The longest month

July draws to a close and I’m back in the real world once again. After four weeks of firing from all cylinders, doing things I never imagined doing, achieving things I never imagined myself capable of achieving, I’ve come out the other side in one piece. The stomach aches, the vivid dreams and the sleep deprivation are all behind me now and I can go back to my video games, my drinking and my late-night horror films. The CELTA course is over.

For the uninitiated, the Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages is an internationally-recognised qualification and a common requirement for those wishing to enter the big bad world of English language teaching. The course is made up of many input sessions, four assignments and several hours of teaching practice. It is by no means the be-all and end-all of EFL teaching, but it’s a very good introduction to the profession. I warn you as I was in turn warned, however: the intensive course is not one which should be taken lightly. From day one, you’ll hit the ground running, working from morning until night, with only toilet breaks and a quick meal to break up the routine. Be prepared to shun your friends and family, neglect mundane tasks and give up those little diversions which make your everyday life that much more bearable. If  you’re seriously considering the CELTA, clear space in your diary and warn everyone you know that you’ll be incommunicado for a while. It is only fair, given the monumental task facing you, that they respect your wishes. Oh, and invest in a good printer and some stationery – you’ll need it.

I practised what I preach. June was a fine month: I helped Listerine move into his love-nest with Jaws, working like a Trojan and keeping the laughs coming with my ready wit. I earned a lot of brownie points and some bigger muscles. As the first half of 2012 wound down (a fine end, considering its sad beginnings), I told my friends that they would have to make do without my legendary humour and insight for a month. Loyal souls that they are, they acknowledged this and wished me all the best of luck in my endeavour. Next, I told my relatives that they would have to make do without their human punchbag for 30 days or so. My mother was particularly supportive and promised to contact me only by e-mail or SMS; she was true to her word. My father, however, did not seem to understand the instruction, or at least did not appreciate the gravity of my request.

Listed below are reasons why SMS and e-mail are superior methods of communication to the more traditional medium of telephone.

  • They are both considerably cheaper.
  • They are a more effective means of conveying accurate information to the recipient.
  • The recipient has a record of the exchange to which he may refer in the future, the human memory being a far less reliable data storage device.
  • They are quieter, less invasive and the recipient can read them at his leisure, not at the convenience of the sender.
  • As visual communications, neither the intrusion of background noise nor the issue of ‘breaking up’ will ever occur.
  • They are more efficient methods, as they all but eradicate ‘phatic conversation’ (meaningless jibber-jabber, if you will). One does not have to endure the sort of excruciating nonsense that issues from so many people’s mouths. Yes, yes, I’m fine, you’re fine, the weather’s sunny/rainy, the Olympics are in progress, blah blah blah. Now, shut the fuck up and tell me what you want.

The apple fell far from the tree. From an early age, I embraced technology and delighted in the wonders and conveniences it introduced into our lives. Daddy-O, in stark contrast, is an inveterate technophobe. It took him ten years to operate a computer with any degree of competency. The simple act of changing the channel or settings on a DVD player becomes akin to the twelve labours of Hercules while he holds the remote. To my knowledge, he has not touched the electric juicer I bought him for Christmas, leaving the ‘complexity’ of pressing a few buttons to my brother. I don’t understand why, in the twenty-first century, he remains so obstinately Luddite. I made it abundantly clear in June that I would only respond to messages by SMS or e-mail. It was much to my surprise and chagrin, therefore, when he left me a voicemail message two weeks into the course asking me to phone him. So not only was I paying to listen to him, but I was also expected to spend more money and waste more time talking afterwards. Sticking to my guns, I ignored the request. On the third week, my sister gave me a guilt-trip-infused spiel about how my father was upset that I hadn’t called him. After giving her a piece of my mind, I phoned him to find out why the hell he wanted to speak to me. Apparently, he wanted to know how I was.

‘I’m stressed out, Dad,’ I answered in all honesty.

‘Why are you stressed out?’

‘Well, I did warn you that this course would be very demanding, so it stands to reason that I should be stressed. I’ve got lessons to plan and assignments to complete.’

‘Well, you just have to knuckle down.’

Priceless. He wastes my valuable time with a lousy voicemail message then, when I tell him how I’m feeling, he tells me to ‘knuckle down’. That was the little pearl of wisdom I took away from the exchange. I almost exploded with rage, but I managed, somehow, to contain myself.

Changing the subject was all that I could do, so I requested that he contact me next time via e-mail or text. I haven’t heard from him in two weeks. Clearly, his aversion to modern technology overrides any desire he may have to talk to his son. The man is a royal pain in the proverbial. If typing is that difficult, why not delegate? Why not dictate? It’s not rocket science.

