From Ellen in Gdynia, Poland: “Is that all?”
Startled and relieved, most of the 22 students I interviewed to evaluate their spoken English ended our brief conversation in this way. Bright, engaging kids in their 20s and early 30s, they’d already taken a battery of written tests which left most of them feeling intimidated.
Each initially eyed me warily. At the request of the school, I’d made a list of questions to ask the students to initiate conversation, ranging from “What is your greatest achievement to date?” to “Which living person do you most admire?” but I quickly dumped them. No need: “Tell me about yourself” worked just fine.
They relaxed and chatted easily for the 10 minutes or so we had. In several cases, I was sorry to have to cut the conversation short. Such interesting people, all of them. One young woman was just back from a long stay in China. Another, a kid about 23, totally broke me up with a story about an April Fool’s Day prank which cost him a junk job in London.
So now, duly evaluated and split into several groups, Eric, a young Californian, and I are teaching these bank employees. The first week has gone well, I’d say, except the two of us faced a small moral dilemma.
What do you do when your employers hire a notorious lunatic?
Closing the little conference room after class Wednesday, I walked toward reception, and there he was, standing out like a juggler at a funeral: kinky ponytail, striped knee trousers, violently colored T-shirt.
“Ellen!” Joel bellowed, grabbing me in a bear hug.
Oy. I wasn’t planning to ignore him; I mean, how could I. But this was a pretty over the top greeting for a mere acquaintance.
“What are you doing here?” I asked with dread.
“Same as you, going to teach,” he said, punctuating the statement with a madman laugh.
That laugh. Those feverish eyes. And the stories I’ve heard! For example, his dismissal from a private school. Joel was telling his students increasingly wacky stories. The end came the day he confided to them that he left North America because the CIA planted a microchip in his brain.
On the way back to Gdynia, Eric and I discussed him. He, too, had heard all about Joel and had trepidation about his joining us.
“You think we should tell Agnieszka?”
Agnieszka and Rafael, who run this branch of the school, are two of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. They treat their teachers as thoughtfully and kindly as their clients. Agnieszka was actually unhappy with me for getting off my butt and making my own photocopies the other day. Neither Eric nor I liked the idea of their hiring of Joel blowing up in their faces.
Still – what do you do? There is the chance that Joel desperately needs the income. He could have turned down the volume of lunacy and might be able to function for awhile.
Doubtful, though. Some two hours after Eric and I arrived at the school and busied ourselves with preparatory work, Joel joined us. He lounged at the table, rifling through the material, grumbling and complaining. And announcing plans to go to Canada for the summer, because there is “no work in Poland”.
“We’re contracted here through the end of 2008,” I reminded him, surprised.
“Oh, this,” he snorted, “not nearly enough to keep me!”
Maybe a case of quitting before he begins?
(Copyright 2008 by Ellen Dlott)