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1. Life after Arbeitsamt is mighty fine. i have no money but don’t hate my students or my life, which is a significant plus. Some of my hideous exploits:
i) Taught a 15-year-old sheltered rich kid who will now be in a posh English boarding school; curiously, the day after he told me the school’s name, i came across it in a Charles McCarry novel – a Nazi in hiding in South America says he went there as a youth. First day, the boy broke my wonderful Space Pen and i considered a punishment beating but instead pretended not to notice because i am a man of peace now. Last day he suggested we leave McLingua as it was our last class, so i said okay and we had a jolly couple of hours: i showed him where i buy whisky (Tara Whiskey), tobacco, and at the latter we had a look at the booze section; they had some highly expensive boozes on tap so i pretended to be interested in a bottle of 150 € rum and procured a small glass, took a tiny taste and let the kid drink the rest, then said urbanely, “nicht schlecht, vielleicht später” and we sauntered out. Not bad for 11 am.
ii) Taught an Abitur class, kind of like A-levels, 17 – 18 year olds, my first such, two hot girls and one surly boy who looked like a 12-year-old Mark Wahlberg. A doll-like blonde with piercing blue eyes told me she had ripped her jeans dancing. i cackled like a paedo.
girl: do you dance?
me: Ha ha, let me read you a text from a colleague. [digging out my phone] Okay, here it is: “Do you dance at concerts or just stand there nodding rhythmically with one hand in your pocket and the other clutching a whiskey?”
i stand and illustrate, clutching my tea.
me: This is how i dance.
Another time, drilling 2nd Conditional:
me: Girl, what would you do if I gave you a kilo of cocaine?
girl: If you gave me a…?
girl: kilogram of cocaine. Pure.
girl: I would sell it!
me: good girl.
i also had them doing a task-based activity where the doll-girl and Wahlberg were terrorists and the other (a sultry Persian minx) was a fascist dictator. Group 1 had to devise a strategy to fight the Man, and the minx had to find a way to annihilate the rebels.
Group 1 came up with some good stuff, including assassinations, arson, graffiti; alas the minx said she would open talks and compromise with the dissidents. i gave her a disappointed look but conceded, That won’t wash in this classroom but it’s probably the right answer for the school exam.
2. i had dreaded this class as i’ve never enjoyed teaching kids, but on the first day i broke them in, telling them “we have to be in the same room for 15 hours this week so i want it to be as painless as possible. i don’t like being bored and i don’t want to bore you, so let’s just find something we can live with and we’ll all be okay.” i did some of the Abitur book but found all the texts (on medicine, the economy, etc.) tedious, as did they. i feel that if students can use English for dirty jests and terroristic ideas, they should be able to use it for anything, so i concentrated on mirth and violence and all was well (even Wahlberg laughed a few times).
On the last day, we talked about the school system. Bavarian schools are extremely hard and old-fashioned, so to do an Abitur – which is essential to go to university – you have to do Mathematics. While i think everyone should be able to do basic arithmetic, i don’t see any point pursuing Maths beyond this point unless you have some talent: you will inevitably forget everything if you don’t regularly practice it, and i found GCSE Maths an unbearable affliction so wouldn’t have even got to university had i been obliged to take it to A-level.
i’ve taught a few 14 plus rich kids and find them mostly strained, disciplined, terse and somewhat unbalanced, having a great deal of knowledge and no experience – a 19-year-old could read Latin and Ancient Greek with ease, but was nervous, shy, and unable to project power in his voice (he wanted to be an air traffic controller).
2. Wahlberg said little (teenage boys seem considerably less mature than girls), both girls told me they have almost no free time, are constantly studying, doing extra-curricular activities; Doll Girl vehemently agreed when i suggested you need some time to do, well, nothing, to just lounge and think and smoke pipes. i realised that just as many of my senior management students have no one else to talk to, so with these students; we spent a good hour just talking about school and how little it prepares you for either university or work, or life outside of school.
