Notes from the TEFL Graveyard

Wistful reflections, petty glories.

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Location: The House of Usher, Brazil

I'm a flailing TEFL teacher who entered the profession over a decade ago to kill some time whilst I tried to find out what I really wanted to do. I like trying to write comedy (I once got to the semi-finals of a BBC Talent competition, ironically writing a sitcom based on TEFL), whilst trying to conquer genetically inherited procrastination... I am now based in Brazil, where I live with my wife and two chins.

Friday, 31 August 2007


Every TEFL teacher experiences awkward classroom moments. It may be an unanswerable question exposing knowledge gaps, or unkind comments directed by one student towards another, or even unsubtle criticism aimed at the teacher (I once heard of a student who remarked, “You are very boring today!” after the teacher yawned in class. “Bored,” the teacher corrected him, “You mean bored. Boring means I am boring you – you are bored by me.” “I know,” the student replied flatly, “that’s exactly what I mean.”)

Students using foul language is a constant source of discomfort in many a TEFL classroom. It’s not that we are particularly prudish or that we never swear ourselves, but there’s always an unsmiling student peering malevolently over ridiculously-shaped spectacles who you know is just itching to report any deviation from what she thinks a language class should be to your superiors and demand a refund, plus compensation for emotional damage suffered. There is also at least one larie smart arse who thinks he’s cool because he goes around calling classmates a variation of the term “motherlikers”, and reeling off a monologue of expletives he’s memorised from watching a video of Eddie Murphy doing stand-up. Generally, the best course of action is to smile wryly, but otherwise ignore the halfwit's stunt. That way, you look cool to the prat who’s turning the air blue, whilst at the same time effectively dismissing his behaviour to pacify the less rabelaisian elements of the group.

One such incident remains with me always. In a certain group there was a student from Oman, M, and a Spaniard, J. One morning I walked into class and M blurted, “J, he always wunking!” Quite why I and the rest of the class had to know about J’s self-abuse was unclear, as was exactly how M knew about it. I mean, the Latin races are known to be more open about all things carnal, but I found it hard to believe that a not unattractive twenty-something Spanish male would openly admit to relative strangers that he routinely strummed without a banjo.

Following my own advice, I smiled wryly and ignored the outburst. “He wunk all the time!” M continued, undaunted. “Really?” I offered lamely, and started writing words on the whiteboard. “He wunk at girls,” he stated obstinately, as if baiting me. I was surprised by this escalation involving the opposite sex, as M had hitherto been a model student, polite, easy-going, an all-round good egg. “That’s not very good, is it?” I mumbled, aware that some of the more poker-faced characters in the room were beginning to find M’s pronouncements, at best, confusing. “Wunk, wunk, wunk, J wunk all the time,” M announced, clearly getting a taste for the subject matter. I sensed the restlessness of the bespectacled spreading.

I don’t know why, but at that point I snapped. What I normally would have brushed off as a little adolescent banter suddenly became a point of principle, and I waded in waist-deep with a speech admonishing M for his unacceptable use of language in the classroom, and threatening that, if he didn’t desist, I would have to ask him to leave.

M gaped at me in utter astonishment. “What wrong? I just say J wunk at girls,” he offered pitifully, illustrating his innocence by winking repeatedly.



Before ending this opulent trilogy, let us return to the hotel that hosted the weekend’s farcical events that were laughably described as, “more than English - business communication.”

Having received the morning’s materials, I spent the remaining ten minutes before class skimming over their contents. To my dismay, the signs weren’t auspicious. What masqueraded as carefully devised course content was, in fact, material scanned from various business English textbooks and printed on the school’s headed paper, thus giving the illusion of studied professionalism whilst at the same time hiding highly illegal copyright infringement. I counted the pages in my bundle. It didn’t take long - there were five. Only then did it dawn on me that I was about to enter a five-hour class armed with five pages, some of which comprised a couple of ten-minute exercises. “A page an hour,” a resigned colleague wearily observed, noting my sudden loss of the will to live.

