Saturday, 25 June 2016

An Inspector Calls

Hell, I’m not used to this. I'm fucking knackered. Most of this year I’ve been a gentleman of leisure, rising when I pleased, going to bed when I pleased, going into work on the odd day, afternoon or evening and just about surviving financially. Then suddenly we received the news that twice the expected number of students had enrolled for the first course of the summer, and since the 13th inst., nobody at the Little CHEF (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners) has had time to take so much as a leisurely shit. Not only is there wall-to-wall teaching, but every four years we subject ourselves to voluntary inspection by the British Council, and the inspectors left on Thursday last after probing into every facet of the Little CHEF’s being, like the drug squad searching for cocaine.

Like everyone else, I had prepared fifteen hours’ worth of detailed lesson plans, as every teacher is observed during an inspection. ‘Are you scared?’ one of the students asked me when I told them an inspector would drop in at some point in the week. I snorted unattractively. I’ve observed literally hundreds of lessons myself and had dozens of people observe me for one reason or another, so I’d be interested to meet the inspector who could faze me. That said, I was glad nobody was observing me between two and three on Wednesday afternoon, when I trotted out some materials I made for the same period last year. My group of 18 Chinese twinks just didn’t get it and sat there for about half an hour in that mental deadlock Chinese kids do so well. You ask a question and they just stare at you. You reformulate the question, and they just stare at you. They don't understand but feel that to convey any sign of incomprehension would cause the teacher to lose face, so they simply try not to convey any emotion at all. You feel as if you are teaching a group photograph. You abandon the task in sheer exasperation and the next thing you do takes off and there's loads of talk and laughter and you wonder if they are the same kids. One colleague told me he felt his observed lesson had been somewhat less successful than one could wish: ‘I might as well have dropped me kex* and shat on the fuckin’ desk.’ He had apparently omitted to make a photocopy of his lesson plan for his own reference and thus been fain to ask the observer to hand back his. This is rather as if an actor playing Macbeth spotted an audience member following the performance with a copy of the Penguin edition of the play and felt it necessary to cadge it off him.

As no Briddish Kyncellor came to my classes on Tuesday or Wednesday, I knew I could expect one on Thursday. Somewhat anticlimactically after I'd spent most of the previous weekend making materials and lesson plans, he sodded off after about ten minutes. This was either because i) he knew a consummate professional when he saw one, or ii) he was pig sick of observing lessons after three days. Anyway, at a focus group for students the inspectors asked what mark out of ten the students would give us for the quality of our teaching. They said 'eleven'. 

In summer, I always hope for groups of graduate students but this year I have two groups of Chinese undergrads. They are lovely kids, (well, early twenties) friendly and funny, but Jesus, I’ll swear their concentration spans get… hang about, I need a refill… shorter every year. I’ve moaned before about their dependence on their smartphones. On Friday, I made everyone switch them off and surrender them to my safe keeping. Twenty of the damn things lay dead in a row on my desk, and I knew a brief moment of triumph. But it was brief. My colleague Sophia informed me today that there is such a thing as FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out. This is anxiety caused by the nagging thought that your friends might be having a marvelous time somewhere and you have not been informed, hence the constant need to be checking your e-mails and texts. I don't suffer from this, because I know damn well that other people are almost always doing something more exciting than I am and I'm resigned to the fact. Apparently FOBO, or Fear Of Being Offline is also a thing. When deprived of their phones, my students' FOMO/FOBO seems to cause a complete mental shut down, an inability to be: they just bloody sit there and stare holes in their books. Well, they are going to have to get used to unsmartphoned moments and learn to bloody concentrate. I’m not indulging FOBO (FFS) all summer.

Ree-speck, by the way, to our course leader for his unfailing patience, empathy, courtesy and good humour in the past week, and always. At least in public: he might have a collection of cloth dolls at home that he stabs with pins. In his place I’d probably have punched somebody by now.

*****


*Kex = Lancashire for trousers.

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