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.

Thursday, 29 November 2007


As in most spheres of human activity, TEFL is swimming with competent, bottom-rung classroom staff doing their best whilst managed by high flying buffoons. When working abroad, we often find that school owners don’t have the remotest idea about the realities of language teaching - indeed the majority doesn’t even speak English. In Spain I was kept under the tight-fisted cosh of a slippery accountant with whom I struggled to explain my absences in an awkward sign language; here in Brazil I was just this week interviewed for an English teaching job in Portuguese. If I didn’t speak the language, I suspect that, despite my unquestionable staying power, I would not even have been called, for reasons of practicality.

Franchises are deeply popular here and have, in my opinion, an unwarranted reputation for excellence. Their names don’t exactly conjure instantly recognisable mental images related to the learning of the world’s lingua franca – Wizard, Yazigi and the psychedelic Pink and Blue Freedom do little to inspire teachers that they’re in safe hands. But let this not be a comment confined to our experiences in strange lands, where we can expect things to often be a little half-baked, for a variety of reasons I won’t explore here. At home in the British Isles the disordered patchwork that is the TEFL marketplace comprises just as many soiled and threadbare scraps of cloth.

One of the many TEFL-free tangents I have briefly shot off on was a fall through a trap door into the administration of an international group of language schools, with centres in the US, Britain and Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. When I joined the organization as a grossly over-qualified data input clerk (Customer Support is what they called it), the firm was owned by a huge American educational corporation, and many of the managers were executives drafted in from other industries. One in particular, the head of US Operations, was a fluent exponent of the imponderable language of the corporate dimension, forever ramping up this and leveraging that, whilst totally failing to keep abreast of what was happening in the schools whose operations he was meant to be heading. When questioned about why a school principal had resigned about a fortnight earlier, he stifled his lack of coherent response with the excuse that this fact hadn’t “crossed his radar screen” yet. After a year of such bigwigs flying around the world to meetings where they’d discuss “robust initiatives” and “core business competences”, the holding company saw our disastrous annual results and put us on the market before their shareholders found out.

By far the most hopelessly misguided plan conceived during my brief and entirely platonic relationship with the firm was the much trumpeted implementation of an online chat-cum-booking system that would allow students to enter the company’s website, chat live with a member of staff to clear up their queries, and subsequently book their courses online. Rumour had it that the system had cost one million dollars to develop and integrate into a smooth, interactive online experience. As wonderful as this may have sounded in the corporate boardroom, the system presented some major teething problems. Not least amongst these was the tendency for visitors to the site to subject the Brazilian woman responsible for chatting to them to a relentless torrent of sexual harassment, which became truly Caligulan after Galatasaray beat Arsenal in that year’s Champion’s League competition and a significant section of the male population of Istanbul chose the system as their favoured vehicle for their expletive-heavy celebrations. Apart from being deeply offended, my beleagured Brazilian colleague had to constantly interrupt her work to answer what at first appeared to be genuine student enquiries, before questions of an indiscreetly personal nature made her politely disconnect and try to catch up with some of the work she’d just spent half and hour postponing.

Given this crisis, meetings were called, conference calls were held, executives sat up in US corporate offices well into the night with web developers to brainstorm how they could modify the software to filter out inappropriate content, when little old me had a rare brainwave. Timidly knocking on the Sales Manager, K’s, office door, I humbly suggested that they change the female names on the site to male ones, predicting, correctly as it happened, that people wouldn’t be quite so keen to indulge in sexual innuendo with somebody whom they believed to be a man. K froze and hung up the phone with a long-lost glint in his eye. “Ok, thanks, yes, that might work,” he said, ushering me out and closing the door whilst fiddling with speed-dial on his mobile phone – he had an urgent suggestion to make to the company President stateside.

As a footnote, in all the time I was there, not one booking was ever flagged as being a direct result of the use of this splendid online system. No doubt those responsible have moved on to other corporations, where they are busily ramping up and leveraging everything that moves, whilst still failing to check their radar screens.

Have you ever had as a boss who was a total arse? Have you ever had a boss who WASN’T a total arse? Feel free to describe your experiences with arses, whilst keeping within the bounds of human decency, please.


