Sunday, July 08, 2007

Spare me from incompetent employers

In the past month I have started two new jobs; both of them for UK companies - so you might think that maybe they'd be a little bit more together about administration and planning than the Chinese schools, colleges, and businesses that I have mostly worked for since I came out here.

But NO - the "This is China" disease insinuates itself everywhere.

Last weekend I was despatched to Shanghai to deliver a seminar to a group of primary school teachers. I was representing a major ESOL examining body.... which was to have provided all the presentation materials for me ready-made. So I had been assured.

In fact the seminar had been hastily "re-designed": instead of the usual three-hour presentation on a single topic, I was to be asked to deliver three one-hour presentations on related but discrete topics. Since the preparation time required is about the same for each topic regardless of the length of the presentation, this would entail about 3 times as much preparation as normal. Since this was the first time I had given any presentations for this organisation, it would in fact be about 9 times as much preparation as normal. In fact, since I had no prior familiarity at all with the exams in question and no experience of teaching this age range (7-10-year-olds), it would probably be about 20 times as much preparation as normal. Needless to say, I did not have that much time to prepare.

The first CD-ROM of presentation materials I was given turned out not to have any of the materials it was supposed to have on it. I had - foolishly - trusted my contact at the exam board to give me what she had promised she would give me, and didn't have time to doublecheck until the following weekend. She wasn't able to send me a replacement until the following Tuesday, just a few days before the seminar. The second disk had dozens of slight variations of the PowerPoint presentations I was supposed to give, but no indication of which one I was supposed to use, or why. There were no back-up copies. The embedded audio and video links didn't work, and I had no time to replace them.

And guess what? Although I had been promised complete & appropriate materials for all three parts of the presentation, there were no materials at all for the middle section (on recommended classroom activities), and the materials for the first and last sections were each for a three-hour presentation.... so, not appropriate at all. Moreover, the presentations were incredibly badly organised and poorly written, and with an utterly inappropriate level of detail, cluttered PPT slides, muddled guidance notes, an unmanageable plethora of 'satellite' materials to refer to (most of which, in fact, the audience had not been given anyway); and they were, for the most part, seemingly pitched at a native rather than non-native speaker audience. Most of the teachers I was speaking to were tired, bored, unmotivated, uncommunicative; and several of them really had a very poor functional level of English speaking & listening. All in all, a bit of a nightmare.

So, I had to slow down a lot. I had to simplify a lot. I had to discard most of the material I had been given. I basically had to fucking improvise for nearly three solid hours. I managed it. It wasn't one of my finest performances, but I pulled it off. The most successful bit was the middle period, on teaching activities - because there I wasn't hobbled by having to use the exam board's crappy materials at all.

Now, this irks me considerably. This is what I do. I am a good public speaker; I'm good at giving presentations; it is one of my specialised training topics. I take pride in it. I hate being put in a situation like that where you've got useless materials and an uncommitted audience and a whole morning to fill. Yes, sure, I got a free trip down to Shanghai out of it (although I am not confident that I'm ever going to receive my - very modest - fee or my expenses, since now they keep pulling the "our office is only open for a few hours a day, and never when it's convenient for you to drop in, and we can't make cash payments unless our financial officer is on site, which is NEVER..." excuses on me), but I would far rather have the satisfaction of having done something useful and having done it well. Really. That's who I am.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Incompetence irks me. Good job keeping it all together.