Lacking any means of escape, I gamely threw myself into the classes. My morning student sagged into the room with even less enthusiasm than I had mustered, quite a feat in itself. Having previously studied with another teacher on a different occasion, unlike me, he knew exactly what he was in for. He sat down so gingerly and with such a look of pain on his face that I could only assume a chronic case of haemorrhoids – either that or an overbearing desire to be anywhere else but shut in a cramped budget hotel room for the next five hours with me. In fact, this prospect immediately aroused a palpable resentment between us; it was difficult to weigh up who loathed whom the most, as if we each blamed the other for our wretched predicament.

One hour per page is perhaps an achievable pace if the student is talkative and you can manage to direct them away from the subject matter on various palaverous tangents while you sit back and drift off, all the time pretending to be listening out for their not infrequent errors. However, this student was monosyllabic. If this reticence had been caused by a lack of competence in the English language, then it would have been a fair fight, I could have launched into some very basic grammar explanations to fill in the time. But, alas, his English was reasonable, he just had no desire to use it, probably due to the undercurrent of resentment described previously. I limped to the break scheduled for the two-and-a-half-hour mark, and dashed to the co-ordinator, a smarmy character who glibly replied, “Very nice, very nice,” to everything you said and never listened to the message you were actually trying to convey.

“Look,” I said, “I’ve finished the material, the guy’s too good, he knows all this stuff.”

“What?” he retorted, “You’ve got to drag things out! That material was supposed to last all five hours!”

So it was this official incitement to filibustering that provided the final nail in the coffin for my experience with this particular group of gravediggers in the TEFL Graveyard. The next time they called me I remember having a blazing row with the co-ordinator and slamming the phone down, thus ending forever my involvement in their woeful deceptions. I haven’t lost faith in the immersion concept, I’m just going to choose my bedfellows with a lot more care in future. And I'm going to stick to teaching "Just English - not buisness communication."


Wednesday, 29 August 2007


Before continuing, perhaps I should expand a little on the inglorious outfit that offered said immersion programs. A cursory visit to their website certainly gives the impression that the company is a market leader in immersion courses. “More than English,” their motto breezes, “business communication”. An animated Flash intro to their site uses punchy buzzwords, such as “Global Business Adaptation” and “Executive Education”, enough to give any visitor the urge to slip into a sharp suit and find somebody with whom to start negotiating. Unfortunately, it is the customary hands-down (to hyphenate or not to hyphenate...?) victory of style over substance. Anyone can think up clever slogans. Delivering a product that actually teaches people English efficiently is the real challenge, and to them this, their rightful responsibility, was regarded as a mere distraction, as I and my browbeaten colleagues discovered to our mental torment.

The timetable was punishing. Classes started at eight in the morning, stopped for a break at ten thirty, then continued until a one o’clock lunch, during which we were obliged to make small talk with the students to recreate some kind of spurious “business lunch” experience. That made a total of five hours conatct time with the same student. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anybody in my life for five hours non-stop without the involvement of strong liquor - not my wife, not my best friend, not even the current subject of my lascivious attentions when I was single. Human beings aren’t built that way, at least British male human beings aren’t. At two we were back in class with another student until four thirty, then after a short break we continued with the same person until seven, nervous breakdown notwithstanding. I remember looking at my watch at sunset, wondering how many minutes I had left to kill, only for it to dawn on me that it was only five o’clock, and that there were fully two more hours to endure. At that point I lost all feeling in my legs.

As if this weren’t enough, we were then expected to wolf down dinner and face a further four hours of “Integrated Activities”, listening to songs, singing karaoke, playing board games and the like, all whilst “fantasising about a life that doesn't so closely resemble Hell,” to paraphrase Kevin Spacey’s resplendent character, Lester Burnham, in American Beauty. Around midnight we’d lurch to our hotel room and start preparing for the next day’s classes. For me, a native speaker, it was a swift read-through. For the Brazilian teachers it was a painstaking and tedious procedure, as there was always the odd unfamiliar word or expression inserting a wrench in the machinery. Then we were up at six for a shower and breakfast before the whole creaking treadmill spluttered into life again.

