Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Goodbye España... for now.

For any budding traveller, Spain will be on the list of countries to head to at some point in their travelling career. Evidently it was on my list. Except it would not disappear from my list, so I always found myself back in the land of tortilla de patatas, patatas bravas and cafe con leche, por favor. To say the least. I have been lucky enough to visit a fair amount of this stunning country - more I often think, than some Spaniards - and I have found it to be so very diverse in the cultures and ambiance which fills the different regions. Maybe this was one of the reasons I was always drawn back into its grasp. The differences cannot be described simply through written words; it is about feelings and experience. And even after all my travels I know that there lies much more culture to be discovered, and more ambiance waiting to be inhaled around some corner. After years of study, its enigmatic language still enthralls me. Languages are the most interesting and the most perplexing of things. However, under a pile of rich beauty and culture which resides throughout the country, hides the small yet decidedly annoying faults.
Spain and I have developed a somewhat bitter-sweet relationship over the years. Yes, it is often more my homeland than my native land, but its vices dig in deep. Most revolve around its inability to adapt its traditions to a more modern world. Simple things, such as smoking or litter. Evidently Spain is not the only sinner, but here I feel a lack of desire in some respects. The small yet important blunders grate on my magical perception of this country. I do not wish these small faults which lie within everyone and everything to destroy all of the wonderful memories which I have of my time in cortado and caña land, so this signifies a call for change is about due.
Meaning a new country, and a big chunk of new things to get my teeth into. Ready, steady....

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Learning to teach through a CertTEFL in Prague.

August 2009. Summer in Prague, and a teaching English course. Sounds like a plan for a fresh-out-of-university languages graduate in the middle of a financial crisis.
A new country, language and culture all patiently waiting to be explored, and a new batch of eager trainee teachers to meet. I had been impatiently waiting for the day to arrive when I could set foot onto some new territory and experience that unique but somewhat magical feeling of being some place new. Everything waiting to be discovered. I definitely needed something exciting and new after the university era came to an end.
The weeks running up to my course, I completed my 'pre-course task' for the course, and even tried my hand at studying 'the English language' along with 'teaching techniques' to not much avail, in retrospect. Even so, I was excited and ready for action.
Prague is beautiful. Reading about it in a guide book beforehand
no way compares to the enchantment which runs through its cobbled streets. What's more, living in the centre of such a rich and charming city when studying definitely can make you forget why you are essentially there.
Spending four and a half weeks learning the ins and outs of the English language and taking our first steps in English teaching was an experience which I will honestly always remember. I met some wonderful people, learnt a great deal more than my own botched attempts before the course, and was supported by some tremendous staff in my teaching attempts. Work was somewhere in there, but sometimes you would have to search a little to find it; it was well hidden amongst a whole lot of good times.
With work in the 'real teaching world' ready and waiting, I managed to find myself work in Prague. Many of my classes involved advanced children, which I initially found a challenge, as the course didn't address too much this group; it is most definitely not a major learner group. My adult classes were, however, exactly what we had been preparing ourselves for during the course. On top of this, I also had some one-to-one adult classes, which were addressed in the course, but personally I think should be concentrated on a little more, as one to-one-classes are widespread. But time is limited.
Four and a half weeks cannot make someone into a professional teacher. It takes time and experience and practise. The course is a great first step in that direction. There are many more to be taken. After teaching a while, the three main points of advice I would give to any budding teacher are: to prepare classes well, expect the unexpected in a class, and get to know the students as much as possible; they are humans too, not just students. Teaching English can be as much as a challenge as learning it; it takes practise as well as some trial and error before it is in any way conquered. Everyone is in the same boat and everyone starts somewhere, so don't be shy to call for help should you desire. We are all human:-)

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Barcelona People

The people make the city, or the city make the people? The roots of this Catalunyan capital are held firmly in a soil of retaliation, separation, difference and progression. Catalunya's long quest for independence has shaped its capital, and its people. Their language, an ironic mix of Spanish and French, runs through the streets, in the shops, cafés, in the young and the old, it sings out on the radio, and blasts through the television. Its flag, startlingly similar to that of the Spanish flag, is everywhere you look, draped from patriotic apartment windows, flapping in the breeze.

