Saturday, January 10, 2015

Interview with Christopher Kavanagh, AKA The Mick

Very pleased today to offer you an interview about English teaching with Christopher Kavanagh, AKA "The Mick," a prominent character on Colin Post's Expat Chronicles website and the subject of the new book, MAD OUTTA ME HEAD.

You see, after a fairly criminal and abuse-laden upbringing in Ireland, Christopher went to Colombia in the 1980s in hopes of smuggling some cocaine back. He served four years in jail in Colombia, and when he got out, he embarked on a life of hardcore partying, alcoholism, and English teaching in what was certainly one of the most dangerous places on earth at that time, Bogota, Colombia.  

(This interview was transcribed from Skype and some attempt has been made to retain the flavor of Christopher's spoken English.)

How long have you been teaching, and where?

I've been teachin now 28 years. I started in an English language institute here in Bogota, Colombia called LIFE, Language Institute For English. All the rest of the teachers were completely crap. They hadn't a clue. I became really good at teachin English. With that company, I started teachin at a television company. Small TV company that made commercials. I was very successful in that sector, the television people.

Then one day the woman boss, she explained that she wasn't payin the institute anymore. She wouldn't go back to LIFE, and she contracted me. She explained how it was. So I didn't feel I was robbing a client. She did it.

I didn't stay with LIFE very long. I got the ropes of how to teach really quick, ye know? For some strange reason, I'm really good at what I do.

I've been independent for 27 years, completely independent. My students get me by word of mouth. They recommend me to others. Most of my clients over the years have been hotels.

What do you like / not like about teaching?

I get a great sense of satisfaction when they come back from their trips, all smiles and everything went OK, and they were able to hire their car and do whatever in English, ye know? It was a great compliment when one woman just came back recently, and she says, "How ye doin?" Not "HAU are JEW doing?" She actually saluted me in a proper way.

I can be of great cultural assistance to these people. The Colombians have an insecure feeling, of being second-class citizens to the United States and Europeans, and I help eliminate that. I love it when they go abroad and come back with a little present for me. And that happens often.

The punctuality down here is not so good. That end of the situation is not too pleasant.

Another thing that I don't like is that they don't study. The only time they'll study is when they have a trip in the next coupla days or weeks. When they're gonna be in New York soon, they'll study. I give all these people flash cards just to revise it in their heads. They don't have to study, just go over em. And they won't do it. That annoys me.

Who have been the most venal / incompetent employers? 

I don't really know the institutes or schools. I've been independent for 27 years. I only went to those places when I went looking for a teacher, somebody to help me.

At LIFE, they would say to me to go and teach such-and-such a class. I would ask what level or whatever, and they would tell me to just make up something. I got good at making up things. They had absolutely no direction whatsoever, and I've heard that's how all the institutes are.

I had Diner's Club as a client. I had all the employees. There were too many of them, I was exhausted. So I introduced em to LIFE long after I had left. I was fed up with the students. The whole lot of em wouldn't study, there was no progress. Nobody was traveling. They were all middle managers goin nowhere. So I'd just get rid of em. They had to take English classes, they were forced by Diner's. And that's not a good situation. When they pay for it, it's OK. But when the company's payin for it, the people definitely won't study. That's no good.

So to get rid of em, I brought in Louie Ballser from LIFE, a guy from Saint Louie as a matter of fact. And LIFE institute sent two crackhead teachers -- Colombian crackheads. They woulda been the deported kinda Colombians. They came on Monday morning and told all the people they couldn't teach Tuesday morning unless they brought 50,000 pesos each for a set of books, there were over 30 students when they collected it. They bought books at the bookstore with a fake check and kept the money. They never gave the students the books either, I assume they sold em. LIFE lost the contract. The Colombian crackheads took the money and ran. As far as I know they went to Manizales or somewhere.

The British Council are all mad outta their heads on coke. The whole lot of em are drunk every night. I also notice that they put themselves a cut above the student, they keep the student well below them. We're British and don't forget it, that kinda stuff. A complete lack of respect for the student. In the British Council, I saw that.

What are your favorite ways to kill ten minutes in class? 

BOMBARD the student. Bombarding is asking whatever he's been doing the last coupla days. Bombardin em with that -- short quick questions and answers. Speed and simplicity.

Which students are the most difficult and thankless to teach? 

Usually the ones that the company are payin for. If the company is payin 100% for a student to learn English, they will not fuckin do it. These days I insist the company pay only 50% maximum, and make the student pay 50%. And if they're not showin good progress, make the student pay 100%. Or I drop em.

Then ye get the ones sayin, "Spanish is the better language, Spanish is the more beautiful language." When ye get that kinda carryon, they're difficult students. Those ones never learn to speak.

I prefer women students. They fall in love with me and become loyal clients, plus lifelong friends. Top executive lady friends who think the world of me, I have loads of them.

Salespeople are the best students. They know they have to do it and they will study. People who work in sales.

What kind of qualifications do you have?

I wouldn't give two shits about that.

From the book:
Christopher developed a method of teaching English based on the way he learned Spanish in prison. He had no textbooks and he never conjugated the verb, "to be." In prison he had to learn how to ask for food, the bathroom, and other necessities. He had to learn numbers in order to pay for things. He contrasted his successful learning of Spanish with his unsuccessful learning of Irish, also known as Gaelic, which is mandated in Irish schools. This experience informed the development of teaching practical English, which found an immediate market in high-end hotels and restaurants with large staffs that needed to communicate with foreign tourists.

What would you say to someone considering a career in TEFL?

Ye have to have a dedication. Ye can't just show up sayin, "I'm a teacher." Some people cannot fuckin teach. I've taught many people how to drive, how to play the guitar, how to play backgammon. But some people cannot learn how to teach.

I keep it simple. Learn how to keep it simple. Keep it basic. Don't go complicatin it.

What is your current standard of living like?

I make around $1500 - $2000 per month.

My missus is a chef. I'm pretty good in the kitchen. So we cook every day. Otherwise I eat at a cheap gourmet restaurant in the 7 de agosto area.

I live in what could be considered a slum area. They're the people I can understand and relate to. It's downright dangerous, the police do not go in there.

What are your plans for the future? 

I have no plans for the future. Just live every day as I can. I'll have to see Ireland before I die, ye know?

Now that I'm not a drunk anymore, maybe I can save a few quid to get to Ireland. Before I just couldn't, it was impossible.

* * * 
So! God knows I've known a few fuckups and outlaws in my day, but I don't believe I've ever known (nor interviewed) anybody who has broken the 6th commandment.

Read about The Mick on Expat Chronicles:


Anonymous said...

Great book, he almost makes your life look tame.

englishteacherx said...

That's some next-level shit all right. I'm way too vain to be a really good fuck-up.