February was a busy and a somewhat miserable month here, as temperatures refused to rise above a few degrees and there were only 28 days in which to earn. As a teacher who earns when she works (and doesn’t when she doesn’t) a short month which happens to contain a holiday can have a devastating effect on my pay packet. Happily, we are into March now and spring seems to be here. Sadly, so is Easter which means another dent in my pay packet.
The greatest news must be that the dreaded Monday course has finished and the Diva is off to Australia – where I hope he will stay. (As an aside, Australia must host as many Swiss as Switzerland does. I have lost count of the numbers from this small country that head off down under to learn English. It's cheaper and sunnier than the UK they say.) Anyhow, my dreaded Monday course was surely ill-fated: two employees of the school itself – the Diva and the school manager (so sporadic attendance and questionable attitude); one self-employed, sensitive soul who simply disappeared between Christmas and New Year; and two who have ended up in hospital having operations. Coincidentally, I should add. Out of the six who began the course last year only one has been able to attend regularly, though the Diva occasionally graces us with his presence. He, the Diva, walked in this week more than an hour late. He was chuckling and laughing to himself as he entered the room, tossing a casual apology in my general direction before slumping into a chair with a ’go on then teach me now I’m here’ look. He had bought neither pen, book nor paper with him. The Diva proceeded to ask all the questions that had been dealt with in the previous 60 minutes until the regular student (by now very cheesed off) snapped at him in dialect, which I suspect meant something along the lines of ‘we’ve already done this fatso.’ There are some students and some courses which are better laid to rest.
My online classes continue as usual. I have picked up a couple more students who look like they will become regulars. One is a Japanese lady in her mid-forties and virtually housebound through illness. Another is a very successful Austrian businessman who likes to chew the fat with me at 8.00am before his working day really gets going. He name drops with great charm. ‘Peter Drucker? Oh yes, now I remember when Peter said to me that…blah blah blah.’ Just two examples of the kinds of student who really benefit from the internet. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll speak to Junko, a manager in a Japanese software company. She works long hours and takes her lesson with me at midnight Japanese time. How many language schools are open at that hour? Even in Japan there can’t be that many. Where I live, the only things open at that hour are bars and brothels. Even the convenience store at the petrol station is closed. The not-at-all convenient store. On Thursday I’ll speak to Hideo, an English teacher who worries about maintaining his English in a non-English speaking environment. He speaks to me before he goes to bed and is quite a character. He used to have two regular teachers, though my colleague became increasingly fed-up with Hideo’s monologues. I don’t mind– I listen, correcting on the whiteboard errors or mistakes that I consider worth pointing out and if I can get a word in I try to develop my corrections or explain further. In common with many of the English teachers I have taught, the problems are lexical in nature and rarely grammatical, though he sometimes quizzes me about tricky little grammar points. I grab my battered copy of Swan’s Practical English Usage, turn the pages away from the mic, and then sound very authoritative. Another reason why I don’t relish compulsory web cams. After Hideo I teach Kimitoshi, a salesman, who sits in his pyjamas on the edge of his bed with his wife trying to sleep next to him. In Tokyo it’s midnight when Kimitoshi takes his class, and yet he is sharp, amusing, intelligent and dynamic. With a very tolerant wife. Tomorrow morning I’ll speak to an Italian notary whom I started teaching two years ago. He also takes a class first thing in the morning before he starts work proper, and then there is the German nurse who does shift work. She started learning English online three years ago as a beginner and passed her Cambridge First Certificate in December.
A friend of mine has developed a fantastic site with virtual classrooms available to rent to a few teacher-friends of his. His site is better in many ways that the company I work for, in that he is able to use short video clips in the classroom, some animation and streaming audio. My next task is to convince the people in my community that you can indeed learn online and you don’t have to dress up like Captain Kirk to participate - though should you want to wear figure-hugging lycra in the comfort of your home who am I to object?
I am pleased to report that I did complete the application process for state school teaching – which involved a nine-hour round trip to Bern for a document which inexplicably wasn’t available locally – and as a month has passed and the form hasn’t been returned to me, I’m clearly still in with a chance. This is good news as I am very close to losing my four-hour a week ‘job’ at the ‘school’ ( words used loosely). This would be quite an achievement as the organisation that I work for – very well known throughout Switzerland – has a pretty terrible reputation in my region and is very fond of employing unqualified teachers in some of its schools (though management in the north of Switzerland claim this no-longer happens.) When the organisation finds a well-qualified teacher (like me) it pays them the same rate as the unqualified teachers. I’ve managed to reduce my hours to a paltry four, and now wish to reduce them further to two. Turns out that my part-time, temporary contract – which for me simply means no guaranteed work from one week to the next – requires the same notice period as a full-time salaried employee: two months. Extricating myself from a two-hour class (which could end or be cancelled by the school at a week’s notice) requires two calendar months notice from me should I become unavailable at that time. Shurely shum mishtake. Life is too short and time waits for no man.