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
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
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.