Doll Girl asked if i could edit an essay she has to submit for her Abitur, on Harry Potter. i agreed, even though technically this is slavery as i would be working for free. However, i believe one should not be motivated solely by financial considerations and i was appropriately amused when i read it – she had written a study of the magical systems in HP, and while i only read the first HP and don’t remember anything, she had done some research on our-world magic. i duly edited it, refraining from adding my own comments.
Later, i fell to reflecting on my own teenage Fantasy-consumption. i think we are drawn to tales which reflect our deeper sense of reality. i once thought i had read so much Fantasy – while indifferent to Horror and Sci-Fi – because my own childhood was so banal and uninteresting. Over the last 6 years i’ve come to see it as partly a reaction against this early tedium, and partly a joining to sources of reality in my previous lives, a sense that the physical Newtonian reality is not finally definitive (and in spite of 20th C ideas, i think the modern man’s day-to-day understanding is Newtonian). Horror for me is kind of pointless, and i’ve only recently started to appreciate Sci-fi films because they seem able to speculate about our reality under the guise of some technological mastery – though i still feel a lack of interest in reading Sci-Fi.
3. Undoubtedly, much of childhood & adolescence is an error, as actually is much of adulthood; but i think the sense of utter absorption in things, which i very distantly recall, and the looser sense of causality, are glimpses of a wider reality. Neither should, i suppose, be adhered to, unless you want to end up wearing a bin bag and sleeping under a bridge, but there it is. Ideally, one could integrate childhood elements – curiosity for example – into adulthood, though people usually fail and either abandon all childlike qualities, or stubbornly cling to them and become sadly grotesque & somehow neither childlike nor adult – but as it were an abortive fantasy of both.
4. In German, Fantasie is one word for imagination; in English, it has largely pejorative, juvenile connotations. It’s curious that the Bosche often read Fantasy – Jack, a Vice-President, told me he was driving & playing the audiobook of some book about a dragon (Eragon?) and ended up staying in his car an extra 15 minutes, in his rich man’s garage, to finish the CD. He was an intelligent, competent, mature individual, paid vastly and according VIP treatment in Redmond, and imagination seemed essential to his job, e.g. persuading other highly-paid people to do what he wanted.
In some way, i think i’ve found a way to integrate my fantastical elements, so probably (hopefully) my students would be astonished to know of my fully sorcerous doings. The Aleister Crowley lifestyle/persona seems absurd and kind of childish to me; ideally, no one would have the faintest idea that the wizard is a wizard: they would think him an amusing oddbod or maker of fireworks or waistcoat-wearer and pipe-smoker; because magic is not a fantasy or illusion but merely how things are – so the wizard would not be anything too evidently magical, but simply a human being, albeit a little unusual because seeing things from a wider perspective – which is, after all, just what you should gain from a good few years of reading & thinking, slowly drifting a little aside the 21st Century, and slowly becoming more fully human.
1. i’ve been too lazy and disorganized to blog, suffering a blog-fatigue and general lack of interest in the public world. Much of my free time is spent on a new book-attempt on one of my old typewriters; i feel quite pleased with it so far and happy to be working with ink and paper. Anything virtual seems a bit suspect to me, likely to disappear or be hacked or intruded upon or just go wrong for to-me-incomprehensible reasons; i’m not even sure that IT geeks understand it, as the systems are now so complex as to appear whimsical and flighty to human beings. And having worked in banks i understand that everyone who works in a company will have whatever access he needs to work, which means that if Yahoo or Facebook use temps, temps have the power to browse through your email and posts, and most likely will do so.
2. Teaching continues, and to coincide with the 5-year mark i have ceased to suffer Arbeitsamt (Job Centre) groups. My last group was fine for 3 months, then a lot of new students appeared and immediately began whining and shrieking. In true German fashion they complained that the groups were too big (i think 12 students when everyone was present, but it averaged about 8 or 9), the students’ English levels heterogeneous (this is normal), and then two strident retarded females accused me of doing nothing at all, just making jokes and talking about Schnitzel constantly. This came after i’d spent about 10 hours, over a week, doing nothing except teach grammar since the atmosphere was too bad for normal conversation or roleplays.
