Sunday, December 1, 2013

The oddness of Riyadh: the place and the people (part 3).

And so, here we have, unfortunately, the last instalment in the trilogy of our beloved Tefl colleagues. Can any other trade or profession boast such a large amount of total nutcases?

Mr. D
On his first day he arrived with no money and asked for an advance of 500 Rials. Later that afternoon we went shopping in the large mall opposite. Even though we were staying in a hotel at the time, this did not stop Mr.D from spending the entire amount on exotic chandelier lamps and cleaning equipment. On the first day in the office, the LAN cable would not reach his desk, and rather than call for a technician, he grabbed it and ripped it out through the flooring and brackets on the wall, so that maintenance had to come and fix the problem. 

I agreed to go running with Mr.D at the back of the school in the mornings. It was a 45 minute run across gravel, and the temperature was 48 C. He turned up with no shoes on, but said nothing. We assumed that because he was tall and slim that he was a runner, yet within two minutes he was so far off the pace we couldn’t see him. To show how macho he was, the following day he decided to run around the school running track instead. Yet because it was nearly 50 C, running bare foot gave him such enormous blisters that he had to take time off work straight away. 

Shortly after that, all the teachers were given a free laptop. However, rather than accept the gift, Mr D went to the principal to complain about the free bag that came with it. Soon afterwards, he refused to work if the water cooler wasn’t replaced daily; and he would repeatedly call the manager in charge of maintenance a ‘cock-sucker’ until it was done, whilst citing a long list of reasons why he should not have to work without water all day. On top of this, about a month in, he began to upset his colleagues, who were mostly Lebanese and Egyptian, by getting into heavy conversations about Israel and Bush, and calling them all ‘cock-suckers’ during heated tirades. One week this happened almost every day before first class, which was 7am, much to the annoyance of everyone else. One of our colleagues, whose village had been bombed by the Israelis, did not need much convincing.

It was no surprise that Mr.D did not last long, as he could not teach for toffee. Five weeks into the term, a parent complained and wanted to know why her son had nothing in his exercise book other than line after line, page after page, of the sentence ‘I MUST OBEY MY TEACHER’. Some weeks later he did a moonlight flit, owing the school thousands of dollars and one laptop.

Mr. C
In retrospect he was by far the strangest person I have ever met. The first indication of this came when he went to the hypermarket opposite where we were first placed and bought a Pro tennis racket and some pro balls. The serviced apartments where we were staying then made a complaint after he converted his bedroom into a tennis court (which was quite possible, as it was a reasonable size and had marble floors and wall). He had moved everything out of the said bedroom and put it into the main room, meaning that you could not even open the door to enter properly and had to climb over furniture. The cleaners complained they could not do their job, and he was moved into another apartment. Before that happened, however, he took another trip to the hypermarket to buy some cheaper balls. The pro balls he had bought were too bouncy and he couldn’t control them.

The second strange thing that Mr. C did was to travel 33 kms across the city to buy a cheap Chinese bicycle. Although it was still August and very hot, he decided to cycle back in the middle of the day. The problem here was that the bike was so cheap it was impossible to change gear, and one of the pedals fell off half-way though the journey. In addition, he told me that many cars had tried to ram him off the road. When he asked me to repair the gears, the bike was so heavy that I couldn’t turn it upside down and rest it on its handlebars without help - it must have weighed well over 20 kgs.

It wasn’t until he refused the door-to-door transport arranged by the school that I began to wonder what sort of person he was. Even though the school was 18 kms away, Mr.C decided to walk to work instead. On the first day he woke up at 3am to get to school on time and was unable to fully complete the journey on the way back. On the second day he walked half of the journey to work before taking a taxi and was unable to walk back, choosing instead to accept the door-to-door transport provided instead. On the third day he abandoned the idea, much to the relief of the vice-principal.

