One of the commonest figures to be found within TEFL is the aspiring administrator. This is a teacher who, often drained by years of repetitive, poorly remunerated clowning around in the classroom, seeks a position managing other teachers, such as Director of Studies (aptly and attractively known as "Doss"), from which they can sit in an imaginary TEFL director’s chair smoking a cigar, bellowing, “CUT!” and enjoying not having to pull a linguistic rabbit out of a hat twelve times a day, five days a week. I include myself within this TEFL subgenre, although my past experiences of administration have left me with an odd yearning to get back into the classroom and be king of my own modest sandcastle.
In 2005, whilst I was working in HR at a local factory, my Brazilian friend Bert and I decided to start our own school. I had recently managed to wriggle out of a honey trap I’d set for myself, when I offered to give a free English course to my colleagues in the factory’s Training and Development Department. I’d made this offer for several reasons – I wanted to try out some new teaching techniques I’d found out about in a low-pressure situation, and I hoped it may gain me some credibility, given my boss’s opinion that I spoke pidgin Portuguese, making it difficult to assess whether I was the village idiot or the wise Shakespearean fool. Lastly, I hoped a few would be sufficiently stimulated by the freebie experience to seek out paid private English classes with me.
As it turned out, the course was something of a disaster. The only time available for holding the classes was from 6:00am to 7:00am, meaning that twice a week I had to be up at 4:30am to get ready for the 5:10am works bus. After an initial spurt of interest, student numbers fell from about 14 to 2, and worse, I began to be hounded by my boss into providing reports on my students’ progress. Rather than see my initiative as a selfless act for the common good, he mystifyingly interpreted it as some kind of favour he was doing me. I let it go on for about two months, then used the high drop-out rate as the perfect excuse to plead that it was turning into a wasteful extra use of electricity at a time when the training centre would normally have remained in darkness.
Thus our plan for a school was conceived. As by far the more accomplished procrastinator, I took it upon myself to be Head of Tables and Pie Charts, and produced a glittering array of graphical representations illustrating just how wealthy we were to become. The school was located in the town where the factory stood, and with just over 5,000 employees and an internal English course limited only to Engineers (of whom there were less than 100 in total) I confidently predicted that if even 1% of the workers there were interested in learning English, that would provide us with a cool 50 students, just to kick off with. We found suitable premises, put up partitions to create 2 decent-sized classrooms, installed an illuminated sign, advertised in the local press, did leafleting campaigns, sent letters door-to-door, and ended the first 12 months with a total of 12 students, a figure that compelled us to employ a scorched earth policy, removing the furniture, disabling the telephone and beating an indebted surrender.
The aggravating factors that caused our failure were many. Firstly, there was the tendency for Brazilians to promise to do something, then not bother to do it. Secondly, there was the mystery of the leafleting campaign, which didn’t appear to reach any of our target consumers. When I explained the task to the lad charged with delivering the material, I developed the suspicion that he was several lemons short of a caipirinha, a fact confirmed when he waved to me from a bus leaving town not twenty minutes later. Only after we closed the school and abandoned our aspirations did people come to me and ask me where the school was located. “I saw that school,” they said, “but I didn’t realise it was yours. I thought it was just another franchise…”
I’m not a good salesman. In fact, that’s not true. I’m not good at selling myself. Give me something to sell, and I’ll shift it for you. What I find difficult is convincing myself of my worth, let alone other people. Maybe that’s why I’m still in TEFL. Or maybe that’s what TEFL has done to me.
Are you good at selling yourself? How much do you charge? Have you ever opened a business? Do you have a job for me? I’m punctual.