Thursday, November 8, 2007

On The Work Related Arena

I've heard tales of bloggers getting into trouble for writing about their work. Getting disciplined or sacked has been known to happen. It has has even happened to a friend of mine. So I've decided, coward that I am (?) that this will not be a blog whereon I will indulge in office gossip, office politics, or negative criticism related to my work place, or the people who work here.

Is this because I appreciate the money my employer plans to fire my way every month for the next eleven months? Yes, indeed. Absolutely. I thought I’d make that clear now in case you wonder why I don’t write negatively about my employer in the future.

Like many a soul beneath our moon, I'm a wage slave. As such, given my inability to create money out of thin air; given, moreover, my unwillingness to seek to procure the means of habitation and sustenance by ways that circumvent the ‘money system’ in a manner commonly referred to as ‘crime’, it seems I've little choice but to exhibit, at least by failing to be critical, the outward signs of an inward gratitude to the sources of my income for that income. For the requirement of this dutiful deference, I do not blame my company, but rather look reproachfully at the worldwide system of mechanised wage-slavery of which it, and indeed I, form a part. The fact that I don't have a reliable source of private income of my own is also, of course, acutely relevant. As is the broader, wider, deeper fact that we have to use this absurd, abstract stuff called money in the first place.

Anyway, from now on, if I significantly disapprove of something at work I shall try, on this blog at least, to pass over it in silence. To be the recipients of my private work related rants will be the function of my friends and family, if cause for this arises, and if I feel I will not bore them too much.

Maybe you are thinking: 'You're being over paranoid'. You may be right. But of course, I can’t know this. So I don't know this. On the other hand, I promise not to invent positive stories about my employer out of thin air. To be sycophantic towards my overlord is not my ambition.

By now you're perhaps supposing that I have something to be silent about; otherwise, why do I go to the trouble of the preceding paragraphs? As it happens, you'd be wrong. So far, beyond the normal, predictable ‘growing pains, and ‘wriggling in’ nuisances associated with starting work in a new place, everything has been fine. Really, it has been. Certainly better than I expected. Ok, it would be nice if the internet worked as well in my office, at my own desk, as it works in the classroom -though even there it’s slower than it could be. And I would like to be driven to and from work each day in a car like some teachers are, instead of in our small, somewhat cramped bus. But apart from that, conditions have been very acceptable. The people I work with are at various places on the scale from fine to great – which is just as well, since my extra-work social life is struggling in its infancy.

Just as welcome are the students I’ve so far been lucky enough to teach. Before I came out to the Gulf I’d heard that Gulf Arabs are not a pleasure to teach; that they are lazy, unmotivated and just don’t care; that because they're soaking in the wealth and privilege of oil they don’t need to better themselves and don’t need to learn English to get a better job, which is so different from the situation for students in Slovakia. Maybe the account I'd heard was a worst case scenario. But I heard it nevertheless. It conditioned my expectations. It’s true, those Gulf Arabs about whom I’d heard this were University students, not employees of the Oil industry as my students are. Before I started here, I’d suspected that the already employed, who actually need English for their work, as Kuwaitis in the oil industry do, might turn out to be more motivated and serious.

I can't speak about Kuwaiti university students, however. Whatever the reason may be, mine are certainly motivated and keen (as well as punctual, which always helps). This is nice and means I don’t have to over-play the role of entertainer, or be an arouser of attention; or, on the other hand, feel that I ought to be following the utterly demeaning, lamentable path of that which we in the educational profession try to disguise as something other than what it is: discipline and correction.

They certainly like to ask a lot of questions. Luckily, six years teaching experience and the manageable challenges of intermediate grammar have allowed these questions to be a stimulus to the rhythm and flow of the lessons, not irksome or embarrassing. My students are assiduous about detail. They are very keen to understand everything as well as they can. I’ve tried to keep them speaking as much as possible. They’ve liked this, I'm fairly sure.

I have two women in my class and four men. One of my students is very religious, in that he wears the robes and beard of the Wahabbis. He only joined us recently. Though pleasant he has a more somber countenance than the others, who are jollier. I wasn’t sure if he’d like doing what we in the business call ‘pair work’ with the women, so I haven’t tried putting them together. To my agreeable surprise, however, the women haven’t minded interacting with the other men, though usually they prefer sitting together. In Oman the women and men in my friend's classes sat segregated in separate sides of the classroom. In Saudi all lessons are all male or all female.

All of my students are Kuwaitis, except for one Egyptian man, the most fastidious learner of all. I can honestly say, so far at least, that they've been a pleasure to teach. They’ve made me feel welcome in Kuwait and have given me lots of useful tips and information about life here.

The use of the so called ‘interactive white board’ has been very helpful. All the contents of the book can be readily displayed on a screen, which certainly helps. Even better, I no longer have to cue CD's and tapes for the listenings.

I teach from 8 until 10.35am daily with two ten minute breaks. So not for very long, in other words. Indeed, I only teach 50% of my contracted hours, though this might change at any time. Indeed, it might very well next week. For the rest of the day I prepare lessons and have been looking over the exams. I have lunch, drink a lot of coffee and, when I’m not busy, make use of the internet facilites, which seem relatively unrestricted.

Some noteworthy aspects of work are:

We get brought coffee to our tables in the staff room by a Bangladeshi waiter
Indians do our photocopying for us. Though they are not always there to do it
As I enter and leave work, I pass my finger over a fingerprint machine
The canteen staff wear masks
The food is actually very good (in my opinion)
My students call me 'sir' - sometimes. They never did that in Slovakia.
A high proportion of the staff are British
Everyone I meet on the premises works for the oil industry in some capacity.
Today we had two false fire alarms. One was planned, the other went off on its own accord for mysterious, as yet uninvestigated, reasons.
I spend half an hour a day traveling to and from work - in a bus.
I always wear a tie

Now it's Thursday evening, which means the weekend has just begun. Until September 1st the weekend in Kuwait began on Wednesday evenings. Friday is the sacred day in Islam, so this was non-negotiable, but it was decided in that for business purposes it would be wise not to continue losing two Western business days a week. The Emirates was the third of the Arabian Peninsula countries to make this shift, in September 2006, after Bahrain and Qatar. Kuwait is the 4th. By making these changes, these lands now line up with the weekending customs of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

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