Wednesday, 22 January 2014



Christmas. New Year. Halloween Day. A time of celebration, fun and good cheer. Or so you thought, until you’re invited (commanded, more likely) to attend your school’s celebratory function.
 It will be well organized, on paper at least.
7:00 pm: Welcome speech by Director.
7:15 pm: Item by Class T5 (Song: “Pretty, Pretty Boy”.)
7:30 pm: Quiz
8:00 pm: Item by Class DH2 (Song: “Pretty, Pretty Boy”.)
8:15 pm: Fashion Show by students 5 to 9 years old.
8:45 pm: Santa.
9:15 pm: Item by Class L7 (Song: “Pretty, Pretty Boy”. Yes, they were told that it’s already been done twice, but the students protest that it’s the only song they know, they’ve been rehearsing it for three months, and besides….)
9:30 pm: ….
And so on, until the finish at 10:00 pm sharp.

Yes, it’ll all be planned down to the finest detail. Almost like a battle plan. But, as any soldier knows, battle plans fall apart the moment the first shot is fired. And so it is with your school’s much anticipated party. It doesn’t get going until 7:45. The music breaks down after the first minute of “Pretty, Pretty Boy”. Twenty minutes later the stage lighting short-circuits and plunges the scene into darkness. Santa runs out of presents, leaving a dozen kids inconsolable and in a flood of tears. Santa is overheard muttering “Never a-fucking-gain.” The whole fiasco winds up at 11:15, by which time the mood of the audience is bordering on ugly. A sizeable number of guests have drifted away by now, but you can’t; there are chairs to be stacked, litter to be picked up, and children whose parents haven’t turned up to sort out. You finally escape at around midnight, your ears ringing with the five renditions of “Pretty, Pretty Boy” you’ve sat through, and swearing to yourself that this will be the last school function you’ll ever attend.

Merry Christmas.

Now, school outings. A wonderful idea! Get the students out of their classrooms, get them practicing their English in an outdoor situation. Great. Everyone loves school field-trips. Or everyone loves the idea of school-field trips; in reality they usually end up as disorganized debacles.

With any school trip there are a number of non-negotiable givens. It will start late. The air conditioning on the bus will be on the blink. On boarding the bus, fights will break out over who gets which seat. Kids’ bags will go missing. Once the bus is underway, Little Timmy will unleash a series of surreptitious farts which raises a storm of protest and will linger for a quarter of an hour. By the time the bus disgorges the students at the destination, they are hot, irritable and argumentative.

The destination itself, an orchard and fruit-packing factory typically, will prove a disappointing anti-climax that arouses not a glimmer of interest among the bored, peevish students. When, thankfully, it’s all over and it’s time to board the bus for home, a head-count reveals that six students have seemingly vanished without trace. Search parties are organized. After twenty minutes the missing students are discovered gleefully hiding themselves behind trees. A new search is then launched for one search party which has gone missing…

The bus finally limps back to the school, an hour late, and full of sweating, ill-tempered students who would rather be anywhere but on a school outing.

“And don’t forget kids, tonight’s homework is an essay on ‘My Special School Outing’.”


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Thursday, 16 January 2014



There’s nothing EFL teachers enjoy more than a good old whinge about their schools, their working conditions, and their students. Wherever teachers gather to whine and dine, you’ll hear them airing their pet peeves and latest stories of indignities visited upon them at the hands of venal, unscrupulous bosses until the wee small hours.

Let’s take a little time to examine just exactly what it is that gets up the noses of legions of EFL teachers. Ladies and gentlemen, for your entertainment and edification, I present The Top Five Moans about EFL.

1.   1.    My boss is a dishonest, dislikeable, unscrupulous shit. Yes, yes, yes, we’ve all worked for bosses who come under that category. If you’re working in a developing country, it’s par for the course. The problem, of course, is that the management’s bottom line (and only line) is profits. And if maximizing profits requires shafting teachers, staff and students alike, then that’s what they’ll do. There is no educational watchdog to stipulate otherwise, no governing body to clamp down on shoddy or non-existent quality, no national tradition of business ethics. Anything goes.

2.       2. They keep screwing up my teaching schedule. Yes, sigh, that too goes with the territory. Scheduling is infernally complicated and difficult, and so schedulers nearly always take the easy way out, drawing up schedules that place a teacher in every classroom, but without any consideration for the individual teachers bound by those schedules. So you’ll end up with, say, a two-hour class in the morning, a 90-minute class at 4:30, a two-hour break, then a 7:45 to 9:45 class. Thus you will have done five and a half hours’ work which is all very nice, but it’s spread over a thirteen and a half hour period. Now the annoying thing is that classes are being held in that two-hour evening break, during which you’re sitting around the staff room staring at the walls. If your morning class were to be dropped from your schedule, and a class allocated to you for that break period, your 5.5 hour stint would have taken up 5.5 hours of your day. Sure, you’d have done three classes back-to-back, but most teachers would prefer that to the time-consuming spread-out schedule. But try pointing that out to the scheduler and see how far it gets you.

3.       My classes are made up of students of varying levels. Uh oh, that perennial old problem. Schools will blithely mix levels within a class for a variety of reasons: the placement testing system is faulty, the student insists on naming his/her entry level, a student is promoted in spite of poor showings in the previous level’s final test, or there’s no class of the correct level currently underway.  Mixed levels make for virtually unteachable classes, which leaves all the students dissatisfied, but it’s an expedient way of getting maximum revenue, and that, for the management, is the overriding consideration.

4.       I’m forever getting demands on my free time. I’m expected to attend meetings, workshops, school functions and outings – all of them unpaid. Yes, once again par for the course. You could flatly refuse, of course, but that’ll leave you in bad odor. Some schools will levy fines or trim your paid hours as a punishment for your intransigence. How come school managements have the temerity to expect you to willingly, happily devote hours of your leisure time to unpaid activities? It’s normal in countries where there’s huge numbers of unemployed. Locals fortunate enough to be holding down jobs know that unpaid work is expected of them, and that to refuse to do it could end up in the loss of their jobs. Thus your local worker will meekly agree to the outlandish demands on their time. In such work environments, your bosses will expect the same of expat workers, and react with offended astonishment when their demands are refused.

5.     5.   My students are unwilling to talk. Yes, you’re experiencing the back-lash of the Asian educational system. Your students will have been given English language classes at school from the age of ten or so, but those classes were heavy on grammar, vocabulary and reading, but light on listening and speaking. Especially light on speaking. Their classes were just too damn big to allow time for individuals to speak, and anyway the teacher’s speaking skills were in all likelihood woefully lacking. So students will sail through three or four years of English language tuition without ever being asked to open their mouths and utter a sentence in English. Now here they are in a private language school, and you the teacher are expecting them to come out with an English utterance or two every half minute. Ouch. I’ll just avoid the teacher’s eyes and hope to hell he doesn’t pick on me to say anything.

EFL minus the B.S. is now available on Amazon. If you’re looking for a serious, weighty tome about EFL, don’t buy this book. If you’re looking for an entertaining book that dissects the EFL game with as much political correctness as a loud fart in a library, get EFL minus the B.S. today.