- Cop on -

13th January '17

The night before the new term, I was very responsible.

I went to bed early, determined to get a good night's sleep and start the new term in as sound a mind as possible.

Oh isn't it funny how fate has other plans?

No actually, it's not.

At about 5am, four hours earlier than I'd set my alarm for, "baaap... baaap... baaap," the building's fire alarm went off.

In the essence of the boy that cried wolf, I pay zero attention to fire alarms nowadays.

In my life, I've been subject to a fire alarm going off... maybe every four months. Let's conservatively say that it's been once every six months. That's sixty-two fire alarms in my lifetime.

And of those sixty-two times, do you know how many fires there have been?

Zero.

Like most people when a fire alarm goes off nowadays, I just stay in bed and wait for it to stop. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me sixty-two times, shame on me.

I'm only on the third floor and I'm right next to a fire exit. And there's a tree right outside my balcony. On the chance that there ever is actually a fire, I'm sure I'll be fine.

The only reason that I actually ever evacuate the building, is when the noise of the alarm has become so excruciating that it's starting to give me a headache, and living here I very regrettably have the alarm right outside the front door of my otherwise pretty sound-proof apartment.

After fifteen minutes of wailing, I eventually got to the point of "ah, fuck in Hell, I'll go outside then." So I got out of bed, put some clothes on, and... then it stopped. Fucks sake.

So I got undressed, went back to bed, closed my eyes, just about got to sleep and, 'knock, knock, knock.'

Who the fuck is at the door? It's the middle of the night.

So I got up again, and put some clothes on. I could see through the peep-hole that there was an engineer standing there.

"What?"

Each apartment in my building has an LED on the ceiling outside their apartment. He pointed up at mine, which was illuminated, and said "alarm."

The next thing he said was "you smoking?"

Why would I be smoking? It's the middle of the fucking night, I'm trying to sleep.

Anyway, I let him in to check my alarms, and there was a red light on the one above my bed. He climbed-up there, unscrewed it and said "service" in English, before telling me "wait a moment," in Thai. And he left again.

I assume that they wouldn't have turned the fire alarm off again, and nor would it have taken them fifteen minutes to come to my room were the only alarm that was triggered, the one above my bed. But still. The alarm that's above my bed, somehow detected that there was a fire.

Which is exactly why no one pays attention to fire alarms. I was asleep in the room, I'm pretty sure that at no point it was on fire.

Now when a Thai person tells you to wait a moment, you have to appreciate that they might be back in ten minutes, they might be back in ten hours, or they might not be back at all, so I wasn't going to stay up waiting for this guy, so I got undressed again, went back to bed, was just dozing-off and "knock, knock, knock."

Fuck's sake.

It was the same engineer. He came back, screwed-in the fire alarm once again, and then started asking me in Thai and actions, why I had red covers over my fire alarms.

I don't fucking know, they were there when I moved-in. I figured they were supposed to be there.

And he started arguing with me, saying that I needed to take them off.

Fuck you, they've fucking been there for the last year and a half, it's six o'clock in the fucking morning, and I've been fucking woken-up three times in the last thirty fucking minutes, you can fuck off, I'm leaving those fucking covers on.

The running of my building was taken-over by a new company fairly recently. I don't know how or why, but I didn't think of it as a bad thing.

The old company were useless. At least they were courteous in their incompetence though. The new staff are equally incompetent, but they're also very rude. I'm yet to have an interaction with any of them when I think "well that was a pleasant young man."

Eventually I took the covers off, told the engineer to fuck off, showed him the door, put the covers back on, and went back to bed. Didn't get another wink of sleep though, so not only were my plans to start this term off on a good night of sleep out the window, but I also wasn't in the best mood having been woken-up three times in 30 minutes, been accused of smoking in my room to trigger the alarm, and then having this jerk-off arguing with me at 6am.

It was a fun start to the term, and probably put me on par of tiredness with the other teachers, many of whom had flown home to England or America or other places over the holiday, and were only arriving back that morning.

If you know me or if you read and understand this blog, then you know that I use sarcasm and dry humour quite a lot.