In class any student who talked or got an answer wrong would have to come to the centre of class and do ten press ups in front of everyone. Most classes ended with a quick powerpoint of Mr C's time in the military. Should any student not want to study in class, he needed only to begin the lesson by asking him about something they had seen in his powerpoint presentation, safe in the knowledge that the course syllabus would be abandoned and the entire lesson devoted to his time in the military. How to handle machine guns was a point of great interest. 

Things then took a bizarre turn in the winter. Having abandoned the unrideable Chinese bike he had previously bought, he purchased a sports tourer and began riding it to work. This went badly wrong very quickly when he attempted to ride it down a flight of concrete stairs. He fell off and fractured his shoulder. The problem here was just weeks before Mr.C had decided to buy a long leather trench coat, identical to that worn in The Matrix, along with some dark sunglasses, and he dressed entirely in black. He continued to do this even though he came into work with his arm in a pink sling, which was impossible not to laugh at. Of course, any student who did laugh, which was just about every student in the class at some point, was forced to do extra press ups. 

Eventually Mr C resigned after his wife (affectionately named Robocop, on account of her metal knee plate) was denied a visa.  

All true I promise.

So, there you have it - a truly rich panoply of Tefl weirdoes and fruitcakes!

Now, do YOU have  any similar stories of personal oddness and eccentricity to add to the collection? Please feel free to enlighten us by adding a comment below!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The oddness of Riyadh: the place and the people (part 2).

Here is the next colourful instalment in the rich tapestry of Tefl weirdoes from Saudi Arabia. I was quite relieved to find out that I don't feature amongst them!

Mr.K (1)
A retiring Brit who spent nearly 15 years in Saudi camped in front of the TV. Never a day went by without him roundly cursing the place and its people. He was saving up to buy a house in Bulgaria, but sadly died before he could move in, meaning that he died full of personal misery, having been unable to appreciate the fruits of his labour. 

A strange Canadian who went to bed at 6pm daily so that he could wake and exercise at 4am the following day when it was not yet hot. He would frequently boast about the $5000 carbon fibre wheels on his triathlon bike, but was less sure about why he had never won a single event, even though he only ever competed in events with just a handful of entrants. 

Mr. K (2)
An Irishman with a propensity to throw chairs through windows after consuming illegal hooch during in-house karaoke sessions. Whilst in work he gained the reputation for being a compulsive liar and having a reluctance to admit that he didn’t really have the qualifications he said he had, owing to the fact that he hadn’t finished the courses he embarked on.

Mr. D
A diminutive Welshman with a large appetite for alcohol and whoring. He had been employed in various (in)capacities at virtually all colleges in the city, and legend had it that he once lasted more than one term at the same place. Dismissed (many times) for turning up for work roaring drunk, he was finally ordered to leave the country – only to be refused boarding the plane, due to his advanced state of inebriation. Last heard of in China, having married a Chinese prostitute.

‘Dr’ Y
A tall American who arrived to work as a ‘counsellor’, owing to his PhD in Psychology. He expressed a great interest in the welfare of the local whores, and spent most evenings acquainting himself with the city’s brothels. He took out an enormous loan after just a few months, and then promptly left the country on a pretext. Never returned.

Coming next: the big two!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The oddness of Riyadh: the place and the people (part 1).

Sandy McAnus is proud to present a series of pieces dedicated to that shimmering hub of teaching excellence, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. One of my contacts over there, based in the capital of The Gulf's shining light of democracy, has bravely volunteered (no inducements were offered, really) the following tribute to his equally singular colleagues.


When I arrived in Riyadh a few years back, I had little idea of what would befall me. Having never been to the Gulf region before, there was much of a muchness about choosing a particular location -  they all seemed the same, and were equally desperate to recruit me. When two teachers dropped out of a PREP Programme at the prestigious King Faisal School Riyadh situated next to the American Embassy in the Diplomatic Quarter, two vacancies arose. With some research I noted that the school was home to much of the ruling elite of the country, with the Bin Ladens and the Al-Sauds being the more obvious benefactors. Yet generally, as is often the case with such dodgy institutes, there was a paucity of information about the place - just a bunch of sour grapes by some sad Tefl twats who either got fired or walked out because they were about to get fired. Aside from that, I knew very little.

