Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Doofus And Valiant 2: Teaching Boogaloo

The boys are back in town. . .

So, in the current hyperaccelerated pop culture climate, I probably date myself just as badly with the "bow to your sensei!" reference from Napoleon Dynamite as I do with references to Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo and Gilligan's Island.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Favorite TEFL Blogs

Was I the first TEFL blogger?

Alex Case's TEFLtastic blog seems to think I was.

Of course this was somewhat before there were blogs, I think, but I started posting stories, cartoons, interviews and advice on an Angelfire website in early 2003. I started an Angelfire blog in 2004, and this blog you see in 2005.

Regrettably it's not especially true that I was the first -- Harry Hutton over at Chase Me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry had stories about his experiences teaching English posted on his "killer facts" website as early as 2000, I think, and got his blog going mainly in 2004, also. There was also Simon Barnes' "I Hate ESL" website, which was closing its doors as I opened mine, and later became ENGLISHDROID, the skeletal remains of which can be seen here via the Wayback Machine archive.

Now of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands of blogs by and for English teachers abroad. From old crazy guys writing 20 single-spaced, unpunctuated paragraphs a day about visa documentation and Obama, to young people who start a blog eagerly detailing their training and how much they love their new job and then give up the job, blog, and TEFL completely in 3 months, they're all out there!

And then there are blogs with, for example, humorous debates about the difference between ESL and EFL, and blogs about how wonderful different cities or countries are, invariably lathered with dozens of Google links to marriage agencies, sex tourism companies, and hotels.

Which do I read?

Absolutely fucking none of them, of course. I'd rather drive nails through my scrotum than read most of that crap.

Here's one I like though:

A guy started a blog about his adventures as an English teacher in Poland and Ukraine, and then quickly decided English teaching sucks and decided to join the French Foreign Legion.



And best of all -- no TEFL!

(He might well be making it all up about joining the French Foreign Legion, for all I know, but I think it's still a good read.)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Doofus And Valiant

I never got any particular feedback, good or bad, specifically about these cartoons, but I think they're some of the funniest EFL-related shit I've done.

Naturally these are based on Goofus and Gallant, from that dentist office favorite, Highlights magazine, who surprisingly (to me, anyway) linger into the 21st century, pitting, respectively, anti-social self destructiveness and sycophantic neurotic submissiveness against various everyday life situations.

(Enjoy this GOOFUS AND GALLANT STORY ADVENTURE on the Highlights website.)

Probably David Letterman's take on the characters back in the 80's had something to do with it, but I can't think of the particular seed of inspiration which led to these cartoons. I went through a phase where I was using a ball a lot in class; I suspect that led to the joke in the cartoon, and I was off and running.

I realise these are sitting on the wrong side of legible, but if you click on the cartoons you can get a slightly clearer picture.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chicken Little X

So basically the school year is finished. We had final exams last week, and I finished checking my students' exams this morning. My 2.5 month summer holiday begins in July.

Until then I'll be doing a couple weeks of work teaching classes of students composed of trainees for a certain large local company.

We just had a meeting with the director of the program and there was a discussion about why some of the teachers from the college English language program were being used for "company" classes.

The director of the program said that they were having trouble getting visa applications for new teachers approved because the government only wants them to hire Saudi teachers.

So I'm not just Chicken Little running around hysterically here. TEFL teaching for native speakers is dying!

I mean look at the Communicative Approach that we're taught to use. We're supposed to speak as little as possible while encouraging the students to speak a lot, focusing on fluency rather than accuracy. Function is emphasized over form.

Do they really need to pay a native speaker twice what they'd pay a local to stand there and not talk and not instantly correct mistakes?

Talk about being hoisted on our own petard!

Article in Newsweek about global english, or "Globish."

Notice that native-speaker teachers are not mentioned at all in the article. And that the Chinese "Elvis of English" teaches 10,000 students at a time. Think of him next time you complain about having 25 students in one class.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

You Say It's Your Birthday

My forty-first birthday happened recently.

It scarcely seems possible that I could be older, when I've only been drunk about six times since I came here last August and have neither been beaten nor vomitted nor crapped in the bushes.

I spent my birthday alone; rode down the embankment to the beach and took up residence under one of the thatched umbrellas planted there for the families. Nobody much goes to the beach during the day, so I had it mostly to myself. I read and listened to podcasts on my Ipod Touch, and swam in the Gulf with my mask and snorkel. Then I went to the nearby Subway and had a 12-inch tuna on honey oat with all the vegetables. After that I came home and watched a movie and talked to some Russian girls on Skype.

This is how I usually spend my days off. As for my birthdays, I've spent them all kinds of different ways, and find I don't think of one much more highly than another. I've spent them surrounded by friends and I've spent them alone, but holiday celebrations, and to me particularly birthdays, always have an element of anti-climax or expectations too high to be realisticly fulfilled.

Can't even remember what I did on my 21st birthday. I was living in New Orleans at that time so drinking in bars wasn't a big deal. I seem to remember I spent the whole day taking LSD and doing nitrous oxide shots, after an argument with my 17-year-old girlfriend. (I think that qualified as barely legal in Louisiana at that time. The girl, now the LSD, I mean.) Seems like my 22nd was spent in some equally misanthropic 90's grunge-era sort of way.