I don't know why, it's just me. If you take the literal meaning, I probably mean about 30% of what I say. The rest is off-hand remarks not to be taken seriously, where you have to understand the message within the words. And the only way that you know which is which is... well I guess that you need to know my personality.

We have a teacher at my school, who used to be a manager, but then he got bored of being a manager, so effectively demoted himself to work just as a teacher again. As someone with managerial experience though, he was helping with the transition to the new manager, and one of the ways in which he was doing that was he made this term's schedule.

He walked into the teacher's room on the first day and mused how he'd almost forgotten how to write the schedule. I agreed in jest, jokingly commenting how I now had more classes than I'd asked for.

It was clearly (to me) a joke, and just to make that extra clear, I even said afterwards that "I'm joking."

He didn't seem to understand that part of it, and actually apologised for it as an oversight.

My branch this term took on, I think three new teachers, who we inherited from another branch that just closed, so we actually have more teachers than we do classes to satisfy them. These new teachers especially, have less hours than they wanted, so it was a genuine oversight to give me more than I want. But I was joking, you don't have to apologise.

It was also the case that, were it not now about three minutes before this first class started, he would have been willing to give it to one of the other teachers.

Dammit, just not time to offload this unnecessary work that I have.

Oh well, I'm going to have to buy a new laptop at some point, and I've got my eye on the 2017 iPhone, so I suppose that having money might be useful.

So anyway, I went and taught this five o'clock class. It was good, they seemed like nice students. They weren't all school kids forced to be there by their parents, like I was expecting.

I'd met my new manager briefly by this point. He'd kind of been wandering around the school all day introducing himself to people, so we'd had a 20 second conversation, but that was it.

As soon as I finished teaching this five o'clock class though, the door opened and my new manager walked into the room.

I was a little surprised to see him, and the first thing he said was "I waited until I heard that they class was over until I came in."

Ummm... ok. Cool.

He continued "I wanted to apologise to you for getting more classes than you wanted..."

Ummm...

It was a joke, I didn't mean it. I'm perfectly happy with my schedule.

That was really my first impression. This guy is an intense manager, you don't have to apologise even if I am genuinely upset about my schedule, which I'm not. Your job is to disappoint people.

That's the way that I see a manager's role. Customers are going to try and take as much as they can, employees are going to try and take as much as they can, executives are going to try and take as much as they can.

Your job as a manager is basically to limit how much any stakeholder can take, in order for the business to continue progressing. And everybody is always going to want more. Your job is to disappoint people, and you shouldn't feel obligated to apologise for it.

Especially when I was only joking, and I was requesting to have more free-time than I should really expect anyway.

I've always had that problem in life; people never seem to know when I'm joking or when I'm serious.

I'd say that it's a very British humour, and other countries (Americans) just don't appreciate sarcasm in the same way. A lot of them take words too literally.

Maybe I'll just stop speaking. The less I say, the fewer problems I'll have.

So anyway, I was now stuck with this five o'clock class for the duration of the term. It's five o'clock on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and come Wednesday, as I'm approaching my room, a rather rotund man is blocking the doorway.

I'm not sure of his nationality, but he certainly wasn't Thai or Asian, he wasn't Western, and he wasn't black. He looked a bit like a slightly retarded Benjamin Netanyahu if that helps.

Anyway, in full ear-shot of every student in my class, including the woman that this pertains to, he said that "[Name] is my girlfriend. She already failed the level 4 test. I want you to see if she has any mental disabilities, or if she just doesn't want to learn."

"Ummm... mental disabilities? Like...?"

"I'll just leave it with you," he responded, and walked off.

Ok then, thanks for the help. What with my one month CELTA qualification, I feel qualified to start diagnosing mental illness.

I'd already earmarked this woman (his girlfriend) as a bit of a loon, but you have a couple in every class; that's normal. As her boyfriend, wouldn't you be in a better position to diagnose her mental state than me?

I felt bad for her as well, because like I said, he said this in full ear-shot of every other student.

It's only level 2, so I don't know how much they understood, but still.

So anyway, forgetting that, it was a pretty good class.

