Language assistant

My last day of teaching

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Teaching in Spain has been a rollercoaster of hilarity, intimidation, confusion, misinterpretation, frustration and exhaustion. Incidentally, I have also learnt that most Spanish kids struggle to pronounce words ending in ‘tion’.

In all honesty I’ve loved the experience about 64 times more than I ever thought I would. Equally, I would never want to do it again. 8 months was the perfect amount of time, the perfect amount of responsibility and pressure. I know that being a proper teacher is significantly harder, I mean I worked just 12 hours a week, speaking my native language at a slow pace and loud volume, occasionally whipping together a PowerPoint entitled ‘What is a Roast Dinner?’. I’m fairly sure professional teachers have to work a lot harder than that.

I like to think I imparted a lot of wisdom throughout my time here, and hopefully I did a lot to improve my students’ English. What I can be sure of though is that I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot myself. Ironically, I am now better informed on British, American and Irish culture as I had to give lessons on various cultural topics. Never before had I researched the story behind Halloween, the history of St Patrick’s Day or the rules of cricket (we did an entire lesson on this), wikepedia has definitely been my friend.

Perhaps less surprisingly, I have also learned a whole heap of English grammar. At the beginning of the year I’d be asked, on the spot, to explain the use of ‘the future perfect tense’ and I’d stare blankly at the teacher for a good four minutes. We know and use so much grammar instinctively but when it comes to explaining the rules or the reasons behind our bizarre language it gets quite complicated. I’ve learned about countable nouns, uncountable nouns, the present continuous… the list is endless (and tedious) but it’s been enlightening nevertheless.

There have also been numerous amusing classroom moments, some of which I have already shared here, here and here. Last month there was a listening task in which students had to identify sports from audio clips. The sound of a bat hitting a ball was clearly tennis, hearing quick footsteps on tarmac was obviously jogging but Judo was less straightforward; the clip was a medley of rude-sounding grunting and shuffling on the floor which prompted a class of stifled laughter, me included. Another case was when students were given titles to invent their own storyboards with; one group was given ‘Getting Dirty’ and thankfully wrote about a dog swimming in a puddle. Less innocent students could certainly have taken the title in a very different direction and I was VERY grateful it was a young class. My friends working at neighbouring schools have not been spared the amusement either. One of Emmy’s 13 year old students was asked about her weekend and answered “On Saturday night I sleep with my friend Lara” to which the Spanish teacher corrected “NO! You SLEPT with your friend Lara, past tense!” before Emmy had to correct them both and said “I think you mean you slept at your friend Lara’s house?” It’s never-ending fun.

The highlight of my teaching experience however, as I’m sure most non-monstrous teachers would agree, has been the students. They were (mostly) funny, cheeky and kind, occasionally hard working, attentive and studious, often challenging but never boring. I’d be lying if I sad I didn’t have favourites; in every class there’d be at least two or three particularly funny or sweet kids who would make the lessons so much better. In the younger classes I had really cute ones who would make me paper flowers or drawings, in the older classes there were girls who filled me in on the school gossip, giggled with me over mutual love for the attractive Portuguese teacher, there was Juan-Manuel the Pretty Little Liars super-fan who I discussed episodes with. Having these allies was also integral to discipline, whenever I spoke these students would yell (in a passionate Spanish way that I could never replicate) for their classmates to shut up and listen – VERY useful if you’ve ever experienced the sheer chaos of a rowdy Spanish high school.

I will also undoubtedly be using my teaching experience in any future job interview; it has tested so much more than a year at university ever would. Can you give me an example of a time you when you had to work under pressure? Insert Spanish teaching experience here. Tell me about a time where you had to think on your feet? Insert Spanish teaching experience here. Please explain how you would handle a challenging working environment? You get the idea..

Like waitressing, I can tick ‘teacher’ off my future career list that’s for sure, however, now that the time has come to leave I’m actually quite emotional. As cheesy as it sounds, it has been so nice to make connections with students who I would never have met otherwise and will realistically never encounter again. Yesterday was my last day and it was very special, I taught 3 classes the ‘ChaCha slide’ dance routine and we did lots of goodbyes and present exchanging. In one class four of the students had clubbed together to buy me an impractical but adorable HUGE pink teddy bear. It’ll take some serious packing tessellation to get him home but I’m determined to do it. I’ll remember these 8 months forever and I can’t wait to read my diary in years to come to relive ALL the memories, both disastrous and wonderful.

