December came and went in a blur of tinsel, satsumas and exams, and here I am two-thirds of the way through January. My New Year’s Resolutions this year include organising my work better – dropping the classes or students that drain me, being more assertive in saying ‘no’ when asked to do the classes that look like they might drain me - and leaving sufficient time to get to my lessons, so no more running down icy streets, coat flapping, muttering curses and obscenities. With all this in mind then, it is a surprise that I haven’t been able to drop the two hour corporate class that takes up five hours of my day because it’s a train ride away; I haven’t been able to shake off the annoying German student (online) who keeps me waiting every week and then expects me to make up the time (I do not); I haven’t been able to get rid of the 200-pound diva, who must have reconsidered and is now back in my class tutting loudly in his tight, white sweater; and the private student, who didn’t pay me for a lesson in December because ’we were only talking’, has had the audacity to call and say she wants to meet for coffee - ‘to see if she wants more lessons’. Hmmmm. And like a fool I said ‘yes’. Thank God for SMS – I can text and say something’s come up. I did manage to say ‘no’’ to the student who asked if I would mark essays for her and help her with her FCE preparation – ‘in my spare time’, but I failed to say ‘no’ to my neighbour who can never decide when he wants his classes, fixes an appointment with me and then cancels, and who, because he is my neighbour, pays me the price of a beer and a packet of crisps. Such is the life of the self-employed or freelance English teacher the world over.
The strange thing is, the tougher I am with people (in the hope that they will do the decent thing and just disappear), the more they seem to like the lessons and the more likely they are to book more. Is this is a cultural thing? There is the widely held view in this part of the world that a strict teacher = a good teacher. Not a view I subscribe too, I might add, though the Swiss have to hold on to it as the education system promotes, encourages, even demands it. The notion that good teaching doesn’t have to entail yelling like a storm trooper, regular testing and a dose of humiliation is a novel one here. So the colder I am, the less I smile, the more respect I get. Sigh.
And as for my time-management skills, the less said about them the better. Only yesterday I found myself (in posh frock and heels) running down icy, cobbled streets, coat flapping, muttering and cursing the elderly and infirm in my path. Still, it’s January and at this time of the time you get to apply for teaching in the state schools and colleges. And only at this time of the year. If you’re not successful or somehow you don’t get round to it (like me last year) you have to wait 12 months for another chance. I stand a better chance in this region than I would elsewhere in Switzerland, where native speakers with non-Swiss qualifications rarely get their foot in the door. Here there are a reasonable number of qualified, native-speaker teachers, (and a reasonable number of poorly qualified and/or inexperienced non-native speaker teachers I might add) and though it helps considerably to know the right people (and I do not - I‘ve always known all the wrong people it seems to me) - I’ll give it a shot. Who knows, later this year I could be yelling like a sergeant major, handing out lists of unrelated vocabulary items, with TTT up a massive 300%. All in exchange for a good salary and paid holidays. Am I selling out? Can EFL teachers sell out?? Or is this simply a case of the January blues?