Number one for English language teachers

Friday 15th October: A difficult day

Type: Reference material

In her first diary entry, Maria Alamanou describes the difficulties of teaching when ill.

This is a true account of a difficult day. It is also a snapshot of the realities of the EFL situation in Greece.

I can’t believe it’s 7.30 already. My son’s yelps leave no room for doubt. Something or other to the effect that he is going to be late for school again. AGAIN? I spring up, out of bed and into the kitchen, groping my way along. Something feels wrong and it’s not the usual, familiar, cosy drowsiness that I’ve grown so close to lately. Well, no time to fret over it whatever it is. Two gulps of strong coffee and there I am, behind the wheel, driving my son to school.

As soon as I am back home, a violent sneeze sends me running for the thermometer. I am running a fever alright! Wonderful thoughts flood my head of a long snuggle in bed. I have a good excuse. But there is no worse kind of teacher than a conscientious teacher. Ask anyone! The words of one of my first employers start creeping through my brain: 'A good teacher never falls ill.' The emphasis is on the 'never'. Down go two pills and out the door I go, on my way to work and the first one and a half hours of classes for today.

It’s an intermediate-level English class (11 to 13-year-olds) and I have known the kids for about five years. They’re good kids, considerate and kind-hearted, and immediately offer to see me safely home and back into bed where I belong: 'You ill, Miss. No lesson. Hooray!' You see, English is fine by them when it comes to singing songs or watching soaps but, let’s face it, it’s never been their strong point, especially not at 9.00 o’clock in the morning, either!

Putting on a brave face and my best morning smile, I tell them there is nothing to worry about and beckon them to their seats, which they won’t take until after I’ve promised to translate a song for them at the end of the lesson. My voice has started cracking by now and my throat is sending up flames. Teaching eight restless kids, freshly out of bed, and completely oblivious to the mechanics of the social aspects of the Passive Voice while shivering and half-sleeping yourself is no easy task. I tell them so and beg of them to go easy on me, if only on this one morning. I said they’re good kids. They sympathise with me and dutifully fill page after page of notes in silence. Mind you, their spontaneous response has nothing to do with the promise I made them not to tell their parents how badly they’d done in the last vocabulary test.

At ‘class dismissed’ I steal a look at my watch and it’s only 10.30 a.m. Fridays are not the best of days as I teach till 13.00, break for lunch and some rest and come back at 17.00 to resume teaching till 22.30. That’s on a good Friday. On good Fridays there are no administrative matters to see to between 13.00 and 17.00. But this is not a good Friday. A phone call around midday informs me that on Monday evening I have to attend an oral examiners’ briefing session for the upcoming exams in November. Disaster! I have to arrange for stand-ins for my Monday classes, which at such short notice is not an easy thing to do.

Glassy-eyed and hazed-over by a record-breaking temperature, I shuffle through the heap of paper on my desk and – hey presto! – I come up with the employees records, from which to pick ‘volunteers’ who would be willing to put in a few extra hours on Monday evening. It’s only 13.30 in the afternoon but I feel the weariness of a whole week’s work weighing heavily on my shoulders, which are aching anyway! There’s no way I can see this Friday through, I think to myself. But I will see it through because, despite what my former employer seemed to think, even good teachers fall ill. But even when they do fall ill, good teachers teach by example. If I am to be seen to flinch from a minor sickness, what lesson do I teach to my students and colleagues?

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