Tuesday, 27 November 2007


I feel compelled by my first, and hopefully only, road traffic accident on Brazilian tarmac to spit vitriol about motoring in the fourth most populous democracy in the world. Said collision wasn’t a death-defying forty-vehicle pileup so popular in these parts, it was one of those maddeningly petty knocks that drives the front-seat passenger into a simmering, understated and very British rage that steams up the car windows, whilst the Latin-blooded driver directs language that would be more fitting at a prison uprising at the gap-toothed agricultural labourer cum lorry driver who braked his jalopy using the rear of our stationary hatchback. One of those ball-achingly unnecessary incidents that leaves just enough damage to need costly professional repair, whilst not achieving a level of violence sufficient to merit an insurance claim.

The success of motor racing icons such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna may have given their countrymen much to cheer about, but it also instilled in a generation of wholly less talented wheelmen wildly dangerous delusions of grandeur. Added to this the pervasive conviction that “the law was made for everyone else”, and the result is that highly competitive motorists routinely experiment with innovative manoeuvres such as overtaking via the hard shoulder, or where they are explicitly prohibited to do so by double lines in the middle of the road. The results of such flirtations with fate are often catastrophic.

Once, when I was returning home on the works bus from the metallurgical factory where I worked, on negotiating a bend we were greeted with what appeared to be the aftermath of a particularly brutal car bomb attack, such was the sheer volume of mangled debris strewn across the road. It transpired that a young lad had been picked up at the factory by his father and brother, and had demanded to get behind the wheel, having recently passed his driving test. On the ten-minute drive home, on a short straight leading into a blind corner, he had confidently pulled out to overtake a solid line of cars, only for a pitiless Mercedes Benz truck to appear coming in the opposite direction. Unable to return to his side of the highway, in the fraction of a second he had to decide how to escape a sickening impact, he swerved onto the opposite hard shoulder, trusting that the truck would safely breeze past. However, great minds thought alike, and the truck ploughed into his car with such force that the boot (trunk, for US readers) was propelled into the dense tropical undergrowth and has never been found. Pops and brother both died instantly in an impact that virtually scythed the car in two down the middle. The driver was left deeply shocked, conscious and trapped in the smouldering wreckage.

There is also the widespread tendency for adolescent males to “rebaixar” their cars. This involves installing special low suspension, or, for less affluent drivers, sawing pieces off the existing springs, this pimping of their ride invariably being accompanied by American hip-hop tunes played at ear-bleedingly loud volumes. It is always wise to avoid getting too close to these wildly erratic motorists, though the occupants of a car with low suspension should not always necessarily be assumed to be gangsta wannabes – it could well be three generations of up to four different families packed into their Volkswagen Brasilia on their way to a barbecue.

Another important aggravating factor is the lack of any regulation concerning the state of repair of automobiles on Brazil’s thoroughfares. Whereas in Britain the annual Ministry of Transport Test (MOT) rigidly checks the roadworthiness of Britain’s vehicles, in Brazil, if the obligation to take such a test exists, it is never applied. If you don’t pay your Road Tax, you will have your car confiscated by the Polícia Rodoviária (my favourite wing of the police, as the most efficient, polite and lightly-armed), but you will be happily waved on at a police checkpoint in an ageing Volkswagen Beetle with one dim headlight and no taillights. Outside São Paulo state, those roads that are asphalted present a challenging pattern of potholes of varying depths and sizes.

By far the most deadly factor in determining the level of danger a driver presents, however, is none of the above – it is the use of hats. If a driver is wearing headgear, you can be sure he will do something ludicrously reckless in the next few kilometers, so my advice, concocted as an easy-to-remember rhyming couplet is: If he’s wearing a hat, lose the twat. Maybe it is the false sense of security the use of headwear instills in drivers, but it is a truism that the behatted driver is a menace that should be avoided at all costs, either by slowing to let him get away, or speeding up and leaving him for dust. Of course, if the hat is accompanied by a Police uniform, this advice should be amended accordingly, unless you want to be subjected to the erratic and impulsive use of firearms.

Do you wear a hat when driving? Are you a twat? What is driving like in your country? The best answers may be turned into an informative TEFL discussion class, properly credited of course.


