i had another lesson today with Birgit, a 50-something female engineer/manager from East Germany. She was dissatisfied with the materials, as she felt she just needed conversation, to get a feel for the living language. She requested me as her tutor, as i’m by now fairly adroit at adapting the materials; also, i think my air of conspiratorial sympathy appeals to certain renegade students. Earlier i had breakfast (big cheeseburger and chips) with David, and said i’m not a particularly good teacher but i make up for my failures by making friends with my students – as he put it, i compensate with “charm”. It’s not put on or calculating, i just genuinely find my students interesting, as i wouldn’t the average English person, and that interest and attention has some effect. With uncooperating students one must be perfect – the slightest imprecision, just one false step, and they refuse to understand. i seduce my students into coming out to meet me halfway – so i don’t need to be perfect, and when it works it really works. Without this “charm” – when it doesn’t work – i fall back on technique and hectoring and snarling. That works too, just not as well.

After Birgit told me she didn’t want or need to do the materials i advised her to go to the (corrupt and incompetent) Corporate Manager, who fobbed her off with her usual lies. i was then monitored by Morgana and beforehand told Birgit to speak to the dark elf in question; the lesson was half me teaching, half Birgit discussing the course with Morgana. As a compromise, Birgit has to do the level test but can then have about 6 lessons with me, covering “networking” topics. She does the test on Thursday so i went through it with her today, asking which answer she thought was right – she got about 17 out of 30; i explained why the right answers were right, and gave her grammar drills so it wasn’t just “choose C here”, but (i hope) was a mix of cheating and teaching. The test is bullshit, as are all tests – people use language in a very broad, human context; the test presents a highly artificial, isolated situation, without the cues we all use (even in our native language) to engender understanding. Its only purpose is administrative, so i have no compunctions about making sure she does well. i’ve had excellent students do badly with tests, and i have no faith in such facile determinations. i will not allow good students to fail.

As we went through the lesson, i felt her ease with me, despite our great differences (she is a stalwart East Germany engineer, i a poetry-reading Englishman). At i_______, my first TEFL school, in Kiel, the robotic Director of Studies tried to remove any trace of humanity from the proceedings, so every lesson would be the same (that is, reliably dull). But one cannot remove the human element from teaching, or from any human to human encounter – at least, not without making the whole affair gruellingly mechanical. But, rather, it is from the human that all good comes, and one must return to that contact, time and time again.

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