Archive for the ‘The teacherless class’ Category

A New Dawn

September 1, 2019 Leave a comment

The koan

A certain Bowie, first name Derek, was beginning as the new Director of Studies. He had a terrible stutter. The staff went more pallid than an uncooked Steak Bake when they heard Derek wax lyrical about ch-ch-ch-changes. Why did everything have to change? Why couldn’t things just stay the same?

Why, indeed? Who’s asking?


Oh lord, please don’t let me be Miss Understood. The teachers of the Centre were way off-centre with their idea that everything needed to be parked where it all began. Why does everything have to ch-ch-ch-change? Who said it has to? And yet…and yet…it moves. The English file change under threat. But not moving makes you a much easier target. I hear the bows bending under the force of the archers’ fingers. Now I hear a swoosh. I pat my pockets forlornly. Sorry buddy, I say to future you, I don’t have any change on me right now and I thought you didn’t like change anyway? Future you says to me, well, I prefer notes. Take note of this then – Canute tried to teach people like you a long time ago. And then he burnt the cakes. Luckily a spider in the cave showed him the whey to an abandoned bowl of curds. This is the final stop. GET OFF THE BUS, HERACLITUS! The bus? Which one? Oh. We’re here at Argos. Let’s buy Jason a new boat.

This be the verse

And if you think I’m ready
You may lead me to the chasm
Where the rivers of our visions
Flow into one another

Categories: The teacherless class

Grouse’s Maxim

August 22, 2019 Leave a comment

The koan

Pity poor McDougall. Every day the same thing. Every week the same day. Every month the same week. Every year the same month. I wanna do this, I wanna do that. He stops the mouth of Fukuman and says, “What exactly do you wanna do?”

Fukuman stops suddenly, enlightened by the Scottish sensei. “Not this,” she says. Saying so, the apprentice becomes the expert.

The erstwhile expert takes his turn sucking at the teat of enlightenment. He was going to suggest a game of Pictionary, but the words dry up in his mouth like a teardrop in the Mojave.


Come on, dude. Who wants this? These days they are out there, but you have to look carefully. Don’t look in their eyes because that will tell you nothing. Think back. Would you want this? Did you ever want this? I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. At times it feels like my worst enema. If you find one out there, cling tightly to them because they are rare and are worth every penny you wish you got at the end of the month. But there is hope. The secret to remember is that whatever you do to support those who don’t want it is exactly the same thing you need to do to support those who can’t get enough of it.

The verse

Slam your body down

and wind it all around
Slam your body down

and zigazig ah

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And one day when we’re older we’ll look back and say there’s no-one

The koan

MacDougal’s grandmother was coming to stay. While he tried to keep family away from work, mindful of the injunction to always count your chickens before they match, there was no getting around it this time. The old dear owned the company so she could hardly be kept away.

It was on the 31st day of the month that she had shown up. She was tired, passive and far from perfect. But she was a relative, claws and all. She was the genuine article. The first condition he had made of her was that she speak to the assembled students about her time during the war. It was a brief talk, largely owing to her having been born within the borders of a neutral country twenty years after the war had ended. The second condition was to say what she would do if she won a million pounds. Bank it, was the answer. The third condition was to reflect on her past and revisit her worst mistakes.

The students loved her. The teachers adored her. MacDougal thought there was probably more to it all than she could ever offer.


The cheap jokes are never the best. The best jokes are never the best either, come to think of it. So she’s a grandmother. Aren’t they all? All of them? Grand mothers all. Would you sell your mother for a grand? What would you do if you won a million pounds. Hold the mother of all parties. Is the grandmother of all parties even wilder still? Where are the fathers? A colony of praying mantises tries to look innocent. For those who are wondering what the hell is going on – get on the boat to Cuba and overthrow the dictator. Read the paper, goddamn it and then teach Murphy how to suck eggs.

This be the verse

Mi madre no sabía cómo yo lo había pasado,

se creía que todo yo me lo había gozado
Y se atrevió a preguntar que cuándo yo volvía pa’ allá
Y yo le dije: -mira, como dentro de treinta años más!!.
Yo no sé si es que mi abuela tiene mucha resistencia
O yo no puedo soportarla porque no tengo paciencia

Categories: The teacherless class

MacDougal and unhappiness

November 8, 2017 Leave a comment


In his new role as Quality Commissar, MacDougal observed a lesson and found it to be pants. How to tell the teacher that his pants were soiled?

“You’ve got a nice rapport,” he began, “But there are a couple of things I noticed that you could possibly do better.”

Now the teacher is scowling.

MacDougal thinks we all want to do better. But why is the teacher crying?


MacDougal was not a boss boss. Doing his best often resulted in the worst. But the worst of times were the best of times. Or were the best times the worst? Debate rages on to the east about where to find the best wurst. The west is burst. These are all just words. Just, worst, burst, wurst. Of course, there’s nothing “just” about words. No words, no world. Wait! That’s not true.

Is it?


I might be a king and steal my people’s things
But I don’t go for that power-crazy way
All that I could rule but I don’t check for fools
All that I need is to be left to live my way
(Say listen what I say)

Categories: The teacherless class

MacDougal and the Machine

May 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Numbers are lower than hoped for. The boss determines that it is time to offer students more hours for more money.

“Absurd!” cries MacDougal. “It’ll never work!”

“I hear your cries,” spoke Big Chief Little, “but work it must and I trust you to deliver.”

To build support for the initiative, all existing students are offered free upgrades.

MacDougal stands enlightened, but dejected.


What makes a student underachieve. MacDougal thinks he knows, but doesn’t know what can be done. The boss knows what can be done, but doesn’t know what makes a student underachieve. Students know that underachievement is the bane of their lives and this makes them underachieve even more. They sign up for the extra hours, but never attend their classes.