The first week of the five o'clock classes are always a bit sticky, because having a shorter introductory class than your other students, you have to stall them in order to finish the week at the same point in the text book as your normal classes of the same level. But it was ok, until with literally ten minutes left, there was a knock at the door.

Ten minutes left, of the final class of the week.

One of the receptionists opened the door. "You have a new student" she says to me, and in walks a young man in a full police uniform.

Ummm... ok. What exactly do you expect him to learn in the final ten minutes of class this week?

That was a first. Normally they'd have the common sense to tell him to start next week. Maybe this receptionist was new or something.

Anyway, by this point in the class, the students had already all worked together in groups, and we were going over what they'd done, as a whole class.

There was zero point in this new student being here, because he had no clue what we were actually going over. But rather than have him sitting at the side of the room by himself, I pulled up a chair to one of the other groups, and told him to join them.

I don't know if he misunderstood or what, but he took that chair, turned it away from those students, and just sat with his back to them looking at the board.

Ok, this is weird. I just carried on though.

Anyway, we finished what we were going over. By default, all of the chairs in the room are in a sort-of... horse-shoe around the walls. We'd rearranged for this activity so that the students could work in groups, but now at the end of the class I told them to "go and sit back down," and whilst they were moving back, I wrote the homework on the board.

So I finished writing the homework on the board and turned around, and everyone had moved back to the horse-shoe around the outside of the room... except this one new guy, who just stayed completely rooted to the spot. How fucking weird is this?

Even if he didn't understand what I said, did he not realise that everyone else moved their chairs to the back of the room?

It was the end of the class, so I didn't even say anything; all that I had to still do was quickly explain the homework, but this guy was sat literally in the middle of the floor, with every other student sat around the outside of the room.

And I'll remind you that he was wearing a full police uniform.

I ended my lesson with a policeman just sat in the middle of the class; it was so weird.

One of the admin girls did actually seek me out to apologise. They never intended for him to join today's class, rather to start next week. I guess the receptionist fucked that part of it up. Normally though, students wouldn't even be allowed to join a class in the second week, but this girl told me that he was allowed to sign-up because student numbers are so low right now.

You know by now that I actively try to steer clear of the office politics. I want to come in, teach, and go home. I don't want to know which managers hate each other, any rumours about who's going to get fired, how good student numbers are, any of the stuff like that.

It doesn't concern me, and it doesn't affect how I teach. I'm going to teach as best as I can, regardless of what is going on around me, so I have no interest in knowing that stuff.

Despite how actively I try and avoid it though, a blind man can see that this is a struggling business.

If you remember, when I started this job, another teacher started at the same time as me. Then the next term, another teacher was hired. And then the term after that, yet another one (the crazy woman who doesn't work here anymore).

Things seemed great back then, but ever since, there hasn't been a single new hire.

Several teachers have quit since then; at least seven or eight. And the only replacements have come in the form of teachers that have transferred from other branches which, for whatever reason, had less need for teachers than we did.

Like the branch that just closed. They have zero need for teachers now, so we inherited some of theirs.

This is a school where, rightfully so, preference is based on tenure. The longer you've been here, the more likely you are to get the schedule that you request.

I have no problem with that system, except that it's very frustrating that after almost a year and a half in this job, I'm still the second shortest-tenured teacher here.

The crazy lady was newer than me, but she left, and the teachers that transferred from other centres have been working for this company for longer than I have.

It's certainly proving a challenge to ascend the totem, put it that way.

But with other branches closing, and us taking-on students that we normally wouldn't, it's clear that this is a school currently struggling. It doesn't feel like I'm working at a thriving business. And being virtually at the bottom of the totem still... well I don't take my employment for granted, put it that way.

New managers, low student numbers, who the fuck knows what's going to happen really?

So that took me up to Wednesday. I'd intentionally put-off a lot of things until Thursday, because that's the one day of the week where I don't start until 6:45pm this term, and I also knew that I'd have zero planning to do.

But when Thursday came, I started the day by doing thirty minutes of yoga.

Ow.

