Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Tuesday, 24th July

I had to take 23 Chinese students to the cop-shop this morning to register them as ‘friendly aliens’, or whatever they are. I don’t know the city at all, and asked an Indian lady in the street if we were heading in the right direction. ‘I’ll show you’, she said, and so we followed her. As we were parting company, the woman’s little daughter asked her something.

‘Van moment’ her mum said to her. ‘I vill just show uncle the vay.’

Isn’t that nice? It casts me, a stranger, as the woman’s brother and someone whom the little girl can expect to be kind to her. I have been hearing her voice over and over in my head all day: ‘I vill just show uncle the vay’, and thinking how lovely. Most gratifying that although she was a good twenty years younger than me, she didn’t say ‘I vill just show grandfather the way.’ Had she done so, I’d have been pretty pissed off.

‘Uncle’ is probably not a term my Chinese students would apply to me, at least not today. Sorting out their documents and photocopies this morning got me pretty ratty.

‘Can everybody listen?’ I ask.

Conversation in Chinese continues, smart-phones are prodded and farted about with, and I receive all the attention you’d expect from a pig’s arse. I repeat the request in tones just this side of polite, to no effect. I then holler in tones so far to the other side of polite that paying customers such as these might with justice complain they are being insulted. Blinking and resentful they stare at me, the unavuncular, gratifyingly silent nevertheless.

And he spake, saying:

‘We need to photocopy your passports, as you were repeatedly told, but were too busy dicking about with your fucking smart-phones to take any gorm. The photocopier here in the Little CHEF (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners) is out of toner and useless at this most hectic time of year, because nobody had thought to lay in extra toner until now, and it is apparently released but costively from one of the moons of Jupiter once a quarter or so. We shall therefore proceed to the Wilkins Micawber building, where half of the photocopies will get done before the machine packs up and we will have to troop off to another office to finish the rest, by which time I will be a sweating, bad-tempered bear-with-a-sore-arse and you will treat me with the sort of gruff, convict-like, off-hand compliance I probably deserve. Then an Indian lady in the street will delight me with her turn of phrase, and I will be biddable for the rest of the day. Until I get home and open this e-mail:

Dear all,

I understand that because of problems with procedures and current staffing levels in HR there is a strong possibility that our July pay claims will not be paid until 25th September (instead of 25th August). I think you will all agree that this situation is totally unacceptable, therefore R. has asked the union to deal the issue.

Jesus wept, can you fucking credit it, I bleeding well ask you. God's cock. Then I’ll have a gin and tonic and a glass or two of red and wonder, not for the first time, what the hell I am doing with my life. Right, we're late for the Filth, get fell in.’


In the afternoon, the students worked individually on their essays and presentations as it has become uphill work to interest them in anything not obviously connected with the assessment. I talked to everyone, clearing up misconceptions, suggesting approaches, pointing out that they really do not have the leisure to spend the session chatting to their friends in Chinese on networking sites. It was worrying that so many of them thought they did. It is also worrying that so many of them have ignored the ban on use of all but a prescribed handful of websites as source material; they are not yet in a position to distinguish authoritative information from horse shit, and there's no shortage of that on the web. It was also rather worrying that some of them have adopted a Young Earth Creationist approach to research, writing their essays first and then casting about for evidence to shore up their foregone conclusions. Aw, sod it - this is not the Real University, it's just an ante-room. If they can cobble together a reasonably coherent effort after a week's input, that will have to do. We have another six hours today, so roll on five o' clock. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012


I've pulled the Networked Blogs ap from my Facebook account, lest certain persons recognise themselves on here and not understand. At all. Ever.

Also, I discovered a while ago that Networked Blogs, or Facebook, or Satan, has automatically added me to a list of blogs by people at the university where I work. This pissed me off and I contacted Facebook requesting that I be removed from the list, as I've been pretty indiscreet about the place on occasion. They replied that they were unable to do this, which is bollocks - why can't they? Anyway, what with one thing and another I didn't get round to pursuing the matter, and since I can no longer find the list, I don't expect anybody will find me - but then, nobody expected chunks of airliner to come raining down over Lockerbie.

Talk about the End of Privacy.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

We Have Lift-Off

Tomorrow is when it starts. Summer is our busiest time and the coming nine weeks are full on - something of a shock to the system after so long with so little work. To come: 500 students for the pre-sessional, a crew of Algerian pilots, a group of Russian university students and tomorrow, a bunch of sixteen or so Chinese undergraduates who are arriving late due to visa problems. This lot will have to cram a five-week course into three, each day with six hours of lessons, God help us, instead of the usual four. Watch now as the cool, grey, wet weather we have been having of late cedes to tropical humidity, and picture the class between three o' clock and five each day; you and the students are nodding and yawning and counting the minutes, your clothes feel like cling-film and the inside of your head like a crammed hoover-bag. Ah, well. A shock to the system, but a boost to the bank account, so no complaints, OK?

No worries, I'll find a few.
I have at present a group of Chinese students who arrived a couple of weeks ago. Chinese students do not expect to ask questions in lessons or to be required to do anything other that sit passively listening or copying stuff from the whiteboard, so early lessons are rather like teaching a melon patch. It usually takes a week or so to get everybody talking and laughing and collaborating and disagreeing and discussing. The present group has taken longer than a week. Lessons proceeded in anus-puckering silence: at the end one felt oneself less educator than alternative stand-up comic whose act has just died before an audience of Plymouth Brethren. We explained our rationale over and over, but the students were unmoved, and one or two took to a snide and giggly non-cooperation, behaving rather as if the teacher were a telly in the corner of a bar, there to be either watched or ignored in favour of any competing distraction.   

You don't expect to have to confiscate things from university students, do you? We don't have a drawer full of sweeties, cap-guns, water-pistols, hypodermics and Bowie knives to be given back to their owners at the end of term, and this is as it should be when your students are graduates in their early twenties. Yet this week my colleague Sharon and I have had to wrest Smart-phones from the hands of two of these ostentatiously yawning, sneering little twerps and give it the old 'see-me-after-class' bit. On Friday I took aside the sneerer-in-chief at the break and said I wanted a word.

'I want to go to the bathroom' he said.

'You can go to the fucking bathroom when I'm done wiping the floor with you, sonny,' I implied. And I had to sit him down and rebuke him for dumb insolence and lack of house spirit. Incredible, really. I haven't had to play the beak (he is furm but fare) since I taught fourteen-year-old kids in Greece in 2003. Well, things picked up astonishingly after this. The afternoon lesson was much more like it, with laughter and rounds of applause for people's early attempts at making presentations, and everyone left much happier.

So, sod all that 'learner-training' malarkey, explaining your rationale to students and offering choices that empower the individual to develop greater awareness of his / her cognitive style, leading to enhanced ownership of the tools for independent learning, an shit. Just take the biggest pillock aside and give him a damn good bollocking. Works a treat. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

How to be a Rotten Spoilsport

If you are a teacher, how often in the course of a week do you have to say 'yes, but it's not that simple...'?

And just to spoil the sport of the spoilsport: your spelling and punctuation could do with a seeing-to, sunshine.


From a You-tuber to me:

'I used to be an evolutionist but then I decided to check out the evidence and the facts, just as any real man would do. I am now a young earth creationist, just as anyone with any common sense and courage would be after checking the facts.'

'Real men' believe the Earth was created after the invention of beer. 


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