Then I had the bright idea of trying to drink for a number of hours equal to my age on my 23rd birthday, on Santorini, in Greece, during my first backpacking trip. But it was random and slow-paced and rather innocent sort of debauchery, with relatively wholesome backpacker type friends. It seems a bit twee, in retrospect, and not nearly as potentially lethal as drinking shots of liquor equal to your age.

I can remember two I didn't much like -- 24th and 29th. On those occasions (New Orleans and New York, respectively) I was in the middle of depressions about breakups (yes, I did and do occasionally get depressed about breakups) and well-meaning friends tried to have parties for me to cheer me up. (Always a bad plan with me -- better to commiserate.)

I spent my 25th alone -- I think I was in Greece, again, by accident rather than choice, on my second big backpacking expedition. The 26th was memorable -- that was the first time I ever had sex with a prostitute, in Bangkok, shortly after I got my first English teaching job.

I remember I spent my 27th birthday in Fukuoka, Japan, on a visa run for my job in Seoul, Korea, and spent much of the evening jerking off to abusive Japanese porn in my "capsule hotel" cubicle. (That was before affordable laptops, so porn was a rare pleasure for me.)

For my 28th birthday I had just returned to America from Asia -- I tracked down English Teacher Q and we went out to a strip club. He eventually brought the evening to a premature if not terribly surprising end by knocking himself unconscious with painkillers and alcohol.

My 30th birthday was in Phuket, Thailand, where I'd just gotten a job at a school mostly teaching children -- I paid for one hooker out of a go-go bar, and then afterwards went to another bar to get a beer and another very cute hooker invited me home with her, saying she disliked sleeping alone. Totally without pay, that one. Nice way to celebrate the 30th, I thought.

All of my Russian birthdays -- between 31 and 40 -- blur into one, and run into all the hundreds of other parties we had, but I didn't spend any alone. On my 38th we rented a little cabin on an island in the Volga, and had a barbecue.

It was always difficult to carry out things like that, because it was always the same: half the people who were invited would cancel at the last minute, and half the people who had said they wouldn't come would call at the last minute and ask if they could come.

That time, though, the right people showed up and it was one of the rare occasions where everything went pretty smoothly. Later that summer and fall, there were conflicts, drama, intrigue and heartbreaks with two of the girls involved, but that day -- everything went smoothly.

I neither got beaten nor vomitted, and I didn't crap in the bushes.

Friday, June 04, 2010

From Russia With Indifference Bordering on Hostility

I continue to hear nothing good about the visa situation in Russia.

One girl I know who was a valued (legal) employee of one of the major language school chains for more than 7 years now finds herself working, completely illegally, on a student visa. Another guy found himself stuck in America, unable to renew his visa, due to new "quota" regulations. His employers recommend he fly to Europe, on his own dime, and try some embassies there. Others have no idea what's going to happen once their current visa expires -- they may very suddenly find themselves without legal employment.

The Big Three McLanguage schools are illegally employing people on "business" visas gotten through the various shady companies which provide such things for a fee, while continuing to hire completely unqualified teachers on pitifully small salaries on "internship" and even "volunteer" programs. Then it's business as usual -- wringing 30 or more hours a week of classtime, plus hours per day of travel time, out of their teachers, with brutal split shifts beginning at 8 or 9 am and ending at 9 or 10pm. And then firing them with no warning if students don't like them, or they cause trouble.

I've never heard of any "immigration sweeps" of McLanguage schools in Russia, but believe me, the current political climate makes it very likely. It happened in Taiwan, Korea and Thailand -- there were plenty of stories from the 90's of teachers climbing out back windows to avoid the immigration inspectors. (The first week of my first job in Thailand, half the teachers got arrested by immigration -- fortunately it was my day off. Story about that HERE.)

It just astounds me that anybody wants to do this right now. Sure, the job market sucks all over, I suppose. . . but why don't I ever get emails saying, "you've inspired me to become an oil engineer with your tales of how easy their expat life is compared to English teachers"?

As for Russian girls. . .Russian girls? Going to Russia because you heard that Russian girls like foreigners is about like going to Seattle because you heard the Grunge scene is cool -- you're a bit late, bub. And there are Russian girls in every major city nowadays, anyway, if you have some legitimate charm to your name.

Yeah, I know, I worked there for a long time, so how can I castigate it so much, bla bla bla, but I was at least legally employed and got what was at that time a very livable wage.

Now, inflation continues to go up but salaries don't -- a coffee at Starbucks in Red Square costs $7.00, or so I'm told. (As for the average Russian worker, their salaries are actually going down -- some of my Russian friends who work tell me there salaries have been literally cut in half in the last year, with hours being the same.)

But, of course, telling the average young "in search of a cultural experience" doofus not to do it in Russia now is like telling a kid not to put peanuts up his nose -- it just makes them want to do it more. I'll get another "you've inspired me to teach English" e-mail and another dummy will leap lemming-like into the void, providing more fodder that keeps the McEnglish schools running.

Travel is the new opium of the masses, no doubt about it.

And yes, I admit it -- I'm going back to Russia during my summer vacation. But I'm not proud of that fact.
And it's not legal to drink on the street in Russia anymore, either!