Typecasting to an almost-cruel accuracy!
What makes TEFL teaching in Asia such an attractive option for the characters of the world? Are they simply a restless breed, festering with discontent over the restraints and customs of their native lands? Do they need a new challenge, a change or, perhaps, just a good rest? The reasons are obviously manifold, but these idiosyncratic creatures are united by the fact that they are all a long way from home. This binds them, but, as it is indeed the habit of folk to be, they are all different. We will try to break down and define these stereotypes.
In all lies the desire for companionship, for they are cast in, and then expected to meld into an unfathomable alien culture. Support is needed, and where better for the fresh-faced TEFL rookies to find that support than within the pastel-walled staffroom of their new school?
As awestruck Wee Jimmeny McScroggins is ushered carefully through the broken staff room doors by the jovial lead teacher, he is greeted by a plethora of friendly faces and smiles. All the old pro’s jump up to shake the young fellow by the hand; they are soon regaling him with tales of wild beasts, dangerous roads and impossible locals. Within minutes he is armed with recommendations for places to live, eat and be merry. What friends, and so easily made!
Alright, perhaps it’s nothing like this, but there are always a few noble souls who try to make the newcomer feel at ease. Everyone else mumbles their name and then looks back at the misplaced pencil/roving insect/alluring crack in the wall that had drawn their attention five minutes previously. This is fine, as these experienced TEFL warriors know the true way to tap into the new mind.
Comfortable silence reigns as they sit amongst their companions. However, if a beer is placed on the table, the shackles are released; life as they know it begins. Overt gesticulation commences, excited knees begin to crash into tables, several packets of cigarettes are ordered (though they later find there is no lighter). Everyone starts commending everyone else on how great everyone else actually is, everyone else is delighted at this news and so orders more beer for everyone. And so, the vicious cycle sets in despite the fact it probably started with the words “just the one” and a feeble beer drinking mime. The benefit to the rookie is that he will be made to feel at ease, the pro’s will delight in questioning him about his past and vice versa. Soon he will feel it is a home from home; the drinkers will look on wisely at their ice-cubes.
N.B. Never place a beer on the staffroom table; it would be a cruel experiment.
Before we turn our attention to the alcohol enthusiasts, let us have a look at the other characters a typical TEFler might run across in an average (or not so average) staff room:
The Mother Figure (of which there are two)
These have an uncanny knack with children. As their title suggests they are predominantly (though not always) women. They exude a genial, endearing warmth and exhibit the patience of a saint. Men may pass by their classroom and exchange disbelieving glances at the discernible lack of a riot and how engaged the tiny tots are in the activity taking place.
Akin to the Mother Figure is the Stepmother. These are fearsome creatures. Man, child, beast alike would simply not dabble with one of these terrifying creations. They have been blessed with ‘The Look’, confronted with which even Hercules would follow through messily.
The Human Climbing Frame
This is an animal that just loves being with children. They can poke it up the bum, slap its arse, paint it fluorescent green, and though it doesn’t encourage such behaviour, it will usually react with a cheery grin and a simple ‘now, now then.’ Its name is derived from the fact that it delights in adopting a Christmas Tree position and accepting Munchkins as baubles. Be warned: even if you don’t emit Human Climbing Frame signals a minute adventurous wanderer might attempt to scale your heights whilst you are sitting down with a cup of coffee contemplating your lesson plans.
The Token European
NB: obviously this doesn’t include those from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
This is all about those non-native English speakers that have a linguistic repertoire of about four languages. If the children can actually understand what they’re saying they generally make rather good teachers. However, they make you feel very guilty about not taking French too seriously at school.
These need a decent green-room where they can don their make-up and red noses. They prance, sing and do extraordinary things with their arms for at least 30 minutes. Miming, dance, role-plays – it’s all there. The kids look at the teachers in twinkle-eyed wonderment, but after the second chorus of ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’, they begin to wonder if all they’ve heard about the madness of foreigners is true. The Luvvie doesn’t care, after all, the classroom’s a stage and children are the most appreciative audience.
Mad Eyes, in common with Stepmother has ‘The Look’. With Mad Eyes the behaviour outside of ‘The Look’ differs. Talking is simply not tolerated; should a murmur arise from the restless masses, the table where the offenders are so comfortably ensconced may be greeted with a flat hand or ruler. It may possibly break the desk in two. Fear jitters through the ranks of the minute. What were we thinking? Quiet quick or beware the wrath! Mad Eyes can also be seen wading enraged, deep into the heart of quivering kids to pluck the troublemaker from their perch. They will not wrong Mad Eyes again.
The Diligent Master
Surely no school could survive without a few of these. They are meticulous planners and goblets of knowledge. As the Masochist and the Deserter (more on these later) waltz in with their week’s lesson plans on a beer mat, the Master has every lesson planned down to the last detail, contingency plans and all. Some live to teach, others teach to live, but they are all gloriously reliable. Damned useful if you’re short of ideas, just don’t ask them for hints five minutes before your lesson starts.