I’ve never broken down in class before, but I swear the nearest I ever came to blubbing uncontrollably was whilst struggling hopelessly to deliver, “More than English – business communication.”

Part Three to follow shortly...


Thursday, 23 August 2007


In my opinion, immersion courses are officially a Great Idea. For students without the resources to study in an English-speaking country, what could be a better alternative than spending the whole day, over a period of several days, being exposed to comprehensible input, to coin a term familiar to Stephen Krashen acolytes?

Unfortunately, having experienced immersion courses run by shysters and charlatans, many preferable alternatives come to mind, from banging one’s head repeatedly against a firm surface, to watching adult DVDs dubbed into English from the original German and with subtitles in English switched on (actually, a variation on how I learned Spanish...*)

My first contact with the concept of immersion courses came here in Brazil, when I was offered a job with a company teaching Business English to groups of employees from various large companies. Their client list was imposing: Sony, Gradiente (a Brazilian electronics manufacturer), Petrobras (a Brazilian BP), insurance giants Sudameris, Banco do Brasil – the list was long and illustrious, if you are impressed by that kind of thing. I was offered work over weekends, normally starting on a Friday and finishing on a Sunday, and the salary, whilst not guaranteeing a stress-free retirement, would comfortably cover the bills. And the attraction of doing a three-day week was obvious – more free time would be available for some dedicated procrastination.

In my experience, in order for immersion courses to work, they require very careful planning. The material has to be varied and interesting, the teaching format must create an environment that maximises relaxed right-brain “acquisition” and minimises left-brain “learning” (which is extremely stressful, inefficient and mentally exhausting - do a Google search on “TPRS” for details...)

So imagine my despair when I arrived at the hotel where the course was to take place on the first Friday to find I had less than thirty minutes to review the morning’s material - material that hadn’t even arrived yet. Eventually, with about ten minutes to go until facing the first students, a battered Volkswagen Kombi screeched into the car park and, in an unseemly free-for-all, cardboard boxes full of photocopies were hastily unloaded, rummaged through and looted by desperate professores in scenes reminiscent of post-natural-disaster food and water distribution. And the name of the organisation I was working for wasn't the International Red Cross.

* - I learned Spanish by watching Disney films dubbed into Spanish with Spanish subtitles switched on... ;-)

Part Two to follow shortly...



I' m delighted to report that an ex-colleague has been in touch regarding this blog. Delighted because it means at least one person outside my immediate family has actually read what I'm scribbling. She kindly pointed out a number of factual inaccuracies regarding A, star of the previous post, "From Russia With Gloves". Being lazy, rather than rewrite the story, I am happy to put the record straight as follows:

"...I would like to correct some of the stuff about that the girl who dyed her hair and went for the short skirts. She was actually from Azerbaijan and for me the funniest thing (oh no, not the funniest - there were so many moments) was when she came with her Dad - and looked all sweet and innocent - sitting in the chair with her knees together and her hands clasped - in an outfit that resembled Alice in Wonderland (hair band and all)... Dad sat there explaining about his daughter - I am not sure what he was really saying but obviously stuff about looking after her and protecting her in her innocence. Anyway the Dad left the country and within 2 days she had converted her wardrobe to all the voluptuous stuff, cut and dyed her hair in a Marilyn Monroe style, and started looking for a boyfriend.

"Also, do you remember that she never concentrated in class but spent the time pouting in her mirror touching up her make up? After several weeks or months of her becoming more and more extreme in her behaviour I then had reports of her wondering the streets and we became concerned that she was almost verging on prostitution, although she wouldn't have seen it that way... so I called her into my office and said to her : " 'A' I have heard reports of you meeting up with men, and I know that in fact you are not really looking for sex, but love, so you must be really careful. No, says 'A' - I like sex!"

So there you have it, truth battering fiction to a bloody pulp once again. Thanks for the input, JLH!


