Young Learners’ (YL) Summer School 15/07/13

I_Am_The_Teacher_funny_education_photographsAs previously mentioned, I had some trepidation about teaching kids again after the troubles I’ve had in the past. Stress and stuff have kept me from the Writing Challenge (stay tuned for that), but I want to talk about about the class today.

Firstly, it differed because there were three adults in the room. That helped a lot in a 20-strong class with monitoring and discipline. There were no actively aggressive or misbehaving children in class; just a bit of giddiness. My plan worked quite well, and I had no real problems getting students engaged and involved in the whole thing.

Firstly, students played a story writing game where they write one part of the story, fold down the paper then write the next. The five sections were labelled “Who” “What” “Where” “When” and “Why. This got them warmed up and giggling when they read the story, though some students did struggle with which one was which.

Next, they went to look at a number of pictures dotted around the room which related to the week’s theme (the sea) and had to come up with a story relating to it. After that, they put it into a newspaper plan when given a format.

Finally, they walked around and made a decision about which was the best story plan. Tomorrow they’ll start writing it up in a newspaper stylee (as per the week’s ultimate goal).

All in all, I was very pleased with the way it went, developed a rapport and a way of doing things that seemed to work out, and all in all it really boosted my confidence with the whole YL thing. Maybe I was just unlucky with previous classes, or maybe I just needed this extra year of developing as a teacher before applying that to a younger class. Either way, I’m feeling quite positive about the whole thing. And none of the dread I felt yesterday.

Note: If you are a teacher and you’d like any of these materials, please drop me a message and I’ll pass them on to you. We’re in this together, right?

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Facing a Teaching Fear

I find it very easy to teach adults. After all, teaching is just a conversation – and I converse exclusively with adults. It gives me the chance to practice. Of course, there’s theory, methodology, grammar and whatnot, but I truly think that the core of teaching is having that conversation.

The thing that I think makes me a good teacher of adults is also what gave me such trouble with children last year. As a person I’m chaotic, silly and a bit disorganised. I think adults respond to that because I’m quite fun in class – I make jokes and silly analogies – but also because it means I’m never patronising. I’m not an authority figure in those classes. I’m a guy telling them some stuff.

This of course doesn’t work in regular kids’ classes. If you’re the fun teacher then that’s what you are. In a well-behaved class that can be great and a lot of fun. In others… see for yourself.

The funny thing is, I didn’t have the same experiences at the start of my career – back when I exclusively taught kids in UK summer schools. With almost exclusively Italian students from age 8-18, I was a bit hit. Students loved my fun classes and wanted to be in my team for the other activities. I really enjoyed it too. The kids were fun, opinionated, playful and entertaining.

I realise that International summer schools are different from long-term daily

I've used this image before, but it's terribly appropriate.

I’ve used this image before, but it’s terribly appropriate.

teaching, but it did come as a blow when I couldn’t rely on being the fun teacher – on being myself – as the only tool in my arsenal. Unfortunately, by the time I had realised this my authority and discipline had already eroded to nothing. I tried all the tips and tricks of other teachers, but they didn’t work. The students didn’t respect me, despite how I tried for the next nine months to regain it. The failure hit me quite hard, and brought me quite low.

Now I’ve been asked to try teaching children again. Needless to say, I’m nervous after the miserable experience I had last year with 3*C, but I also remember how much fun I had in those summer schools that taught me I wanted to be a teacher.

I’m assured that it won’t be bad; that the students are coming to ‘my turf’ in the school, that we have a fun syllabus planned and that there’s lots of support available. I trust the people who have said those things, so I will try and hope for the best.

I don’t really have a conclusion prepared for this blog. Last year was hard for me for lots of reasons, and it’s difficult to separate it into all the constituent difficulties. During last week’s YL* training, I felt a hard lump in my chest, and with it flashes back to those classes, that year and how it all turned out. Nevertheless, this is something I think I can do. And I really need to let that year go. So cross your fingers for me. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

30 Days Challenge: Day 29: Future plans/goals

I find myself in the mood to whine and winge at be generally depressive at you. Instead, I’m going to do the next 30 Day question, which is much more cheerful.

Career

Professionally, I want to continue to teach – particularly adults or small groups of children. I’ve become rather jaded towards school teaching and I don’t think it’s really my wheelhouse. Teaching adults and business English, on the other hand, is really something I can see myself doing for the rest of my working life. I’m not a perfect teacher; I have a lot of personal development and growth to do, but that is something I really want to put my time and attention into. Long-term, I see myself going into academic management and/or teacher training.

