Monday, 29 July 2013

Listen Up

Students did a listening test today. This was a lecture on cross-cultural communication in the classroom. The kids (for so do undergraduates appear to me now) took notes and then turned these into little paragraphs as answers to five or so questions. Amazing how often students will come up with pointless observations of the blindingly apparent: 

Interculture in the classroom. When teachers are teaching in the classroom, they always use something which already exists the classroom to help them. Such as desk, window, building.

I cannot deny it: this must be what they call a cultural universal. Even so, it had nothing to do with anything on the CD.  

Several students wrote stuff about sheets, but none of the tutors has managed to work out what they meant or what it was they misheard:

In Europe, the students participate in class by sheeting.

Answers on a postcard, please, in your very best joined-up writing. Nothing obvious, please, such as 'cheating' - that's been dismissed already. Exercise some ingenuity. 

Some of the students' notes brought odd images to mind:

In USA, students can do anything they want to attract the teacher

'Please, sir!'
And one young lady found the whole thing just too, too much:

Sorry I tried my best to understand what record said. But I still REALLY confuse about this question.  But I think I should write something here, or the white paper would make people upset. Hope you see this will not mad at me. Have a good day. 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Put Me Right If I'm Wrong

There's all sorts of stuff I just don't get.

I mentioned a week or two ago that our small department was once again under threat of being taken over by a private education provider. It appears that this is not going to happen in the coming academic year at least, which gives us a little breathing space. The privateers will be running a couple of foundation courses, though, one of which is the English for Art and Design Course that I mentioned here. Uncharitable as this may sound, I do hope it's an unmitigated flop.

I have not heard any good news about private providers. They pay teachers very considerably less than university rates and require them to teach to a rigid timetable: if it's 14.00 hours on the 25th of October, you know you'll be on page 30 of the course materials booklet. This means there is severely limited scope for creativity, or for the kind of leading from behind and following the mood and direction of the class that I think is one of the chief rewards of teaching intelligent adults. Only one teacher of my acquaintance actually liked being told exactly what to do in this way. She worked for a franchise in Greece that had schools all over the country and had hit upon the cookie-cutter lesson approach as the only way of dealing with the fact that many teachers of English in Greece are clueless about ELT methodology and need to be regimented in this manner. I had taught Ruth on two training courses and knew that the ability to combine planning and principled improvising was one she never developed. Are the private providers adopting the same approach in anticipation of their having to employ less able or experienced teachers?

I sat talking with Professor Jiaying Wang the other day, she who had been so helpful when I had a bit of a meltdown back in February. She hasn't heard much good news about private providers either. She said that the kids who've been yanked through these courses enter their departments in October still very hazy as to how to gut a book, write a summary, construct an essay or offer a well-worded excuse for lateness. It then falls to the lecturers to start filling the gaps, which is a huge waste of time.

If anyone who reads this has more positive things to say about private providers, or feels I have misrepresented them, do leave me a comment and put me straight.


At the building where I work, we've had the builders in since March. This means the lift has been out of commission and there's been nerve-frazzling racket from hammers and power-drills. Students have complained. The din has been toned down during lesson time and classes have been moved elsewhere whenever possible, but the whole business is a damn nuisance and has pissed everybody off. At a time of cuts and staff reduction, when even the very paperclips of your filing cabinet are all numbered, this is the reason for the building work. No further comment.           

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


Introductory sentence from a Chinese student's essay:

'As time goes on, the world has taken place.

I rather like this. It sounds at once meaningful and meaningless. You could preface it with 'Ahhhh, Glasshopper...' That dates me. How many readers understand that reference?

Bongggggg. Chingggg. (gongs)
Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee (Shakuhachi there)
Master O-Nan Wang (the blind one, obviously.) 'We must not seek the answers to the questions, Glasshopper, but the questions to the answers...'

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Season Ticket

Expires 02/08/13
Monday morning. I board the 8.05 to work and find a quiet nook to sit in. I open my bag to get my season ticket, which usually resides in a small pocket along with my debit card and other plastic. Today it is not in its accustomed place.  Shit. It had better be somewhere in this bag: it’s worth £275.

It’s a capacious black bag with three compartments. It is stuffed with books, board pens, post-its, typewriters, wax tablets, mummies and dust. There's evidence of a breeding population of Bic biros down there, but only ultrasound will prove that. I scrabble about searching the blackness for a small navy-blue wallet.  No ticket. I’m getting angry now and sweating like a horse. It’s not here. Swining bloody rotten fuck. Fortunately my debit card is there, and I just have to shell out £19.00 on a day return.

