Called to the principal’s office . . .

On Thursday I got in trouble for the first time in my teaching career (it took less than two months – go me). The short story is that I cancelled a class and the student complained to BTL (my school).

If you want the long story, read on.

On Thursday August 19th, I discovered that I would have to go to London for an afternoon (for reasons that shall remain undisclosed for the time being). On my calendar, the most suitable day was Tuesday the 24th, as I had a class at 9:00-10:30, and another at 4:30-6:00. I asked a couple of girls in the teachers’ room about cancelling classes, and they assured me that most students didn’t mind rescheduling.

Unfortunately I didn’t know the student in question – I happened to be waiting for my first class with her while I was trying to organise all of this. All I knew was what Lisa* from the planning department had told me:

“She’s a bit upset because she’s had to change teachers over her last two cycles.”

I was taking over a cycle from another teacher who had already had five lessons with this student. The previous teacher’s notes had said that the book the student had was Market Leader Intermediate, but the notes covering what she’d done in the lessons all referred to units taken from other books, so I didn’t know where she was up to. I planned a lesson around a unit on Ethics. As this was unit 11, I figured I would be fine.

The student, Kate, arrived for her class thirty minutes late. I introduced myself and, when I took out the Ethics unit, she complained that she had already done it with Timothy (one of her former teachers) on a previous cycle the year before. I apologised and explained that I only had the notes from the current cycle, which said that the teacher hadn’t used this book.

Kate went into a 10 minute rant about how disorganised BTL was, how inconvenient it was for her to keep changing teachers, and how she had friends who had the same teachers for 2-3 years. “I have had four teachers in two years, and every time it is the same thing and they don’t know what the teacher before has done!”

“A problem with learning English is that teachers from outside of Europe are usually on limited visas, which means they have to leave at some point,” I explained. “Maybe you could request a teacher from the UK for your next course? That way you wouldn’t need to worry about their visa expiring.”

“Oh, but Timothy was English,” she said.

I shrugged helplessly.

She then asked me how long my visa was valid.

A bit taken aback, I replied vaguely, “oh, don’t worry, I still have a few months left.” (It’s valid until June 2011.)

“And how long will you stay in Paris?”

“I’m not sure . . .” I said. Regular readers will know that Paris has been a little bit of a struggle, so I still haven’t decided whether I’ll stay here for the whole year, and I didn’t want to lie to Kate. Moral of the story – always lie!

I then had the nerve to ask which chapter in the book Kate was up to, and she sighed and said that I should have had the notes from the previous cycle.

“Okay, let’s do some listening then,” I changed the subject and we spent the rest of the lesson listening to and discussing The Ethicist podcasts.

By the end of the lesson she seemed much perkier, so this was when I dropped the bombshell – I needed to reschedule Tuesday’s lesson.

Kate was not happy – “why did BTL schedule a lesson this day if you could not do it?”

“It’s my fault, not BTL’s,” I said, and explained that I hadn’t put the trip to London in my calendar, so BTL didn’t know. As she was going away for the second half of the next week, I gave her the times I was free on Friday and Monday, as well as my phone number. She took it and, although she didn’t look happy with the situation, she seemed to have accepted it.

I returned to the teachers’ room and sent her an email confirming my availabilities. Problem solved – or so I thought.

On Friday night she emailed back saying that the times weren’t convenient for her, so I figured we’d just push the class to the end of her cycle.

On Tuesday, I had a call from Lisa at BTL when I was on my way to Gare du Nord confirming whether I’d cancelled Kate’s class, as I’d left it in my calendar. I said yes, and that I was unavailable for the rest of the day. The trip to London went smoothly – the only hitch was that my (dying) phone refused to make or send calls – and I did everything I needed to do before I reluctantly returned to Paris.

I got back to my place in the 18th a bit after midnight, and my phone started working again. I had two messages and one missed call from BTL. I checked the messages and could hear Lisa from planning sounding rather stressed:

“Hi Jolie, it’s Lisa from BTL. I was ringing because, talking to you earlier, I realised that you’d said yes to an intensive this evening from 6:30 to 8:00, and now I no longer know whether you’re coming to do it or not, so I need you to ring me back urgently to let me know because otherwise I’m going to have to find another teacher. Please ring me back in the next half an hour. Thanks, bye.”

“Hi Jolie, it’s Lisa from BTL. Just letting you know that we’ve found another teacher for that intensive from 6:30 to 8:00. Thanks, bye.”

I’d completely forgotten. Generally the planning department puts new classes into our calendars and I’d forgotten to chase this one up when it hadn’t appeared.

I then opened my work email and had a meeting request from Renée, the pedagogical coordinator, for Thursday morning regarding feedback on a conversation that I had with Kate, the student whose class I cancelled.

Oh crap, I’m getting fired, I thought before I settled down for a poor night’s sleep.

On Thursday, Renée took me into one of the small classrooms at BTL’s office. She put a notepad on a table and said, “so, we’ve had a student complain.”

I nodded, “I assume it’s about Tuesday’s class?”

“Well, that’s one of the things.”

One of the things?! I balked inwardly – what else had I done?

“So why don’t you tell me about what happened on Thursday’s class from your point-of-view?” Renée asked, her pen at the ready.

I told Renée about how I’d made the mistake of preparing a chapter that Timothy had already done with Kate, and then opened her file to show that there was no record of this. I then said that when I’d asked Kate where she was up to in the book, she complained about how disorganised BTL was. I said that we’d had a listening lesson using podcasts after she’d finished letting off steam, and that I thought it had gone well from that point.

Renée told me that Kate had complained about me being unprepared and disorganised, but that I’d explained that, and said that Kate had said that I was unclear about whether my visa was running out soon, and that I’d implied that I might be leaving BTL.

I admitted that I’d been surprised about the visa question and had responded vaguely, but I didn’t say anything about leaving BTL.

Renée leaned back and asked, “so, are you considering leaving BTL? Are you happy here?”

I answered honestly, “I really love teaching and I like BTL, so I’m not planning to go to another school, but living in Paris is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I have no money, because I just started working in July and didn’t have many hours, and I only have my current room until the end of the month and I haven’t found anything new yet, which is a bit stressful. Everyone keeps saying that September will be better, but it’s a bit hard for me to see that as I’ve only been working over the summer.”

Renée then started being very mother-like towards me – Renée has always been lovely, but I was expecting a stern talking-to, and this unexpected kindness caused me to tear up a little bit.

Renée told me that BTL often offers interest-free loans to teachers and said that they could help me with a deposit, and she also said that if I was desperate at the end of the month that she had a room I could rent for a week or two. I think my situation may have stopped her from being as harsh on me as she would have been otherwise – she didn’t even mention the intensive class that I missed, or the fact that I hadn’t been answering my phone on Tuesday.

She then reminded me that I had to book holiday leave through the official process – even if it was just for half a day – as then BTL would be able to cover classes, or make judgements about which students could be rescheduled. My judgement was off – BTL had to give Kate free lessons and a new teacher in compensation. I must say I’m a little relieved about her getting a new teacher – I think out next lesson would have been a little awkward.

So, from now on I’m going to be a very good girl and will follow the official process any time I want to do anything slightly out of the ordinary – then maybe I’ll reclaim the brownie points that I’ve lost.

*all names have been changed to preserve anonymity. And my job :p

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