Career 2

I want to publish a book. I’m about halfway through some British urban fantasy (being that I’m British and I like urban fantasy). Even if it’s not this attempt or the next or the next, I’d like to see a book with my name on it in a mainstream bookstore (assuming they still exist in twenty years’ time, of course). This is a goal I’ve held unwaveringly since I first held J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit at around age 9. Maybe earlier. It won’t change until it happens.

Geography

This is the big question, I suppose. I have no great desire to return to England permanently, and as I begin to lose family members, that need or want will grow less and less. I also have a strong desire to live in  more countries before (and if) I decide to set down permanent roots somewhere. Unless something significant happens in the next nine months or so, I think this will be my last year in Mexico.

Romance

Well, I guess that’s kind of affected by the previous paragraph. I want to be in love again*, but I also know that it makes me make lots of stupid mistakes. It might make me stay in Mexico longer, but not forever. I want to see the world. Whoever I found would have to be okay with that as part of what they’re getting when they say ‘yes’ to getting me.

So far as marriage and kids go, I think they’re things I want in the future, but I’m not there yet. Marriage I could take or leave, but I’d love to have kids one day. I’d love to have polyglot kids one day. The romance thing has to come first, though. And last.

Anyway, those are my plans for the future. I’d also like to further my Spanish and at least one other language. I want to be the kind of man with the kind of life that 12 year old Andy could be proud of becoming.

 

 

*On some days I want it a little too much.

Racism?

Yes, it’s a cliché to open with a definition. So sue me.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about racism; about what is or isn’t acceptable.

In my job, you meet a lot of people from a lot of countries, and also a lot of people who have visited a lot of countries. Needless to say, this means that my colleagues and I see a lot of cultural diversity in almost everything we do. Is it entirely wrong to comment on it, or only to do so with malice?

Amongst my closest friends here I have Mexicans (obviously), a Frenchman, a Texan, a Hungarian, a Welshwoman, a guy from the Czech Republic (if memory serves) via well to so Middle England, and others. I am from working class South Yorkshire. We often joke about cultural differences and stereotypes (discussions often but not always instigated by me), and I wonder where the line is amongst friends. I think all my friends and colleagues here are friendly, warm, likeable people, and it would hurt me greatly to think that I’d offended them. That said, I don’t think I have. I think these issues are easier amongst people you know.

On the other hand, there are third party observations that ESL teachers are also guilty of. I’ve heard (and said) things like:

– “If you think it’s corrupt here, you should see XYZ!”
– “Yeah, Mexicans walk slowly, but ZYX walk slower.”
– “Mexico’s problem is just how disorganised it is.”
– “I hated ABC. Everyone was so rude!”

These points are asides from all the things we love about a place, of course. As teachers, we have a tendency to moan. British teachers doubly so. Mexico is here as an example because that’s where I am right now.

Anyway, when you’re at home amongst people who share a culture (even if it’s not your whole ethnic make-up) it’s a little easier to draw the line, I think. In Britain, there’ll always be the middle class fear of offending someone, but broadly speaking, you neither badmouth people who are different nor discuss the ways they are different, save on an ideological level. Out in the world where you’re living the cultural differences, it’s almost impossible not to discuss them. Particularly when you come across the rarity which is an accent that matches your own.

At the risk of mentioning Jeremy Clarkson in two posts in a row, the Mexican Top Gear scandal from a couple of years ago particularly comes to mind. In the episode (see below) Richard Hammond and co. compare a Mexican car to the bigot-approved “facts” about Mexican people as smelly, lazy, stupid desert-dwellers*. This is a perspective from men who leave their country only to mock others while simultaneously living up to the worst possible white Westerner stereotypes. This is racism, and outside of irony with friends, far from what I would ever allow to genuinely pass my lips.

I suppose this is more of a question-post than an answer-post. When you see cultural difference every day, when you travel to places where ideals, processes and habits are different: is it wrong to say so? I’d love your opinions on this.

*I have to say here that since I’ve been in Mexico, I don’t think I’ve met a lazy Mexican. Certain none lazier than me. Though I’ve seen some corruption (and even benefited from it) and a few ripe-smelling people on the tightly-packed public transport, these are certainly the exceptions rather than the rule. Geographically, there is so much varied landscape to see in Mexico without a grain of sand in sight. From a non-native Mexican inhabitant, Clarkson is an idiot.

