Tuesday, 30 October 2012



Um… come again?


OK, so you are teaching overseas, then suddenly it all goes belly-up. The town where you worked has been reduced to flotsam by a tsunami. The school where you worked now resides at the bottom of an earthquake fault. You received a Dear John letter last week and you are now a jabbering wreck, sliding uncontrollably into a meltdown. You’ve been horribly injured in a traffic accident. You find yourself in a festering jail peopled by rats and large sodomites with rotting teeth. Or all five at the same time.

What do you do? You ask your embassy for help, of course. After all, that’s what embassies are for, isn’t it? Um… sorry to disappoint, but no. Not any longer. The reason embassies exist today is to promote trade between the host country and the home country. If a citizen should get himself into strife, that’s his bad luck. Don’t expect us to do anything about it. Oh… ok, we’ll notify your family and perhaps bring a bag of oranges to your bedside, but apart from that, all the best, Chum.

You only need to look at your embassy’s website to learn just what it is they’re not prepared to do for their citizens who find themselves up sh*t creek without a paddle. The site will contain a long list of things they won’t do for you. (They won’t even lend you a paddle.) But there is one piece of good news. They’ll arrange your funeral for you if they can’t find any of your family or friends to do it.

I’m speaking from bitter experience here. Some years ago I was stabbed twice in the stomach and robbed of all my cash and belongings in Bangkok. Not a pleasant experience. So here I am lying in hospital with plastic tubes sprouting from every orifice, including a few orifices I didn’t have before, and in walks the Embassy Guy. He’s not in the best of moods. There’s a big embassy party tonight which he should be getting ready for, but instead he’s here in this crummy, over-crowded hospital talking to me.

EMBASSY GUY: Mmm… you’re in a spot of bother, aren’t you?

ME: Yeah, dammit.

EG: Do you have any money to pay for the hospital fees?

ME: No, I was robbed, remember?

EG: No medical insurance, no bank account, no hidden emergency funds?

ME: Nope.

EG: Mmm… I don’t see where we can help in this case. The embassy is no longer authorized to offer financial assistance to citizens in distress.

ME: Buggar me! Does that mean I’ll have to stay in this hospital forever?

EG: There is one thing we can do. Give me a list of family members and friends who are likely to help out financially, and we’ll contact them.


So, the moral of my little tale is: Stay out of trouble while working overseas. And if you can’t stay out of trouble, don’t rely too much on your embassy for help.

Monday, 22 October 2012


“Oh, um John, could you step into my office for a moment?”

“Sure. Wassup?”

“We’ve had a student complaint about your teaching from Class J27.”

“Really! I thought J27 was going quite well.”

“Well, they say you aren’t giving them enough opportunities to talk.”

“Oh God! They get spoken pairwork, group work, unison drilling, and question and answer sessions. As far as open discussions or free conversation is concerned, no, they aren’t talking. They can’t. They only have a total of about twenty English words between them. They don’t have the vocabulary, the grammar, the sentence patterns or the confidence to do any unprompted talking. I’ve tried it, and they dry up after thirty seconds.”

“Yes. Well, in future, please give them more opportunities to talk.”

Aaargh! Student complaints! Bosses give knee-jerk reactions whenever they hear a complaint, no matter how small, how unsubstantiated or how unjustified it is. The customer is always right; thus consequently the teacher is always wrong. And student complaints are elicited, welcomed almost, by the use of Student Feedback Questionnaires. Examine one of these closely and you’ll see it resembles a loaded gun aimed at the teacher’s head. “Does the teacher explain grammar points clearly?” Five ‘yes’ answers; five ‘not so clearly’answers. “Um, John. Could you step in here…?” “Is your English improving as much as you’d like?” Five ‘yes’, three ‘perhaps’, three ‘no’. “Um, John….” The questionnaire never includes questions like “Is the school managed well?” or“Is your classroom too damn hot?” No, no, no, that could lead to loss of face.

So what does the teacher do when confronted by what he or she feels is an unjustified complaint? Argue? Hotly defend yourself? Say ‘OK, I’ll try and do better”? None of these are very successful or satisfying. My policy is:

1. Go home.

2. Have a beer.

3. Forget it.