Thursday, 23 February 2012

On Not Giving Up (Or trying not to)

I scheduled an appointment with Hamid yesterday for twelve thirty, so he turned up at three. His plan for Monday’s observed lesson had been waffly and pointless, and the execution of his lesson of a piece with it. I needed to go over his plans for today and Friday in the hope of rescuing him from total failure and his students from catatonia. (Actually, they’re from France, Libya and Vietnam.)

I do not easily give up on people. I maintain the innocent hope that even the authors of certain comments appended to this Yahoo news article could, if we spent a little time together, be brought round to seeing what witless, vicious, benighted, illiberal, ignorant, arrogant shits they are, and mend their ways. I’ve witnessed the scales fall from the eyes of many trainee teachers, scales often forced upon them by a tacit agreement among their relatives that X is the dunce of the family and not expected to be good at anything. It’s always a marvellous thing to see someone dump a lifetime’s accumulation of other people’s patronage and scorn. I knew that Hamid’s problem was not a want of self-belief, but an inability to be specific about goals and a cheerful obliviousness of the possibility that having specified them, one might plan to achieve them. We sat down together, he smiling and eager, and me in Anne Sullivan mode.

His new lesson plan was as vague and airy as its predecessor. Reading it, one had no idea what was to be taught, why or how. Phrases from some pro-forma lesson-plan template somewhere were scattered throughout: ‘teacher engages in evaluation’ ‘to equip students with tools for online research’. Our exchange might have been scripted by Ionesco:

- So, you’re going to use the internet?

- No.

- What are you going to do at the start of the lesson?

- I’m show some bicture.

- What of?

- Some bicture, show them.

- Pictures of what?

- I find on internet.

- Why?

- Estudent will be look this bicture.

Oh, bugger it, forget the bloody pictures and move on.

- You don’t have any phonology aims here.

- Yes, I say them how bronounce some word.

- Which words are you going to focus on?

- Some word, from teckerst.

- OK, give me one example.

- This teckerst, from book.

- Hamid, give me just one frigging example of a bloody word whose pron you want to teach.

- ‘Football’.

Hallelujah! They know the word already, but what the hell, it’s the first specific item he has come up with in twenty minutes.

- What will you show them about ‘football’?

- How can we bronounce: football.

- Where’s the stress?

- ?

- What happens when the /t/ and the /b/ come together in this word?*


OK, forget pronunciation, this is obviously a refinement that needn't detain us: more pressing to establish whether Hamid has any clue why he is standing in front of a class in the first place. I tried to get him to imagine himself in the lesson, to walk through it mentally. What will you do, I asked, at the very start? What exactly will be your actions and words?

- I’m say them about what will be the lisson.

- What. Precisely. Specifically. Will. You. Say.

- What abouts the lisson, generally.

We continued in this vein for about twenty-five minutes. Hamid just doesn’t appear to possess the neuronal pathways along which thoughts of planning and organisation proceed, or which are capable of crystallising a single idea from his mental miasma. I have met plenty of people thus afflicted, usually on introductory methodology courses in Athens or Kalamata. They are like those poor sods who can’t sing for toffee but who nevertheless confidently audition for Britain’s Got Talent. The rejection must be most lowering.

That Hamid holds a senior teaching position in his own country is easily explained: uncles, cousins, friends pulled the necessary strings. How can it have come about that he is studying here on a training programme? Was he interviewed? Surely not. He’d never have got past that first hurdle. He submitted a superb first assignment, linguistically and academically way in advance of anything he could have produced on his own. He was adamant in the teeth of tutorly insistence to the contrary that it was his own work, and only the threat of being brought before a plagiarism board at length persuaded him to admit what everyone knew, that he had paid someone to paraphrase a textbook for him. This is a solution to the problem of assignment writing that appears perfectly reasonable to a frighteningly large number of students, many of whom are flabbergasted to find that we disapprove so heartily of the practice. The poor lad is headed for failure unless he has a Road to Damascus-type revelation sometime soon. This is not unprecedented. Saul of Tarsus had one, they reckon, and it straightened him out. Hamid might be next.

Everyone else is doing fine. One teacher had to use a text about Mick Jagger. I couldn't tell her to ditch it but knew the students wouldn't have a clue who he is, so I suggested she found a You Tube video of him at his most libidinously extravagant to reinforce the message of the text about Jagger being a rebel at school. That was in a fleeting moment of Hamid-induced madness: the students are mostly from Saudi, and libidinous extravagance does not go down well. The video Gül chose was pretty tame, but Sayeed sat with his head down and hands over his ears, the way I would if forced to attend a public execution.

* Regressive assimilation. They can’t touch you for it.


Bo said...

You made me despise him! What an absolute tosspot he sounds...

Vilges Suola said...

He's just dense, that's all, utterly lacking in self-awareness. I blame the university for accepting the poor bugger in the first place. An interview would have weeded him out but they're so anxious for bums on seats we get people like this sometimes. Not often, fortunately.

Candy said...

Lurching about the office spluttering wine all over the walls. What a totally brilliant post. The first laugh I've had all week. I must bend my ear to my students again and pick up similar raucousness....

Vilges Suola said...

Funnier to write about than to actually experience - I almost lost my rag with him after so much tail-chasing.

Wine in the office at four o' clock? Is this the dogme Barcelona tapas culture?

Candy said...

dogme afternoon.....


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