Monday, September 08, 2014

Luckless (Excerpt from REQUIEM FOR A VAGABOND)

I get a lot of e-mail these days from people - usually older English teachers but not always - asking, `Should I go to the Middle East and teach English?`

The answer to that, as with many things in life is `Yes, but ...`

I will enumerate those buts in a later post, but one of them is that schools in the Middle East are just as capricious about firing teachers as any other school (that is to say, extremely) but since it is so isolated and visa laws so strict, the stakes are a lot higher.

This is a short bit out of my upcoming memoir, REQUIEM FOR A VAGABOND, which is about the last five years, most of which I spent in the Middle East.

High salaries and less debauchery aside, the English teachers are still pretty off-kilter there ... and here's an example of how the schools still fuck the teachers over any chance they get.

* * *

Some guys just can’t catch a break.

English Teacher R was one of the younger guys there, in his early 30s; sensibly he was working towards ridding himself of the massive student loan debt that he and so many of his generation had amassed.

He was certainly no better or worse a teacher than any of us. 

His only mistake was being noticed a bit too much by administration.

He had one class that was extremely recalcitrant about refusing to study, and instead of just giving up and letting them do nothing, as most of us had learned to do, he kept throwing students out and marking them absent, which led to them going to management and complaining about him.

There were a few smaller things; once he let his students out of class to go to the computer lab; some management higher-ups were visiting the institute that day and stopped the students, asking where their teacher was. R was still in the classroom, shutting down the computer and organizing his things, and a group of angry management people descended, asking why his students were in the hallway unaccompanied.

Thinking fast, the only excuse that R was able to come up with in a hurry was that he had to fart so had stayed behind to do so.

“Christ, couldn’t you have told them you forgot your pencil or something?” I asked.

“It was just the first thing I thought of,” he said miserably.

He always just seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing. Once he didn’t check his email and missed a class he was supposed to cover; another time he missed a test proctoring session he was supposed to do.

They set him to work being the monitor in the computer lab, keeping track of people who entered and making sure no one brought in food.

It was generally thought to be the assignment that you got before you were fired suddenly. That’s where they’d put the last couple of guys they’d fired.

Bored there, he made a series of photoshop pictures of various teachers’ faces on the bodies of different characters from LORD OF THE RINGS. Naturally the rotund South African teacher whose face had been grafted on the dwarf Gimli's body didn’t find the joke particularly amusing, and told him to erase those before he filed a complaint with the management about them.

“I thought it was funny! It was supposed to be a joke to raise staff morale,” he said. “I asked him if he minded if I used his picture!”

“You gotta feel out the atmosphere,” I said. “You can do shit like that at the English First in Istanbul or Barcelona or whatever, and it would be a funny joke, but you know how on-edge people are here anyway.”

He finally decided to have a sit-down with the principal of the unit, and asked the guy if the school was unhappy with him, and if they intended to get rid of him. If so, he assured them he would offer them his resignation with no hard feelings and begin making plans to leave.

They assured him that there was no problem. That in fact, being monitor of the computer lab was an important job.

He went on his second leave, two weeks in Italy with his Filipina girlfriend.

On the day he got back, there was a message from his contractor saying his contract was being cancelled due to problems with his background check, and he should clear his desk and come to the nearby city to begin his out-processing.

He ran around the office in flustered circles, collecting the various odds and end from his 8 months he’d been there. “Motherfuckers motherfuckers motherfuckers,” he muttered.

“They can’t do this to you,” I assured him. “I’m with you. I’m gonna leave, too!”

“Ha fucking ha. At least you get your end of contract bonus.”

“Well, I got a promise that I’ll get my end of contract bonus, so far, not the actual bonus.”

“Any advice on finding a job in Russia?” he asked.

* * *

Ah the losers and miscreants of TEFL. My people. How I love `em.

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