Friday, 23 November 2007


"Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called "On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual," points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that, when they occurred, had seemed accidental and of little moment, turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot."
The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers)

It is indeed a fascinating theory, though one not altogether backed up by my own floundering experience. When I look back on my life, I see less the consistent plot of a novel and more the outline of an episode of the BBC’s early-nineties soap opera fiasco, Eldorado. Most of my big life decisions have been made on a whim, guided by a desire to achieve the most pleasurable and pain-free result. Whilst my contemporaries were carefully choosing their higher education subjects based on future earnings potential, employability, and making Stalinist five-year plans for their lives, I resolved to read the largely useless Italian language at university whilst sipping a chilled lager outside a seafront café in Finale Ligure on a teenage Inter-railing jolly.

I have in a previous missive poked fun at my colleague E, who spent a year in Germany developing a profound and all-pervading loathing of everything Teutonic, for reasons unexplained, and yet my own experiences with gli italiani produced similar, if less rabidly frenzied, results. Before venturing to the tiny hillside city of Urbino for my Erasmus-sponsored sabbatical, I had infantile fantasies that I would be greeted in local bars as lo scrittore inglese, who, following in the footsteps of Hemingway and countless other hellraisers, would spent the entire time being drunk and fascinating. Indeed, in the first few weeks I found I did attract quite a bit of attention, as Italians, perhaps intrigued by my unique blend of cravats and corduroy, would approach me and strike up conversation. I would do my best to be as profound as possible with my rudimentary foreign language skills, before grabbing another beer from the canteen bar as a marker as to the extent to which I was spellbindingly bohemian. I was widely considered “strong” for my ability to down numerous cans of Peroni, and generally keep them down.

However, I soon discovered an ulterior motive for the captivation I held over the residents of Le Marche. Conversations inevitably followed the same, discernible pattern:

Italiano: So, where are you from?
Inglese: Britain. I say Britain because my father’s English, but my mother’s Wels
Italiano: I was in London once. Biggy Ben, wonderful clock.
Inglese: Indeed. Have you ever heard of the Bloomsbury Grou…?
Italiano: And this gorgeous blonde next to you. Is she your girlfriend?
Inglese: What? No, no. She’s from another university in England. I met her yesterday.
Italiano: Can you introduce me to her?

Thus I would be left tapping my new found friend on the shoulder to continue my explanation of the twentieth-century London literary scene whilst he stared deeply into the seducee’s soul and declared his undying love for her, just as he had to a steamed up German girl twenty minutes earlier whom he was now strategically leaving to “settle”.

If there’s one thing that irritates me it’s Italian men’s utter conviction that it’s always open season sniff-wise. They are trained from a young age to tell a woman, any woman, “you will always be in my heart” and such preposterous flannel. I once had a fifteen-year-old Italian in a class who, when asked to describe the characteristics of his countrymen, pronounced with a stupid, self-satisfied and utterly straight face, “We are-a the best-a Latin lowvers,” to which I blurted with genuine venom, “Oh shut up, you farcical tit!”, at least mentally. The one romantic tryst I became involved in with an American colleague during my year abroad was snow-ploughed into oblivion after a couple of weeks by a dewy-eyed Calabrian with impossibly healthy hair and a verbosity full of the maudlin promises of primavera. He probably did the mambo like-a crazy too – there was simply no competing with his dusky southern ways…

I’m over it now, though.

Has an Italian ever stolen your girlfriend, or boyfriend? Have you ever stolen an Italian's girlfriend or boyfriend? Did they cry? Do you know any farcical tits? The TEFL Graveyard is a place to share your experiences, and your stories about tits .


Monday, 19 November 2007


I mentioned in my profile that I once reached the semi-finals of a BBC Talent comedy writing competition. If this sounds grand, perhaps I should add an important caveat, for fear of being classed a fibber. I did, in fact, reach a stage that “less than 10% of the entries got to”, but as the finalists were chosen from this filtered down group, I prefer to describe it as the semi-final, probably a little flatteringly. And the mild feelings of achievement generated by my having been selected within the top 10% are dependent on the assumption that there weren’t 2.4 million entries.

Whilst I was initially thrilled by my relative success in the competition, this elation soon became smothered by the clammy palms of regret, as my unbending tendency towards directionless procrastination had yet again brought me down just outside the box. I imagine the other entrants must have beavered away at their manuscripts for months, poring over every word and punctuation mark, carefully crafting a watertight plot using advanced algebra or sophisticated algorithms. I, on the other hand, sat down after work on the Wednesday evening before Friday’s deadline and typed up my slapdash submission in just over an hour, stream-of-consciousness style. Reading through it on the way to post it the next morning, it had some exquisite moments, I felt, but was largely rendered ineffectual by a total absence of coherent storyline.

