Russia, milkmaids and pipers

… all in a day’s work for me.

The weather is so foul there’s very little else to do than enjoy working, so I’ve been making the most of it.


The Meteo France site is a great fat liar because it had a sunny little sign over my house and yet, when I got outside, it was this murky dirty weather.

Right now I’ve a congregation of Russians who have taken to my Manchester vowels and are using the Internet to further their English. Given the size of the country, it’s not surprising, but I have more clients from here than I do from any of the other top 10 large countries. Those who don’t speak English already of course. I’d say that says quite a lot about Russia! I’m really enjoying teaching them, not least because they’re dotted all over Russia, from Siberia, the Ural Mountains and Moscow. I confess it does make me feel a little mard about the weather (there’s a good Manchester word for you!) since one of them told me it was -20º. It was +4 here. That’s like practically summer. Mostly, they want to discuss politics, I’ve found. They’re very, very interested in the West though most of them have not travelled beyond their home town.

From Russia, it was over to Turkey and a discussion about Islamic banks. Ironically, one of my Russian clients lives nearer to Turkey than he does to Moscow. The world is weird.

Sandwiched in between all of that was GCSE teaching about persuasive writing, and then a lesson analysing whether Phileas Fogg or Passepartout is the real hero of Around the World in 80 Days. To be honest, my internet teaching feels a little like Around the World these days. Personally, I’m going with Passepartout as the real hero. The man gets an opium fix by accident, rescues a girl from a funeral pyre and is the one to realise they’ve arrived in London on time.

Tuesdays are usually my day off. Not this week! I was busy meeting all kinds of people and exploring the frozen wilderness of the north. Well, Deux-Sèvres and the Vienne. Coffee with the editor, chat with a wildlife guru, meeting famous local bloggers. All in a day’s work. Oh, and then some teaching about Romeo and Juliet.

As a tutor for GCSE, I’m often a little stuck. Children have come to me for extra support, if they are UK-based. This means, in some way, the school is failing them. Nobody should need me, and I’d very much like a time when no student in an English school needs to have lessons with me. However, there’s sometimes a tension between what I’m saying and what students have been told by their own teachers. And even if they don’t do well under their own teachers, they’re still a little loyal to them. The more I do this, the more I realise that the less a teacher knows, the less confident they feel, the more prescriptive they are and the more mistakes they impart upon children. Sometimes, I’m one step from phoning up the teacher and giving them a right telling off. At the moment, it’s a battle over Romeo.

It’s a battle over other things, too. Notably the humble semi-colon. Said pupil has been taught to introduce quotes (all quotes!) with a semi-colon. Bah. Either nothing, a comma or a colon. Never a semi-colon. It’s just wrong. Wrong. The student will get to the exam room, continue to do as he has been told, and some examiner will think he doesn’t get them. If they see other students’ work like that (unlikely, given the online marking, which mixes everything up in a big pot) then they might pick up on bad teaching. Wrong teaching, even. And the pupil is utterly convinced he will lose marks if he doesn’t do it. This is just one of three erroneous pieces of guidance he’s been told he must do.

The problem with this view is that the teacher is firstly responsible for a mark on the paper. That’s fine. But then it is assessed. Other people have to agree it. The likelihood of the mark dropping is quite high. That’s very irritating.

So I try to glean from students what they know already, just because I have to be very delicate around their knowledge. One of the most ‘hit’ pages on my teacher blog is this one about John Agard’s poem ‘Flag‘. It’s just my attempt to right a wrong about poetry teaching in the UK.

Anyway, from there into Wednesday – always my busy day. Primary school French children in the morning, Secondary school children in the afternoon. Eleven hours of full-on lessons. Whew!

Thursday was my favourite lesson of the week. I’m rubbish at singing. Really, really bad. That makes teaching English with a song much more interesting. Yesterday, it was the Twelve Days of Christmas. Trying to explain (when I’d forgotten) what bagpipes were, what milking is and what a milkmaid looks like – always amusing. Luckily, I didn’t have to rely on a Google Images search. The ‘trayeuse’ search only brings up automatic milking machines and very few pictures of a traditional French milkmaid, and when you search for milkmaid on Google Images. Well. I can only say your eyes will be opened. Apparently, milkshake brings a lot of boys to the yard. And milkmaids do as well. It’s obviously an English-language thing because there wasn’t one single kinky milkmaid on the French search. Although, I can imagine a few A&E departments have stories about accidental ‘falling’ into automatic milking machines, along the lines of ‘I don’t know how that got there, Matron!’

Today, it’s from Russia with love again. And then a Chinese buffet with the ladies. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that!

Anyway, Enjoy your Friday. I’ve got Chinese to eat, so I’m outta here!



2 thoughts on “Russia, milkmaids and pipers

  1. Suggestion from my mom (!)… can you refer the pupil (if not the teacher!) to Fowler’s rules of punctuation for back-up? After all, it’s all written down there… 😮

    1. Oh, I certainly do. I usually refer to wikipedia. I need a good rule book so I’m off to see if I can get a copy of this. Is it sad that this would make pleasurable reading for me?

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