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The Spanish summer has begun

photoExtremadura is known for it’s extreme temperatures (as the name suggests) and I am finally appreciating why. We are currently experiencing spell of extreme heat and its almost unbearable. It was 40 degrees today, it is also May. The locals are wearing shorts and all conversations begin with ¡Qué calor!, so you know it’s pretty serious. I checked the weather and it’s currently hotter than Morocco, Greece and Uganda. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the school classrooms were hotter than the Earth’s core.

The main problem is that it’s very dry and desert-like here; there’s no nearby beach, no lake and very few trees around the town. Unfortunately I walk to my students’ houses for private classes at around 3.30pm each day and I’m fairly sure I’m the only human braving the sunlight at this scorching hour. Everyone else is sensibly en casa with the shutters down. I actually have to apply sun cream for my ten-minute walk down the road, I also have to arrive an extra two minutes early to allow for cooling-off period during which I lurk outside the students’ house for necessary brow-mopping and water-guzzling.

I’ll try to find some silver linings to avoid sounding too whiny and spoiled: I’m lucky to be getting a healthy glow, I am grateful that this town is not at all hilly and I am pleased to have quite a decent deodorant.

But madre mía, any increase in temperature and I’ll have to be forcibly removed from the town fountain. Seriously.

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Thoughts on food: Barcelona

Barcelona is a great place to visit in December. Admittedly I haven’t visited at any other time of year but the sky was blue, the air was crisp and the queues for the main attractions were long enough to convince me that I’d rather not visit in the summer. The food in Barcelona is also perfect for chillier temperatures. Throughout our stay we managed to sample lots of culinary delights and I’ve listed my favourites below…

Note: I’m based in a rural Spanish town which only serves regional food. As a consequence we wanted to make the most of Barcelona’s international offerings because we were in desperate need of a break from tortilla and jamón.

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Milk. On the first day we visited Milk, a cosy cafe which serves delicious brunches. The menu was extensive; think American pancakes, French toast, full English breakfasts, Greek yogurt and granola. Authentically Spanish it was not, but comforting and tasty it most certainly was and, after an early morning flight, it was just what we needed.

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Kapadokya. Another restaurant we visited was a Turkish place on Rambla del Raval in the center of the city. The menu was slightly confusing so we were all a bit unsure what we ordered but our hasty choices paid off. The portions were huge and all eight of us loved our meals. For me, Turkish food is always a winner and their falafel was the best I’ve ever tasted. It was amazingly cheap too!

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La Bouqueria. This indoor food market is located just off La Rambla, one of Barcelona’s main streets. The market is made up of a circular formation of stalls with a huge fish section making up the central ring. As you work your way outwards there’s meat, fruit, vegetables, bread, pastries, sweet treats, smoothies and juices. It’s the type of place where locals can do their weekly shop and tourists can buy delicious snacks – there’s something for every food-eating human. The best bargain? A punnet of dates for one euro!

2Can Culleretes. You might be pleased to hear that we did taste some local food during our stay. In fact, we had a sunday lunch in Barcelona’s oldest restaurant, Can Culleretes (1786). The place was packed full of locals (a rarity in Barcelona) and the walls were lined with photos of famous customers. The waiters all seemed to be generations of the same family; we were served by the Grandmother, who was surprisingly efficient and put my waitressing skills to shame. The menu was all in Catalan so the ordering was a bit of a lottery, however we all ate well and I would definitely recommend this one.

La Pallaresa.photo 1 copy 3 Down the narrow streets of the Gothic quarter there are numerous chocolate cafes. La Pallaressa permanently has a hefty queue outside it’s door, it’s been running since 1947 and is famous for it’s chocolate and churros. We decided to brave the queue on our last evening and I’m really glad we did. As it turns out, the waiters are basically model-standard Spanish men in white shirts and bow-ties scurrying around serving molten chocolate and whipped cream. It was quite an ideal situation all in all. I’m unsure whether the popularity is due to the deliciously thick bowls of dark chocolate or the servers themselves, either way it is totally worth the 30 minute wait.

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Monday Musings #9

Teaching is hard work. Secondary schools in particular require a lot of patience.