i wearily explained to my boss that since every student comes from a different work background i can’t use “business English” examples like “how many IC8 duct sealants has the company sold this month” so just use normal and slightly comic examples, e.g. “how many Schnitzels has Frank eaten this year”. She sympathised but all the same i felt unwilling to keep justifying myself before these emotionally special Olympic groups.
i reflected and realised that every single Arbeitsamt class has become a nightmare at some point, always because of one or maybe two malcontents; the others will rarely speak up to defend me, (even when they give me good feedback) out of the German culture of keeping-your-head-down, and so it looks like the entire group despises me. The malcontents are almost always power frau types. In true German fashion they are perfectly friendly to my face, even seeking me out to chat in the break – i have realised this is a German reflex, to try to befriend the person you are stabbing in the back. The classes are not merely free for the students, their unemployment money is extended as long as they are doing the course, but Germans not only don’t appreciate anything free, they assume that only weaklings give anything away for free, and then try to get more. With Germans, you have to draw a line in the sand on the first day, do nothing for free, and assume anything you do or say will be used against you. Whereas normal human beings respond favourably to concessions, Germans just think “this person is weak, I will demand MORE!”
Actually, that’s only a minority of weird, fucked-up Germans, but at least 10% of Arbeitsamt students are like this and since the other 90% rarely speak up on the teacher’s behalf, i’ve had three or four discussions with my boss which begin “the group have complained that” and when i say “what, the WHOLE group?” she says “well, one person, but nobody contradicted her”.
3. i decided to stop these groups altogether, since in Munich i haven’t had a single unfucked-up group. On reflection, i suspect my Kassel groups sometimes complained but that Morgana – my boss there – just fielded the complaints for the teachers and didn’t tell us unless it was, in her odd-coloured eyes, justified.
It’s a big step, to stop teaching Arbeitsamt, as they are stable (they can’t cancel), they have sometimes been my favourite groups, and they made up something like 20 – 50% of my income, especially in holiday seasons like July-August and December-January. As is my way, i feel it’s worse to compromise because this will result in a shameful death in a ditch in Bradford, so i stopped even though my group made up something like 90% of my income at the time (August).
The experience of being-a-teacher is now very different, as i’ve taught between 8 and 30 hours of Arbeitsamt a week since i began teaching full-time, 4.5 years ago. They are the closest i would get to teaching at a normal school, since even though the students are usually over 25, they act like schoolchildren, an understandable reaction to being in the same room from 9 to 4 Monday to Friday. My approach was always to do my job, to do grammar, error correct, but also to form a relationship which, while it didn’t usually survive the ending of the course, made us something like friends for the duration. This kind-of friendship made everything easier, when it was possible, and i believe had pedagogical value since language is central to human interaction and when learning you need an amiable, open situation.
4. i now have two company groups but they are irregular because one-on-one so the students often cancel; and a lot of crash courses and short-term students (people paying for themselves, who can usually only afford 10 or so hours because McLingua is expensive). However, i’ve stayed in touch with two old Arbeitsamt students – a slightly crazy Polish lawyer who seems to like me because i’m honest; and a 26-year-old dandy with eyes like Morgana’s (i.e. left is different to right). Through the latter, i’ve joined a Dandy Circle who meet and generally talk excitably in German about clothing fabrics. i’m unsure exactly why i’m welcome, since i usually wear my standard cord trousers, white shirt, tweed jacket, or variations, and can’t follow most of their talk, but there it is. A photo of the dandies pretending to consult their phones for maximum business seriousness, the 26-year-old ex-student on the far right in the raincoat:
5. i like meeting the dandies, though i have really little interest in clothing & dress increasingly like a character from The Good Life. i feel age settling on me like dust and dress for convenience, both physical comfort and to attract as little attention as possible; given my odd face i will never evade notice but i can stealth-dress, in clothes that say “he probably has some kind of non-manual-labour job so he isn’t a crackhead rapist, but he’s no one important”. More & more i feel happy to be invisible and outside of human life; i once likened this to the dark side of the moon, closer to the divine than the human. It is, to our eyes, mere darknesss, but that is because we are mortal, and our judgement likewise.