been teaching for a number of years?
Ah, this is the place which writes on their website that the majority of their teachers have 25 years of teaching experience….
‘Well I, um, should point out that I have had a total of around three years teaching experience, although much of this was obtained prior to my certificate, which I did at the beginning of last year. I’ve since taught at Dove UK, teaching a mixture of ESOL and TEFL, Santoor University ELT department – that was a pre -sessional, and I also did a summer school for Yardley International’
RSW: ‘Hmmm… and why did it take you so long to get your certificate?:
I mention something about money and other commitments making it difficult in the past, neglecting to mention any other career pursuits and how I should have done it fifteen years ago, at the same time thinking 'if I had then, Jesus, I’d really know all this grammar shit inside out by now, and might even have made my way up to become a ... Senior Teacher!'
There are a few questions more before RSW winds up by saying:
‘Well, it Miiighhht be worth you dropping by for a Chaaaattt. Are you free next week….?’
Arrangements are made. There will be a short ‘language task’. ‘Will that include phonology’ asks this Tefl footsoldier?
- No, No, No it’s a LANGUAGE task. I take it that phonology is not your strong point…
- I was just erm asking, as I’m looking to brush up on my IPA table. I think phonology is a very important part of…... ‘
- Hah…Ok…. Look forward to seeing you next Wednesday….
Sitting in the café, inside the very plush Leather Imperial School, in leafy West London, I’m handed a series of sentences, which all include the word ‘have’. ‘Notice the words arrrrround the verb, says’ Richard Stanley Waite.
This place really contrasts with some of the other places I’ve visited in the last two weeks are. Going from the Pears School in Piccadilly to this place is like upgrading to a Bang & Olufsen audio system after using a 1985 Tandy combo, that is if both these were accredited by the British Council and all their engineers were paid less than their office juniors.
The more I peer at the ‘have’ sentences, the less like English they look. In the interview room, Richard Stanley Waite and his poker faced assistant grill me.
- Well the first one, ‘she has a new bar of Camay’, that’s the use of “have” to show possession in a simple present tense structure.
- …and how else could you say it?
- erm, ‘she’s got a new bar of Camay’
-And what’s that?
What does he mean, 'what’s that?' It’s another way of saying the same thing.
- What Strucccctttturrre is it ?
- Um, Present perfect
- Is it?
- Well it could be. ‘Got’ could be a past participle rather than an irregular past form.
- What would you say if a student demanded to know what structure it was?
- I’d say, ‘he’s got to get a new life’….. I’d consult Swan.
- What if Swan was missing from the teacher’s room?
- Erm, I’ll go for present simple.
- You don’t sound too sure. How about the next…. Item?
- ‘She’s had her back scrubbed’… well it seems to me this is um, a passive of sorts… she arranged for someone to scrub her back, she didn’t scrub her back herself…
- Now you say this is a passive. But what normally happens with a passive?
- The object becomes the main feature of the clause.
- But that’s not happening here is it?
- No, erm,……………….
Twenty long minutes later
They ask me whether I found teaching IELTS interesting. I say that I did. The assistant wants to know WHAT was interesting about it.
My mind goes utterly blank, seconds last for minutes, the more I try to think the less I can. What was interesting about teaching IELTS? What was interesting about teaching IELTS? Graphs ... dry language ... formulaic use of language for essay writing ... the annual quota of glycerine produced by countries – a predictive and intensive reading task ... Shit, I don’t know; what IS interesting about teaching IELTS……….?
I find a message from RSW on the mobile. ‘Could you give us a ring, to… catttccch up?’
Having just been for a wisdom tooth extraction, I don’t feel like talking too much, but I give him a call.
‘So how did YOU feel the interview went?’ he asks. I’m searching for the right dishonest word rather that doesn’t sound too much like Kevin Costner in ‘In Bed with Madonna. After the preamble he cuts to the chase:
- to be frank we felt your grasp of some of the language in the task to be, well ... shaky to say the least.
- We won’t be able to offer you anything
- Sorry to disappoint you
- That’s OK.
The post surgery dental pain overrides. His words are having no effect whatsoever.