The first thing people notice about working in Saudi is how painfully slow the visa process is, not to mention the cost of it. After running around for the best part of two months, however, I was soon on board a flight crossing hour upon hour of gleaming sand, wondering whether I had done the right thing. My main reason for going was because I wanted to get SARS; yes, that’s right - SARS. Not the bird flu kind, but Saudi Arabian Rials … or ‘fluse’ as it’s known locally.

Upon arriving in Riyadh, I was met and taken to a 3-star hotel on the edge of the city. This place doubled  as a knocking shop for fat Saudis and Bangladeshi boys, with the room opposite me being the main hub of activity, unfortunately. On my first day at work I was told that there would be a three week induction period before the students arrived, and that I should use that time to get to know my colleagues and the city. That was when the fun really began. Looking back, I regret not noting all this down at the time, as I have told many I could have made millions from revealing the antics that occurred in the first few months. Given the nature of it all, like many observers, I was too stunned to act, and completely unable to overcome the disbelief that occurred on a daily basis.

The job itself did not get off to the best of starts. One teacher resigned on the first day, rather than pander to a bunch of spoilt Saudi brats all year, whereas another teacher, Palestinian, was fired shortly after for allowing a boy to drown in the swimming pool during a poorly supervised sports day. I befriended what few ex-pat teachers there were, not yet aware that this is not always the best thing to do in the Gulf region. My colleagues were a whacky bunch of misfits, all of them mad in their own way, though two of them were clearly beyond anything I have ever come across. I will mention the merely unbalanced characters first, before moving onto the real crackpots.

To be continued

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rubbish in EFL

My God, HOW remiss of me! I completely forgot to enlighten you all regarding my thrilling experience with Luke ‘the Spook’ Meddings last year. 

For those of you who have no idea (or wish to know) just who Luke is, he is one of those unfortunate social retards (i.e., a Tefler) who claims to have half-invented the Dogme movement, along with his Australian chum, erm, old whatsisname.

Anyway, I went along to one of those crushingly dull and uninspiring seminars offered by the British Council last September, the sort of thing that only saddo Teflers attend - especially those geeky zits who see it as a chance to pad out their CV and crawl up the Tefl promotion ladder. (The suggestion that I was seeking to do the same is vigorously denied, by the way.)

The event was excitingly labelled “Found objects: How Picasso's bull's head can be used in the ELT classroom”, and the idea was that we should take things designed for another purpose and turn them into prompts for learning experiences. Dr Spook was thus entrusted with the weighty task of illuminating us mere Tefl troops in “the need to develop lesson frameworks and teaching strategies which help us to shape this into a learning experience.” Hmm, heavy stuff indeed!

Of course, so enthused was I by Dr Spook’s presentation that the very next day I attempted to put the principles of ‘Found Objects’ into practice. The following example of the process is taken from The Sandy McManus Teaching Diary and Reflective Journal, a serious pedagogical publication that will soon be available for purchase at a very civilised price of £9.99

 12:36  Teacher enters class (late).
T:         "Hello class, let's see what I've got in my pockets, while I desperately take some bits out and try and wing it through a lesson, with trembling hands and a hangover."
St 1:     “Teacher, you smell like dead dog!”

12:37   Teacher fumbles in pockets of trousers and jacket. DoS passes door and coughs loudly.
T:         "Ah yes, here's my docket issued by the Metropolitan Police for a stop and search under Section 44 Terrorism Act. As you can see, they've filled in "Photographing public buildings, acting suspiciously" under "Reason for stop and search."
St 2:     Teacher, you like photo? You see my sister photo – very nice!”

