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Complaints

It is bad enough having the DOS saying you are crap. Far worse is when the students do it.

What usually happens is one or more students in a class go to the reception desk and slag you off. The receptionist nods sympathetically and agrees you are useless and, in case the student had not noticed, an arrogant bastard. Lots of other students have complained about you, she confirms, not to mention the non-teaching staff. She then approaches your boss and says something like, “Everybody’s complaining about X. All the students hate him. Only yesterday one of them told me… ” etc.

Next day your DOS appears at the teachers’ room door. The background murmur of grumbling trails away. He smiles in a particularly unctuous way in your direction, so everyone knows you are for the chop. You are invited into his office “for a little chat”. He shows you in and shuts the door behind you. You sit and look at each other.

Most complaints fall into six categories. The teacher

  1. is too strict
  2. is boring
  3. does not know how to teach
  4. is always late for class
  5. said something blasphemous or obscene
  6. tried to feel me up.

Complaint No 1 (strictness) is common. Teachers exasperated by their students’ chronic laziness, stupidity, unpunctuality, sloppiness and lack of progress in the English language suddenly crack up and tell them precisely how lazy, stupid, etc they are. The class is given loads of grammar and homework.

Complaint No 2 (dullness) is also common, especially if the class was once taught by a Popular Teacher. He played umpteen games, told jokes, took them to Pizza Hut, brought in chocolate—whereas you (fool that you are) have been working through the book and trying to teach them a little grammar.

DOSes do tend to approve of strict, dull teachers, as their own lessons are deadly serious and stupefyingly boring. (Any teacher whose lesson has been covered by a DOS in their absence is welcomed back with open arms, cheers and a rendition of For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.) However, the DOS is well aware of the owner’s preoccupation with bums behind desks. The customer is always right. You are ordered to adopt a more friendly, caring demeanour, show interest in the students as individuals and give them praise. The DOS may not be able to bring himself to say, “Play more games,” but might mutter something about the “pace” and “variety” of activities.

Complaint No 3 (methodology) is heard now and then. A few students, especially older ones, have firm views on teaching methods. These will almost certainly be unsound, but they may happen to coincide with the DOS’s own.

Complaint No 4 (unpunctuality) is most often heard from Swiss Germans, who wear enormous watches synchronized with the Hubble Telescope. DOSes are always obsessed with punctuality, so you will definitely be in hot water.

Complaint No 5 (blasphemy or obscenity) is common in the more repressive countries. Some teachers are so clueless, they expect students to find jokes about their religion funny. A few years ago an English teacher in Kuwait got his class to write a letter from Muhammad to the Angel Gabriel, applying for the job of Prophet. What became of this unwise person was not reported, but presumably he was lucky to escape with all his limbs and organs intact.

Obscenity can also bring indignant parents to the DOS’s door. This happened at my school, when a part-time teacher showed a young teenage class an X-rated video. They were fascinated and told their parents all about it. The teacher was never employed there again.

Complaint No 6 (groping) is rare. Certain teachers do acquire a reputation for this and tend to change schools and countries frequently. Mysterious gaps in their CVs are probably prison terms.

When the DOS quizzes you about these accusations, do not be too defensive. On the whole, your line should be: I can see why one or two of them might feel that way, but it is a gross exaggeration.

Accusation and suggested response

Strictness

“I guess I am a bit strict sometimes. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d actually like them to learn a little English. Not like certain of our colleagues…”

Dullness

“Yes, I wish I could be a fun teacher like Y and Z. [Name two notoriously slack and mouthy teachers.] Perhaps I should ask them for a few tips.”

Methodology

“What do they know about English language teaching?”

Unpunctuality

“The clock in the teachers’ room is wrong.”

Blasphemy or obscenity

“You know what their listening skills are like. I actually said the Ayatollah was a banker. Which he was before he became Ayatollah, you know. They must have misheard.”

Groping

“I’ll get a taxi to the airport.”

After the session with the DOS, you trudge back to the teachers’ room, where conversation stops and everyone looks at you expectantly. If you do not tell them, they will find out soon enough. Better to put your own gloss on events.

“Oh, it’s only those spoilt brats in Level 5 making trouble again,” you say in a bored voice.

Your colleagues make sympathetic noises, but their hearts are singing. Somebody else is in the soup. Over a pint later they will confess they were not surprised. They had “heard things” from an informant in your class or through the paper-thin classroom walls. You had had it coming to you for some time.

Of course, when it is their turn to be complained about, you will do exactly the same.

While student complaints can be deeply wounding, the DOS will almost certainly never fire you. For every awful teacher in the school’s employ, there are three potential replacements out there who are far, far worse. He knows: he has sat through their demonstration lessons. They spent 90 minutes rambling on about the political situation in Northern Ireland, or giving a lecture on an irrelevant grammar point. Even you were not that bad. You are safe.

Normally, if an entire class complains about a teacher, the DOS (always in search of an easy life) will move the teacher to another class. Sometimes, however, this is not feasible. You will have to face the little sods again, knowing they know you know they complained about you.

There are different ways of dealing with this. You can breeze in as though nothing has happened and teach exactly as before. You can devise various ways of wreaking revenge. (See the suggestions below.) You can have a caring, sharing chat with the class about your shortcomings. You can even try to improve. None of these is very satisfactory.

Perhaps the best approach is to avoid whatever it was they accused you of, but go too far the other way. For instance, if you were accused of strictness or dullness, become utterly laid-back. Never give them any homework or do any grammar. Never pick up the student book. Play endless games until they are begging to sit down and do a grammar gap-fill. Let the final test be a complete surprise.

If your crime is unpunctuality, always arrive early and, while they were hoping to have a pre-lesson gossip, start at once. Keep the lesson going ten minutes over time (to compensate for the time they lost previously). Ostentatiously record the times latecomers arrive.

If you have been blasphemous or obscene, become pious and dull. Perhaps start the lesson with an interfaith prayer. “Oh Lord, we who are about to learn English ask for Thy blessings upon this class...” Frown if anyone makes a mildly risqué joke.

Naturally, they will soon be complaining about your new approach. But the DOS will not know what to say to you this time.

10 ways to get back at students who complain

  1. Fail them in the final test.
  2. Play no more games. Instead give them lots of grammar exercises, tests and extra homework.
  3. Play exhausting and embarrassing games, in which students have to run about, assume awkward postures, touch each other, mime, wear silly hats, make animal noises, and so forth. (Tell the DOS this is Total Physical Response.)
  4. Humiliate the ringleaders at every opportunity, eg mimicking their accents and ridiculing their clothes.
  5. Swap the class with an even stricter/duller/more lecherous teacher (if there is one).
  6. Let your colleagues know it is a “difficult” class, so nobody will want to teach it.
  7. Engage in “passive aggressive” behaviour: arrive late, forget the students’ names, lose their test papers and homework, leave the class for long periods, read a magazine, yawn, play with your mobile phone, pick your nose, fart loudly.
  8. Turn the air conditioning/heating up or down to uncomfortable levels.
  9. Play your favourite music (which they will hate) throughout lessons.
  10. Organize all sorts of well-publicized fun activities and trips with your other classes.

Of course, these may get you into even hotter water. But think how much you will enjoy doing them.