However, the encouragement of receiving a letter printed on BBC headed paper telling me of my position amongst the contest’s pseudo-elite, and the accompanying invitation to submit more script ideas to the BBC’s Writersroom, spurred me into a relatively productive period in which I daily set forth. Around a month after receiving the competition feedback, I sent my first full script idea, complete with one whole episode fully written. I received a polite reply that, whilst they appreciated my trying, it wasn’t going to be developed. That was it. No reasons why, no comments. I thought they could have at least given me a sentence, even if it was, “This simply isn’t funny.” What if they’d looked at my script and just laughed - not for the right reasons, but because I’d submitted such a feeble attempt at merrymaking?

Putting this uncomfortable possibility to the back of my mind, I decided to up the ante and write a comedy drama based on the forthcoming Euro 2004 tournament in Portugal. This time I concentrated on getting the plot right first, eventually spending three months writing daily until I had a script that ran to over 220 pages. Again the reception was without warmth – curt, in fact.

In arranging these BBC Talent competitions and the like, the corporation is clearly looking for new comedy writers, but they do little to help those they allegedly think may have some potential. Comedy is one of the hardest things to write exactly because you never know if what you’re writing is genuinely amusing or whether you’re just being annoying – it’s so subjective. Forget asking your friends and family for an honest opinion – my mother thinks my writing’s great, but she thinks Max Boyce is priceless too.

And if the competitions are directed at finding new talent, it’s more than likely that contestants aren’t already professional writers, meaning that they have to divide their time between script-crafting and work that actually makes them enough money to pay the pantry maids and the footmen – which leads me to the premise of this post, that sitcom writing is the dominion of BBC insiders and the landed gentry.

In support of my hypothesis, the utterly brilliant The Office was written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant whilst the latter was doing a producer’s course at the BBC – hence he must have nipped to the comedy department during a fag break one day and had a word. Only Fools and Horses, another comedy institution, was developed by John Sullivan, who was working in the BBC Props Department at the time. See the pattern developing? I’m sure there are other examples, but I’m too lazy to research them.

Should the BBC deign to accept your script, there is little room for cracking open the Asti Spumanti – for every twenty scripts in development, only one will make it to the screen. So after all the honing, chiseling and grafting away at your masterpiece, you have a 5% chance of success, and no guarantee that it will be repeated in future – there’s no permanent job you are being led towards. And living on a different continent probably doesn’t increase your chances of glory.

So my comedy writing career ended not with a bang but a whimper - back to preparing the lessons.



It's official. Consider this extract I was asked to quickly skim over for mistakes:

...the Brazilian legislation doesn't establish that the manufacturing companies of nutritious goods are forced to collect and to give destination final, environmental appropriate, although this for the norm ISO 22000 is requested. Now a company qualified powder an official organ of the environment is responsible for the discard of ******** Brazil's products. Cost of u$ 142/60 boxes...

It's like a linguistic car accident.

Wanted: a job, any job, that doesn't make my brain hurt into the early hours.


Thursday, 15 November 2007


TEFL courses tend to ignore the possibility of students spontaneously bursting into tears during lessons, and those of us who have experienced such troubling spectacles are thus left with few guidelines as to how to handle sensitively scenes of sudden and inexplicable emotional meltdown.

Barely three months into my TEFL wanderings, I managed to make 66.67% of a class weep in under two hours, setting a personal best that stands until today. And before you jump to the perfectly understandable conclusion that I was teaching children of primary school age, I wasn’t - they were fully grown up Japanese Local Government Officers.

In the class there were three students, the Group Leader, a squat, wide, inscrutable blade whose only facial expressions were an occasional stiff smirk and an almost imperceptible narrowing of the eyes, and two twenty-something women from different Japanese Prefectures. It was my first lesson with them, and I’d chosen an exercise that remains one of my favourites to this day, for its adaptability, long-windedness and need for zero preparation. I forget from which book it comes, but students write on a piece of paper three names (someone they like very much, someone they’ll never forget, someone they don’t like very much), three places (the place they were born, somewhere they’d like to visit, a place they like to be alone), then three dates (the year they first went to school, the year they were happiest, the year that changed them most), and finally three memories (a happy memory, a funny memory, and their first memory). Then they read out their answers and everyone grills them for more details. Anticipating an unwanted emotional outpouring, I’d used what little intuition I possess to change one of the memory questions from a sad memory to a funny memory, but in the event, it helped not a jot.