Monday, 20 August 2007


Whilst it is wrong to generalise about cultures, it must be said that Russian students are relentlessly intriguing. Perhaps it is something to do with growing up during the Cold War, when all we saw of Russians were intimidating Soviet women shotputters and grim communist march-pasts in Red Square. By the early-to-mid nineties the trickle of students into England from the former Soviet republics became steady, as did the resulting frequency of bizarre interludes.

Firstly, there was G, a huge, twenty-one-year-old bear of a Muscovite and avid boxer who excelled at telling macabre stories that invariably involved him fighting his brother, a lot of blood being shed and without exception ended with jolly descriptions of his distraught mother helpless to intervene to stop the carnage. Such tales were regularly recounted whatever the subject of the lesson, and any gaps in his vocabulary were filled by him standing up and reconstructing the conflict, swinging wild punches and viciously kneeing imaginary groins. This brutal pantomime was accompanied by chortles and snorts of delight, whilst reserved Japanese students looked on with genuine trepidation.

Then came A, a discernably odd Russian girl whom we suspected had been packed off to study English to see if the experience would dispel the psychological demons with whom she seemed to be doing perpetual battle. The first thing you noticed about her was her makeup. It looked like she’d put her lipstick on during a ride on a big dipper, in the dark. To complete her pornstar-chic look, she took to wearing mini-skirts that barely covered her bare necessities, and each week she’d appear with a different shade of dyed hair. Her dream was to become a model, her physical limitations making this all but impossible without drastic cosmetic surgery. When staff once telephoned her home in Russia to speak to her parents about several problems they were concerned about, not least her increasingly risqué fashion habits, they had to hang up with the issues unresolved due to a gruesome wailing and caterwauling in the background drowning out any attempt at communication.

It was hard to tell if S, a fellow Russian student, was extraordinarily bright or a bit of a dying star intellectually, as her English was virtually unintelligible, not because she couldn’t speak, but because she’d form phrases in the strangest of ways, subverting the rules of grammar with glorious abandon. She’d regularly baffle teaching staff with ideosyncratic questions, such as when she piped up that she’d appreciate an explanation of the difference between “male”, “female” and “email”.

By far the most memorable episode, however, was the arrival of the first student anyone could remember from Kazakhstan. Her English was very limited, and when asked by a colleague if she had a Kazak – English phrasebook she replied yes, producing a battered photocopied volume from inside her bag. It contained such everyday phrases as, “He’s an overeater”, “A large hooter she has” and the sublimely inventive, “This sucking weather kinks for a shuffling”. We could only presume that she’d accidentally handed over a copy of a KGB codebook, and that somewhere in Eastern Europe raincoated men were meeting on park benches to make cryptic conversation about a fat man’s eating habits, a girl with a large nose or the generally poor weather conditions.

Thank God the Cold War's over.


Monday, 13 August 2007


The reasons why people study English at a language school in a foreign country are many and various, and they don’t always have a whole lot to do with improving language skills. Parents send daughters abroad to try to separate them from unsuitable suitors, children are hastily dispatched in the unlikely hope that the experience may cure psychological disturbances, couples imagine that a crumbling marriage may be saved by that long-dreamed-of holiday abroad. Seldom are these artifices successful, and sometimes the results can be alarming, sometimes plain absurd.

At a certain school where I worked there was a small cottage in the grounds surrounded by a walled courtyard with a gate, which was kept locked for security reasons when the building wasn’t in use as a secluded, executive classroom for one-to-one Business English students. One evening at a school barbecue, staff became alarmed by cries for help emanating from behind the wall, and on trying to open the gate, as expected, they found it to be locked. After a frantic search of the school, the key was found, the gate opened and H, a German student, was found rolling on the ground in agony with a broken leg. Her husband, W, who was at the school studying with her, was naturally concerned to know how she had ended up inside a locked courtyard with a fractured femur - indeed, we were all quite intrigued. H’s version was, to say the least, implausible. According to her, she had scaled the wall in a desperate attempt to escape unidentified persons who were chasing her and trying to force her into performing in a blue movie.