I decide on the train home that I must have put the ticket on the kitchen counter when I emptied my pockets on Friday evening prior to shoving my clothes into the washing machine. These days I check my pockets carefully, having washed several season tickets over the last five years. (They stand up to this treatment remarkably well, but obviously get too soggy to go through a ticket barrier.) It’ll be sitting there when I get home, no sweat. However, the ticket is not on the kitchen counter, or the mantelpiece, or the living room windowsill, in the knife drawer, behind the CD player or under any of the many cushions. It's not under the microwave, under the sink or in the CD tower. Shitty rotten damn. I’m getting rattier and sweatier as I fail to turn it up. It is not on the bloody bookshelves or in the fucking fridge.

Did I leave it at the check-out of Tesco or Marks and Sparks, or Adnam’s wine shop on Friday on my way home? I call Adnam’s and end up talking to a machine. I call Tesco and end up talking to some bloody uncomprehending half-wit in some central office miles from Stamford. He says he’ll put me through to somebody or other, and then the line goes dead. I don’t call Marks, because the computer freezes and I can’t find the website to get a number. Every fucking bloody thing is fucking bloody rotten useless when you bloody bloody want to get something bloody well flaming done. I’m livid. The moronic, hysterical whooping of pigeons, that curse of the high summer, is now like the Chinese fucking water-torture and I could cheerfully wring their necks.

Did I put the ticket along with my plastic into my carrier bag at Marks, or Tesco, or Adnam’s? I do, sometimes, if I’m too laden to open the black bag. And Jesus fucking wept, did I throw the damn thing out with the carrier bags I stuffed with rubbish on Saturday morning? I put a pair of food bags over my hands and go outside and down to the big communal bins. It’s 32 degrees C, and throwing back a bin lid, I release a cloud of flies and a hot blast of putrefaction. It appears somebody has thrown away a Chinese take-out, as the oozing, soggy bin bags are covered in rice. I look closer and see that the rice is retreating from the sunlight - I've disturbed a maggot rave. I start rootling through the putrefying mess, while mentally conducting a telephone row with an obtuse fucking bimbo at Crosscountry trains.

‘No, I haven’t kept the receipt. But I have the debit card number and the bank transaction code.’

‘We ainley accept receipts?’

‘Why in bollocking hell can’t you accept the transaction code, you silly bitch?’

‘Bear with me?....’

I rip open old M&S ‘bags for life’ and rifle through green bread, blown fish skins and suppurating chicken bones. Get on with it, woman.

You have to gay to the station where you bought it? And fill in a form?’

‘And how bloody long’s that going to take?’

‘Bear with me…’

Next door’s chucked out a pizza which now looks like a septic scab that dropped off a rhino. You silly cow, don’t keep me stuck here much longer.   

‘I’m afraid I dayn’t neigh.’

Useless bloody rotten arses. I mentally hang up, give up, and go inside. I’m drenched in sweat and feel soiled in body and spirit, as if I’d been exhuming the week-old corpse of a murder victim. I want to move house.

I decide to look in the swing bin in the kitchen. In it, there’s a plastic carrier. It’s full of old receipts, and there among them is the little wallet with my season ticket, clean, dry, unharmed.

After peeling off my sodden clothes and a shower, I reflect that the swing bin should have been the first place I looked. I should have started with the simplest, most accessible, most obvious place. I realise that I unfailingly go for the worst-case scenario in any situation.

‘You’ve got a fan,’ a colleague told me this morning.

‘Oh yeah?’

It’s one of the new teachers, hired for the frantic summer courses, and to whom I’ve been assigned as a ‘buddy’.

‘Oh, she thinks you’re great -  you’re always so calm and relaxed, and really helpful and reassuring.’

I saw myself on Monday evening, Mr Calm-and-Relaxed, the Helpful, the Reassuring, dripping in sweat, furiously riving stinking, maggot-blown bin-bags apart, effing, blinding and fantasising the slaughter of pigeons and innocent call-centre kids.

I wonder if those people who crack up and go on shooting sprees are like me? They’re usually polite loners who shock everybody: ‘he seemed so normal!’ I just had a look at the mugshot on my rescued season ticket, though, and I reckon the reaction wouldn’t be ‘he seemed so normal’ from anyone who saw it, but more on the lines of: ‘God, he looks a cold-hearted bugger, doesn’t he? It’s just what you’d expect’.   


Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Visit of the Fleeting Gentlemen

Know all men by these presents:

Friday, 5 July 2013

'...makes it all worthwhile.'

TGIF! At 15.00 hours this afternoon I was hightailing it along the corridors of the David Beckham Building on my way to the station and freedom, last week now a stone removed from my shoe. In the corridors I am often enthusiastically greeted by people I think I don't know from Adam, so I wear what I think of as my 'Mykonos face', the expression of unfocused, vacuous affability that business owners on that pricey Aegean rock feel obliged to evince at all times, lest they offend some returning visitor who patronised their bar or restaurant on one occasion in 1989. Anyway, on my way out I coincided with Hanan coming the opposite way.

'Bye!' she said. 'I was happy today, because you were our teacher!'

You cannot grab and kiss veiled Saudi ladies - you risk being misunderstood. But I felt chuffed to bits for about a minute and a half. At least.


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