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.