David – UK
Just when you think things can’t possibly get any worse, they do…
Friday saw me going head to head with the boss and furiously threatening to quit.
In retrospect, this confrontation – or something like it – had been building up for some time. Although the boss and I get on well – I wouldn’t be working at the school if we didn’t – underlying tensions had been simmering on my side for quite a while. Little things such as:
- The fact that I still hadn’t seen or heard of the pay rise I had been vaguely promised.
- The fact that if I’ve been lucky, I’ve been given a thirty second advance warning about new students joining my class. At its worst, this laidback approach led to five new students being trotted into my class one morning, one after another, over a period of twenty-five minutes as I tried to start the lesson. I didn’t have enough photocopies for the new students and had to keep running out to do more as each new student was walked in. I kept trying to start the lesson, a new student was brought in and I had to restart the lesson. By the third time, the joke was starting to wear a bit thin for the students who had been ready at 10 0’clock. And of course, there weren’t enough chairs.
- Little frustrations like, I said. For instance, number…
- The criticism over taking a cigarette at break time rather than socializing with the students, the reasoning being that since I am paid for those fifteen minutes I should be “on duty” (This one I gritted my teeth over. I didn’t point out that if we were going to start counting there were entire weekends that I could start charging for in which I had gone above and beyond the call of duty in terms of preparing lessons and field trips.)
- Did I mention the lack of pay rise? I’m not a materialistic person, but even I draw the line at not being able to afford to, you know, live. This is London we are talking about.
- Etc etc.
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So little frustrations and incidents like this had been piling up for the past two months, like a keg of dynamite that you keep adding a bit of powder to a few grains at a time All it needed was a careless match tossed in the wrong direction and boom. Or rather, BOOM.
The breaking point was a row over my girlfriend, who attends the school. It happened like this:
My Friday morning class is reserved for conversation. Last week I had engaged them in a murder mystery, giving them each a role and encouraging them to use modal verbs of deduction. It had been partially successful. After some negotiation, the students and I had agreed that this Friday we would do some reading from a text to practice pronunciation, work on their vocabulary and then hold a news-based conversation. So I had a Roald Dahl short story, a nice bunch of students and I’m thinking hey, this class might actually go okay for a change. Cue hollow laughter, because at roughly that point my girlfriend walked in and asked if she could join my class as the boss has thrown her out of his class. The shocked expression on her face said it all. The boss had been rude and aggressive. I was speechless. Finally I managed to ask her to elaborate. The other students put their heads down and started reading.
My girlfriend, it transpired, had wanted her mobile to be on silent since she was waiting for a call about a job. She wanted to be able to see if she had missed a call at the end of the lesson. The boss however had insisted that silent wasn’t good enough and the mobile had to be switched all the way off, even after she had put it in her bag. She tried to explain that it wouldn’t ring, and the boss had turned on her. She could, he said, either switch it off or leave his class.
My girlfriend was visibly upset. It was all I could do to prevent myself walking out on the spot. This was it. Absolute snapping point. BOOM.
I suppressed my fury and carried on with the lesson as best I could. Regarding the topic of mobiles in classrooms. For me this is a non-issue in the context of a private language school where students are paying money for a service. It’s not as if the students are children, or need to be told what appropriate or inappropriate behaviour is. It is also not as if they are going to start text messaging or making and receiving calls in the middle of a lesson unless it is absolutely necessary for them. Several times a mobile has rung in the class, and the student has always left the room and returned a few minutes later with an apology and an explanation that it was work related. As far as I am concerned, fair enough. Most of these students don’t have a lot of money, and need to be contactable by the families, cafes or pizzerias that they are working for. None of them would be happy if they thought that they had missed a work opportunity because they had been told to switch off their mobile in a classroom which they are paying for. At the absolute worst, a mobile going off is a minor irritation. At its best, it can provide a slight source of light entertainment. And, at any rate, it is certainly not an issue that you should start antagonizing paying students with when you are a small business suffering from a minor shortage of cash.
All of which is a totally spurious attempt to justify the real reason I hit the roof.
No one. NO ONE. Attacks. My. Girlfriend. (For those of you who are thinking ooh big macho tough guy, it’s not like that. The fact is my girlfriend is bigger, stronger, smarter and far more capable of taking care of herself than I am. Our joke is that she was crossbred with a Soviet tank. If the situations had been reversed she would have reacted in the same way. In this situation, though, I was in a position to act and she wasn’t.)
I managed to contain myself up to the break and then I stormed into his classroom and furiously demanded that he gave my girlfriend an apology. He stayed calm and tried to explain his position. I seethed. The other students looked shocked. The boss was taken aback. I’m fairly certain that expletives were involved. It was not one of my finest moments professionally. I told the boss that he could either apologise to my girlfriend or find himself another teacher by Monday. I was totally serious. Then I went for a break.
To his credit, not only did the boss not fire me on the spot, he took my girlfriend to one side and graciously apologised. After that, the second half of the lesson was clouded out by the draining of adrenalin from my system. The Dahl story had not been a great choice after all – too long and not enough to discuss, and little vocabulary that was challenging for the students.
It took me until Saturday evening to decide that, in spite of everything, I would show up to work on Monday. I will add that the incident and behaviour was extremely unusual for the boss. I have never seen him behave to any student in anything other than a professional, warm and open manner. I later found out that he was under a lot of pressure from another quarter, and that this had probably exacerbated the whole situation, turning what could have been a minor irritation into a major confrontation. I guess we all have our slowly filling powder kegs.
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