The first years in general are really keen, bordering on over-keen, but their excitement is encouraging and it makes for rewarding lessons. However, as you move up the school you come across the rebellious teenage years; the arrogance, the attitude and the eye-rolling.

I’m aware that I sound like a middle aged woman, but I feel that immediately after you exit your own moody teenage phase you realise just how frustrating it is for all non-teenage members of society. That’s not to say I was ever unruly myself (I was pretty much the opposite), but I do remember lessons at school in which we were collectively disinterested and just plain lazy.

Once you emerge from the traumatic teens, it seems that the students reclaim some of their original enthusiasm; the 16-18 year olds are really great. They realise just how important their studies are (I literally sound like a parent) and they actually put in some effort.

To combat one excessively difficult teenage class I have taken to throwing a small furry rabbit (toy) at each student in turn. The rules are simple – when you are in possession of the rabbit you have to talk. It’s much like the conch in Lord of The Flies except that this time the idea is to avoid the eerie silence that follows whenever I ask a question. If I remember rightly Lord of The Flies involved a situation in which there was too much talking. And they lived on a beach…

Fortunately, there’s one boy who shares my interest in the Pretty Little Liars TV series. It’s often tempting to ditch the rest of the class and gossip with him about the latest episode, but I think that would be considered unprofessional. Anyway, I’m learning as I go along – relying on initiative, experimentation and the odd bit of bribery. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

Córdoba #2: A City of Flowers

My father’s lifelong dream is to see Japanese Cherry blossom, my Mother talks to her sweet-pea plants and I’ve grown up with two sets of green-fingered Grandparents. It is therefore unsurprising that I love all things floral.

Visiting Córdoba last weekend was perfect for me in many ways. Córdoba is famous for ‘Los Patios‘ – an annual contest in which the city’s residents showcase floral displays in their alleyways and courtyards. Traditionally, the walls of the city are lined with blue flowerpots filled with flowers and each May thousands of people flock to witness the colourful spectacle.Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 20.57.52Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 20.57.02 Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 21.02.55 flowers.jpg flowers3.jpg

Despite visiting off-season, the city was still really busy. Obviously the best time to see Los Patios would be in Spring, but given that prime flower time equals prime tourist time, it’s probably best, crowd-wise, that I visited I went when I did. There was still a lot to see and I feel like I got a good taste of just how spectacular the displays must be in May. flowers2.jpgAs beautiful as Los Patios were, they weren’t the horticultural highlight of my trip. Stay tuned for Cordoba part three…Untitled

Córdoba

I took myself on a solitary sight-seeing adventure this weekend, to the Andalusian city of Córdoba! IMG_8069

I did a lot of solo travel in France this summer but in Spain I’ve been lucky enough to have a great group of friends to travel with, so this weekend was actually my first time adventuring alone since moving here last month. I took a Blablacar (I picked a woman driver to minimise personal safety risks) and it was a complete success. I couldn’t rely on my flatmates to do all the Spanish speaking this time; so I was forced to talk for the duration of the 2.5 hour journey. This was great practice for my Spanish and I actually maintained a good conversation. Estefania, the driver, told me that I spoke very well and that it was impressive considering I’d only been in Spain for a month. I think she may have understood that I’d only been learning Spanish for a month, which would explain her awe at my ability, of course I’ve actually been learning for two years but let’s take her praise as a compliment nevertheless!IMG_8206

As it turns out Córdoba was a beautiful city and probably the perfect place to explore alone given the friendly atmosphere, the abundance of tourists and the close proximity of all the monuments to my hostel. I felt very safe all weekend long.

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As both a former Roman capital and a city under Muslim occupation (to mention just two parts of it’s story) Córdoba has a VERY diverse cultural history. The whole city is architecturally really interesting with Roman, Islamic, Christian-medieval and modern architecture reflecting it’s complex past. As a result, Córdoba feels really eclectic in style – it’s an amazingly jumbled haven of culture. The city features the orange trees of Seville, the Bougainvillea-clad white walls of Santorini, aromatic Tea rooms furnished like arabian palaces and a Jewish quarter with a beautiful 14th century Synagogue. 
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Córdoba wins the award for my favourite place in Spain (so far). So watch this space for Córdoba part two…Untitled