12:38   Teacher passes docket around class. Students’ interest appears to increase.
T:         "Now what's this? (rustle, rustle) Ah, yes, it's a fixed penalty notice for not paying my Tube fare. Oh dear … how embarrassing."
St 1:     “Teacher, why you no pay ticket? You spend all money in pub?”

12:39   Teacher passes notice to students. One student volunteers copy of same.
 T:        "And what's this? Ahem, yes, it's a screwed up copy of a restraining order from my wife, pressed into my hand by a process-server as I left the house this morning."

12:40   Teacher digs into plastic bag and pulls out various papers and photocopied materials. 
T:         "And this … a receipt from Oddbins, the off-licence, for two bottles of vodka. From yesterday..."
St 2:     “Oh teacher, you say me you drink whisky…”
 T:        "Oh, and here's an empty fag packet ... 20 Royals. And an old packet of Rizlas."
St 3:     “Ah, teacher – you like make spliff?”

Anyway, you get the idea. It was, in fact, a cracking lesson, and I discovered that several of my students had equally interesting objects secreted about themselves (half-eaten sandwiches, pots of noodles) and I was happy to complement them on their obvious shoplifting skills.

In short, it was another successful day at the Tefl chalk face. Thanks, Luke!

PS: Actually, my wife has just informed me that the event was cancelled, so I guess the above must have all been a terrible nightmare. Or perhaps it was those hand-picked French mushrooms I bought in Waitrose…

PPS: I forgot to ask: have YOU ever used rubbish in the EFL classroom (to pursue educational aims, I mean)? Please enlighten us with your experiences below...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sandy's Nutty Tefl Mayday Offering!

Oops - Forgot to post this one! I mean, can you actually believe this shite?! I'll give anybody ten free pints of Old Speckled Hen if they can tell me from which highly-esteemed teachers' journal it emanated.

A new group is about to start a programme where it is important that learners mix with others. Each new member of the group is issued with a lollipop stick.

On one side they write their name. On the other side they write down an interest or something that the others will probably not know about them. All the sticks are then placed in a bag.

To form sub-groups, one member of the whole group is asked to take a stick out of the bag. They read the name and that learner joins them and is given their stick. As they do this, they pick another stick and that person joins them, and so on, until the last person picks the stick for the member of the second sub-group.

Once in their sub-groups, the aim is to match the interests on the sticks to people. When matched correctly, each learner then contributes something about their interest. Each sub-group then builds a model – using all the sticks and other materials – that symbolises their group name.

The completed models form the ‘centrepiece’ for each group’s table for as long as they work together.

I mean, does anybody actually do this bollocks, really?  Would any right-minded being (that probably excludes most Teflers, admittedly) believe the author's claims that this somehow helps to form cohesion in the class body? Or is it just a crackin' way to waste the first few hours of 'teaching'?!

I reckon the poor students would simply think 'Oh, fuck - they've sent us the college retard...'. And that 'centrepiece' would soon get crushed by the class bully, thus symbolising 'knobhead teacher', I'd say.

Actually if I had such a large amount of lolly sticks at my disposal I'd use them to prod dozy students into life before one of my famous pointless 'mingle' activities, which are a frequent feature of teachers who want to dash outside for a quick toke.

Come to think of it, the guy that wrote that pile of lollystick crap above must have been a bit high too. It wasn't YOU, was it?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Fancy a Missionary Position?

Well, tough shit - you missed it! The deadline for applying for this prime Tefl post was March 22, but I still feel it's worth a gag or two!

According to blurb for this advert on, "the Southall School of Languages and Missionary Orientation is looking for an experienced ELT Teacher to work from 2 to 12 April ... You will be teaching 3 - 6 hrs a day in a vibrant and muliti cultural town of Southall."

