Thoughts and reflections

What were you doing on September 11?

Or maybe I should have gone with this title: “The non-teaching tasks of a teacher in a private language school”, because that’s what the post is going to be about. But, I don’t know, it just doesn’t have that ring to it.

Every once in a while I go through the really old files on my computer and generally decide I’m not going to get rid of anything, which means a ton of completely useless material keeps sitting on the hard drive. But it does make for an interesting distraction occasionally. I have no idea why I was clicking around in the folder containing materials from the school I worked for before Octopus; I haven’t done that since I spent my first three weeks in Belgium with no internet. But then I came across these letters I thought might be interesting to share here on the blog. Not because of September 11 so much – I only discovered that piece of coincidence while I was copying the letters into a more eye-friendly format – but because I thought it might be illustrative of what teachers sometimes have to do in private language schools apart from teach.

A bit of background first. At the time I was asked to write these I’d been with the school for just under 4 years, on a permanent (indefinite) contract for the last 2. I was also mentor to novice teachers (or maybe assistant mentor, if memory serves). This, in addition to any mentoring I had to do, also meant that the boss could (and did) saddle me with the odd task she (probably) had no time or inclination to do herself, but that could more accurately be labelled administrative work, even though the school had an administrative assistant (I can see my then colleagues grinning broadly here). I was paid a fixed amount in addition to my regular salary each month for everything the mentor umbrella covered.

Sometime in the spring of 2001 my boss realized the school was no longer receiving a magazine we were subscribed to. I can only guess at this point why she thought I would be the right person to write to the magazine and enquire about this, but I think I wouldn’t be far off the mark if I said she thought I didn’t have enough to do for the supplement to my salary I was receiving. I have sometimes heard this line of reasoning from language school owners. And so I wrote letter #1.

letter 1The way this worked was that I would type the letter up at home and email it to the boss. As I recall, she printed it out, signed it and faxed it (or maybe even snail mailed it to the magazine). Maybe she thought it would carry more weight; this was 2001, after all. The magazine would respond, she would tell me what they said and ask me to write a response. And so it went. Looking at these missives now, I find the oh-so-very-formal tone a little amusing. They actually look alarmingly like some of the stuff in Business English course books, although I hadn’t done any Business English teaching up to then. I think. Not very much anyway; maybe I’d just started.

letter 2Note that I was a little more relaxed the second time around, addressing the recipient by name. Incidentally, I edited (out) all the irrelevant details, like the name of the magazine, the names of people involved and addresses – just in case anyone missed Fictmag in the first letter. 🙂

letter 3This was the longest of the letters, and it explains how the whole convoluted problem arose – I wouldn’t worry too much if you can’t follow exactly how things happened; the important thing is that the Fictmag people apparently did, or at least pretended to, which led to:

letter 4Yaay, good news! This was written in July, so classes were pretty much over. I’m sure I was glad to have had something to do – I mean, why just enjoy the summer break after over 1,100 teaching hours between September and June? I should look around on the computer and see what else I had to do (ok, I just did but could find no mentor activity report for July 2001 – yes, we had mentor activity reports.)

letter 5This one is a bit like flogging a dead horse. I’m pretty convinced this was written because Mrs P had written back after letter #4, and my boss did not want to appear rude by not acknowledging this. And by a strange coincidence, it turns out I wrote it on September 11. I don’t remember this. I remember talking to a friend (the one I went on to run Octopus with) on the phone and doing my nails when she told me to turn on the television.

So, yes. That was that. I’m assuming the magazine continued to arrive in orderly fashion and no further correspondence was necessary. I’m going to finish this post off in the manner of Mike Griffin (asking questions, like in this post, which is on an unrelated topic but a great example of telling a story that sort of lets the reader pick their own ending, depending on the question). I like it when Mike does that, even if I don’t reply. I hope he doesn’t mind too much; someone always replies. 🙂

  1. Is it okay/acceptable to delegate (administrative) tasks you don’t want to be burdened with (as the owner of a school) to your teachers? I’m not talking about ordinary paperwork teachers have to do here, like submitting your monthly hours.
  2. Does the fact that you’re paying them a fixed extra amount each month make it more okay/acceptable?
  3. Should all the tasks that teachers are required to do in addition to actual teaching be set out in the contract they sign?
  4. Can teachers in a private language school actually refuse to do something which they feel is not in their job description and what is an effective way they might go about doing this (by effective I mean a way which is not going to get them blacklisted and eventually replaced)?
  5. Have you ever been in a situation described in the question above? How did you deal with it?

You might also want to read Nicola Prentis’s excellent post on conditions in language schools at this point – mandatory reading IMHO for anyone teaching at a private language school (or running one)!