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, 25 February 2011


Yesterday I was just tucking into my jugged hare when the doorbell rang. My father-in-law answered it to a lady, returning to inform me that it was me to whom she would like to address an enquiry. Unaccustomed to lady callers, I descended to the gate and held a barely audible shouted conversation with my suitor above the rabid barking of my hound.

"Is it you that gives the English lessons?" she enquired.
"Not any more, I'm afraid", I snapped, snorting involuntarily, "I work with translation now, and I don't have time to give lessons."
She appeared to crumple physically.
"I can't believe it," she whined, "a friend of mine called you a while ago and you told her you weren't giving lessons any more," she went on, this revelation begging the question as to why she thought I'd make some kind of inconsistent exception for her. "It's for my 16-year-old son. Not even conversation?"

Ah yes, conversation classes - the linguistic equivalent of watching a student give birth. For some reason people assume "conversation classes", which are more often than not nothing of the sort, are something you just do at a minute's notice, some kind of free and easy 1960s students and teachers heavily relating to each other sort of vibe. Little do they realise most students' abject inability to hold any kind of conversation that would be generally accepted as intelligible, meaning that good old teach has to prepare wads of material and assorted bumpf to fill the awkward silences. I still awake at night with sweats brought on by nightmares involving running out of material absurdly early in a class.

My last teaching job at a Business English-oriented school involved giving lessons to a particularly limited individual who was invariably the only member of the class to show up, meaning I was forced into giving him one-to-one classes. Of the hour-long class, he probably communicated for at most 15 minutes, which, to be honest, was quite enough. Oddly, though I detected no stammer when he spoke Portuguese, when he attempted to express his inner feelings in English, he'd suddenly get stuck on a word, repeating part of it half a dozen times while cocking his head at an awkward angle and looking heavenwards, as if he were looking up a chimney, or perhaps had just sat on something unexpectedly sharp. I would just sit there and look evenly at him, stifling the urge to scream encouragement.

Anyway, this lady was particularly persistent. I suggested my friend Bert, who has a school and speaks impeccable English.

"And in the next few months," she pressed, "any likelihood of you having more time available?"

Here is what I would have liked to have replied.

"Madam, I note that you have not yet grasped the depth of my loathing for teaching English, so allow me to spell it out to you. When I was young and carefree, I used to work in a school in Bournemouth, and I used to have a recurring daydream. In it, I would give the class an exercise to do, and while they were quietly beavering away, I'd symbolically empty my pockets of board pens, elastic bands, paperclips, the paraphernalia of my craft, and I would silently leave the room. Softly, ever so softly, I'd tiptoe down the stairs, past reception and out of the front door.

"Turning right, I'd walk along the road, down the hill, across the Square and into the Lower Gardens, dappled with the early afternoon sun and alive with colour and life in a manner my TEFL classes never were, strolling on until I reached the end of the pier. I was never sure if, when I got there, I'd actually end up jumping in or not, or whether I'd just stand there and whisper incantations to the deep and urge the seabirds on in their anarchic arcs and dives. I only knew that, from there, I would be able to see the horizon, and I would be free.

"So, in answer to your question, no, I don't foresee being available any time soon. Good day to you Madam!"

Have you ever had daydreams in class? (Nothing lewd please, control yourselves). Have you ever jumped off a pier? I believe it's called tombstoning. What paraphernalia do you use in class, apart from that listed above?

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Blogger Gadjo Dilo said...

That stammering student - and, yes, the film The King's Speech - may have provided the solution to the TEFL problem. Instead of giving students linguistic-based work, make them lie down on the floor and do exercises, telling them that they will only be able to master the vowels if they fully relax their larynxes.

2 March 2011 at 03:04  
Blogger M C Ward said...

Thanks, Gadj, but I've tried it - and it didn't take up nearly enough class time.

3 March 2011 at 23:21  
Blogger udaya210 said...

When I design custom invitations, I offer to design custom postage for my clients to complete the look of their invitation package. The party starts when the guests open their invitations, so setting the tone of the party with the invitation is important. But even before the envelope is opened, the first impression the guest has of the invitation is what’s on the outside.

9 August 2011 at 07:24  

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