It’s about time
It’s that time of year when turn to my computer and look at it resignedly. “Come on, Old Thing, let’s do it.” And with a heavy heart I open up a virgin spreadsheet and start doing the sodding timetable. A thankless task in my experience and one that will cause no end of gripes from teachers and students alike. And just when the gripes have died down, something will happen that causes me to change the whole thing and off we go again. If Hades is an English language teaching institution, I know what Sisyphus will be up to.
Oh, yes. Back by popular demand, Bad Secret Dos has returned. Why the hell not? Why should I be the only one to have insights into the frailty of the human condition? This post is a shout out to all my DOS colleagues who have to put up with this crap and a call for understanding to those teachers who are never happy with whatever the timetable has to offer. Let me put it this way: if the timetable doesn’t suit you, consider for a moment the suggestion that perhaps the world is not meant to revolve around you. Perhaps other people have other things on their mind other than your peculiarities and accommodating your rockstar-style preferences.
The timetable! Ah! How it gets the juices of irascibility flowing! Where I work, my team is made up of lots and lots of hourly paid colleagues and a smidgin of fractional and/or full time staff. The latter are like putty in my hands. I can put them where I like and if they don’t like it, I’m like, “Like it! Or lump it!” The problem is that there are never enough of them to fill all the gaps in the timetable that is being created. Actually, the problem is that they never like it. And that there are never enough of them to fill the gaps. Now we turn to the hourly paid people to try and start filling the gaps. This inevitably involves reading emails that have previously been sent:
I can work on any day as long as it isn’t Monday or Friday. I can’t work at nine o’clock because I need a lot of beauty sleep and I don’t want to work beyond 3pm because this isn’t a Burmese labour camp. Between 10 and 3 I am fully available, as long as I have a couple of hours for lunch. I have a bowel condition that means that whenever I eat, at some point afterwards I need to use a toilet. Just in case it happens within a couple of hours of eating, you need to allow me time to do this. I have to take the dog for a walk at 2, so nothing at this time – please! I’m not really a morning person so can only guarantee that I will do something that vaguely approximates teaching after noon, once I have fully awoken. I also need time to prepare. And please don’t give me any levels. I need perfectly compliant people who will put up with my hysteria and lack of knowledge and love me for what I am. It is important that they love me. I don’t want to teach any of the major nationalities that we have in this school, nor do I want any males aged between 17 and 27 in the class. Students have to be on the cusp of fluency, yet have to be patient enough to put up with me teaching them grammar that they have spent the last ten years acquiring. I will not be happy if I end up with another class that is in any way critical of my work. Of course, if you can’t meet all of these conditions, do not worry. Give me what is available. I can do anything, but will hold you responsible if I can find anything whatsoever to moan about as a result of your final choice.
On one occasion I bent over backwards to accommodate the long list of preferences of one individual. Somehow, having moved mountains and diverted rivers, I managed to get something that I knew she couldn’t complain about. In order to ensure that she had a reasonable amount of hours, I had fiddled and tweaked and folded and pleated. I had inadvertently created a parallel universe where all sorts of competing restrictions were somehow distorted so as to resolve all conflicting influences. It was almost like Paradise, but without the undesirables. She rang me up at home at eight o’clock in the evening on a Friday to berate me for over an hour for being such a shit that I hadn’t taken into consideration one thing or another. How I yearned for the days when I could have told her to faux cough. How I still yearn for those days…
Then there are the students. Every new timetable marks the start of a pilgrimage to my office with pilgrims arriving over a period of weeks to barge in and start talking at me regardless of anything I might be doing. On the phone? Come in and start shouting that the new timetable is not good, boss. Not good at all. In a meeting? Come in and threaten to leave unless the world is made to revolve in a different direction. Sobbing at my desk? Walk right on in and tell me what a shit I am. After all, you’ve paid your money. Haven’t you? Oh. No, you haven’t. Well turn right around, young one, and faux cry toff. Needless to say, I nod understandingly and put on a pained expression as I say, “I know; I know; I know.” I don’t know.
Part of me sympathises with the students, la verdad. You pay your money and yet you are made to feel that you are tossed and turned upon the seas of whimsy. Before you were studying in the morning and now you are studying in the afternoon. You were given some warning, but not enough. You have your life organised around your studies and now you have to try and reorganise it. You had a teacher whom you really liked and now you have a teacher who has a worse reputation than Saddam had in the American bars of Kurdistan. But…but…but…damn it all…how do I finish this sentence other than to say, “But being the customer doesn’t give you the rights to call all of the shots”? It should do, possibly, but it doesn’t. I tread a thin line between pissing some people off and making some people happy. This time it’s your turn to be pissed off. And, hold on a minute, weren’t you in my office some twelve weeks ago telling me how pissed off you were to the old timetable that now you want listed at the UN as a site of world heritage? OUT!!! GET OUT!!!
Teachers frequently laugh acerbically at the high maintenance of students and yet the demands are usually very similar: we all want to teach in the morning and be away by lunchtime to live the lives of the carefree. Apart from those of us who don’t. But we’re going to keep quiet until you have tried to accommodate the wishes of the vocal. Then we’re going to pop up like those rats in that fairground game. You have to smash us over the head with a mallet before we disappear again. Although, of course, there are laws about such things…
So look…the timetable is an intricately-designed artefact. It balances a wide range of mutually incompatible desires and is usually the fruit of hours and hours of puzzling. In some ways it is like taking pieces from thirty different jigsaws and putting them together somehow to create a new picture. Take it from me, I already know that it doesn’t meet your demands and preferences. It bothers me, but I have done the best I could. If you feel really strongly about it, we’ll miss you greatly and we are thankful for whatever work you have done for us. Good luck in the future and may the wind always be at your back. If you don’t want to walk out, then accept the world as it is. This is the timetable. These are the hours that you are going to be teaching. This is the level you are going to teach. In exchange, we will pay you a pretty decent rate and allow you a lot of professional autonomy. You will be able to work with this class and cover the syllabus in the way that you see best. The only condition that we put on you is that you work conscientiously and that you contribute as much to the team as you do to the students. It’s a pretty good deal when you look at it, and I guess that deep down you know it because you keep coming back for more.
Now that we’re talking about the truth, Ruth, let me say one more thing: being a DOS is only one facet of my being. There are several others. These other facets are the majority and in the Republic of My Being, we do things democratically. And the voice of the demos has spoken and it spake thus: “We don’t really give a shit about the various gripes people have about the timetable. We had to do it; we did it; it’s done.” So, save us all from despair and keep your temperamental outbursts to yourself. If there are things that you don’t like, come up with a workable solution and present it to me. Because the demos doesn’t give a shit, it will not have any vested interest in defending its creation. if you can come up with something better, it will willingly entertain your submission. But that’s your job!!! you whine. It is. I did it. It’s done. Now faux cough.