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.