Thus endeth the lesson

This coming Monday I will be thinking about a woman I have never met who will teach for the first time my last student whom she has never met.

Final lesson of my teaching career until October (and maybe final one of all?) took place yesterday evening.

My private student in Weinfelden (See: No smile zones) will from next week onwards be learning English with another teacher at a school in nearby Konstanz.

I gave up on this adult man, a driving instructor, as despite nearly two years working together, he is making very little progress.

Now, one might argue, is not his lack of progress the teacher’s fault?

I disagree.

In my experience, a success of a teacher is dependent upon the personality of the student.

If a student is truly motivated to learn, then he/she will devote the energy and time needed to make this learning a reality.

And, herein, lies the crux of the problem I have had of late with teaching in Switzerland, or at least northeastern Switzerland.

Switzerland, in a desire to keep Swiss jobs for Swiss people, creates a system where all positions require high, and often Swiss-specific, qualifications.

So, for example, though I was able to teach legal English at the University of Osnabrück in Germany, my qualifications and experience are considered inferior to do the same in a Swiss university.

My wife, a highly-educated and qualified German doctor, is still required to get more Swiss-specific training to qualify as a Swiss doctor.

So, short of getting further expensive (especially as a foreigner) education and qualifications, I am left with “cowboy” schools – small private institutions.

Herein lies phenomena of difficulty:

First, many of these schools, though they will hire native speakers to teach their language courses, view their teachers as solely a means to enrich their pocketbooks, so anytime a conflict between student and teacher arises, the student who creates income for the school will always be superior to the teacher who demands income from the school.

Second, private schools carry with them the idea that money automatically buys qualifications.

If I pay thousands of Swiss francs for a course, then automatically I should get the qualifications I paid for.

For many private students, this idea does not include the additional expenditure of time and effort to actually merit the qualifications.

For many, education is like a cup of coffee, available upon demand.

For many, education should be entertaining and quick rather than time-demanding and thought-requiring.

Three, these “cowboy” schools view anything that requires additional financial expediture on their part without automatic return on investment as a waste of money.

For example, at one school I taught at, I offered, at no salary cost to the school, additional assistance to my Cambridge Certificate course students.

Despite ensuring a greater success rate for the students taking the examinations, and though it only cost the use of electricity at a time when the school was normally closed, my employer rejected the idea because he could not see the immediate financial return from using his facilities for practice exam sessions.

It never dawned on the man that there were positive long term benefits to a happy and satisfied successful clientele.

Four, many “cowboy” schools will accept a student for a course whether that student is appropriate, personality or level, for that course.

If testing is done at all, what counts more is the willingness of the student to pay or the needs of the school to fill the classroom.

For all the flaws that working at a place like Starbucks may possess, at first glance, at least what is offered is honest and relatively straightforward.

No mention of future benefits or rewards is suggested to a coffee consumer.

Private schools promise a painless paradise of unlimited potential and secured success.

Only the idea that the coffee consumer might enjoy what he/she will purchase is suggested at a Starbucks.

A consumer of a latte does not expect his coffee to lead to riches and glory.

I have announced to my little world of personal contacts that it is my intention to spend four days a week in Geneva from 1 October for the next three to four years while my wife lives and works in Zürich four days a week at this time.

We will both return to work in northeastern Switzerland, she at the hospital in Münsterlingen for Fridays and the occasional weekend, next to the town where we live, and I at the St. Gallen Starbucks for weekend shifts.

A previous visit to Geneva and correspondence that followed lead me to hope that future teaching work is more readily available there than has been the case for me here.

But, of course, “the proof is in the pudding”, only the reality of actual contracts and timetables will prove the sanity of this hope.

So, yes, there is an element of chance, a gambler’s false optimism involved, a suggestion that the grass will be greener on the other side of the country simply because a change in venue will have taken place.

But, at present, for me, a change in environment will hopefully lead to a change in perspective, maybe even a change in potential.

So, I bid adieu to Weinfelden, that no-smile zone, and my private student therein, and wish both much happiness and success.

As for me, I turn my eyes westward, foolishly or not.

Wish me luck?


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