I’m happy to report life in the Kingdom is going well… It seems to get easier each week as things become more predictable and I get used to the routine. I’ve noticed my classes have become gradually more pleasant as I continue to build up rapport with my students. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised last Wednesday when one of my students, as a token of his appreciation, gave me a tie – but not just any tie – a 100% silk, hand made Brioni tie, which happens to be the make of choice for James Bond! I guess I must be doing something right!
After a long wait, they finally installed a projector in my classroom, which I enjoyed using today. The lesson was on different countries and their nationalities and languages, so I simply pulled up a map of the world and used that as an instant visual aid. It helps a lot, too, that the Wi-Fi at the university reaches the classrooms, so now I can bring up pretty much anything on the board. For example, I thought I’d introduce my students to university life in the UK, so I gave them a quick tour of Durham University’s website, which included a great video:
Mesmerised by the cathedral and castle against a countryside of rolling green hills and winding rivers, my students’ eyes lit up; they were taking a brief glimpse into this far away world. One of my students described it as ‘like a story’ (really he was trying to say ‘like a fantasy’, but I understood what he meant). He wasn’t half-wrong, as I think there is something quite magical about Durham – it was the filming ground for a lot of Harry Potter after all! Of course, I miss it terribly and hope to return one day. As mentioned before in a previous post, I’m thinking of doing a masters there, in Arabic-English Translation & Interpreting, perhaps in a year or two’s time. Not surprisingly, my students were also fascinated by the concept of boys and girls sharing the same classes, let alone the same dormitories – I kept that part secret – I didn’t want to get them too excited! It didn’t help then that the video just happened to include a couple seconds of belly dancing (illustrating one of the many clubs and societies available at Durham), as well as some students drinking champagne… I guess I will need to be more careful next time!
For the last few days I’ve been teaching overtime to cover for a teacher who has had to go to hospital. He’s an Irish fellow, almost forty, overweight, likes his cigarettes and booze, and has developed problems with his lower back over the years. Recently his condition has worsened and he will likely need an operation. Apparently it’s quite serious, as there is a chance the operation may leave him partially paralyzed. So although doing overtime feels like a lot of work, I can’t complain – at least I have my health – plus I’m getting overtime pay for the extra hours.
The extra students, however, are quite a handful! They’re a rowdy bunch and there’s no camera in their classroom, so there’s naturally a noticeable difference in the dynamics of the class. The first time I took them, for example, there were about four students happily dozing off, while the rest were either giggling like little schoolboys or chatting away in Arabic – throughout the class. At one point a student was even snoring! It’s hard to tell what they’re like with other teachers, but I have a feeling they’ve been used to having the upper hand when it comes to who is actually controlling the class. It’s rather unfortunate to find so many university students acting like kids in primary school! So I resolved to turn things around… I started by making an example of two students, who were sleeping, by making them leave the classroom. I also put an end to the excessive amount of Arabic in class, primarily by demonstrating that I could understand what (they thought) they were saying in secret, but also by threatening to kick them out of class as well. So they’ve got the message now and things are running more smoothly. The next battle I have to pick with them, however, is their constant use of Blackberry phones during class! They know they’re not allowed to use phones in class, but they still do. Some of them will even ask to use the bathroom – conveniently remembering to pick up their Blackberry from their desk before heading out of the classroom, and coming back a good 15 minutes later!
Fortunately, any complaints that students might make about me being too strict will only reflect well on me! This is because the manager of the English school, who makes it a point to receive complaints directly from students, is himself incredibly strict. He’s the kind of person who would be delighted to hear that I have kicked students out of class! He’s even told us to do so when a student comes to class without a pen, but I don’t go quite that far! Today he came into my class, by surprise, along with the two most senior managers. At first I wasn’t sure what he wanted, so was rather scared for a second, but soon discovered he was only there to remind students that smoking is prohibited. He then proceeded to check students’ pockets and confiscated a pack of cigarettes from one of them. He even made a quick check of students’ haircuts, lifting up their headdresses to see underneath, in order to make sure their hair wasn’t too long! So far I’ve managed to keep on his good side – and hopefully it will stay that way!