30 Days Challenge: Day 23: What you would find in your bag

Well, usually there’ll be one or two English text books, a notebook or two (one work, one with novel scribblings), at the moment there’ll be my Kindle open on the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher, a load of pens – white board and normal – and various other teaching paraphernalia. If it’s a bag with wheels, it’ll include my laptop for listening exercises  and Starbucks email checking.

There ya go. Sorry, not terribly enlightening again, but I didn’t write the questions.

30 Day Challenge: Day 1

Hello, WordPress. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. I’ve had a very interesting and complicated Summer sans Internet. Maybe I’ll talk about it as part of this thing I’ve decided to do:

Completely stolen from a lovely lady who blogs over here. I figured it’d be a good way to get back into writing and blogging without having a big, long emo-post. So, here we go.

30 Days Challenge:

Day 1: 5 interesting facts about yourself.
Day 2: The meaning behind your name.
Day 3: About your friends.
Day 4: About your family.
Day 5: A photo of something you really hate.
Day 6: A song that makes you cry.
Day 7: Your crush.
Day 8: Something you hate about yourself.
Day 9: Your definition of love.
Day 10: Your best friend.
Day 11: A letter to one of your exes.
Day 12: Your favorite female group.
Day 13: Your least favorite female group.
Day 14: Something you love about yourself.
Day 15: What you would if you were pregnant or got someone pregnant.
Day 16: A photo that makes you smile.
Day 17: A photo that makes you want to cry.
Day 18: A letter to someone you miss.
Day 19: A habit you wish you didn’t have.
Day 20: A letter to your parents.
Day 21: Short goals you wish to fulfill by the end of the month.
Day 22: Your nicknames & why you have them.
Day 23: What you would find in your bag.
Day 24: A song that makes you smile.
Day 25: How you found out about blogger & why you made one.
Day 26: First 10 songs to play on shuffle on your iPod.
Day 27: Your fashion style.
Day 28: What attracts you to someone.
Day 29: Future plans/goals.
Day 30: Who are you?

I’ll try to do this every day, but I know me. I probably won’t. Anyway:

Day 1: 5 interesting facts about yourself.

Well, here’s the one I usually keep in reserve for questions like this and drunken nights out:

I. I have been in a romantic relationship that included three other people. I won’t go into all the ins and outs of how it works. Here’s the Internet oracle if you’re curious. The basic philosophy of poly is that anything goes so long as it’s open and agreed upon beforehand.

I was 22 and just out of a 6-year relationship. I had this friend who I’d had a sneaky little crush1 on for years, and after an overly self-indulgent mourning period, stuff started to happen between us.

When it became apparent than it was a less-than-casual relationship, I was introduced to her slightly scary husband and eventually his girlfriend. Now, if you think things are dramatic in a relationship with two emotionally unpredictable people, just try it with 4.

Although I do believe that with the right mix of people with the right attitudes, it is a relationship model that can work, I’m not sure if I would ever do it again. Ultimately, my self-worth was torn up pretty badly by that whole experience, and I’m not eager to repeat it.

Let’s move on to something a little more cheerful, shall we?

II.  I’m writing my first novel. It is taking years as I tend to dip into it around procrastination, work and relationship drama.

It’s a story about a girl2, Laura, who is just coming out of a shitty relationship – the latest in a long line. Not too long after (following an inadvisable nightclub dalliance), she finds herself dating her boss, George, who she’s had a crush on for all the years she’s been working at his magazine. Unfortunately, things take a turn for a worse, as it seems that he’s involved in a violent power struggle with creatures that just aren’t really real. Right? And even then, Laura’s journo-sense tells her that there’s still more to George than meets the eye…

I’ve always wanted to write, and my dissertation was around the evolution of vampires in modern fiction (pre-Twilight, thankyouverymuch). I want to see one book with my name on it before I die. It’s the one ambition and dream I always come back to. It’s slow going, but I’m making it happen.

III. I don’t really understand hetero-normative men. Not even a little.

That isn’t to say I don’t have the same drives or desires as your typical hombre. Quite the reverse. Nonetheless, ever since I was a little boy I’ve felt very much apart from the strongly-masculine, football-loving, beer-swilling stereotypes I was exposed to. I’ve always had female friends while being completely baffled by representatives of my own sex.