After giving the students a few minutes to come up with their answers, I started directing my questions to one of the women.
“So, T, who is somebody you like very much?” I started brightly. She reddened and without managing to emit a word, broke down, the copious tears plopping onto her notepad. I hadn’t anticipated any plopping. I froze, neither knowing what was happening, nor what to do. I looked at the Group Leader, who stared back at me evenly, apparently determined to wallow in denial as if the wailing and gnashing of teeth to his right were a figment of our collective imaginations. We all remained there staring at each other silently for a few seconds as T sobbed quietly in the corner, before I could take no more and bolted. “Excuse me,” I mumbled as I ran out of the door and down two flights of stairs to the Staff Room, a-swearin' and a-cussin' like a docker.

“You shouldn’t do anything that involves expressing personal feelings with Japanese students!” my colleague helpfully advised me, just too late, “They’re shy, they don’t like talking about themselves - do something more general.” I grabbed a list of discussion questions, hastily photocopied it, legged it back upstairs and, taking a deep breath, made a stately re-entry into the fray as if it had all been carefully planned. Whilst I had been away, the Group Leader had either spoken kind words, or ordered T to get a grip, as she had, by this time, more or less composed herself. I handed out the new sheets and we continued the lesson, each of us respecting our secret pact that everything was going swimmingly.

The eerie emotional armistice lasted only a short time, before the other woman, A, was also reduced to tearful wreck. In answer to the question, “Do you think murderers should receive the death penalty?” she started answering, then became choked and started sniffling pathetically. My heart began to shrivel. The Group Leader’s eyes narrowed fractionally, but he kept them firmly fixed on me, determined to stoically face down this second emotional tailspin as he had the first. Composing herself after what seemed like an hour of titanic internal struggle, A revealed that a friend of hers had been killed recently and the murderer hadn’t yet been caught. Cut to me looking suicidal at the white board. How unlucky was that? Japan is famed for being one of the safest countries in the world, their murder rate is one of the lowest of all developed nations, for all that’s holy…

As a footnote, about three weeks after they left, I received a beautifully crafted Japanese photo album through the post from T, packed with pictures of their stay, including an ironic snap of me and the group grinning like our classes had been nothing but a series of fun-packed romps. There was also an invitation to visit her in Japan, and a confession of her amorous intentions towards me. The first lesson’s shenanigans kind of made sense now, but I decided not to take her up on her kind offer of hospitality - if she had been like that when she met me, imagine what would have happened when the time came to say goodbye.

Have you ever made your students cry? Are you planning to? Have your students ever made you cry? The TEFL Graveyard is a place where you can open your heart, and cry if you like.


Wednesday, 14 November 2007


I've always assumed that the lyrics of the song below are satirical.

Apparently this man doesn't.

(Depending on how much you value your current job, this song could easily be adapted into an entertaining jigsaw listening).


If you wanna make money then you’ve gotta think fast,
Phone Claims Direct cos there’s a nail in yer arse,
It’s very simple this is one step of two,
First hurt yourself, then claim you wanna sue
Venereal gash, or is it just whiplash?
Call it what you want, just get the fukkin cash.
Cash or cheque, trip or fall,
You gets over a grand if you rips off yer balls,
Can I get a witness? You got a cut or a bruise,
Now yer talking business,
Oh son put yer face in the fire,
If you lose both eyes then the price goes higher,
I went to the doctors cos I felt funny, now Claims Direct, they’re giving me money,
Pick up the phone, the number is free, remember kids,
No win no fee!

Ring now, no win no fee,
It's gotta be true cos it's on the TV,
Ring now, its money for free,
It's gotta be true cos it's on the TV

The bad boy limp is tellin’, you know what type of shit I’m selling.
I walks funny and I gets respect, my limp’s paid for by Claims Direct,
Cut off two toes and got gangrene, now I walks with a gangster lean,
I did it in work, no win no fee, I got four grand and shpmobilityyyy
Shopmobility shop shopmoblilty
Shopmobility shop shopmoblilty
Shopmobility shop shopmoblilty
Shopmobility shop shopmoblilty

Ring now, no win no fee...