The Misunderstood Cannon
Cannons are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The world is against them. They don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, it’s just that everybody else disagrees. Such creatures find it hard to adapt so in the end it’s better for everyone if they find their niche elsewhere. All you can do is wish them good luck on their travels.
The Mad Scientist
The Mad Scientist will try anything once. A new teaching technique announced in the news will lead to several sleepless nights for this pioneer. The Internet is simply proof of God’s existence, there’s just not enough time to put all the downloaded theories into practice; never mind, cloning is just round the corner. Like the Master, a lot can be learnt from your standard Scientist. It may not always work, but when they get the formula right hang onto their lab-coats.
Every teacher is at least part Assimilator. The pure breed, generally a new teacher, just sits back and observes his colleagues for a period of time. They see what works and what doesn’t work; they take mental notes. After a few weeks they emerge from their chrysalis having calculated ‘How to Teach’. Suddenly you see all the teachers’ best methods form a coherent whole and lo, they unleash their honed omniscient way unto the wee nippers. By God, it’s the best way for teachers to learn!
“Does anyone here know what a pro-nun is?”
Should the Academic be present at the ejaculation of such an utterance, their glasses will slip down the bridge of their nose and their book will fall on their lap. Accompanied with a benevolent sigh, a comprehensive totally incomprehensible answer (formed mostly with five-syllable words) will be presented to the bemused asker of the question. Everyone else adopts a sage position and starts writing equations on the whiteboard in agreement.
The ‘I Don’t Believe It!’ Curmudgeon
These endearing so-and-sos are hell-bent on whining about minutiae. They get down to the job at hand but you may have problems with impromptu tasks. Sometimes we are left to wonder why they stay in the country at all, after all, all they do is complain about Mrs Ya-dee-doo and her racist) fruit-selling strategy. Simple fact is, at the end of the day they ‘Luv it’, just like everyone else. Otherwise, why else have they been here for five years? Let’s face it, we all love a good moan.
The Masochist (Alcohol Enthusiast#1)
These remarkable creatures can slink away full of honourable intentions to have nothing more than a swift half down the local speak-easy, more often than not they will be belting out ‘My Way’ whilst sitting snugly in a karoake bar six hours later. They do not learn by their mistakes. However, the most defining characteristic of these extraordinary creatures is their quite remarkable stamina. They will always turn up for work the next day. Some of these beasts seem entirely unaffected by the previous night’s revelry, bar perhaps a voice working a full octave lower than usual. Others might be spotted with their heads in their hands whilst six-year-olds dance a merry gig around them. If you fail to spot them there, try the coffee machine. If their eyes are red, avoid contact.
The Deserter (Alcohol Enthusiast#2)
The Deserter’s evening will probably begin in much the same way as the Masochist’s. With these good-hearted fellows it is the next day that is the problem. There is no way of knowing where the Deserter might end up the day after the night before. A foreign country is always a distinct possibility. If AWOL the following morn, do not even bother to discover the whereabouts of your average Deserter for their mobile will have long have slipped from their pocket – if it was a really good night out that is.
The Fantasist (Alcohol Enthusiast#3)
The following is all attributed to one man. Believe it or not, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction (even when it’s all lies). This type of unreliable behemoth, though charming and likeable, manages to conjure up the following excuses to account for ‘time-loss’.
Excuses of a drunkard
1. On induction week at a new school the Fantasist was told, along with the other new members of staff, the importance of drinking water in a hot country. Beware dehydration and the consequences! His excuse in Week One was:
“Perceptively feeling the onslaught of symptoms that would inevitably result in me suffering from a severe case of dehydration I wisely decided to visit my local 7/11 to buy a gallon of water. Alas, tragedy struck! En route, I was overcome with dizziness and the next thing I knew, whilst strewn on the pavement, I was being escorted by a band of friendly locals to a nearby taxi, which would later take me to a hospital.”
Apparently, they actually fell for it.
2. The Alarm Clock.
We all know this one. Either you didn’t set it, you forgot to set it, or the batteries ran out in the middle of the night. ‘Tis a favourite for the Fantasist.
3. The Phone
“My phone stopped working. I missed my first class, so I thought it would be best if I took the whole day off.”
4. The Classic. The Fantasist arrives at work after a week off. He is covered in cuts and bruises.
“It takes me a long time to get home, so I thought I’d take a short cut. I have to jump over a wall, but normally that’s all right. Not this time! There I am, surrounded by stray dogs, as I try to beat them off their owners come running at me! I was winning, but against ten men and their hounds I had no chance. I got a kicking, but after they’d done their stuff the men left. I thought I was safe, but the dogs only came at me again! Then they stole my wallet. That’s why I couldn’t come in last week. I didn’t have any money.”
That’s right, you didn’t misread it, the dogs stole his wallet.
We may not all be as imaginative as the Fantasist, but be you new or old to the game (or even about to start) you can probably identify yourself amongst this mass of distinctive characters. If you can’t, then please let us know. Otherwise, fret not, you are probably just a balanced amalgamation of some. I am. I hope.