1. i feel my enthusiasm for work rapidly dwindling. This last week or two has been full of strange blunders & mishaps, for example i was in the teacher room in McLingua’s Arbeitsamt centre (classes just for the unemployed) and suddenly and for no reason jerked my hand back, caught my finger in the ginger tea bag string and yanked it out of my cup and onto my lap, scalding my majestic belly and equally majestic groin. i was at the time talking to two rather bland female teachers, a hamster-faced young American (with a great ass) and a rather know-it-all black American woman in her 50s. They thought this was hilarious. i pretended to be equally diverted but in truth i blame them and will try to destroy them. Toddball came into the room a few minutes later and i announced, soberly: i have soiled myself. i then pointed at the women and said, They incited me to it.
i’ve now spilt tea three times in the last two weeks. This is unusual for me and suggests some strange malaise or hereditary insanity or black magic. It is however of a piece with my now total lack of interest in my job. i’m simply working too much and have some slightly or very difficult classes, for example i just had a late evening class with two software engineers, one – a dour, square-headed Bulgarian – kept demanding to know why English grammar is the way it is. i occasionally get students like this. He couldn’t understand why i can’t say “I’ve been teaching 3000 students” but can say “I’ve been teaching for 3 years”, and also “I’ve taught for 3 years” and “I’ve taught 3000 students”.
i told him, breezily, that languages have no logic and he must just accept it. He kept arguing and then decided he understood and explained the Present Perfect Simple and Present Perfect Continuous to me and the other student. i had to point out that his so-called explanation was totally wrong, whereupon he looked thoughtful and then returned to Bulgarianly demanding to know WHY, and so on.
Finally i roared: Why is Tisch der? Why is Schnitzel das? Why is Auto das? Why is Wagen der? Why does die become der in the dative? Why? Why? Why?
Unmoved, he merely leafed through his Bulgarian teach-yourself-English book, trying to puzzle it all out.
When the class ended (at 2045) i felt close to physical collapse and could barely make it downstairs and to the s-bahn. Earlier, with my Arbeitsamt class, i had likened English teaching to prostitution (one of the students, a hot German biotch, said she had joked with her mother about becoming a whore). In truth, teaching isn’t too far from being a whore.
i am, i suppose, a competent teacher. But while i sometimes feel like running through McLingua like Nicholas Cage, shouting I Am The Greatest, i rely on the cooperation of my students, like a prostitute. If they don’t respond, i am helpless. In fairness, with non-responsive students even a by-the-books McLingua drone would flop, but i flop harder (the drones always flop, so it’s nothing too dramatic for them).
i am a fairly good whore, i would say. i can generally find whatever my students need to positively respond, and can usually even manage large and diverse groups. But it requires sometimes hideous expenditure of energy and since English teachers are paid – by German standards – the minimum wage – i have to work a great deal more than i can manage, which leaves me feeling evacuated and deathly most evenings.
2. i usually cope by regarding this not so much as a viable means of surviving but as a form of initiatory work, requiring secrecy, self-effacement, concentration, authority, and sensitivity. Concentration is fine and i learnt my own humility through five years of minimum wage temping, but the others are new. Secrecy is the only quality i consciously work at. It is necessary in class, as my form of teaching usually encourages confidences (one student said i was more like a psychiatrist). My natural tendency is to blab everything i think people will find interesting or useful, provided it’s not too personal; and it’s really not natural for me to compartmentalise, but i’ve learnt it’s necessary – not so much because people will be fired because of my related anecdotes, but because patients don’t trust a psychiatrist who casually relates other patients’ tales.
In addition i’ve found it unwise to speak too much in front of my colleagues. Unfortunately, i now spend a lot of time hanging around in the McLingua Arbeitsamt teacher room, due to my scheduling (an unpaid 90-minute gap twice a week), and it’s hard to avoid talking to my colleagues. But unfortunately they are women and hence naturally bitchy and resentful. i’ve realised they often take my casual remarks and store them away. For example, the know-it-all American teacher – who says things like “I could have took the train” and thinks correct grammar is a white man’s ploy to keep the black man down – has started getting in a few odd jibes at me: so i said my students had complained that an ex-military Canadian freak teacher was very strict & intense, and then i cautiously added “but i like him from what i’ve seen of him”, and she said: “Well Elberry you might want to think before you idealise him and say he’s so great. He has issues.” i replied that i just found him amusing; she looked clever and all-knowing and contemptuous. i realised from the faces of the other female teachers that they had all been discussing me and had Come to Conclusions.
i’ve decided to just try to avoid spending any longer in the teacher room than i have to, though this is not easy given the absence of alternative killing-time-spots. Failing that i will try and practice the bland, non-committal, superficial chit-chat of Toddball and the other male teachers – they generally say nothing, very little, or confine themselves to the most harmless remarks about the u-bahns or the weather or beer. The situation at times reminds me of office work, surrounded by vindictive, ignorant females.
3. While this is all very terrible i’m coming to see it as an initiatory ordeal. Secrecy is essential to any real power – because real power is founded in isolation and unworldliness. If i saw this as just another unpleasant work situation i would feel grim and probably murder at least one of my female colleagues (who also bitch at length about each other). As an initiatory ordeal it is more in the way of a sign, showing that one has progressed to a certain point, and now one must go this way.