For reasons too personal and too tedious to relate, I was not happy at school, I was unhappy at university, and I did not enjoy the year-long diploma in English Language Teaching that I did in 1987 – 88. I have therefore never really been happy in an educational setting. Now, given this admission and the way I have earned a living for the better part of thirty years, some questions inevitably present themselves, perhaps the most obvious being ‘why the bloody hell did you become a teacher, you dozy pillock?’
I’ve never met anyone who took a conscious decision to become a teacher of EFL, although I suppose there must be some people out there who did. Everyone I know drifted into it, the way people say they wind up in drugs or prostitution. The profession, if it is a profession, was at one time full of ‘resting’ actors, journalists between jobs and recent graduates who had not yet figured out what they were doing on this planet. When I got my first of many temporary teaching jobs in Cambridge in the early eighties, I fell into the latter category. The school, which is now probably invisible under rampant ivy, was owned by two elderly, tweedy queens who no doubt thought themselves very discreet. I have absolutely no idea why they employed me. The only other teacher was a softly spoken, dark-jawed and arty-looking young man with long hair. He was quite good-looking. I probably looked passably cute in my rugby shirt in those days, too. Perhaps this explains why we were both there. I at least had no teaching qualifications and no idea how to teach. The other bloke liked to use the word ‘structured’ a lot, in relation to lessons, homework, course books, etc., so he might have had some course or other under his belt. (As well as having no clue about teaching, by the way, I also had no clue about rugby or any desire to learn – I thought the shirts looked good on me, though.)
Things muddled along in this vein for some time, and I grew heartily to dislike all those converted Victorian and Edwardian houses in Cambridge and the south of England that were full of young Italians, Spaniards and Scandinavians every summer. The premises were usually unbearably stuffy, and the persistent gloomy thought that I really did not know what the fuck I was about, while everyone else did, made the days seem very long and uncomfortable. It was permanent, sweaty stage-fright. Long after this dismal period was over, and I was well-qualified and training teachers in Greece, I had a recurring dream. In it, I had left Greece, and was back in England in yet another stuffy Edwardian building, now the Panglossia School of Languages or whatever, with its inevitable charmless appurtenances of library, cafeteria, noticeboards, photocopier and pigeon holes, and I was desperate to get back to Greece at all costs. Those hundreds of lathophobic aphasic days of school, university and early teaching career have left a deep impression! Again, I realise that although I called this blog ‘lathophobic aphasia’ because I thought it a laughable piece of pretentious jargon, the phrase only stuck in my mind because it describes a feeling I have known well for a long time.
I’m remembering all this because tomorrow, unless there is another fall of snow to paralyse the railways, I am back at work for the first time in three weeks, and the prospect does not please me one bit. The gloom goes a bit beyond the inevitable disgruntlement you feel at resuming the routine after a long period of pleasing yourself; it’s more like the feeling of threat I used to feel as a kid on the eve of going back to school. I tell myself that this feeling belongs back in the nineteen seventies and that the context is now entirely different, not even comparable, but that will not dispel the oppressive sense of some impending test that has been with me nearly every Sunday evening for thirty nine years. I just have to ignore it as I would some trivial, irritating ache or pain.
My goodness me, we are getting gloomy, boys and girls, aren’t we? Now, there’s enough of that. Next Saturday, I’m off to Athens for a week to do a bit of teaching and a lot of eating in tavernas and meeting old friends, so the real time to be gloomy is not until January 24th! And at least that is the day before payday.