Saturday, 2 February 2013

Loony Module II

I spent three days at home a couple of weeks ago marking essays produced by Chinese MA students on my inter-cultural communication module. Marking these things one after the other is a mind-numbing business but there was a deadline to meet, and I wanted to get them all out of the way as soon as possible and sent off to the other tutor whose privilege it is to double mark them.

'When people who have the first time face to face the person who is not the same as me we might naturally classify he is different.'

Er, yeah, OK, go on...

'Cultural generational might avoid the stereotype by preponderance of belief culture'

Got to read that bit again...

' ...might avoid the stereotype by preponderance of belief culture are generated by human then we believe the culture perform and present our mind then it is from like that way and the more people have similar perceive.'

After marking five or so, the mind starts to wander, the gaze starts to slip down the page; there is seeing but no registering of meaning. Then you realise you have just spent five minutes staring at the margin, without a thought in your head.  

In fact, Culture is a kind of common phenomenon on the surface of the earth. For example, to western culture, the doctrine of Christianity, Copernicus's astronomy and Newtonian mechanics is a culture; 

I suppose so.

Women beam waist, fire burning Joan of Arc and abuse Galileo, is also a culture. Birds of the air, the fish in the water do not have these results. 

Jolly good thing too, I reckon. 

I'm comfortable with the way I handled that first module - pleased with myself, actually. Module no. two was intended to centre around improving the students' linguistic performance in business contexts; meetings, negotiations, memos, presentations and what-not. Language development was what I understood to be the main focus – I mean, look at that bloody essay - and this was why I had been asked to teach it. So judge, dear reader, of my horror when I found in session one that we had been joined by what I took to be two highly articulate native speakers of English. Hell, damn and shite, I thought, these two don't need anything I can offer them, nor can I offer them what they need. They don't need language for negotiations, but actual input on negotiating tactics, and if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a tactician. I’m way too innocent.  

EFL teachers have to teach English for all sorts of special purposes: I've done academic English, law, art and design, tourism and marketing, and others I know have done aviation, banking and medicine. Back in more innocent days, older teachers used to tell gibbering rookies 'oh gracious me no, bless you, you don't need to know the subject, the students are the experts on that. You just teach the language for the subject.' I didn't really believe that then, and I believe it even less now. You do have to know the subject pretty well, and if you are teaching an MA module, you'd better be an expert.

There was no point imagining that I could become an expert in inter-cultural negotiation tactics merely by boning up with a few library books in the evenings. I’d have to actually take part in a number of such negotiations, probably over a number of years. I wouldn’t be ready to teach this module for a decade. I started to get paranoid: who allowed native speakers onto a module intended to help non-natives with their language, and why? What does it do for the reputation of the university and of the MA to have someone teaching by the seat of his pants? And what does it do to me, fearing exposure as a fraud in every session? 

It did my fucking head in, is the answer. Just as an infuriating process called svchost.exe frequently sends the CPU usage screaming up to 100% and paralyses my laptop, the fear of failure dominated my thoughts to the exclusion of every other consideration and I felt nothing but anxiety, simmering and occasionally boiling over, for a week.

I went to see the lovely Professor Jiaying Wang, who’s in charge of the MA. She pointed out that the two people who were worrying me were nowhere near as clued up as I feared, that I was not required to teach business content but inter-cultural communication, and having a native speaker on the course along with the non-natives was therefore a good opportunity for all concerned. 

‘The students really like you!’ she said. ‘They appreciate your sense of humour and all the work you put in and how clear you make everything for them. The only reason I’m not trying to persuade you to go on is that I can see it’s stressing you out and I know how bad that feels.’ 

Bless you for that, Jiaying, I'll never forget it. Pity I can't use your real name here.

We agreed I would do one more session while she found a replacement for me. So feeling like a prisoner on a tumbrel being transported to Tyburn rather than a commuter on the Birmingham New Street train, I went in and did it. And it was fine. Nimit the Native Speaker was indeed as clueless about intercultural communication as Jiaying had said, and the other ‘native speaker’ Carla, was in fact Colombian and married to an Englishman, and she very much appreciated some of the vocabulary work we did.

I told the group at the end of the session that I was withdrawing from the module.

‘Oh, that’s a pity!’ Carla said.

‘You don’t teach us again?’ Rui asked.


‘But we love you!’ she said.

I was pressed for an explanation, and mumbled some crap about needing to reduce my hours a bit for health reasons, and felt rather pathetic saying it.

‘But why is it our hours you have to reduce?’ Meixiu asked. ‘Who’s gonna teach us?’

‘Probably Professor Wang.’       

Consternation! No doubt Jiaying cracks the whip more than I do, and they won't be able to crack in-jokes in Chinese. They probably like me because they think I’m a soft touch, I thought. (Because of course, no other reason is possible.)

By the time I got home I felt completely different about the whole thing, and pretty bloody stupid. Why had I got it into my head that I needed to deliver anything other than discourse analysis and language input, as agreed? Why hadn’t I seen immediately that Nimit was clueless about both, and was going to need to learn language grading and more subtle ways of reading reactions and interpreting utterances when dealing with Chinese people? I e-mailed Jiaying to say I now felt I could hack it, but she replied that she had found someone to replace me, various inter-departmental favours had been granted, and it would all be too complicated to ungrant them.

I now think that the anxiety attack simply coincided with the first day of the module, and my mind latched onto the presence of Nimit and Carla as justification for the purely endogenous fear. The worry did not subside when I knew I was off the module, but fizzed and bubbled on for several days. There’s still the occasional pang – even writing this piece made my stomach roll as I relived how I felt a couple of weeks ago. 'Don't get so stressed,' Jiaying said in her e-mail. 'Life's not about work.' Trouble is, there's not much else in mine these days. 

It’s only been in the last two years that I’ve had these paranoid periods. I used to get just peaceably depressed, not screamingly neurotic, and if I had to choose, I’d stick with the former state. Does anyone else experience this? What do you do about it?        


Candy said...

Spent today on the verge of tears, if that helps. I sit here day in and day out wondering WTF I'm doing. My days are as mind-numbing and make as much sense as the essays you have to mark. I don't teach because that would deprive my teachers of work. I answer emails, I answer the phone. I pretend to preapre cutting edge materials. I can't be arsed. I'm working tonight until 11. I have "meetings" all day tomorrow. What will you do if you pack it in?

Vilges Suola said...

God, that sounds awful. Want to swap jobs? I'd consider anything these days that didn't involve teaching. I'm pig sick of stage fright.

Candy said...

You okay? What happened on Facebook?


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