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Workshops

As every teacher knows, DOSes like nothing better than to organize workshops. Either they lead them themselves or they bully a hapless senior teacher into doing it. Occasionally there is a visiting bore from a prestigious institution, like International Hut, Barcelona.

Workshops are always held at times calculated to cause the maximum inconvenience and discomfort to teachers, eg Friday afternoons or Monday mornings. There is a three-line whip. Absentees get their salaries docked.

The subjects of workshops vary enormously. It could be something mind-boggling like Ellipsis And Whether An Insistence On Sentence-Level Utterances From Students Reflects The Realities Of Native-Speaker Use, or a more homely topic like Singing Songs With The Under-Fives. It is no use protesting in the latter case that you only teach adults. Your DOS smiles sweetly and suggests you might find it useful in your “future career” (whatever that is).

When the workshop is due to start, teachers are found huddled in the school kitchen, drinking coffee, gossiping and whinging about having to get out of bed. The DOS enters with a sjambok and drives them into the workshop.

Workshops are usually held in a classroom. This gives teachers an opportunity to inspect the shoddy displays of work done by their colleagues. Chairs are arranged in a horseshoe. Teachers enter bearing mugs of coffee and sit as far from the DOS and the workshop leader as possible.

If the workshop is to be led by a teacher, the other teachers mutter things like, “Oh God, what does she know about anything?” and “I hope she won’t go on as long as last time.” If it is a visiting bore, the teachers stare sullenly at this stranger (some sad git who has written a few articles and probably earns more than them) with a mixture of resentment and distrust.

The DOS glares round the room, zapping everyone with laser vision, and the teachers fall silent, apart from slurping their coffee.

Workshops always follow the same format. Participants are put into pairs or groups to come up with ideas on subjects they know nothing about. They then have to report back to the whole group. The workshop leader receives their absurd, ignorant contributions with lots of nodding and smiling and comments like, “Hmm, yes, interesting point, I’ve never thought of it quite that way before.”

After he has successfully demonstrated that nobody knows anything worth mentioning, the leader tries eliciting the correct answers via some unsubtle hints. In fact, workshops are modelled precisely on English lessons. The leader (like the teacher) is never meant to explain anything.

In every school there will be a Keen Teacher, who hopes to become a DOS some day. He or she begs to lead workshops on subjects close to the DOS’s heart. If someone else is doing it, the Keen Teacher asks umpteen questions and volunteers answers at every opportunity, while the other teachers glance at each other and mime vomiting.

At the end of the workshop, if the DOS is in an unusually good mood, there might be pizza. This is brought in 15 minutes before the end, while the workshop leader is “putting it all together” (droning on at length). Teachers immediately start salivating and calculating how many pieces they can grab. All eyes (except the DOS’s, the workshop leader’s and the Keen Teacher’s) are on the pizza boxes. The leader senses a certain restlessness and tries speaking more loudly or telling a joke or asking for questions. But it is no use. You might as well lecture a shoal of piranhas that have just sighted a swimmer.

Finally, the DOS gives a barely perceptible signal that the workshop is over and the teachers hurl themselves at the pizza. Five minutes later, nothing is left and teachers who got only one piece are recriminating with their colleagues. If there is a visiting bore, he watches these proceedings with some distaste, before being escorted to a posh restaurant by the DOS for a slap-up feed at the school’s expense.

The only way to enjoy workshops is to lead them. This gives you the opportunity to humiliate your colleagues, by showing the DOS how stupid they are and by making them do the sorts of tiresome activities they usually inflict on their students.