Teaching in Bucharest, Romania

In this article from our occasional series Another Day in the Life… guest writer Michael Tate describes a day teaching in Romania, where he's been for the last three years.

I’ve always been an early bird and I’ve always appreciated free time in the mornings. I’ve never been one to fall out of bed ten minutes before a lesson, drag a comb through my hair, pull on last night’s t-shirt and stumble through the door toast in one hand, lesson plans in the other. I’ve known teachers like this and I’m not one of them. I’ve had students who’ve had teachers like this and I know the effect coffee breath and stale sweat have on your student attendance level. Being self-employed I like to be fresh, smart and well-presented. It’s true what they say – you are only as good as your last lesson. So, today, like every other day, I wake up naturally at about half six.

Kettle on, PC on, balcony door open and a little look outside. It’s a lovely June morning in Bucharest, the sky is blue and the air is yet to be overcome with the sounds of traffic, construction dust and car fumes. The kettle whistles and I pour a coffee and settle down to prepare my files for the day. I travel to my students’ offices so I rarely have time to come home during the day. It takes me about an hour today. I have almost a decade of exercises, lessons, reading comprehensions and handouts on the PC so mostly it’s a case of thinking, choosing and pressing ‘print’. The only lesson I have to prepare from scratch is for a complete beginner.

After finishing my lesson planning I make a decent breakfast (might not have time for lunch), a cup of tea and mail the day’s students to remind them they have a lesson and ask them to phone me if there’s a problem. Then I browse a few sites, read a paper online, and maybe catch the morning news on the box. Finally I head for the shower, shave, spruce myself up and put on my suit. As I visit people in their offices I find that a professional appearance makes a big difference. I try to portray myself as a ‘professional linguistic trainer’. It makes no difference. I do what we all do. It just sounds better and I can justify the higher fees!

I leave the house at about 9.15 and jump on the tram for the centre of town. I’m lucky today and I get a seat. There’s a bus that goes in that direction too but it’s always hot and crowded so I prefer to spend an extra ten minutes on the tram but have the luxury of a pew. I flip open my book and do my best to ignore the group of cretins behind me playing ‘manele’ (an abominable variety of music normally involving overweight short dark guys in shades singing songs like ‘I love my money’ and ‘Cash cash cash’ whilst surrounded by semi-naked 18-year old dancers) on their mobile phones.

I arrive at the office at 10 and start my first one-hour private. My student is an economist. She’s very dedicated, always does her homework, and almost never cancels a lesson and only then with good cause. If only they were all like her!

After her lesson I jump on the bus for two stations and arrive at another office. Two lessons here – the first a husband and wife team from IBM preparing for the FCE exam in June. Easy lesson and a little different to the normal slog through the grammar as it’s more skills-based. She has completed lots of exercises and prepared a list of questions, he has done nothing.

In the same location, after them, is a small group of three intermediate students. Absolutely lovely people and this time they have come laden with chocolates from their weekend trip to Barcelona. At the end of the lesson I get a call from the HR manager from the next client, a fashion company with whom I have 18 hours a week all contracted and paid for regardless of cancellations (excellent work if you can get it), to tell me that my student can’t attend. Fair enough as she had a baby only three weeks previously and despite this still makes at least half of her lessons!. That’s determination for you. Another accountant. I decide that I want more female accountants as students.

Now I have a minor problem. The time is two o’clock and the next lesson is at five in the north of the city. I could go home and potter about for an hour and then leave again but it’s hardly worth it. Luckily the group I’ve just finished with overhear my phone conversation and ask me if my next class is cancelled, and upon finding out it is they invite me to lunch. We all head out to a lovely local restaurant with a beautifully planted-up garden. I have a bowl of soup followed by a spicy grilled chicken. They have soup and pizza. They are very pleased to have the opportunity to spend another two hours practicing their English and I’m very pleased for the relaxing and free lunch. Everyone’s a winner!

After lunch I jump on the metro and arrive at my last student’s house. She’s a lawyer, married to the MD of one of my other clients (all my students have come through recommendations so in some obscure way I can connect any student to any other student). She’s the complete beginner. She’s making good progress after only a few months. She knows a lot of the theory now and is very clever and works hard on the exercises. The problem is that we knew each other before she became a student and so she knows that my Romanian is pretty good. I have to frequently turn stupid in the lessons to force her to try things out in English. She’s very smart…but needs a lot more confidence. Another reliable student though.

The lesson lasts an hour and a half and I get home about eight. It’s been a long day but I feel satisfied and nicely worn out. After the big and unexpected lunch I just make myself a salad (need to lose weight anyway), pour myself a cold beer (yes, ok, don’t say it!) and put my feet up for a while.

Today was a good day – busy and with the good students. Not all days are like this. Other days I get lazy reluctant students who rarely do any work and have be forced to attend by their superiors, I get bundled around on the buses and trams, sweating like a pig in my suit because the locals are afraid to open the windows because they believe draughts kills, even though it’s 40 degrees inside the tram. I get all the rude cashiers in the shops and I come home hating my job, the city, the transport and the weather!

At least every day is different. Monotony would kill me.

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