I wears a stone in the sole of my shoe,
It makes me walk proper when I’m hanging with my crew,
What do I mean? I’ll try to explain,
Being fukkin razz means you gotta take some pain,
Like I said, I wears a stone, other techniques have been used that are known,
I used a marble, it made me walk funny,
Like Jeremy Beadle’s hand giving me money,
For a prize that I won on a show, for having a bad boy limp and smoking blow,
Put on your trainer, feel the Hi-Tec glow, insert a two-inch nail into the foot below.
The bad boy, the bad boy limp,
A little bit of gravel makes you walk like a pimp,
The bad boy, the bad boy limp,
The harder you look the more you walks like a gimp

Ring now, no win no fee...

Yer bird checks me when yer havin a drink, I got ten fags and a bad boy limp,
If you wanna start, clart, give it a go,
S’like Heather Mills giving McCartney a (blank),
Not working now cos I’m on the sick, my bad boy limp sorts the benefits,
I lurch round town with my mates at an angle, Leisurewear, bling-bling, fukkin jingle jangle,
You knows I’m safe, so check my stance, walking around Argos like I shat my pants.
Ah, tick-tock we don’t stop, I limp like a leper when I go down the shop,
A Ginsters pasty, a can of Panda Pop, then it’s off down the council cos my benefit’s stopped,
Injury - it’s the name of the game, fuckin up yer body for the Goldie Lookin Chain,
One toe is six weeks, one leg is a year, do a Vincent Van Gogh, get more money for beer.

Ring now, no win no fee...

Forget the bones that your breaking, think about the cash you're making
Forget the bones that your breaking, think about the cash you're making
Forget the bones that your breaking, think about the cash you're making
Forget about the bones your breaking, think about the cash you're making

Tuesday, 13 November 2007


Despite being a self-confessed skeptic of The Secret and its rumblings, I have to admit that starting this blog has had a strangely positive effect on my life. Opportunities have appeared where I wasn’t expecting them, and I’m in the unfamiliar position of having to decide between several work options, a couple of them only distant cousins of TEFL. The only cloud on the horizon is my overpowering proclivity towards procrastination, and the very real danger that my blog turn into just another, slightly more sophisticated form of frenetic dilly dallying.

With this fear at the back of my mind, I have resolved to remove most of the third-party functionality and widgets from the Graveyard, the searching out and finding of which have already cost me too many precious hours of my finite lifespan, and which I feel are the principal risk to my new-found productivity.

Also banished is Google Adsense, which frankly made no sense. When resolving to include advertising, I was only too aware of the possibility that, as the ads are tailored to the content of the blog, the kind of tongue-in-cheek brickbats I set forth on TEFL are unlikely to persuade many visitors to do one of the TEFL courses that I am wont to advertise. Added to that, many of the ads are for funeral services and online tributes to the deceased which a computer algorithm might find relevant to my content, but I do not, with no disrespect to online embalmers or virtual funeral parlours and their ilk. I must confess that I was a victim of greed, having read a post by Personal Development guru Steve Pavlina, who claims that his blog earns him a thousand US dollars a day. That supposes that you have something marketable to say, I guess. So far, in just over three months, the TEFL Graveyard has generated income of $1.68, a figure that crushes my early enthusiasm that blogging could be a fun alternative to TEFL.

Recently, in an expletive-strewn pep talk, my wife Show made an interesting observation, the gist of which was that if I spent a fraction of the time and energy that I spend on fool-headed attempts to escape TEFL on actually dedicating myself to it, I might actually manage to earn a decent salary and thus start moving from our paw-to-kisser existence living with her parents to a life any newly-married nineteen year olds would expect as the minimum so as not to divorce within six months. This time, I think she’s serious - and dare I say it, right.


Sunday, 11 November 2007


This week I’ve been fairly quiet blogwise as I’ve been bludgeoning my way through a turgid English to Portuguese translation on the telecommunications industry, for which I brilliantly underestimated the time necessary to complete it, and left it all to the last minute anyway, just to make it truly hellish and stressful.

Below is a graph showing the Procrastination Algorithm that afflicts me. Any normal, mature adult would have divided the 50 files to be translated into the number of days available and worked steadily and with discipline to complete a reasonable number per day. But not I, for that would break the habit ingrained for at least the past twenty years or so. The fact that the number of files tails off on the last day belies the fact that I left the longest and most densely mindbending to last, showing a breathtaking lack of foresight.

