LiBeL Column

Born Under a Bad Sign

Columns from The Nation newspaper

Signs of the times

Teachers are trained to watch for signs. There are many different signs the diligent teacher should be aware of and looking out for at all times. Your day will be spent scanning the vacant faces in front of you for signs that the students are learning something, that the students aren’t learning anything, that the students are on something or that the students are up to something.

Even the better TEFL courses don’t teach you everything you should be aware of whilst plying your trade in a school environment. Here are some pointers for signs that could spell disaster, all of which, for some unfathomable reason, aren’t taught on the RSA.

The DoS smiles at you. The first bad sign. It means he’s up to something, and that something somehow involves you. It could mean the you’re about to be asked to volunteer to babysit a Saturday morning class or to help a pampered, zip-lipped twelve year old with her English homework. Whatever it is it won’t be pleasant. If he not only smiles but also asks, “How are you doing?” that’s even worse. And if he or she then adds, “Could I see you in my office for a moment?” – run!

Things are going well for you in the classroom. Many inexperienced teachers take this for a good sign, but more seasoned educators know it means things are going to go bad for you and soon. The bad turn could be anything from a class rebellion to an outbreak of foot and mouth amongst your students. You won’t know until it strikes. There’s a well-known saying regarding the counting of chickens, this is your mantra.

Your classroom is equipped with audio-visual aids. If you walk into your room and see a CD player, a tape recorder and a video it’s a sure sign that none work, because if they did, they would have been pilfered long before now. Just in case you test the equipment and discover that everything does, amazingly, work – that means it’s guaranteed to break as soon as you use it and the cost of replacements will come out of your wages.

Your students tell you that you’re their favorite teacher. If this happens, brace yourself. It’s quite obvious that they want something. That something could be relatively small: “Let’s not talk about the Present Perfect tense today. Let’s talk about football.” Or your students could be angling for something bigger: “Why don’t you take us to for a meal at the Sukhothai so we can practice our restaurant vocabulary in a realistic setting?”

You are prepared for all your classes for the coming week. You cannot tempt fate so blatantly without expecting dire consequences. Of the last eight people who planned their entire week’s lessons prior to the event – three were hit by speeding Yakult delivery women on their way to work on Monday morning, two suffered internal injuries in ‘goong dten’ related incidents, two were ostracised by society and are currently journalists; and one poor soul was promoted to Academic Director at a school in Sakhon Nakhon.

Your students do very badly on a test. This is a bad sign, or at least the administration interprets it as a bad sign, which makes it so for you. It means you are an incompetent teacher who ought to be kicked out of the classroom as soon as possible. If your students do poorly on a test shhhh! don’t tell anyone not even your students. Destroy the tests, give a retest, and hope and pray that the kids do better but not too much better. (See the next sign.)

Your students do very well on your test. This too is a bad sign. In fact, it’s a worse sign than the above. It can only mean one, or all, of three things: 1) the test was too easy, 2) you are an idiot, 3) the kids cheated.

You have a few free minutes to yourself after your class, you decide to sit back and read Robotman in the paper before heading home. If this happens, one of the following events is bound to occur: 1) another teacher will complain about you to the DoS for always lounging around and never doing any work 2) a student will come in and ask if he or she could talk to you for a minute and stay 2 hours, 3) the teacher for the 6.30 am private class tomorrow will phone in sick – guess who is cajoled into covering for them?

You receive positive feedback during observation by your peers. You can be sure that for every one of your colleagues praising you, another half dozen are scheming to have you removed. The three words that are guaranteed to bring a sign of relief to any teacher at appraisal time “That was fine.” ( Don’t allow any embellishment. )