Writing and Books

91 – Zircon

I’m back at Zircon. They make air filters for cars. If you were reading this blog last year, you might remember my weekly dashes to Descines on Tuesdays to teach a spattering of idle secretaries, smug sales-reps and ageing production managers still dressed in their 1970s suits. It was always a pleasant trip, so the prospect of going back didn’t seem too bad. Until…

‘Four groups a week!’ I screamed at my boss. ‘How much commission are you on? Why didn’t you just push them altogether into two big groups like we did last year. I could’ve had Thursdays off again.’

She glanced at a big fat invoice on her desk. ‘Two small groups on Tuesdays plus two small groups on Thursdays equals 4,000 Euros. Whereas,’ she continued, ‘two big groups on Tuesdays equals 2,000 Euros and a day off for a teacher who’s on the same wage whether he teaches for an hour or a hundred.’

‘Yeh. And?’

‘It’s called teacher utilisation,’ she finished tossing me the new Zircon files marked Groups 1 through to 4.

‘It’s criminal,’ I mumbled as I left her office.

I got to my desk and nervously opened the files to check the levels. Not bad. All intermediate: not too thick, not too clever. But what really mattered – and whether I was to have a relaxing spring or not – were the dreaded Course Objectives?

Never give students any choice other than a course in General English. No hardcore business language, technical vocab seminars, presentational signposting. When you let your students start having the ludicrous idea that their lessons can be tailored to their own narrowed minded world view, you’re going to have problems. Take it from me. Highly stressed caffeine-infused, nicotine-deprived sales-reps can get very violent. I keep a cattle prod handy at all times. With executives. Knives.

Zircon Air Filters: Course Objectives

Group One: General English.

Group Two: General English.

Group Three: General English.

Group Four: Meetings and General English.

Almost perfect. Pity about Group Four with their childish ‘Meetings’ nonsense but they could be brought round – I simply wouldn’t teach it.

I closed the Zircon files and started rummaging through my teaching folders that now line an entire wall of the staff room. I have the biggest collection of General English material in France. I’m not joking either. It’s taken me years to assemble this assortment of irrelevant grammar exercises, obscure readings, dated discussion games and impenetrable listenings. It reduces my planning time to practically zero. If I can ever find anything that is, which I invariably can’t.

On Tuesday morning I arrived at Zircon ready for a breeze of a day. So it was a terrible shock when the training manager told me that the files they’d sent over were the wrong ones.

‘These are the updated files,’ she said passing me four fresh ones with a demonic smile on her face.

Zircon Air Filters: Course Objectives

Group One: technical vocab, telephoning Chinese clients, practising English for social occasions, writing reports.

This was bad. Very bad. Every aspect of teaching I hate: technical English bores me to death, teaching telephoning is notoriously tedious, social English is pointless (hello and goodbye are sufficient), and teaching report writing requires the patience of a Buddhist monk. Plus, it’s also intensely tedious and boring.

Group Two: Email language, giving directions on the phone, taking orders on the phone, saying hello, saying goodbye.

A room full of secretaries then. Very competitive, very bitchy, very stressful. And worst of all. I’d forgotten my cattle prod.

I smiled at the training manager. Gave back her files and told her politely that I was going to give this one a miss: problem with my bowels. Thai curry last night. Too hot. Shrapnel in the leg. India. In the war. Shell shocked. Bye.

She was still standing in the doorway looking perplexed as I sped off down the road looking for the next turning to Turin. Nice at this time of year I’m told. Ciao.

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