Another point of interest has been the Google searches that have brought people here to the TEFL resting place. A peek at Sightmeter referrals provides an intriguing glimpse as to how people stumble into the TEFL Graveyard – Google search terms include, tefl depression and leave tefl, and I apologise to the protagonists of these two visits for the lack of insight my hotchpotch offers to assuage their apparent desperation.

More unlikely visitors were searching for a bulgarian soldier beret, a restaurant in a graveyard (?!), and an almost perfect family sitcom switzerland, the latter being a contradiction in terms if ever I heard one.

My personal favourites, however, have to be the undoubtedly bewildered and vastly disappointed individuals who hurtled in after using the search criteria, Brazilian miniskirts and drenched pair respectively.

There really is nowt queerer than folk.


Saturday, 10 November 2007


The Brazilian word “vara” has multiple meanings, including "fishing rod", or, when used in its ribald slang form, "male sexual organ".

So avoid having to give awkward explanations, and/or pay expensive legal bills, and/or avoid eye-contact with your father-in-law for several weeks by remembering never to casually offer to show another man your fishing rod when using a public convenience.


Friday, 9 November 2007


I'd just like to say an intercontinental Nice One to my dear friend Lawtey, who was born 38 years ago on this very day. He is in TEFL in Málaga, on the Costa del Sol, Spain, where he wears a beard despite the elevated temperatures, and writes precociously.

Lawtey is also author of one of the most fascinating comments on TEFL I've ever heard. It is, he has reasoned, like sitting in a stationary railway carriage in a station when another stationary train is alongside, and when one of the trains starts moving, one doesn't know which it is... I'm not quite sure what he means, yet I am - that's the genius of his observation.

He has been known to pop in from time to time and stalk me, and if that's he case, this tiny effort won't have been wasted.

Parabéns para você
Nesta data querida
Muitas felicidades
Muitos anos* de vida!

(*) - In Brazilian, "anos" doesn't mean "anuses" like it does in Spanish, incidentally.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


Tonight my students were listening to a recording and answering comprehension questions on it. As I patrolled the room looking at their answers over their shoulders, one student’s response to question two particularly caught my eye. The fellow had written intriguingly, “colon power”.

The strange thing was, he wasn’t replying to the question, “Which of your personal attributes would you describe as a double-edged sword?”, but “Who was the US Secretary of State before Condoleezza Rice?”


Monday, 5 November 2007


Five people again voted, as my stubborn attempts to canvas opinion on vital TEFL issues continues apace.

In answer to the, some may say indelicately incomplete, statement, "My TEFL salary is:", the following responses were registered, after a recount:
  1. ... none of your bloody business - 0 votes (0%)
  2. ... enough to keep the wolf from the door - 1 vote (20%)
  3. ... enough to keep the wife from the door - 3 votes (60%)
  4. ... enough to keep me in snuff and monogrammed handkerchiefs - 1 vote (20%)
  5. ... sub-Saharan - 0 votes (0%)
One foppish respondant shares my predeliction for stylishly whistle-clean air intakes, one person believes their income enough to keep wild animals at bay, whilst fully 60% regard their pay as enough to keep their spouse from departing.

So there you have it - a TEFL salary won't lose you a wife, but it probably won't gain you one either. There again, it might, depending on whether she's studied numbers in English yet or not. Probably best not to mention it though, just to be on the safe side.

Or something.


Saturday, 3 November 2007


My Army days, all five of them in total, were nearly coming to an anti-climactic end. All that remained was to attend an interview with another stiffly uniformed soul-reaver, then it was the Mess Dinner later in the evening and some kind of farewell race programmed despicably early the next morning. Of course, this was the Machiavellian brainchild of another warped mind, clearly concocted to prod at the perfectly human temptation to indulge in some Rabelaisian hell-raising at the Mess Dinner after the three days of being led through the circles of Dante’s Inferno. It was a trap I was aware of, but one into which I fell headfirst nonetheless.

At the interview I was informed that I had come first out of all the candidates in both the Military and General Knowledge tests. This, I felt ambivalently, could count as a plus for me, as when invading the next Third World country, not only would I be able to identify enemy armour and artillery batteries from blurred reconnaissance photos, but I would also be on hand to give relevant information on the population density of the main urban centres, the mainstay of each region’s economy, as well as what kind of wildfowl one may expect to find on local waterways. All, I imagined, from a fortified underground bunker with a working lavatory and a well-stocked drinks cabinet a safe distance from the front line.