Surely that should be 'the vibrant and multi-cultural town of Southall', if they truly mean that sub-continental suburb in west London; but maybe it is just one of many 'muliti cultural' Southalls all over the third world. As for the poor spelling, I guess there's still a lot of missionary work to be done there still, especially in the basics of English.

Of course, the best thing about being a missionary is the warm fuzzy feeling of devotion and sacrifice you get when you pick up your negligible wages every week. This place will be no exception, as the SSLMO pays a Godless twelve quid an hour!

Still interested? Then give a quick call on 02085744456 to the DoS, who bears the uncannily traditional English name of Agnieszka Wiazowska. If she hasn't yet got herself lost in the swamps of deepest Southall, she might be able to fill you in on the muliti cultural charms of the area.

And you can teach her how to pen an advert in proper English too!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Easter Rising...

Sandy has decided to make a tentative reappearance, after a few weeks spent hiding from the usual gangs of loathsome lawyers waving writs and threatening to leave me naked and penniless by the roadside. Seeing as I have no wish to spend the rest of my days loitering around the sleazy streets of Skidrow-on-Sea in absolute penury, I have decided to succumb to the evil lawmongers and delete the offending posts.

However, if certain aggrieved students, teachers and lecturers would like to google 'LSBF News', they might find something to their advantage.

Meanwhile, my usual disservice to Britain's tacky Tefl Trade will be resuming very soon.

Welcome back!

PS: LSBF stands for 'Louder, Stronger, Better and Faster', just in case there's any misunderstanding here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

EF - the Tefl exploitation experts!

The latest offering to arrive in Sandy’s inbox concerns that well-known cheapo bunch of Tefl shysters and criminals, EF. Not for nothing, it seems, does EF stand for ‘Exploitation First’ – breaking employment laws, misleading punters, and undermining the teaching process are all just second nature to this gang of crooks. The story below relates to one of their summer courses in Oxford last year.

The website for EF Oxford’s ‘International Academy’ (which I am sure was only very recently a ‘Global Village’) invites us to “Study in the footsteps of famous thinkers and leaders”. It somehow manages to leave out the fact that those who unwittingly choose the summer programme will actually be studying in a football stadium on the outskirts of town, where foreign students are becoming increasingly targeted for muggings.

Of course, I only learned this crucial piece of information at my interview. The then ‘Town Leader’ finished up with “and of course, none of the classes will be here. They’ll all be at the Kassam.” 

“The football stadium?” I exclaimed. “Is there… a photocopier?” 

The Town Leader seemed to find my  reaction of shock quite inappropriate, and replied that there wasn’t a photocopier. However, the friendly Course Directors would be happy to photocopy for me if I gave them ‘one or two days notice.’

This was my first glimpse into the Empire of Evil that is known as EF, once English First, now Education First. Once you are familiar with the blue logo, you will never escape it; it is there, emblazoned on bags, pens, wallcharts, even a Routemaster bus.

The first thing we were taught at the EF training day was the importance of the wallcharts. These, they told us, were fundamental to the learning experience: even more so than, say, a classroom, with desks, or (heaven forbid) a whiteboard.

I arrived at 8:00 am to be presented with my all important wallcharts and some blue tack, to affix the said posters to the walls of the corporate football box that was to serve as my classroom. It soon became apparent that the blue tack would not take to the walls, and despite our efforts none of the posters stayed up for more than five seconds.

But this was not the most pressing matter.

I had, as the register that I had been given said, 17 students arriving in ten minutes, to which I would have to administer a test. I had 14 chairs with tiny, fold-over arms rests that served as desks and kept falling apart, no whiteboard, no pen, no CD player. When I went to the corporate meeting room assigned as the ‘Staff Room’ to ask the Course Directors where I could get these seemingly unimportant things, I only found some Activity Leaders being disciplined by their blue t-shirt-clad overlord.

17 students and a teacher in a corporate box is not a happy picture, especially in the height of summer and with no air conditioning or window to open. The only way I could fit everyone in was to put one student obstructing the door, and of course there was no desk or chair for me- only a flipchart whiteboard balanced at the back of the class.