It takes a lot of time and pain to increase your flexibility, and it's amazing how quickly it degenerates again.

I hadn't done yoga for a couple of months, and especially with running, was aware of how inflexible I'd become.

I'll stress that even when I do regular yoga, I'm only about as flexible as the average fifty year-old. When I don't do it, I'm more like a seventy year-old.

I was aware of it, but had put-off doing yoga again in earnest for a while. I wanted to wait until I could start doing it routinely again, and Thursday (yesterday) was the day to start getting back into good habits.

So I suffered through that, and then tried to study my Thai flash cards again, but I just couldn't face them.

For the first time since I started studying Thai, I hadn't looked at my cards for weeks, and trying to work through them again was excruciating, so I instead chose to study lesson 1 of Pimsleur Thai; something that I downloaded from Pirate Bay probably 4+ years ago now.

It actually buoyed my confidence that I could comfortably do lesson 1 of this beginner level program. That should tell you where I am with Thai.

Before I started teaching on this day, I also went to two hours of observation classes at my school because... well like I said in the last blog, I think that they help me to regress at a slower pace than I otherwise would, so they're better than nothing for the time being. I don't plan on going to them as religiously as I did last term though, especially because I have to start teaching at 5pm instead of 6:45pm for three days per week now.

These observation classes didn't feel good though. Sitting there and trying to understand, I felt like I hadn't even thought about Thai for a month. I was struggling to really pick-up anything that they were talking about.

Despite this though, I was able to understand lesson 1 of Pimsleur, so I was feeling more or less positive. Just as long as I have the time to study properly...

The eventual weekend schedule was very late in coming. And when I did see it during the break of my 6:45pm class... well I wasn't exactly happy about it.

All that you really want from the weekend schedule, is no new classes to plan beyond what you have in the week and... I didn't have that. I had a brand new level to plan, so after threatening to be a nice, relaxing term; my first in this job with no classes to plan from scratch... suddenly it became just like any other term.

And just to rub salt into the wound, the first iteration of this schedule was really good for me, only to have a class that I taught last term Tipp-Exed out, and replaced with a new class.

That one stroke of Tipp-Ex will cost me twenty to thirty hours of free-time this term, as I spend it planning instead.

Oh well, it is what it is. No point bemoaning what you cannot change, but bang go any hopes of having plenty of free time to study Thai and exercise this term.

It is frustrating though, that after a year and a half in this job, I still find myself at virtually the bottom of the totem. Even more so when I'm one of the few teachers who doesn't continually harp-on about their intention to leave.

I like this job, I want to do it for a while. And to watch people who continually talk about wanting to leave get a preferable schedule to my own based on their tenure, it is frustrating I'll be honest. We'll see what happens soon though. With a new manager in place, it feels like things are about to change.

Change is always scary, and even more so when you're already content. But if student numbers are as low as I'm being led to believe then... well things are going to have to change, or no one's going to have a job to go to.

At 11:55pm last night, my new manager sent around an email to all of the teachers, saying how he'll be in the school today beutifying the rooms. Someone replied, and he sent-out a follow-up email at 12:35am this morning saying how important the physical teaching space is.

I'm not disagreeing with you, but damn man, when do you sleep?

It's immediately evident that we haven't got a manager intent on resting on his laurels. And if I thought that the relaxed nature of my previous boss was going to be carried over... well I was mistaken.

My new boss sounds like he has some ideas, and he's intent on enforcing them... at 12:35am.

Good for him in all honesty. If nothing else, I certainly admire his enthusiasm. That's the kind of person that you want at the helm when a business is going through a rough patch.

We're only four days into the term. I haven't even met my weekend classes yet. I get the feeling that this term is going to be an interesting one.

My five o'clock class is full of characters, from the perhaps mentally disabled woman, to the unresponsive policeman who sits in the middle of the floor. I have two level 12 classes; one at the weekend which I haven't met yet. And level 12, not only being a testing level, was the level that caused a lot of drama and a lot of headaches last term. Add that onto a new manager intent on making changes and... fuck knows how this term's going to go.

If nothing else, I get the feeling that I'm not going to be bored at work this term though.