I could tell you about trying to teach Dutch to a four-year old on a Friday night, when both you and her are dead tired.
I could tell about teaching English to classroom of teenagers, some of which have taken so many Xanax pills that they are almost passing out.
I could tell you about students starting to cry because of some catastrophic event at home.
I could tell you about having to teach in a crowded restaurant.
Today I will tell you about how you need to be able to improvise.
On Monday I was expected at a school. I was told there would be one student. An older man. Maybe a couple more.
I have a tiny classroom, because I teach Dutch there. Not exactly a language you would expect hordes of students for, but you might be surprised.
Well, I was surprised.
I was prepared for the older guy. And three more students. You never know.
In the end there was like a manic raid on my tiny classroom.
Nine women turned up. 8 Slovakian, 1 Romanian.
I didn’t have the space to seat them. Not enough benches, not enough chairs. I gave away my own chair. That means more than 3 hours of standing. Hey, I worked in a chocolate factory. That’s 8 hours of standing, but there nobody bombards you with questions and you don’t risk to dissapoint anybody.
My whiteboard is too small.
I carry a bunch of markers around in my bag, because otherwise I know I will run out.
There’s administrative hassle to go through. I won’t go into details, but it’s very time-consuming and annoying. Something a teacher shouldn’t have to deal with, in my opinion. Hassle that could be avoided.
I don’t have enough books for all the students. And the lesson I have prepared is impossible with such a large group. It’s really a different dynamic.
It’s 5 pm and I will have to work intensely with them till 8 pm.
I’ve been teaching since 7 am this morning. I’m tired, but still trying to have an energetic
I’m dressed like a tourist. I didn’t want to doll up for an old guy, truth be told.
I quickly learn all of their names: Alexandra, Sandra, Madgalena, Renata, Martina, Dana, Rebecca, Lucia, Zuzana.
And their star signs. And the reasons as to why of all languages on this Babylonian earth they have selected Dutch.
They are all sweet people.
But this is the first lesson.
If it’s not fun, they will quit.
If the lesson goes too fast, they will quit.
If the lesson goes too slow, they will quit.
If it’s too chaotic they will quit.
If it’s too boring, they will quit.
If it’s too much fun the ones more accustomed to traditional schooling will assume they aren’t learning and they will quit.
If I don’t divide my attention equally, the ones who feel ignored, will… quit.
You get the picture.
Three hours go by. Most of the time I have no idea what I will be doing in five minutes. You have to roll with things. Dig into some of their questions. Create interaction. Make sure they don’t pass out in the cramped, damp space of this cubicle.
I can tell
Who is shy.
Who thinks am a total weirdo.
Who feels ignored.
Who is considering if I’m single.
Who is having fun.
Who is thinking I shouldn’t be dressed so casually.
Who is mainly thinking of going home and watching a series in bed.
Who is struggling.
Who is fine with this approach.
Who is lost and needs a different approach.
The surest way to fuck up the entire group is by trying to please everyone, so I have to sniff out the atmosphere and do what at least the majority will like. You can never please all of them.
Some of these 9 will quick sooner or later. It’s inevitable. It would be a miracle if they didn’t.
When I worked in the chocolate factory I earned about 500 euro less than I do now, but the work was like paid fitness. The only time in my life gays complimented me on my body (there were openly gay men working there, it was in Belgium). And my day had a clear beginning and end. And heck, I could teach some history to interested co-workers. Or my mind could wander to any place at all.
And there weren’t any hot women to be distracted by and to be tormented by desire. It was decent work. Chocolate makes people happy.
But then I must conclude that clearly I don’t like to have things easy and one day I thought it was a good idea to teach English, French, Dutch and German in Slovakia.
Today I got up at 5.15 and I stopped teaching 40 minutes ago at 21.15.
Today there was one student who is just painfully beautiful to look at, plus she’s smart and funny and open-minded, so I have to fight every urge to just abduct her Chechen-style. There were several who truly wanted to learn something. There was one raging, soul-searching genius. There was one phd in mathematics to whom -I think- our bi-weekly lesson is the only thing she does purely for herself. And there were many students with whom, unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to have even one interesting conversation if we’d be stranded on a deserted island for six months. I don’t know how it’s possible, but some people are simply not interested in anything other than sun-bathing. I wish I was like them. It must be so easy, so relaxing. Except that I equate it with being dead already.
So that’s it.
There’s no glory.
Even if you charge quite high rates and teach every possible moment you can’t earn more than a decent salary.
There’s no compensation in the form of making the beast with two backs with some of your students. Not only is it frowned upon, but even a nymphomaniac who’s spent a year in an isolation cell wouldn’t be attracted to me in the state I’m in.
There’s no future. (Please play the Sex Pistols when you read this line).
There’s the joy, from time to time, of changing someone’s life.
My most gifted students tend to start asking themselves some very serious questions.
And, ow well, I never get tired of expanding my vocabularly.
It’s kind of a hobby.
It’s not exactly playing in a band in front of 50,000 people and having 5 groupies in your hotel room nor is it quite like making a masterpiece like ‘Good Will Hunting’ or ‘The wolf of wallstreet’, but it’s an ok hobby. One that pays the bills that allow you to stay on this wonderfully exciting ball in space.