As a poignant illustration of just how deeply human beings can deceive themselves, the only person who actually bought the tale of the lupine pornographers was hubby W, the very person one would have expected to have been the biggest skeptic. He simply couldn’t face dealing with a shattered leg and a shattered relationship all in one evening.

Events were clarified as she was being loaded into the ambulance. An Italian student, V, evidently accustomed to these kinds of shenanigans, casually confessed to a member of staff that H had persuaded him to meet her in the courtyard for some extra-marital kicks while her husband was preoccupied with helping scorch the beefburgers. Common sense prevailing, confronted by a locked gate, he had decided to call off the gig, or at least find her and suggest they relocate to a less physically challenging rendezvous. H, on the other hand, wasn’t going to let a locked gate and a seven-foot wall come between her and some Latin jiggery-pokery.

I'm not sure how much H learned about phrasal verbs during her stay in England, but she certainly thoroughly explored every possible meaning of "to get one's leg over"...


Sunday, 12 August 2007


Subsistence TEFL teachers are those who neither drifted into the industry on a whim nor decided that it was their calling. They are those enchanted, enviable souls who use TEFL as an easy-going means to earn a living whilst they concentrate on keeping their real passions a-bubbling in the foreground. I fancied myself as something of a subsistence TEFL teacher in the beginning and at various points over my stuttering career, but being a serial procrastinator with an unflinching tendency to do anything but what I should be doing, my attempts have been fruit-free up to now. (You don’t know what it means to me to have managed to start this blog and contribute regularly to it...)

Subsistence TEFL teachers are a fascinating breed, almost as riveting in their driving passions as the oddballs who make of TEFL their own private Idaho. Over the years there have been writers, musicians, artists and, perhaps most admirably of all, a flamenco dancer. Imagine being English and dedicating a couple of decades of your life to learning the uncompromisingly Spanish art of flamenco dancing, eventually getting so good at it that you can teach it to the similarly fixated. Not just teach it, but teach it to Spaniards. In Andalucia. Now that takes cojones, not to mention various pairs of sturdy stomping shoes.

The sad thing about subsistence TEFL teachers is that, just as Joseph Campbell predicted when he recommended that we all “follow our bliss”, the best get so good at what they love that they end up escaping and making something of themselves in their respective fields. This leaves the rest of us a little the lesser, ruing their departure through the dust they kicked up whilst trying not to let out a primal scream when our latest one-to-one student describes his house as being “near from the hospital”, yet again, despite a fortnight of mainly patient correction.

One such subsistence TEFL teacher has gone all the way and turned a passion for dissent into a truly remarkable phenomenon. My good friend D has created a media watchdog called Media Lens that is so respected (and equally despised, which shows they’re on the right track) that he’s been able to find an exit from the TEFL roundabout and is currently motoring along the slip road signposted "Freedom", living from donations alone and having just co-written his third book, “The Guardians of Power”. They are so good, in fact, that they’ve just been awarded the Gandhi Foundation’s International Peace Award for 2007. Their web address is

Now that’s as near from a fairytale as TEFL can get...

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Thursday, 9 August 2007


Truth, as the old cliché goes, is often stranger than fiction. Everyone remembers the classic Fawlty Towers episode, “The Germans”, where John Cleese’s eponymous character, Basil, receives a bang on the head and, suffering from concussion, proceeds to insult a visiting group of German tourists by making relentless reference to the Second World War. It is as much a comment on British obsession with the conflict as it is about German sensitivities. We laugh because the situation is so extreme, and we accept Basil’s ranting due to the bandages wrapped around his head. Sadly, my ex-colleague, E, had no such mitigating appendages.

E didn’t so much behave as if he didn’t know the war was over, he acted as if he wouldn’t be satisfied until the next one had begun. Like a deranged Basil Fawlty, the subject of his ire was everything German, the country, the people, the language. Even the German-speaking Swiss were condemned by association. The supreme irony was that E had in fact chosen to study the language at University and spent a year in Germany on an exchange programme. Given his bloodlust, we all took turns speculating on what calamity had caused the abrupt, hundred-and-eighty-degree shift in his perception of the Teutonic races, the wildest and most outrageous hypothesis being that he’d been arrested and subsequently subjected to unwanted, and almost certainly unexpected, sexual advances from an East German policeman.

