Thursday, 9 August 2007

TEFL as a sustainably interesting career

Not. So let’s examine why the fek I ever got involved in a notoriously dead-end and dull occupation (Teaching English as a Foreign Language for the incredulous uninitiated). Easy: it was a means to an end, and I think one or two of you can relate to that. I mean, look at the evidence: is anyone from our TUL cohort still fronting up to classrooms of eager English-speaker wannabes? Of course not, and for good reason. The end, my friend, was simply to stay on the road in those days, get to know a bit of the world, and delay the return home to anonymity and inevitable middle-class consumerist ennui for as long as possible.

Even the TEFL guides in the early 1990s openly espoused English-teaching as a way of seeing the world rather than as a serious end in itself. They openly boasted of the countless opportunities in newly opened-up former Soviet bloc countries like Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia where you could walk into any teaching job if you happened to a native English speaker. What a Godsend for the armies of Slackerdom – do something that you’ve been doing all your life without any concerted effort, but in exotic locations, and get paid for it! Sure, get paid mince for it, but usually enough to provide a modicum of a drinking allowance.

Yep, no need for any qualifications whatsoever. Just chat away and let those impassioned hordes soak up your natural eloquence. And I could have done exactly that, only I’d fired off an application to the Ministerstvo školství, mládeže a tělovýchovy in February before heading off to Morocco for a couple weeks on only the second package holiday I’ve ever been on in my life. A job offer from Hlidek in Jablonec was waiting upon my return to London, but the snag was that it didn’t start until the beginning of the new school term in September. What to do? Well, the crumbs of my Calvinistic conscience got the better of me, so instead of gallivanting off on another excursion somewhere, I decided the decent thing to do would be to sign up for a TEFL course and make sure I could actually teach. I strongly suspected that a job requiring ‘conversation’ with students only might begin to pall after a while, and therefore it might be wisest to have another arrow loaded into my near-vacant quiver of employment prospects.

A scientific study of the cheapest TEFL courses around the globe according to the ‘language courses’ section of the Daily Mirror revealed two options: Cairo or Istanbul (discussed in an earlier post). Both cost the same, so I think the only reason I opted for Istanbul was because I’d just returned from North Africa, and Turkey could be accessed very inexpensively overland (or so I thought; this was also the era of costly flight tickets prior to the advent of no-frills cheap-as-chips airlines like SleazyJet).

And so it was that I applied to English Fast, which at the time touted itself as having Cambridge affiliation (I was quickly disabused of this notion by the other teachers once I arrived). The application process went swimmingly, which in hindsight should have set Groucho Marx-style alarm bells ringing (“I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member”). Part of that process required having to front up to a farcical ‘interview’ at a tiny and very dingey office on Tottenham Court Rd occupied by a funny little chap with the most extraordinarily intricate hair weave over his bald pate. I was so totally enthralled by it that I can’t remember what any of the questions were about at all. I later met up with the guy again in Istanbul and he kept entertained for hours by describing the ‘book’ that he’d written, and which he was then delivering to all known publishers, which detailed his deep understanding of why women are the way they are. Yes, a true philosopher. I never heard of him ever again.

And that, children, is how Great Uncle Kivak came to reside in the land of the sultans for a few months in 1992, via a few weeks bludging off his brother in Germany along the way.

And, belatedly, since we haven't had any colour here for a while, I include a lovely picture of my first teaching establishment. The girl was a Turkish student and the bloke is an English twit about whom you may hear more later...

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