When the students arrived they were all dehydrated, having been on a coach for two hours without any stop for refreshment. When I asked the Course Director where the water fountain was, she told me to ‘send them to the vending machines,’ as she wasn’t sure where the catering staff were, and that they usually provided us with jugs of water.

I ushered them down to the vending machines, which were all empty. When I returned, the Course Director had vanished again. I found an empty jug and some plastic cups on a table, gave it a rinse, and went to fill it in the toilets. It was that or let them go thirsty for the next 90 minutes of placement test.

It soon became apparent that the school was operating on a policy of lying and exploitation. None of my students had known that they would be studying in a football stadium on a housing estate - the website had lead them to believe that they would be amongst the ‘dreaming spires’ in EF’s main school.

They were also told that they would have an ‘international’ class, but this was a loose concept. One of mine had 14 of one nationality, with a couple of others chucked in.

Our Course Directors used bullying and emotional manipulation as a means of managing us. I was asked if I wanted to teach intensive classes over my lunch break. This would mean having no lunch break at all - teaching for 7 hours straight with only the ten minute breaks that always got taken up with the needless administration and student policing that EF seems to hold more important than having access to books, computers and a photocopier. I refused, and then was told that it ‘wasn’t fair’ on my colleagues who would consequently ‘have more work’ which we should ‘all share out’.

The same policy was employed for the discos and weekend outings. The CDs and Town Leader would routinely say at meetings, ‘teachers, we KNOW you’re tired, but you ALL must come to the megaparty. And don’t forget to learn the EF Dance! Everyone must know the EF dance.’  Apparently being able to wave your arms in time to a song (which, coincidentally, I am quite certain is about underage prostitution) is more important than having a TEFL qualification when you work as an EF teacher.

The after-school meetings generally involved the teachers being told off for not collecting enough sign-ups to trips or selling ‘fun packs’. We often raised the issue that teachers were not getting drinking water and were consequently getting dehydrated, but this was never resolved. I soon gave up on the idea of having any kind of support as the Course Directors were often nowhere to be found, or busy barking orders into mobile phones.

One of the most laughable things about EF’s curriculum was the ‘Project.’ Each class was assigned 3 netbook computers on which they had to, in groups, make movies about their ‘ Fantastic EF experience’ and then upload them to youtube. The best one was to win an Ipad. They had to start this shameless marketing ploy in their first week, when they had barely had any EF experience at all, and the netbooks kept crashing.

These sessions generally involved three students working on the netbooks, while the rest asked me repeatedly why they had to do it, and whether they could include something about getting mugged on the way to the stadium, or how their host families were not feeding them enough.

What I found most disconcerting about EF is its use of questionnaires. EF Oxford had previously received a high student satisfaction rating from last year’s questionnaires. When it was our turn to give them out, our manager had some valuable advice for us. “If you see that they have put a sad face, try to get them to change it”, she said. “Remind them about how much fun they’ve been having. Teachers, we don’t want to see any sad faces. And remember to put your wall charts up - there’ll be an inspection tomorrow.” We were urged to make the classes as enjoyable as possible, to avoid the sad faces of shame that would mark us out as unworthy teachers.

However, my lessons often became devoted to fixing chairs, finding water for thirsty students, and listening concerned for my students’ welfare as they told me the dubious details of their living situation, or vented their anger at having been misled by the EF website. Having no projector, no photocopier, very limitedspace and only EF’s course books, filled with errors, senseless exercises and trashy topics, this was a quite a task. However, once you have taught in these conditions, anything seems possible.

In short, it was a true TEFL baptism of fire.

I urge any student (or teacher) thinking of EF Oxford to run for their lives.

OK, so a true horror story there, the sort that only EF can inspire. Does anybody else have similar tales of woe to tell about EF? I'm sure there must be hundreds!