Monday, 19 September 2011

Now what?

For the last ten weeks, the university department where I teach has been heaving with 550 students and 20-odd teachers. We’ve been hammering listening skills, reading skills, note-taking skills and presentation skills, and assessing and marking like mad. The teachers’ room was a hot stew of people, chatter, banter, moaning, papers, overflowing tables, overflowing bins, overheated machinery, scattered stationery, scattered coffee mugs and slewed piles of photocopies and books. On Friday a Saudi lady, the tempestuous Muminah, who has long been convinced that her teachers were in league to bring about her downfall, received her report and threw a fit, and a book, and assorted odds and ends, because she had not been awarded the grades she wanted, but merely those she had actually earned. Now it’s all over. I went in this morning, unlocked the door and sat at my usual computer in cold and silence.

In the building there were two other teachers and four students, whose writing test I invigilated. After marking the scripts, we decided it was pointless for three of us to watch four students do a reading test. I therefore selflessly volunteered to go home, and here I am. I have no more lessons until Monday the 26th, and the way things are at the moment, only 54 hours between now and Christmas. I seem to be the only regular teacher there who has an inner conviction that things will pick up pretty soon. Everyone else is looking for work in other places.

Where does my inner conviction stem from? I suppose it’s really no conviction at all - merely a disinclination to apply to language schools or F.E. colleges that pay £18.00 an hour when I have been used to more than twice that amount for the last four years. F.E. colleges, under the yoke of Ofsted, further burden you with absurd amounts of paperwork, the message of which is, we do not trust you to teach without an overseer. I cannot muster a shred of enthusiasm for interviews in such places, or the acting ability necessary to pretend I want to teach in one. There is a very nasty rumour going round that our department will be taken over by a study chain, one of those educational Tesco Metros that so many university English Language centres have been forced to sell out to. I looked at their website. Predictably, it has photos of teachers with smiles like floodlights, teaching mostly oriental students who are revelling in the beams, soaking up learning in paroxysms of delight. As indeed they do! The teaching is dynamic, of course, the learning experience first class, the centre naturally dedicated to excellence, with a wide range of courses: that our copy-writer’s style is free of cliché is no idle boast! This is more wish-list than prospectus. The teachers will be netting around a tenner an hour for delivering their caring, smiling, dynamic, first-class learning experiences, so I wouldn’t place too much faith in that advertising copy if I were you. For that kind of money you are unlikely to find people with the qualifications and experience required to deliver on all those promises.

If this happens, I shall not stay around to have my hourly rate slashed and admin load doubled, so I am probably going to be available. I can teach students and train teachers. I’m not interested in administrational positions, I have scant patience with management speak, little time for meetings and a short way with time wasters. Snap me up…

Here is Gillian Rose on meetings:

'... I found myself in a routinely tedious faculty meeting, in which, as usual, I carried no presence whatsoever. As drivers insist that the blaring radio aids their concentration on the road, so I always found that a volume open on my lap enabled me to pay the small amount of attention needed to navigate these shallows. When asked with withering detection by the impassive secretary whether the book I was blatantly perusing was good, I nonchalantly replied, 'I only read good books.' I responded similarly to her policing my failure to send a note of apology for a meeting that I actually managed to miss, 'But I'm not sorry.'

Rose, G., 1995. Love's Work. Chatto & Windus

That's the way to do it, but make sure you are indispensable before you take this tone.


Fionnchú said...

I understand, and I hope more work comes your way soon, at least work you want to do. I know how hard it is to muster enthusiasm for these gigs.

Now, teaching where I do at a euphemistically "market-funded" higher-learning institution, this as you hint may be the sign of a future with lots more Tesco-type chains; my employer has one local branch in a former mall.

Rumo[u]r has it they are looking to expand into your kingdom, as they have into other jurisdictions abroad as they buyout other schools and diversify, so be prepared. I suspect the takeover of many smaller, private, career-oriented and vocational-directed degree and certificate-granting colleges looms large, as corporations claim this once-overlooked market.

Vilges Suola said...

Yes, it looks like that's the future. We have been invited to a meeting next week to hear what the upper echelons have decided to do. I don't know what reaction they are expecting to the announcement that they are going to halve our pay. I hope it will be a mass walk-out of the whole pre-sessional and foundation course teaching staff.

Bo said...

Best of luck with forging a way ahead. Good to see you enjoying Rose: only readable thing she ever wrote, and the poor woman had to snuff it to do so.

Vilges Suola said...

Thanks a lot. Indeed. Have read only samplings of G.R.'s other stuff and gave up on it. I like her description of shit as the product of 'our lovely eating of the sun'.

The TEFL Tradesman said...

Regarding INTO, my dear Mister V, they are the best of a rather bad bunch, I've heard.

I mean, if they take over your Uni's ELT provision you will probably still have a job, but with a pay-cut, a smaller pension, and you'll be treated as an office commodity and expected to work a 9 to 5 day.

But they WON'T cut your balls off. And that HAS to be a bonus, no?

Vilges Suola said...

Right. Best bunch of cunts out of a bunch of cunts - what's not to like? We had a meeting today where HR assured us they would not change our present terms and conditions... probably. INTO does not recognise unions, does not recognise the teachers' pension scheme, and elsewhere they pay £14.00 per hour. They did not promise not to cut our balls off, either.

Anonymous said...

£14 with a bunch of cunts who may leave your balls in place against £18 with an Ofsted inspection thrown in- if you must stay in the UK, then go for the £18.

I did an FE Ofsted and it was bollocks- print off reams of shit and talk the talk and you get through. They're only there to tick boxes, so make sure your file is fat. I called a coffee break ten minutes into my observation and got away with it because it was an evening class and the inspector wanted to go home, understood sod all of what I was teaching and had been a few minutes late arriving. Ofsted's a tedious exercise in toilet paper. It's like an NVQ but they make it sound like root canal work. Mind you, I left the UK for warmer climes and haven't been back. Any real teacher who can't bullshit through Offsted has probably crossed the line into alcoholism.

Anonymous said...

This just makes my boil bleed. What is it about EFL that makes managers/owners/adminstrator-type people treat their teachers with such contempt? I am so tired of hearing, "Well, if you don't like it, there's the door." What other profession brushes aside their best and most productive employees so disgracefully. Nothing makes me lose my sense of humour so fast as this kind of thing. And yet we persist.....Is it the students? Is it the love of the language? Is it fear of looking for something where we are more valued? Or is it because we actually don't beliwve we are worth more? Probably AOTA.

Vilges Suola said...

The line we are being fed at the moment is that full time staff and hourly paid staff with long service will retain the same pay and conditions, but that new staff will belong to INTO, who pay shit, don't recognise the union and don't pay pensions. Thus a two-tier system would result with university teachers seconded to the joint venture and the pool of staff who come in in summer paid by INTO at something like 14 quid an hour. None of the present staff would sell themselves so cheap so we will end up with new CELTA graduates instead - and this of course will fuck up the British Council recognition we worked so had to gain two years ago.

Vilges Suola said...



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