I get a lot of pleasure from romantic comedies. If you say please, I’ll let you laugh at my “Rainy Tuesday” guilty pleasure movie.

I react to things (everything) with emotion. Where society perhaps suggests that a man should react in anger or aggression, I’ll react in sadness and half a chocolate cheesecake. It has led to my being “friendzoned” or taking the “gay friend” role in the life of some wonderful women, but then I have some amazing friends. You win some, you lose some.

It’s just the way I am, really. That amongst other things make me not quite fit in the little mining town I was born into, and so I travel. Which leads me to…

IV. I’m an Englishman in Mexico teaching English to Mexicans.

At the risk of being too navel-gazy about it, I think I’m running away from the very settled, local life that my brother and family still enjoy. Much as I love my family, I get terribly claustrophobic in that environment. I wanted to experience things, go places, meet people and have the kind of life I’ve read about in books. So I am. I’ve always had an affinity for words and language, so this is how I chose to do it.

Eventually, I want to have kids who have a life that is incomparable to their grandparents’. I want my grandchildren to do more still. I want my life to have made an impression on the world, even if it’s just an ant’s footprint.

V: I’m a geek. It’s perhaps not the most interesting thing to put into one of these, but it’s a huge identifier in who I am. On any given evening I will be procrastinating from housework, paid work or novel work with any one of the following:

Video games, science-fiction and fantasy anything, comic books, comic book movies, book-books, roleplaying (given an English-speaking geek community), blogging (hi!), watching YouTube videos about the above, Supernatural, The Big Bang Theory, posting on forums, Doctor Who, LARP, card games, board games, anything with Felicia Day in it… the list goes on.

Meddlers

This fact comes with this extra bonus fact: I used to be really fat.

I didn’t set out to be geeky, but when I hit university, I tried all  the things that seemed cool to me and kept doing them. I don’t really care that they’re not mainstream, or even that some are. I pretty much bumble along doing what I enjoy, making mistakes and hoping for the best. Hell, it’s why I’m sitting on my bed in Latin America rather than getting ready to go to my call centre job in South Yorkshire. Plans are for wimps. 😉

I hope you feel enlightened by all this. Comments welcome. Tune in again tomorrow!

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1 Although I say “sneaky little crush,” I am aware that subtlety and emotional guardedness are not weapons I hold in my arsenal. It’s was almost certainly common knowledge long before anything happened.
2 See Fact III.

A Note on Teaching

So I guess I’m going back to trying to post daily again. Anyway, I wanted to talk about teaching a little bit. Specifically, teaching in a middle or high school full-time. If I were going to give a piece of advice to a new teacher going into this kind of role, it would be this: once you lose your class, it’s almost impossible to get them back.

I’ve been working in a Mexican middle school for around seven months now. Although I’ve taught this age group before, I’ve never done so full-time. Unfortunately, in my first weeks here, I made some mistakes that are still affecting me today.

The thing is, I was placed with a class who are well-known for their behaviour problems. Having only taught teenagers in a summer school environment, I was not prepared to deal with this new challenge. I dived in with the stick, when I should have been developing a carrot-based relationship with them. As such, I am now not such a popular teacher in that class, though I am elsewhere. I failed to develop that relationship in my first weeks here, and that has caused innumerable problems in every class I have with them.

The main problem I’m facing is one of disrespect. Whereas in other classes one can simply walk in and wait, and ultimately the class will quieten enough that the teaching can begin, it’s not so simple with my class. For some reason, they have become accustomed to disrespecting me and receiving little or no punishment. Honestly, it’s exhausting and it means that I feel there is no point in planning complicated, interesting classes only to be largely ignored.

I can hand out zero-grades and extra homework, of course, and I do do that when it is appropriate. The class is exhausting, though, and I find myself dreading the time I spend with them. I would much prefer to go into the other classes I have had a chance to work with in the last couple of weeks. I really feel that I have grown as a teacher, but I am being held back by my original class’ poor behaviour and the mistakes I’ve made in response to that.

I suppose this is advice ton future-me who has a new class somewhere else. If it also helps any other new teachers who are starting out in this career, let me state it again:

The best thing you can do for a class is build a relationship with them.

I don’t care if you hate them, if they make your life difficult or they hold opinions you find personally offensive. You can’t let them see that. As soon as they see that they are not the delight of your day, career and life you will begin to lose them. They need to feel that you love them and want to help. Any less than that, and you’re doomed to crowd control for the rest of the year.