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Aunt Agatha’s Problem Page for Puzzled Pedagogues

Dear Aunt Agatha

I teach English in a secondary school to classes of 40 bored and disruptive adolescents, who for the most part have no interest in learning English. It is hell. For personal reasons I can’t move to another school. What should I do?



Dear Troubled

Discipline is basically a combination of the carrot and the stick and, let us face it, learning to speak English is not much of a carrot, is it? You will have to resort to the stick.

Sadly, corporal punishment is not as fashionable in some countries as it once was, otherwise you could thrash the ringleaders to within an inch of their lives. Instead, you will have to be more creative with the depleted arsenal of punishments at your disposal: detentions, extra homework, running round the football pitch, letters to parents, etc.

Some teachers terrify their classes into silence simply by acquiring a reputation for unbridled savagery. You could encourage a rumour to circulate that you had to leave another school, after you almost killed an insolent student. Try rolling your eyes alarmingly and frothing at the mouth (use toothpaste) from time to time. Then hastily swallow some pills (an aspirin jar full of mints).

When the students are sufficiently in awe of you, give them stuff to do from their textbooks while you idle away the hours with a magazine, a Walkman and your knitting.

Dear Aunt Agatha

I am working as an English teacher because it’s the only way I can stay in this country, which has some great waves for surfing. It was OK when I was teaching the lower levels and kids’ classes, but now the DOS has given me some high levels to teach. I just can’t get my head round all that grammar. What should I do?



Dear Anxious

Do not teach any grammar at all. Concentrate on vocabulary, functions and pronunciation. Argue that any grammar should emerge from the lesson content, not dictate it. Smile condescendingly whenever a student asks a grammar question (or your boss wonders why you are not teaching any). If students really want to know “all that stuff”, hand them a copy of Swan.

Dear Aunt Agatha

I have just failed the Celta. What should I do now?



Dear Hopeless

You must be exceptionally stupid or lazy, or both. No matter—the Celta can be simply and cheaply forged in various places. While you are about it, you might as well pick up a ELT diploma and an MA in Linguistics. Memorize a few buzzwords from a journal like IAWAFL Voices and do some creative editing of your CV. Then that lucrative contract in Saudi Arabia could be yours.

Dear Aunt Agatha

The children keep sticking the Cuisenaire rods up the hamster’s bottom. What should I do?



Dear Rachel

Isn’t that what Cuisenaire rods are for? So long as the hamster appears to be enjoying it, I would not worry.