The intensive CELTA course is exactly that: intensive. In four weeks, you will be bombarded with a wealth of information and you’ll need to muster all the energy that you can to get through it. I spent many an hour planning and fretting over lessons; I was often up until the early hours of the morning, working. By Friday of Week 3, I needed a holiday. Half of me was driving in a Lincoln along the Pacific Coast to San Francisco, the warm sun on my face and joy in my heart. The other half was burnt-out, despondent and wondering if I would ever make it to the end. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. In my lessons, I was a natural. I brought the language to life with my energy, humour and radio-friendly voice. My students came from all over the world and from different walks of life. During the input sessions, I impressed tutors and colleagues alike with my knowledge and wit. Within the confines of the college, I was a larger-than-life character, twice the man I have ever been on the outside. I met some fascinating characters: a stand-up comic, an ageing hippie social worker, a journalist, a woman who had already had four years of teaching experience in Mexico, an ex-soldier, a fellow nerd (I hope to see him again), a martial-arts expert, an actor and others besides. I shall never see some of these people again, but we worked together so closely that we learned a great deal about each other in a very short space of time. I developed skills which will not only serve me well as a teacher, but also make me stronger in everyday life.

On the final day, the euphoric feeling in the air was almost palpable. We were worn out by the rigours of the course, but we were bursting with positivity. We had made it through one of the most challenging episodes of our lives and come out the other side ten times taller. The next logical step was to celebrate with a meal in a restaurant, then hie us thence to a watering-hole in downtown Shitsville. This final phase of our time together did not go exactly how I imagined, however. Soon after the meal was over, it became apparent that a handful of my colleagues had reached an advanced state of inebriation and their juvenile antics began to grate on my nerves. We ended up in a hot, stuffy bar, the sort of place that draws chavs and idiots like flies to manure. The music there was atrocious and pounded in my head. There was no beer garden, nowhere I could sit and enjoy the night air with a cigarette in hand. My colleagues danced like fools to the noise; I was, as I always am in those sorts of places, half a man. No one could hear my voice, the source of my power! There was no chance of a nice conversation, of getting to know each other more. Why did they like it so much? After an hour, I’d had enough. Feeling tired, sober and frustrated, I bade the more coherent of them a wan farewell and walked home, alone once again.

This weekend, I went for a nice run along the river and ate better than I had done in weeks, but I am in low spirits. The course has taken its toll on me and my energy levels haven’t yet recovered. Assuming I pass, what will I do next? Where shall I go? With a qualification like this under my belt, spending the rest of my life working in an office is no longer a viable option. The CELTA has opened up a world of opportunities to me and it would be a terrible shame not to go out and find them. I can go almost anywhere in the world and work as an English teacher. The trouble is, I don’t want to go just anywhere; I want to go to San Francisco. I want to ride on the trams, watch the sun set on the bay, eat in nice restaurants and drink root beer. I want to meet American girls and impress them with my fancy patter. I want to sing, tell jokes and laugh! I want to live again! I don’t know if I can handle a year of living on my nerves, planning for 25 hours of lessons a week whilst trying to learn a foreign language and getting to grips with an alien culture. It could be the fatigue talking, but I am filled with many uncertainties right now. I need more time to reflect, or perhaps I need some social contact to raise my spirits.


6 thoughts on “The longest month

  1. Not only in the classroom, you have a “larger than life” persona on this blog too! Entertaining writing!

    I’m just wondering about your next step. How likely is it you’ll get a job in San Francisco? Perhaps you should make contact with some ELT folk and find out about life teaching English. I highly recommend Twitter as the means… (it’s not another Facebook, BTW!) Get an account in your name, load up Tweetdeck, follow #ELTchat and take it from there.

    Have fun 🙂

  2. Alas, dear Clive, the City By The Bay is a mere pipe dream, but I plan on going there for a holiday in the future. My next step is to contact some experienced English teachers (I know a few) and get some advice from them. I’m also going to read a bit more (e.g. ‘Teaching English Abroad’ by Susan Griffiths) to prepare myself for my future career. I haven’t yet decided which country I want to go to and I need time to think about that. In the meantime, the local university has a lot of foreign students who might be interested in some private tutoring – that would be a good way to get a little more experience and confidence. Setting up a Twitter account sounds like a capital idea.

    Many thanks for the advice!

    • No. I’ve applied for positions in Russia, China and Mexico so far. I don’t have any particular preference, provided the working conditions are acceptable. I’ve also advertised my services as a private tutor locally.

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