E’s favourite story, repeated every summer to each new teacher (who clearly had no inkling of the depth of his obsession) recounted a trip that he’d made with a group of German schoolchildren to a certain city. Their teacher had told them, “You are forbidden to get lost”, admittedly a slightly odd statement, but hardly one that confirms the depravity of the entire German nation. E would sit there, fidgeting and rocking in his chair, wild-eyed and practically foaming at the mouth by the end of the tale, while his audience would chuckle politely and begin to wonder if he was dangerous. Ironically, his oratory smacked a little of Adolph Hitler, though I don’t think anybody ever pointed this out to him.

Joking apart, his reckless rants were an embarrassment to us all, and I was always surprised that he wasn’t disciplined or dismissed after some of the uglier episodes, such as when he bellowed at a young German student that he +should+ feel guilty about the Second World War when he’d just expressed an inability to feel responsible for something his grandparents’ generation had done. As with many prickly, unpredictable characters, often it is seen as easier to let it be than travel the long and winding road.


Wednesday, 8 August 2007


I suspect all TEFL teachers start off eager to apply the lessons they learned on their month-long Certificate course. They carefully choose how to Present, Practise and Produce or Test, Teach, Test, formulating their lesson plans with a genuine concern that the subject matter be interesting, clear and relevant, some even staying up into the early hours crayoning and cutting and pasting until they have achieved something approximating the perfect lesson. Sadly, rarely in my experience do students share the same enthusiasm for elaborately decorated or cunningly crafted classroom materials, however pedagogically sound and well-intentioned. We all soon learn that, by having a two-minute read through of the textbook in the break before lesson starts and winging it, we not only avoid a lot of extra work and save a fortune on craft materials, but we also gain the time to have something resembling a life.

There is one facial expression that is commonly identifiable in all new TEFL classes. It says, quite simply, “Entertain me.” TEFL Certificate courses should have an Applied Slapstick module, or a One Hundred And One Classroom Jokes handout, as proper preparation to teach English to foreign students. At least for those studying in England, most are on holiday and they are damned if they’re going to let an English course ruin their fun.

As an illustration of this, in all my years stumbling around in TEFL, I have never once come across a student who knows the phonetic alphabet. We spend hours during the TEFL course studying it and trying to memorise it, only to never use it again in our lives, except to occasionally mention it to a veritable ocean of blank faces. Don’t get me wrong, the phonetic alphabet is a fantastic invention, practically indispensible to anybody who wants to learn English efficiently, or even read a dictionary, but nobody bothers. It’s bread and circuses citizens want in the TEFL classroom, and with the prices they are often paying, they don’t expect Billy Smart’s, they demand Cirque du Soleil.


Tuesday, 7 August 2007


Some conceal it better than others, but all TEFL teachers desperately want to be liked. This may coincidentally stem from a generalised and chronic lack of self-esteem (perhaps the subject of a future post), but may have more to do with professional (used in the loosest possible sense of the word) survival.

My own bête noir was the pink forms that used to sit on the Principal’s desk every Friday, mocking us with their pale pastel pigment. Where I worked students had to complete a questionnaire at the end of the course, and one question in particular drew morbid visions of Judge Jeffries donning the black cloth before pronouncing sentence. It read, “Please write the name of your teacher and choose one of the options that follow: Very Good, Good, Satisfactory or Bad.” One particular colleague of mine, E, used to neurotically grab the pile of forms at the end of every week and read through them avidly with the expression of a man dreading he’s been written out of a millionaire relative’s will. At every “Satisfactory” he’d visibly stiffen, at every “Bad” he’d die a little inside. Then would come the rationalisation, where he’d rush off to find a colleague who’d taught the same student and goad him or her into destroying their character - an upstanding, affable, Austrian computer programmer would be dismissed as a boring, troublemaking, anti-social Asperger’s Syndrome sufferer. It was tragi-comic, E’s whole identity was affirmed or thrown into question by ticks on a pink form.

