In the midst of life, we are in death
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Life is difficult – well done, Buddha, for spotting that one. It might have passed me by completely otherwise.
At work, the staffroom is punctuated with loud noise from time to time throughout the day. In class, my tiny little coterie of students are in two camps, one of which has no inclination whatsoever to learn English; in the boardroom, idiots are trying to concoct a model that is both utterly impossible to deliver and utterly pointless in its design; buzzwords are seized upon by the makers and shakers and turned into diktats.
ELT, I have never hated you as much as I hate you right now.
First, the staffroom. The staff I work with are a highly strung lot. They go through buckets of mental anguish – largely, it seems to me, because it validates them. It gives them a sense that they are alive and they are fighting against the vicissitudes of life. They hold the flag of liberty and they are willing to give their lives for the freedom of others. But only if they know that the Enemy is firing blanks, right? This week I have heard teachers lamenting that students are not the level they’re supposed to be; that books are just not good enough; that having to actually plan and prepare a lesson deserves recognition from the Money Men (yep, up there they’ve all got franks ‘n’ beans down there); that we -the lowly middle management sellouts- give far too much attention to what the students are saying about them; that they need to know what they’re being asked to do next week (ummm…read the fucking contract!!!) and a long, screechy, self-indulgent, self-aggrandising etfuckincetera. How many teachers actually dislike their students? The level of discourse used to talk about them is stomach churning. They are The Thickos, the Children, the Dumbos, the Super Dunces. They are They. I have had teachers wade in to class and give university professors, military officers, trained doctors etc a good telling off (If they want to BEHAVE like children, I’m going to TREAT them like children). I bite my tongue and don’t tell them that £30000 wages are not usually paid out of children’s pocket money. At no point do most of these numbskulls stop and think – perhaps it is us! Perhaps we do need to reevaluate our work! Perhaps doing the same tired old shite that we’ve been doing for twenty years, regardless of who is sat in front of us is not the way to teach.
The students. I am currently teaching a bunch of dimwits. Nah! Only joking! I have a small group of nominally advanced students. Nominally here is being used in the sense Not Really. Still, they are at a level when they can be stretched and challenged and whatever distance they make can be expected to transform itself into learning. And for three fifths of the class, this is (usually) the case. The remaining two fifths just don’t seem to care at all about anything that we do. They don’t talk, they don’t write, they grunt half-formed sentences in response…no…in reaction…to questions. Then they disappear for long toilet breaks, or surreptitiously tap away on their phones (where surreptitiously is being used in the sense openly and flagrantly). The class is so small that this disengagement is toxic. My approach is to challenge it openly (with a smile ironed on to my Death’s Head visage). Stevia, the only thing that is stopping me wrapping my hands around your throat and choking the life out of you is that I am a paid professional who has years to go on the mortgage. Be a dear and pop your phone into your pocket, would you? Because otherwise I am going to pop it somewhere else from where only a trained surgical team will be able to extract it. Thank you, sweety. Now, this Future Perfect Passive Continuous. Can you give me a sentence, darling?
The Senior Fuckups. At the highest level of our organisation sits a cabal of numpties who last set foot in a classroom some time in the nineties. Regrettably, these numpties are charged with setting the direction of the death march along which we plod. They look to see where our competitors are marching and decide that this must be the way to go. So…our competitors say COME STUDY WITH US AND YOU WILL INCREASE YOUR IELTS SCORE BY 20 and we say THE SAME, BUT YOU CAN DO SO IN LESS TIME IF YOU STUDY WITH US. Then they tell us what they have just said and order us to make their febrile little dream come true. How? The? Fuck?
Luckily, they are not at the top because they come up with questions. They have the answers as well. So, here’s their solution: increase the number of hour students spend in the classroom by 50%. Ex-shittin-cuse me? Yep. Where once they were doing 20 hours of study, make them do 30 hours of study.
This isn’t like a hotel room where getting more time for the same money is a good thing. Students are likely to learn less if you imprison them in a classroom for longer.
Defeatism will be met with bullets…why are you ripping your blouse open?
The best thing about this is that one of our stated aims is to be more efficient. So, now we offer less learning for fifty percent higher costs. Vive l’avenir!
The same sort of experience is guiding us towards embracing buzzwords so that Market can be buzzed. We are currently getting all hot and excited by the words blended and learning. This, it has been decided by the sixty year olds at the top, is the future. We live in a Digital Era, right? Youngsters are Digital Natives, right? The kids are throbbing for connectivity, ain’t they? Well…THIS explains where we’re going wrong! Let’s blend the fuck out of their learning.
[Small voice] What do you mean by blended learning?
[Omnipotent thunder] SEIZE THEM!!!
So, the approach is to blend learning. And blend it we will. Who is “we”? Well, in my team, “we” are people who probably left education some time in the eighties or early nineties. Yes…that’s right…before all the Didgeytull stuff. No. We haven’t ever experienced blended learning, but we do know how to find things through the Google engine. We are quietly confident that we can find a TED talk for every topic under the sun. As long as it’s liberal and largely based around the humanities. Just like what our students aren’t. Do we fit the bill?
No. But you’ll have to do.
So when’s all this supposed to be happening?
How soon can you start?
Why haven’t you started? You’re not even trying to make this work, are you?
I don’t know…teachers who don’t want to teach; students who don’t want to study; directors who don’t direct; managers who aren’t managing. It’s enough to make you want to jump on the handcart and go south in search of warmer environs.