Catalunya aspires to be seen as different, unique, and above all, separate from Spain. Traditional values of Spain are slowly diminishing; its conservatism has been thrown out in exchange for reinvention. Walls are plastered with graffiti, bearing an underlying revolutionary tone. A reflection of the vibrations which run through the Barcelonian people. Cosmopolitan society, through its separation and unique ambiance now represents a new, forward thinking population striving for change. They value ecology, health, vegetarianism, voluntary action, animal rights, human rights... the list goes on. As a result, cultural traditions such as bullfighting are starting to be rebuked, streets are turning green with health food shops; demonstrations, workshops, and forums tackle a range of issues and themes close to the public's heart. Again, the list goes on. This vibe cannot be found with such strength in any other Spanish city. Furthermore, Catalunya's proximity to France cannot be denied as an influence in social change; France's people have also demonstrated their desire for social change and green fingers. Whether they have succeeded is another question.

It isn't just about a change in mindset, it is also about a change in people; a 'foreign city' has been created. They have tunnelled their way into the woodwork, they have mingled themselves into the community. They own shops bars, and restaurants. They are professionals, blue collars, illegals. They have unwittingly altered society's vibes and filled the city with their cultures. A multicultural medley, where people co-exist. In harmony? Harmony is for fairytales. Social change has wiped its muddy shoes throughout the city. Freedom, from traditions, schools of thought, political ideals and the like has led to a downward turn in 'social standards'. The beautiful old winding streets have become a breeding ground for the illnesses in society, down-treading their magical prowess to what one would expect to find in a less developed country. A freedom from morals seems to be running through certain people's veins, as the city and its people are frequently victim to spiteful pillages, all of which can leave a bitter taste in one's mouth about a city. People seem to have decided to give themselves the freedom to do whatever they choose, which falls in contradiction to what society as a whole was striving for; an ecologically sound environment based on respect. It is quite possible that society is a victim of its own success. Barcelona has achieved its freedom of expression; it engulfs the city, dominating people's fashion, their music style, their way of life. It exhibits itself in the creative artistry which is spread throughout the city. Inversely, it is this same graffiti which has contributed to the downgrading of the city, and the social anarchy which seems to be running through some people's veins.

One cannot help but notice Catalunya's unique characteristics when juxtaposed against Spain, or any other European country. It is like a flower bud, alive, growing and blossoming, yet being attacked by a viscous weed which has not yet been exterminated.

Barcelona's artists, such as Dalí, and Gaudí and Miró, may well have had a more than expected effect on the city; their avant-guard ideas and creativity may have been one of the sparks which ignited social and change within Barcelona. Their artwork is still resonant throughout the city, and still leaves tourists awestruck, a creativity which is reflected not only in the artwork, but in the Barcelona people.

It was not even forty years ago when Spain's hash dictatorship ended, and people who lived during these times are still alive today. Spain has seen a sharp turn around in society, of which Barcelona seems to be at the forefront of the change. But is this amount of change healthy? It seems to have left Barcelona gasping for breath, choking on itself. The Catalan people seem to have a vision of how they see future society, but are blind to the more indirect effects which the change that they desire could produce.

All of this, when included alongside the Catalan's fight for an independent Catalunya, topped off with all the other influences of modern day society have constructed a very unique and energetic city. But which is being drowned by all of the social issues which invariably go hand in hand with such extensive amounts of social change, and which consequentially just may lead to the city's downfall. Barcelona's people and its government may or may not have realised but they now have a pressing need to pause, take a step back, and analyse the true consequences of the social change which they seem to so desperately desire.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Ten Weeks Teaching in Tamarit!

