Showdown at the (not) OK Corral

I don't like conflict. I don't "do" conflict, really; first of all, because I'm Canadian (aside from hockey players, when have you ever seen Canadians get really nasty with people?); and, secondly, because it's not my job.

I teach. Within the scope of teaching, I do a lot of things - I coach, I suggest, I co-pilot, I design, I research. But it's not really my job to be rude or mean to people, even when they're rude or mean to me. Why bother? It's the reason why I don't teach kids: I don't appreciate being put in a position where I have to be the hard guy.

We had - have? - a situation in one of my classes where three of the five participants don't participate. The class has been going for a month. Two of the guys are former students of mine, and we got on really well; but when their group was mixed with another group, trouble started. The new people didn't talk. They still don't. In fact, nobody talks at all, and when they do, it's usually to make some thoughtless generalization to break the silence, nothing more. They wanted a conversation class, but they don't bother participating in any conversation.

Now, unless I've missed something in these past twelve years of teaching, conversation usually involves interaction, and moving information back and forth. In most English classes, that can be very controlled (a telephone conversation, a presentation), or it can be looser, more open to improvisation. The information, though, has to go two ways.

It didn't, in this class. The information kind of didn't do...anything. I tried speaking exercises; nothing. I tried reading; nothing. I tried pronunciation; nothing. Now, keep in mind that (as I've said before), a teacher is a lot of things -- but a teacher is not there to be an entertainer. If you want entertainment, there are a lot of other options which cost a lot less money than English classes do.

Furthermore, English classes are not a way of avoiding work or hiding from your boss. Not in my classes, anyway. If you sign up for one of my classes, you're going to work.

Now, I'm about to make a sweeping generalization that will probably not be about you, specifically. (If you're a Spanish student of English who's reading this blog, this generalization will NOT be about you, that's for sure.) One thing that has never failed to shock me about teaching in Spain is the amount of WASTE that happens in classes.

When I taught in post-Communist Prague, companies didn't have a lot of money. If someone was selected to take part in an English training program, they treated it like a golden opportunity. Back in 1999, Czech companies did not get money from the European Union for training; they had to pay for it out of their own money, and they were so desperate and eager for new ideas and new ways and new opportunities that they did not waste the chance to get better. This is not the case in Spain. There are a lot of students - not everybody, as I said before - who think that their companies or parents or schools owe them English, and that the teacher should do everything because if the students are paying, they shouldn't have to work. So the students come to class, or the teacher spends 45 minutes on the Metro (each way; 90 minutes lost) and the student plays with his or her mobile phone, and complains about her boyfriend or her job, or her mother, and refuses to do anything educational, like reading or grammar or reviewing and NOTHING GETS DONE. And you're paying money for this?

I'm not sure why this happens. In the case of our class, it may have solved itself. Nobody came to class today. I saw two of the students standing outside the VIPS across the street, smoking, about ten minutes before class. I assumed they were coming. Nobody showed up. Maybe they decided at the last minute that they didn't want to talk. Maybe they don't like the idea that they're expected to work. Maybe they think that, somewhere in the office, there's a CD-ROM I can stick in their mouths, and then they'll be able to speak perfectly. I don't know, and to a certain extent, I don't care. I would rather spend sixty minutes with a perfect beginner than ten minutes with a perfect jerk.

I know what's going to happen next: the students will probably not come to class for a week or two weeks and the Director of Studies (who was perfectly ready to give them an earful this afternoon - she's had run-ins with them before) will call them. They'll tell the Director of Studies some kind of lie, like they're too busy with work or they've been transferred somewhere else. And if they choose to lie, rather than dealing with whatever is bugging them... that's not my problem. English teachers are not entertainers and, most importantly, they're not psychics. If you're not willing to be mature and work out issues, that's not my problem.

OK, sorry to rant. I'm going back to work now and I promise not to bite anyone. I promise.

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