Some would tell you that teaching English as a foreign language is about education. These people are at best cute little delusional souls working for the British Council, at worst they’re lying to you (as the BC is shut because of the situation it’s probably the latter.) English teaching actually lives at the corner of employment hell where the service industry meets entertainment and exploitation of foreign labour (I admit, I’m several rungs up from Morecombe bay cockle pickers but listen to my Middle Class tale of wow anyway goddamit). My predecessor impressed on me that the key part of my job is insuring that I, rather than my boss, handle all the money and keep all the records. It’s the only way to guarantee I get paid. I failed and my boss, Al Moder, is bukraing (This is a new verb, derived from the Ameya word for tomorrow). Other English teacher’s reckon that their bosses habitually telling them things that are not true is a result of a lax view of lying in the Quran. I’m not quite sure what the Quranic line on lying is, but either way I recon its because the bosses hope the problem will have gone away by tomorrow. Besides, my boss isn’t a Muslim.
Highlights so far involve Al Moder asking one of my friends if she’d take one of my classes from me. She said she we were friends and that she isn’t a job stealer, or at least not when mates are involved. Al Moder then tried to arrange for her to have it without either of us noticing. Being friends we worked out what was occurring almost instantly, and went into ask him what he was playing at.
‘I just hoped you wouldn’t talk about it,’ he said, with the air of a child who has just been told Father Christmas isn’t real. (My predecessor would say that this is just another example of the Arab failure to realise the future will come. Sometimes it’s hard to stick to my liberal guns and disagree with him).
Al Moder wasn’t put off though. He gave the group a weeks holiday (but didn’t tell me about it) while coming up with plan B. This was basically plan A, to see if it would work a second time. It didn’t.
My boss also has an annoying habit of telling me I have a second class when I think I’m finished for the evening. I know Gunter Wallraff won’t be writing about me any time soon, but it’s still annoying, as is the way he talks my students about me in deep Ameya he thinks I can’t understand. He’s right.
The students themselves also know what they want from English classes. They like writing on the board and will sulk if they don’t get it. No matter that the word is ‘rain forest’ and it’s written, big and bold, in the book.
They also insist on doing reading aloud. Teachers hate this, texts always have far too many new words, the whole things time consuming and the debate about on the spot pronunciation correction rages. None the less those of us that want to keep our cowboy jobs have to do it. The books I’m using have kinda ‘multicultural,’ readings. It just highlights how limited my students horizons are. Have they been to Rome? Do they know how to dance the Tango? Have they eaten sushi? Where did they last go on holiday? No, no, no, and to their village, same as always. Five of my students have been outside of Syria, two of them went to Lebanon, 45 minutes away, and one worked in the gulf.
Unsurprisingly students don’t like failing. From my shitty little Mahad to the dizzying heights of the British Council, students complain to the administration if they’ve been failed. The humblest institute to the most prestigious will ‘pass’ their students if nagged enough. Pretty galling as they’d all pass if they did the work. One of my friends quit the BC after a student was bumped up.
On the whole students don’t like work. My students don’t do their homework, I just teach them the same words class in, class out (Fucking Feraz has put pen to paper once. Someone wrote the link for a funny U Tube video on the board.). The American Language Centre courses are really long, removing the need for independent study.
Students also don’t like not understanding the class. If a student doesn’t understand it’s the teachers fault, never a consequence of having ‘passed’ because they told the administration they’d quit if they were failed. Any student in this position should complain to the administration about the teacher. Cowboys will then be replaced if possible.
Strangely students are on the whole less fussed about being able to talk the language than they are about completing books. Having finished Interchange 2b (although not being able to actually talk English) is infinitely superior to talking English but only having done interchange 1B. As you repeat ‘I. Want. A. Damascus. Map,’ to a blank faced Syrian tourism official, rest assured they’ll have completed Touchstone 3 and know far more about the present perfect than you do*.
For some reason none of this dampens my enthusiasm for teaching. Despite explaining what Margaritas are to bemused Syrians and despite getting down on my knees (literally, they like funny foreigners) to beg them to do their homework I love my students very much. I sympathize with there laziness and the three who work warm my heart. Despite fighting my boss for money and despite erratic working hours I do actually enjoy my work.
*When my friend was here we met a site guide who spoke very little English. He got us all to leap over a huge gap in a castle, cheerfully explaining in Arabic that many tourists do this but only one has ever fallen, and he was Japanese.