After A Year, I’m Nowhere Close To Being A Teacher


Indulge me, picture the scene. The sheets on my adequate double bed have come loose during the night and, despite the fact that I’ve got up and am drinking my second cup of strong coffee, I’m back in bed cursing the bedding. I’m wide-eyed at just gone 8am because Jodie Walker is close to beating me at Words With Friends and Baghdad appears to be fulfilling the worst-case-scenario that wasn’t anticipated for another month at least.

Since I arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan in May, without knowledge beyond the average western news reader, I’ve learnt one thing. Kurdistan is a story in itself; the people, the culture, the places, the tired old travelling cliches are enough to entertain a mildly curious English teacher with aspirations to report and strong desires for the dollars that clear the overdraft back home (I’ll get round to that just as soon as I’ve stopped having fun here, I promise Mr LloydsTSB). I work in “Iraq” even though I’m in this respectful, safe part of the middle east that isn’t, to all intents and purposes, Iraq, but Kurdistan – a “nation” seperate from the hell of recent years, finding its feet.

Teaching has been a learning experience. Just over a year ago I completed a month long CELTA course, the standard qualification for EFL teaching around the world. After almost a year, I’m still no teacher, no wonder most jobs require two years’ experience. Through circumstance I find myself here in Sulaymaniyah, the Kurdistan Region Government’s second city. I could go on, but the essential fact is that the PM of Iraq, as of Monday last, wants the Vice President tried on terrorism charges and the VP has chosen Kurdistan as refuge. And that shits me up. On top of not speaking to anyone in the know since Monday, holed up in my school/flat as I do of weekdays, this morning was rough.

The thing that really laced the boots of my tight-mindedness however, was the shitty lessons I delivered yesterday. Interrupted by film crews for an advert, late students and those too tired to care (so careless in fact that I set that elementary class homework – Show And Tell, stand in front of the class and speak on the topic I give you for 5 minutes), malaise had settled over me before I fell asleep last night, and by midday today I wanted to come home to avoid disrespectful students and possible kidnapping. I did NOT come out here for my demise to be a video sought out on the deeper reaches of the internet by some lardy SlipKnot fan from Ohio.

Three weeks ago I came across a lesson plan online for elementary students focussed around a Mr Bean Christmas episode. It’s quaint for us English, but is loved around the world, especially in somewhere as conservative as the middle east. That careless elementary class had actually progressed well this week, and I’d run out of material. I made a bet with the demotivated, slightly scared self lay in bed with his third too-strong coffee. They provide homework, they get Mr Bean. They don’t, they do photocopied exercises all lesson. A pretty grim failing on my part, but I’m still learning.

I went into the lesson before theirs, armed with too much to get through and a worry that they just weren’t up to it. Self-doubt competed with resignation – I’m going to have to leave Iraq soon enough, it’s all about ME. But it felt like I walked into one of those pier-end arcade machines where you make the coppers waterfall – pennies dropped consistently for two hours. 3rd person singular present simple – DONE. Use of auxiliary “do” with negatives and questions – DONE. Uncountable and countable nouns, positive and negative – DONE. Pronouncing “six” and “next” correctly – DONE. Golly fucking gosh.

My customary two hour break on a Thursday was spent readying the Mr Bean YouTube clip – if lesson one went that well, lesson two would have Atkinson, homework or not. I’m cruising to Christmas baby, and I want giggles.

So they arrived, I taught them peculiar Christmas vocabulary and they looked at me like the pillock I am. But one student hadn’t arrived, and I was so keen to deliver my little gift of idiot to the whole class. I asked, without expectation, “Who’s going to give their speech first?” Of the four available students, six hands went up. Whilst not flawless, these four delivered interesting speeches about their lives, and the audience shot questions that were on the whole fielded with ease. I can’t tell you how good it felt.

Actually, I can. It felt so good that I didn’t feel like Mr Bean was an indulgence for me more than them. Mr Bean was a reward. I’ve got a long way to go, but I rather think I might get the hang of this teaching thing.

Oh, and Iraq? I got out of the building tonight, saw my friends that know. I’m safe. Safe and happy, although there is one thing…….

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