Tuesday, 21 May 2013



In the 29 or so schools I have worked in, I must have met around… um… upwards of… oh, a helluva lot of teachers.  Some good, some bad, some indifferent. In this blog I’ll describe some of the worst ones. (Admit it you’d be bored out of your tree if I wasted time writing about the good ones.)

Names, of course, have been changed, to protect the less-than-innocent, and to forestall any libel actions.

First, James. An American. Clean-cut, well-dressed, popular with students, and a heroin addict. None of us had noticed at first. We’d noted that he had his off-days of course, when his amusing line of chatter dried up and he had nothing more than a grunt or two to add to a conversation, but we had put that down to problems at home or some such thing. After all, none of us are on top form every day of the week.

The first intimation I had that all was not well with James was when I was waiting to use the toilet, and suddenly out burst James, red-faced, sweating, and unable to even respond to my word of greeting. ‘Strange,’ I thought. ‘He must have a particularly bad dose of the runs.’ His behavior got progressively weirder as the day went by. At break time he dozed off and we had to wake him up to return to his class. His first question on waking was “Oh shit, does anyone know which room I’m in?” He dismissed his class ten minutes early, and his students wandered out unsure of whether they’d actually had an English lesson or not. He spent the half hour until the next lesson dry-retching into his handkerchief. “You OK James?” someone asked. “What? Oh, yeah, I just seem to have…. scuse me, gotta go to the toilet.” “The toilet’s thattaway, James.” “Oh hell, izzit?”

James began to miss days from his schedule. Sometimes he’d phone in ten minutes before starting time and give the receptionist a garbled reason for his no-show, but most times he just didn’t turn up. If challenged next day, he seemed to have forgotten that he’d missed out a day. 

It was about six months into his tenure when James arrived at his moment of truth. “Jeeze,” he announced to the staffroom, “I’ve gotten myself into some heavy shit here. Made a lot of bad choices. I think it’s time to move on to another country, clean up my act, get my shit together.” We expressed our understanding and sympathy, shook his hand, and wished him all the best. No-one heard from him for six weeks, then one teacher received an e-mailed update from James. He was now teaching in Colombia. Colombia, for God’s sake? Just the place to clean up his act.

And then there was Albert. Albert’s problem was that he loved a drink; after work, before work, and at break times. He chewed breath mints continually, but these did little to disguise the reek of alcohol on his breath. It didn’t seem to detract from his classroom performance though; every lesson was a loud, rollicking success. But the management became increasingly worried about the repercussions of hiring a teacher who was always as pissed as a newt. Students and student’s parents would soon wake up to the fact. They gave Albert a few warnings, but these fell on deaf ears, and finally gave Albert his dismissal notice. I met him ten minutes after he’d been given the word, and his first words were “Hey, I’ve just got two weeks’ severance pay! Come on down to The Sportsman Bar after work, and the drinks are on me!”

Celia was a Brit in her mid-thirties. She’d had a good Catholic upbringing, acquired impressive qualifications, and had come to Indonesia to further her teaching career. As Director of Studies at the time, I was the person who hired her. She hadn’t even started the job before her first insurmountable problem surfaced. “Sorry Don, but I’ve got to hand in my notice.” “Hell, Celia, you haven’t even started yet! What’s the problem?” “It’s the accommodation.” (We’d lodged her in a school house, along with three other teachers.) “Yes, what’s the problem with the accommodation?” “Well, for one thing, my room is the smallest of the four rooms.” “Yes, that’s right. If any of the other teachers leave, you’ll have the option of moving into that vacant room.” “That’s all very well, but why is it that I was chosen to go into that room in the first place? And another thing, my stereo equipment uses 240 Watts electricity, but the electricity in that house is 110 Watts. And the plugs don’t fit.” “Yes, that’s the difference between Britain and Indonesia. There are simple ways around it.” “But why wasn’t I given advance notice? That’s the school’s responsibility, surely.”
I managed to sweet-talk Celia into at least staying a month to get settled, before contemplating chucking it all in. She reluctantly agreed. Problem solved in the meantime. But before the first week was out, other problems had reared their heads. The house servants didn’t seem to understand a word she said. Her work schedule was far too demanding. She was getting an unfair percentage of children’s classes. The air-conditioning in her room wasn’t powerful enough. Some of the neighbors seemed dodgy. One of her house-mates was giving her the silent treatment. 

Every problem required a 30-minute counseling session to clear up, even temporarily. I forget which one of her problems was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but in Celia’s mind it was weighty enough to have her tendering her resignation, and no matter how hard I rationalized with her, her mind was made up. “I have had a good Catholic upbringing, and I cannot and will not tolerate this kind of treatment.” And so it was farewell Celia.

The postscript of this story is that eight months after her departure, I received a reapplication from her. No mention of the traumas she’d suffered the first time around. Just a breezy note saying “Don, we’ve always had a good working relationship, and I know you’ll welcome back a dedicated teacher with a good Catholic upbringing and a responsible work ethic.” Sorry Celia, Catholic upbringing or not, we have no vacancies either now or in the foreseeable future.


EFL minus the B.S. is now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle form. Buy it, and you’ll get not only an entertaining  dissection of the English teaching profession worldwide, but also a bunch of original, workable teaching tips, advice on how best to land a job, and a country-by-country breakdown of living and working conditions all over.

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