Thursday, June 09, 2011

My Privates

Here you go -- another birthday present -- a cartoon and an old article from the first website. Who loves ya, baby? These are originally from 2004.

"Private students," as English Teacher R pointed out the other day, would actually be defined as students that you are teaching on your own, outside of your normal work arrangement, whereas students you're teaching one-on-one as part of your normal working arrangement might be more accurately called "individual students."

Whatfuckingever, I'll be using the two terms more or less interchangeably.

There are a lot of reasons teachers hate doing one-on-one lessons through their schools -- not least because the student is probably paying three or four times what they'd pay for a normal class, but the teacher is getting paid exactly the same as he always does despite having to work a lot harder.

But mainly it gets down to the tedium factor. A small minority of individual students will have much of anything to say, the rest will just smile uncomfortably at you while you desperately try to jump-start a conversation or run monotonously through the book with them, leaving out all the games and songs and other stuff that makes class halfway interesting.

Fun With My Privates in Bangkok and Korea

We had loads of them in Bangkok in my first job; they gave our individual lessons away at bargain prices outside of the 10:00am to 12:00pm and 6:00pm to 8:00pm peak hours. They were generally unhappy teenagers being forced to study by their parents, sitting with a terrified grin the whole time and answering virtually every question with a nod of the head and a broad smile.

And in a one-on-one class, baby, there's NO WAY OUT. You can't take a break, most likely, and students will probably bitch to the management about too many songs or too much time spent reading. It's ALL YOU, stuck in a small room with somebody you've got nothing at all in common with on any level beyond the cellular.

I can remember them all quite clearly.

There was the middle-aged guy who worked at the TV station, whose wife had just died, who had never studied English and answered every question with a sober nod of the head and a "Hmmmm." There was the little fat girl who looked like she was about to cry she was so frightened. There was the little gay fashion designer named Aye with the punk hairdo who smiled and made cow eyes at me during the whole lesson. (The secretary loved to tell me -- "Piwate student Aye like man, like X! Like man!" and then burst into hysterical giggles.)

Then there was the fat kid. He was pretty typical.

We had a lot of fat kids in Bangkok. Obviously they were rich kids, and in the grand Thai tradition were spoiled rotten and given each and every thing they wanted -- and that usually included a lot of fast food. Our school was in a shopping mall -- in the summer, students were dropped off in the morning, where they ate a big fast food meal, went to some classes at our school in the morning, after which they had a big fast food lunch, and then spent the afternoon shopping, at the cinema, at the waterpark, or at the videogame arcade -- after which they had a big fast food meal.

We had 'em all in our mall -- McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut. Even my personal favorite, Popeye's Cajun Fried Chicken.

The fat kid was about 13 or 14, but probably weighed close to 200 pounds. None of it was muscle. He had a bodyguard, a strange-looking guy with an Elvis haircut who sat by the entrance while the fat kid studied.

The fat kid had asthma. His breath rattled disgustingly in his lungs. He made weird wheezing noises constantly. He was a pack-a-day smoker already, and was being forced to study by his parents, as he would soon be shipped off to Australia to learn English the hard way.

I sat in a small enclosed room with him. The stench of McDonald's lard coming out of his pores was overpowering. I had him read the book and then asked him if he understood. "Understand," he would say. "So what's the difference between the present perfect and the past simple?" I'd ask. He'd nod his head. "Understand."

"So what did you do yesterday?" I'd ask.

"Watch TV." He'd smile in the incredibly uncomfortable way that a person living in Thailand quickly realized was a signal of abject desire to be someplace else.

"Watched TV. Past tense."

"Yes. Understand."

"What did you watch?"

A long pause. "No remember."

"What kind of TV programs do you like, in general?"

He'd smile and nod. "I like watch TV."

"Do you like movies?"


"What kind of movies do you like?"

"Yes, like."

"Did you see BATMAN FOREVER?"


"What did you think of it?"


"You should say, 'I liked it.' Past tense."


Long pause.

"What did you like?"


"No remember."

This gay banter continued for ninety minutes or so. Three days a week.

(But don't let me give you the impression the fat kid was different from most Thais -- that would be a fairly usual exchange between a teacher and a student. It's just the agony of being trapped alone in a room with a fat kid stinking of hydrogenated vegetable oil and salt that I'm trying to get across here.)

