On Not Showing Up

Yesterday my student did not show up for a tutorial lesson.

It is pretty rare in my experience at OISE Cambridge that a student does not show up (there have been some conspicuous exceptions over the years, but not under my tutelage).I have taught in many schools, however, and for one reason or another, students cry off.


This is particularly so when students have their lessons in their office. I taught in offices frequently in Rome and London, and roughly 25% of lessons were cancelled from under me. One year I went ten or fifteen times to the same manager in an outlying suburb of Rome, a charming man who each week would come out of his office when his secretary called through and shrug apologetically, sometimes through a glass door while speaking on the phone. I never taught him once, but got paid quite a lot. Another student (in the Italian army) did five minutes of one lesson with me, in which he told me he was very happy to have the opportunity of working at his Engilsh, but frankly could use the time better in other ways. He signed for the full course of lessons, and I never saw him again.

And so on. These were the exceptions, but sometimes it is genuinely difficult to make time within a work schedule for an activity with a long-term benefit. Students who travel to another country with the dedicated purpose of studying, however, are less easily distracted, particularly when they are studying on intensive courses, and even more particularly when they are professionals.

So it is rare that I have an empty lesson. I would generally much rather teach (and as it happens yesterday I filled in with another student who we had not expected to show since he had been to the dentist with toothache), but on the occasions when there is no teaching to be done, it is surprising how much can be achieved: backlogs of paperwork, more extensive preparation if you feel up to it; you can read a book for an hour, hoon around on the net, write a couple of emails – the sort of thing they’re probably doing up in the office all the time, but which teachers regard as a gratuitous boon, an opportunity to stop time and clear up the mess.

And then of course there is sleep. One sleep-deprived colleague of mine in Milan, more than twenty years ago now, used to stretch out on the desk when his students didn’t show, and catch some zeds. On more than one occasion he was still asleep when his next student came in. At least they knew he was well-rested.


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