Does more work work? Do students do more work when they need more work? Is more work ever the answer? Is language learning work? Will this bold initative work? What does work mean? Is teaching work? Just what makes Rihanna an expert on work, work, work? Is twerking working? For you? For me? Would shaking his hips make MacDougal feel less dejected? Is enlightenment ever a good thing?


You took my heart and my keys and my patience
You took my heart on my sleeve for decoration
You mistaken my love I brought for you for foundation
All that I wanted from you was to give me
Something that I never had
Something that you’ve never seen
Something that you’ve never been!

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Placement testing

January 28, 2016 Leave a comment


The new students edged into the room gingerly. MacDougal was waiting for them. The protocol required that they undergo a test to see what level they had reached in their long exploration of language learning.

“Where is the cat?” he barked.

The irony was not lost on Shou Mi. He went into the top level group.

“Which is the bigger garden?” he probed.

“My name is Monday,” said…errr…Monday.

Monday went to level 2.

“And you,” shouted MacDougal, “why do you say nothing?”

“I’m the new teacher,” said Mr Landfill.

“Then it’s Level 1 for you.”


Why are koans never bloody simple? What is to be gained from sitting around trying to uncover the hidden meaning that lies within? Within what exactly? EXACTLY! And suppose the whole universe was nothing more than a typo.

What makes Monday any better than Shou Mi. Was MacDougal wrong about his new pedagogical partner? Perhaps Mr Landfill should have protested more? But he was a Canadian and far too polite.

Can you be too polite?

Ask a Norwegian anarchist.


Looking back, it’s so bizarre
It runs in the family
All the things we are
On the back seat of the car
With Joseph and Emily
We only see so far
And we all have our daddy’s eyes

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What do I do?

January 18, 2016 Leave a comment


At the dinner party the guest to his right turned to MacDougal. “So, tell me. What do you do?”

“Err…I’m a teacher,” he guessed.

“Great! What do you teach?”

“Humans,” he replied, only slightly puzzled.

“That’s amazing! Can you teach me?”

He wasn’t even on the clock. And here they were…always scrabbling around for whatever they could get from him. He laughed.

“What do you do yourself?”


What do you do? How do you do? Does a man have to do what a man has to do? Are you really damned if you do and damned if you don’t? What do you do? What? Do you? Do you do? What a to do!


Zou bisou bisou
Zou bisou bisou, mon Dieu qu’ils sont doux
Zou bisou bisou

Categories: The teacherless class

How to teach CELTA – a koan

January 13, 2016 Leave a comment


The start of the CELTA training class. The trainer gives the students the koan, “So, how do you teach?

The students assume that this is a rhetorical question.

So much to learn at the start, in the middle and at the end.


I’m waiting.


So many people with so many questions. Write a book, for chrissakes. Oh. You have? How do you write? Is it even writing when you bang it out on a keyboard? You know, Socrates was not entirely off the mark when he gave the mike to Thamus. Don’t know what I’m on about? GOOGLE IT AND READ THE BOOK. Oh.

The best answer is always mind your own business.


Because I’m easy come, easy go
Little high, little low
Any way the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me,

to me

Categories: The teacherless class

MacDougal ruins the weekend

September 18, 2015 Leave a comment


MacDougal woke from a heavy slumber. He saw how his slobber had leaked onto the papers and he felt more connected to them than he wanted to be.

He ripped his flattened cheek from the desk and looked ahead. The faces of the students were staring at him. One of the students looked just like him. He rubbed his eyes. The student rubbed his eyes too. MacDougal started to speak, “Sor…”. The student started to speak too. MacDougal clamped his hand over his mouth. The student’s hands both stayed where they were. On the ends of his arms.

“What shall we do today?”


Oh, you recalcitrant readers! Where now your thoughts? Where now your questions? Where now, more bloody importantly, your answers? Only you can provide the insight that opens the koan. When is a koan not a koan? When it is ajar. So open it, my gatekeepers!

What kind of teacher is MacDougal, sleeping on the job? Should we sack him?

Does he have a twin in the class? Who is that mysterious student? What’s wrong with his hands?

Who asks the questions? What is the answer?


Wake me up, before you go go

Cos I’m not planning on going solo.

Wake me up before you go go.

Take me dancing tonight.

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MacDougal and the coursebook

September 1, 2015 Leave a comment


Mr Gowan plugs his way methodically through the coursebook. After exercise 1, the class do exercise 2. After page 3, the class do page 4. After Unit 5, the class do Unit 6. End-of-unit tests are administered faithfully. Laughter can be heard from the classroom on an enviably regular basis. Students are desperate to join the class.

Across the corridor, in Mr Meedle’s class, the students never use the coursebook. Mr Meedle doesn’t approve of such things. He works like billy-o, the prolific worker, to make sure that he has materials that are up-to-scratch and relevant to the students’ lives. His efforts are not always appreciated. Students stare wistfully at the class on the other side of the corridor where the doors are always open.

Miss Gille never uses the coursebook either. In fact, she doesn’t really know how to use a coursebook. In fact, it is never that clear what she does use. The students aren’t much help in finding out. They shrug their shoulders and say they just do the usual. Nobody asks to move into her classes. Nobody from her classes has ever complained.

Which one of them should we keep on for next year?


Ah, life at the top. Big decisions are always hard to make and all decisions are big. What will you have for tea tonight? Is ha-ha more important than ho-hum or are the big prizes reserved for Huh? Caught between Scylla and Our Graham, the choice is yours.


Will it be chips or jacket spuds?

Will it be salad or frozen peas?

Will it be mushrooms?

Fried onion rings? 

You’ll have to wait and see!

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