Summer working. Is that not an oxymoron? Summer is about sun, beaches, fun, and relaxation. If you happen to be a teacher or a student, then you will probably be blessed with at least two months of holiday. A two month holiday you say? Who wouldn't jump at the chance? The careful remainder from that annoyingly sensible part of you could possibly lead you to think twice, and remind you that all play and no work may also have its consequences. Then the 'summer school' - is this too not an oxymoron? - craze went and threw together some 'summertime' with some 'work' and some 'play', and created refreshingly tantalising summer sensation, catering for all your summertime desires. Parents send their precious little beasts off for a few weeks of classes, sports and adventures, all whipped up together with a fat dose of fun. So, which one do you choose? Well, one a booming summer camp went and put the icing on the oxymoron cake with their summer school: English Summer. Strategically not located in the English land, but in the north east of Spain, where the sun shines and the fiestas flow. So you may be wondering where the 'English' part fits in. Well, that's where us teachers fit in. Our mission, should we decide to accept it, is to teach all the little Pablos and Marias as much English as can be fit into their Spanish babbling brains as possible in two weeks. I accepted. For ten weeks.

Tamarit, one of the English Summer summer camps, is would probably fall into the sea if it went any closer. But that would never happen, because Tarragona is too close by and would always swim out to save it. So evidently a perfect location for an afternoon beach session with the occasional paella with the little munchkins, some free time fiestas, or just some plain old simple sun soaking. Summer and work hand in hand right there.

Back at base, the morning is busting with English classes. Afternoons include playing down at the 'playa', some good old fashioned team sports, with the odd wild adventure thrown in there for fun. And the party doesn't stop there, in fact it hasn't even started. In the evenings all the focus is on the fiestas. Get the face paints, bed sheets and bin liners out, we are going in costume tonight. And so are you. Remember: maximum effort, maximum entertainment, so yes please, let us go the whole hog and make a big song and dance about it all. English Summer Style. Singing and dancing from eyes open to eyes closed. Two left feet and a Froggie in your throat? Let English Summer sort that for you. The antidote? A two week treatment of jive bunnying away and stretching out your vocal chords. Exhilarating entertainment which will spin your head loco. You have to experience it to understand it.

So what exactly is a day in the life of a Tamarit teacher like? The mornings are your chance to shine as a teaching guru. Team Tamarit works like one big happy family, so whatever your teaching trouble, or your camp conundrum, any member of this flabbergastingly fantastic family will be all ears and be more than happy to give you a push in the right direction. It may be hard to forget, but the summer session is still in full swing, so don't be afraid to put down your pens and throw yourself and your little gems into the pool of possibilities when it comes to English learning activities. Get the giggles going and the brain bouncing all in one fail swoop. So this all means one thing: planning. To be fit in at some point in the afternoon, with a dash of of the occasional set of exam prep and paperwork drizzled over the top. Welcome to the world of teaching if you haven't been here before. But don't despair, the longer you are here the easier it is to find your way around. You will be flying through it in days. You may even be able to sneak in some summer sunbeams too, but don't put your feet up for to long, the mighty monitors could desperately do with a helping hand. So who are these fine chaps and chapesses I hear you cry? They are toughest, craziest, golden-hearted Spaniards on the east coast of Spain. They form the backbone of the English Summer establishment, and without them a camp catastrophe would be imminent. With their warrior-like status, they work around the clock to care for and entertain their precious princes and princesses. Let us not forget their co-partners in crime, their MP's, or Monitoring Projects, the aspiring monitors of the future. A mouth-watering fruit medley of workers carefully selected to show the charming little children the time of their lives. Together, team Tamarit form a network of diverse and dangerously energetic team devoted to ensuring the fun never stops for the little campers during their two week trip to Tamarit.

So what was my role in the Tamarit tales of twenty ten? I taught the tiny tots for ten weeks. That's the five to eight year olds for five terms. High energy classes leaving me somewhat like a wet paper-towel when finished. Yet what I learnt about myself, others and my star students as a result was invaluable, and without any doubt worth every second. Experience the world and grow in yourself. Now I am blessed with a bountiful collection of magnificent memories. Take a peek inside and you will find an assortment of goodies: students, friends, fiestas, avatars, romans, zombies, farm animals, ... the list does anything but lack in length. It will be cherished forever. Give it your all and you will get it all back with cherries on top. What will be on your list, I wonder??