A busy day online today. I start at 8.00am, still in my pyjamas and not yet woken up. Thank God webcams aren’t obligatory yet – our kitten is clawing her way up my back and going for my headset. I have 6 hours online today: three 45- minute classes this morning and three from 1.00pm. I must try and complete the reports immediately – I always leave them a day or two and end up with 18 to do and a nasty email from admin.
The students are regulars today, all Japanese, aside from the French bank personnel straight after lunch. I don’t enjoy that one…it’s taken weeks for the majority to ‘learn’ how to greet me. 'How are you Gilbert?' I say, 'I’m fine' Gilbert says. Silence. Every week the same. ‘I’m fine thanks' I shout into the mike but the French don’t do irony – or perhaps Gilbert’s not even listening. Hard to tell with online classes. No problems today – no connection problems, no sound problems. Still, I’m glad when I turn the computer off. It gives me a headache sometimes and I swear I’m going boss-eyed.
I take a nap – I can’t get through the day without one - then prepare my next class. At 5.00pm, I stroll round the corner to my private student for an hour or so. He only lives three minutes away and his parents pay me cash. If only there were more classes like this one. They’re worried about his grades – since the teacher changed his grades have slipped, apparently. This new teacher seems fond of worksheets with lists of phrasal verbs. And tests. They seem to love tests. My student wants a lot of speaking practice – he does precious little at school and it shows: at times I haven’t got a clue what he’s saying. He's a nice kid though and seems to relish the opportunity to express himself. His face always lights up when I take out a bunch of cards or a game – and it’s been while since I had such an effect on an 18-year-old boy.
At 7.30pm it’s off to the first evening class after the long summer break. It’s still warm here during the day and not yet dark when I arrive at the school. There’s the usual huddle of cigarette-puffing teenagers outside for their first aid course - obligatory for all those after their driving licence. They glare at me as I pass and I smile, thinking of them on their knees, jeans straining against large backsides, cheeks reddening as they resuscitate that plastic dummy. They know how silly they look which makes me feel even better. Thankfully my students will be a little older and we get to keep our dignity this evening. I like this building; it's 19th century, a bit tired in places, has wooden floors and is relatively light and airy in the best Swiss tradition. In front there’s a huge fountain, and the noise of running water can be heard from all of the classrooms. At first I thought it was raining every night. I wave at the centre manager but she is surrounded by new students signing up for their courses, money and books changing hands. She seems flustered.
No teenagers now but older people, looking stressed. Some of these people haven’t learnt anything for ages – though some are perpetual students and they’ll do a course in anything. I hope I don’t get too many of those in my class. They often lack drive and take courses simply to have something to do. I go downstairs to the staff-room – a smelly, dark room with a photocopier and a kettle. Smelly because there seems to be a problem with the drains in the basement and dark because there’s rarely anyone in it and the light is switched off. Tonight is no different. It looks like I’m the only English course tonight. This seems to be the one place in Europe where people apparently don’t want to learn English. There is no reason for me to hang around down here - there is nothing to photocopy and nobody to speak to - so after checking my cubby hole (which never has anything in it) I head upstairs to room 7, facing the fountain, to meet my new beginners. The register says tonight there are seven students. A good size and a shame that half won’t last the month. I’m starting to feel hungry and not a little tired: I’ll be glad to get to bed tonight. Still, it’s always nice to be teaching students I can see and touch.