Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A Day in the Life V

This week is a reading week, meaning that the students in the university (as opposed to our little antechamber) have no lectures and are thus free to enjoy the luxury of total immersion in books  on International Business Management, and similar treats. Or just to bugger off and do nothing for seven days. I say 'reading week', but the university has decreed that it shall henceforth be termed 'Enhancement Week' because they think that sounds kind of like all like positive and dynamic and go-getting and stuff like that. Anyone who can coin such a term will never be persuaded of its cheesiness, and so Enhancement Week is the official designation, pending coinage of a cheesier. Anyway, reading week gave me reason to hope that my silent Monday evening Undergrad Language Support students might give the class a miss, allowing me to get home for seven instead of nine.

I asked colleagues how long one is expected to sit waiting for students to arrive before dowsing the lights and getting the hell out. Fifteen minutes was the consensus. But then suppose just as you were gleefully hightailing it out of the building, you met a single student coming in the opposite direction, (fuck!) late with a legitimate reason. You'd be forced to return to the classroom, reboot the computer, get all your bloody books and papers out again and resign yourself to trying to drag language out of a lone Trappist for an hour and three quarters. With a colleague who uses the same room for the same purpose, I discussed tactics for escaping unnoticed:

  • The windows don't open very wide and in any case appear to give onto an enclosed area, so forget it. You'd have to climb back in - and think what an unteacherly figure you'd cut to any arriving student, stuck there like a trapped burglar. 
  • There's a long, narrow corridor which is a definite risk: there'd be no chance of avoiding an approaching undergrad unless perhaps you were wearing a burka, which really would be taking it all a bit too seriously. 
  • The corridor successfully negotiated, you could go up the stairs, across the first floor and down the staircase on the other side of the building...
  • ...then you'd have to get your head down and charge through the brightly-lit entrance hall like a spider tear-arsing across a living-room carpet before reaching the escape-hatch of a back door that can only be opened by staff with swipe-cards.

I cannot believe that we actually sat and discussed this. Even so, on getting to the classroom I was pleased to find at the near end of the corridor a hidden staircase of the kind that permitted servants to move unobtrusively around grand houses. Perfect. I passed this on to Emma today.


In the event, five young Chinese ladies show up. Not as good as none, but better than one. They greet me cheerily but as always, once the lesson is underway they revert to the downward gaze and shy whispering that for them betokens modesty and respect but drives me scatty. We are doing presentation skills this evening, something they have requested, because they have presentations to make. The usual Chinese ploy is to write out the entire presentation, commit it to memory and then recite it. We spend a lot of time telling them not to do this: it makes you sound robotic, your written text will be denser than spoken discourse and thus more difficult to decode, and an unexpected interruption can put you off your stroke and once you have lost your place it can be hard to remember where you had got to. Fear of grammatical error dinned into them at school makes them reluctant to comply with our instructions, though. So this evening we make notes on the whiteboard for a chunk of presentation, and to their horror I require each of them to come out to the front and present the material from the notes only. This they do very well, so the atmosphere lightens. They have, as requested, brought with them the presentations they are working on. Thank fuck for that, because I am getting fed up of everything having to come from me, and the material I have brought is thorough but dull as a vodka and tonic without ice.

I call a five minute break. There's no teachers' room to retreat to, so no chance of tea. I take the lift to the third floor, walk down the stairs to the ground floor, go for a pee and, having thus exhausted the opportunities for diversion that the building affords, return to the classroom. I'm hoping for a buzzing, workshoppy hour with the girls collaborating on their presentations.

Lydia shows me her PowerPoint presentation. We reduce the amount of text on her slides and I persuade her to come to the console and present a bit of her work. This she does, and I give feedback.

'When are you giving the presentation?' I ask.

'I make last week,' she says.

Right. The thing is done, graded, fed back on, dead. They will not be making any more presentations this year. Nothing I did this evening was of any immediate use. 


Do not put yourself forward to do undergraduate English language support.

Never take anything for granted. Never assume that students see the logic in teachers' questions and suggestions. Check all your instructions even if you fear you are treating adults like morons - and this is my greatest fear.

Let's go home. There's gin and tonic to come.



John L. Murphy / "Fionnchú" said...

Walking about Siena, peeking into a sanctuary that was founded over a millennium ago, raw and eerie, my wife asks me last night what happens if no congregants show up. Does the priest still have to say Mass? We figure in post-Catholic times this may be more of an issue, given Italian cities full of churches and fewer regular faithful. I have had that leap of hope when nobody is on time for class, but it never has transpired that nobody showed up late. Anyway, given my commute, I'd be less delighted than annoyed if I'd have come all that way for nothing. Ciao from Italy!

Vilges Suola said...

Never happened to me either. Hoping it might this evening. Enjoy Italy. I'm envious.

Paul Brownsey said...

" 'Enhancement Week' "

Oh, they would call it that, wouldn't they?

There was someone in management at Glasgow Uni whom a colleague used to call "the Queen of Enhancement" because, he said, she had never sent around an all-staff e-mail that did not include "enhance".

Reading weeks are, of course, a wheeze for cutting down still more the time spent on teaching.

Vilges Suola said...

I heard today that last year 'reading week' was called 'employability week'. Go figure.

The TEFL Tradesman said...

I had a vaguely similar experience several years ago when I was unfortunately working for a well-known producer of foreign undergraduate fodder (not Bellerbys at all, by the way).

I was told that the Business Dept would be hijacking my students for our 2-hour block on a Friday as they had to make their presentations, and would I help them to do so? "Of course", I eagerly replied, knowing that I would be letting myself in for more than two hours of extra work, but at least I would be able to avoid the late Friday session and do something more interesting, like drinking coffee and surfing the net.

I duly taught my charges how to do a great presentation - all in one two hour class! Then I told them to sign up for a brief tutorial once they had made a start, so that I would be able to give them feedback on their first class presentations.

Of course, how many signed up? Less than half the class. And how many of them actually turned up? ONE! But we went through his work and I made some pointers for improvement.

So I made a point of actually observing the performance given by this student and gave him some hopefully useful feedback for the future. The others I ignored.

Yet my line manager was quite angry the following Monday. Why hadn't I been there and stayed for the whole two hours? I pointed out to him that (a) I was under the impression that the Business Dept had taken over the periods and therefore (b) I was not obliged to be there, and (c) I only turned up to observe that single student because he was the only one who had expressed an interest in my assistance.

But somehow my line manager was not happy, and thus began my swift decline. Overall though, I am SO glad I have managed to put all that Tefl and Eap crap behind me now!

Vilges Suola said...

Do please tell me what you do and how you did it, cos I'm getting to the point where I could cheerfully ditch it IF I knew about anything else.


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