“So how do you measure success in your current job?” the galloping Major enquired, fixing me with hooded, deathly eyes. “In millennia,” I almost replied, but thought better of it. “Well, we have these pink questionnaires that students fill out at the end of the course…” I began, instantly regretting having mentioned the colour. The officer’s face screwed up like his hiatus hernia had just caused him to regurgitate something uniquely sour, and through tightly clenched teeth he managed to mutter sarcastically, “Yes, well, soldiers don’t fill out pink questionnaires, do they?” He didn’t add, “They tend to shoot you in the back instead,” but I was sure he wanted to. The rest was damage limitation and half-hearted attempts to convince us both that I was the right man for the jodhpurs.

The Mess Dinner was the best, and at the same time the worst, part of the whole shebang. We were waited upon by the non-commissioned officers (including the detonative Scottish Sergeant Major), and, as Chairman of the Mess, I got to sit at the head of a long table with a gavel. We had been assured that this wasn’t part of the testing process, that we were free to enjoy the evening as much as we cared to, but that was disingenuous bunkum – they wanted to see which of us would get steamed on the free booze and forget the next morning’s pointless race to carry something awkward over something irritating in the least possible time.

In the event, I made little use of my gavel except for when I looked up at the end of the meal and saw the port decanter on the table. This was something the Scottish Sergeant-Major had briefed me about – the pedantic tradition that the port must be passed around the table without touching its surface. I tapped meekly to call everybody’s attention to the scandal that was unfolding at the far end of the dining table. “Who put the port on the table?” I enquired. A hubbub ensued, but the blackguard remained faceless. I knocked again and repeated my question, feeling empowered by the respectful silence that met my persistent pounding, and the Cabernet Sauvignon that was gently starting to disable my faculties. Still nobody owned up. I swatted the table again with grape-induced relish and cried, “WHO PUT THE PORT ON THE TABLE?” The cad was upstanding and I passed sentence – he was to buy a bottle of brandy in the bar afterwards, to be shared by all and sundry. Looking back, it wasn’t the wisest of punishments, but I was past caring. There followed a toast that I vaguely remember someone proposing, then the Royal Military Policeman asked me for “permission to speak” - I loved that. He pointed out that the proposer of said toast hadn’t faced the portrait of the Queen when making it – I hadn’t realised one should, but by that time, anything went. “Then he shall buy a bottle of brandy too!” I brayed triumphantly, amid whoops and slaps on the back and constantly topped up brandy glasses. I have a feeling they even gave me three cheers…

We came last in the race out of the three teams. I came in last in our team, after falling off one of the rain-dampened obstacles and having to go back and start it all again. I don’t know why they insist on using those senseless climbing nets – the only place you'll ever find them is on Army assault courses, so it’s not like they’re training you for anything in the real world.

Shortly after my release, my Spanish gypsy girl went back to her bohemian lifestyle on the Costa del Sol and moved in with her boyfriend, which was a move I hadn’t entirely foreseen her making. I suspect that once she knew she’d never get her hands on a generous MOD Widow’s Pension, she lost interest.

And so came to a pacific end my undistinguished military career.

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Friday, 2 November 2007


Today is Finados, or the Day of the Dead. Brazilians visit graveyards and mope, or spend half a day in a traffic jam to the coast, and mope. I, personally, shall be staying here on the coffee plantation to make sure none of the children try to bunk off work early.

There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs here in the sugar-cane-alcohol-fuelled Latin American economy, which is "véspera de feriado", or "public holiday eve". The night before the officially-sanctioned day off, people cancel all non-life threatening engagements in preparation for some intense relaxation - two of my three classes were no shows last night, and I suspect the students will begin to wander back around next Wednesday. One of my private students, who's under pressure from her company to learn Inglês asap, recently cancelled her two-hour Saturday morning lessons until January, due to the barbecue season (similar to the shooting season, but without the Labrador Retrievers) and Christmas being a mere two months away. If, like me, you haven't stockpiled your nuts during the year in preparation for the dry season, you can be left red-faced when expected to buy a round of soft-drinks at the works Christmas pagode session.

To those who are working today, I will sip a chilled Caipirinha to your enterprise.