I rarely looked at the forms, but sometimes when I was in earshot E would stop on one and say, “Oh dear!”, just loudly enough for me to hear, look at me and leave a heavily pregnant silence. In fact, I was rarely classed as “Bad” and equally rarely adjudged “Very good”. I was the John Smith of TEFL teaching, the average Joe. I liked to think I was following the wisdom of Aristotle’s moderation in choosing neither of two extremes, or the Buddha’s Middle Way, but I suspect that, as much as I tried not to care, a deep fear of rejection drove me not to verify my customers’ feedback very often.



If we indulge in a little idle wordplay, even the acronym TEFL (pronounced “teffle” for the uninitiated) has peculiar onomatopoeic connotations. It sounds a little like “piffle” or “sniffle”, or perhaps most fittingly, “skiffle”.

TEFL is the skiffle of the educational world, a little faded and outdated, populated by eccentric, tweedy people, the poor cousin of state school teaching, the bastard nephew of university lecturing. Just as TEFL teachers spend a large portion of their free time cutting and pasting to make their own materials, in much the same way skiffle artistes entertain themselves by making their own madcap musical instruments.

If there is ever a blockbuster movie made about TEFL, the soundtrack will simply have to feature the
Doghouse Skiffle Group.


Saturday, 4 August 2007


Thinking about it, I suspect tales of madness will be a prominent theme of this blog. It is difficult to tell if a propensity towards lunacy leads people into the profession of EFL teaching or whether years of inane chats about holidays and food with people who are barely able to chat back eventually wear down even the brightest and the best, grey-matter-wise. (I'm not sure if I should have hyphenated there – years of TEFL and it’s still a grey area for me...)

P was one of those itinerant colleagues who’d turn up every summer, each time slightly more sagging and crumpled than the last. The first summer I met him he boasted to me that he’d been to the 1994 World Cup in the USA and had “almost interviewed Maradonna”. I thought it a strange claim to fame, like me saying I “almost slept with Angeline Jolie” because she happened to visit England once.

One of the things we learn on TEFL courses is that we should teach language that’ll be useful for who’s learning it. P was unfettered by such concerns, regularly smuggling a copy of Viz into the classroom and teaching bemused and/or grossly offended foreigners about the Fat Slags, Sid the Sexist and Buster Gonad and His Unfeasibly Large Testicles. Cockney Rhyming Slang was another of his specialities. A group of Japanese Local Government Officers left after their five-week course unable to order food in a restaurant but with terms such as Saucepan Lids (kids), Apple and Pears (stairs) and Rub a Dub Dub (pub) on the tips of their tongues.

Then suddenly P's status as Reliable Summer Teacher came to an abrupt, if unofficial, end. He ran himself a bath of steaming hot water when a young Thai student inadvertantly used the term, “I sell myself”, whilst trying to explain that she was a saleswoman. No doubt influenced by another of his favourite Viz characters, Finbarr Saunders and his Double Entendres, P started guffawing at her entirely innocent admission to prostitution. Apparently seeking to terminate his career at that particular educational establishment with a flourish, he didn’t stop there. Clearly expecting her to find the whole episode as hilarious as he did, he proceeded to explain her mistake to the whole class, leading to her running tearfully from the room and the ensuing hoohah almost sparking a diplomatic incident between our two countries. The lesson to be learned there was that not all Thai girls are as open-minded as some Internet sites would have us believe.

As misguided as his actions may have been, I have to admit the guy had flair. He flatly refused to churn out the pap that was in the textbook for the umpteenth time, preferring instead to mix things up a bit with some solid British seaside-postcard humour - and for that I raise the knotted hankie on my head to his memory.

As far as I know, P hasn’t been heard of since, and as far as I can tell at the time of writing, he hasn't yet managed to pen that Maradonna exclusive.