When I got to Korea, I had a little more luck. Generally, anybody that cared enough to try to get a private lesson was into it enough to try to actually speak a bit, or at least that was the case with my students. And of course I did all my private lessons outside the school, where I was paid a good $30 an hour or so, and occasionally was bought some nice meals.

I taught one guy who was a real prince. He was a self-made man, a manager of a company that made buttons. He'd started out poor -- he spoke movingly of having to catch and eat crickets as a child -- and got a job in a button factory and managed to actually claw his way to the top, or at least the upper middle.

He was a really pleasant and open guy, only a couple years older than me, and he bought me a lot of nice food and generally made even the worst of the hangovers that I was experiencing on our lessons bearable.

One of those zen-like moments happened while I was teaching him. I met him outside the coffee shop we usually had our lesson in and indicated the rain falling and said, "Do you like the weather today?"

He smiled ear to ear. "I like all weather."

Always thought that there's a great philosophical truth in there somewhere.

Then there was the little religious bitch.

Oooh, fuck she made me mad. But, total prostitute that I am, I sat there quietly and said not a word. For a mere $25 an hour, too.

She was a born-again Christian, I can't remember exactly what denomination, other than it was Protestant, who'd just returned from a two-year long missionary mission in Pakistan. She was a doctor, although she was so petite she looked about seventeen. She even had braces.

She was bigoted, racist, narrow-minded, homophobic, etc, etc. And I had to sit and smile while she told me about how homosexuality was evil and how all Muslims are damned to hell and how she'd visited Notre Damn cathedral in Paris and found herself disgusted by it, as the Catholics obviously had no idea what religion was all about.

And worst of all -- she spent almost a whole lesson telling me about the evils of Halloween.

I just smiled and took it all. I did, however, manage to, with apparent earnestness, undermine her faith in the Bible by pointing out that after Cain kills Able in the Book of Genesis, he runs off with a wife, which means either all people WEREN'T descended from Adam and Eve, or that he was fucking his sister.

I was furious about her for months after leaving Korea. I can recall walking along pleasant beaches in Thailand, money belt fat with cash, fuming about how I wished I'd told that little bitch off.

Of course now I doubt I'd feel much for her other than pity -- she was obviously a lonely and unhappy woman. But I was an emotional and angry boy of 27 then.

I had a lucky couple of years -- I never had any privates in New York, although there were a couple of uncomfortably small classes, one of which contained only a shy Japanese girl and a pathologically lying young man from Zimbabwe who refused to buy a text book and who was attending class for free because he had a lawsuit pending against the school after tripping on the stairs.

I had one interesting private when I returned to Thailand in 1999. It was an eight-year-old girl who'd just spent a year living in Brooklyn in America. Her spoken English was about normal for a native-speaking eight-year-old, but she was pretty hyperactive and living in America had left her foul-mouthed and outspoken.

We were discussing the parts of the body once and she didn't so much as giggle as she rattled off "tits, ass, dick, pussy."

And then she extended her middle finger.

"And you know what that means?" I asked.

"Yeah. Fuckin."

She'd never managed to connect a "g" with that word, nor that it had any other conjugation, but I guess living in Brooklyn, you might well not.

She was hard to keep focused, but nobody cared much, so we spent a lot of the class just drawing with crayons and talking about cartoons and New York. There are worse ways to make a living.

Occasionally I'd trick her into doing something academic by bribing her with junk food. "If you do this," I'd say, "we'll go over to 7-11 at the break and get you a snack."

This would backfire -- she'd slam down a couple of donuts or ice cream and a Slurpee, and thus be hyperactive and incoherent with sugar rush for the last hour of the class. On one occasion she vomited all over the floor.

On another she climbed out an upstairs window onto a ledge, and refused to come back inside. I suppose I can consider myself lucky that my superiors didn't find out about that.

We always had a ball.

So as you can see, I've had my ups and my downs with my privates. Haven't we all though.

Just remember what the Button Guy said though -- try to enjoy whatever weather life tosses your way.


Jeremy said...

That was a pleasure to read. I haven’t had quite the variety you've had but I have to agree 1-1 and mini-groups can be hell. On the other hand there can be worse ways of spending your time than being trapped in a small room with an attractive women. I guess its all swings and roundabouts :)

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this too. God, those 1-to-1 classes can be a drag - if it goes badly, it's like being stuck in a lift with someone who can't speak English properly week after week.
Anyway, can't resist immodestly sharing a link to my own blog - why TEFL teaching makes me feel like a whore: