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.

 

Thanksgiving

I’m British and therefore not a follower of this holiday. That said, sometimes it’s good to think about the good things you have in your life. Doubly so if you’re a crazy person like me. So, here we go.

I’m thankful that I’m losing weight. I realise it’s shallow, but I used to weigh around 300 pounds. I’ll take every ounce I can get.

I’m thankful for the friendships and social life I’ve developed in Mexico. Much as I sometimes churlishly complain, I wouldn’t change them for anything.

I’m thankful for living in Mexico. I’m living a life far from where I was born; experiencing, eating and doing things I never could at home. It’s easy to become blasé about it, but that’s all I’ve ever wanted.

I’m thankful my DELTA application was accepted, so I can keep moving forward in my career, while enjoying Mexico for 12 more months.

I’m thankful for Doctor Who. Judge me or not, I don’t care. 😛

I’m thankful that I have tentative plans to go to ComicCon next year. My point on judgement continues. 😛

I’m thankful for my life – even when I don’t or can’t remember to be.

Happy thanksgiving.

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.

Discipline and the Classroom Relationship (with a side-salad of self-loathing)

Today I was removed from the class I have been teaching since August ostensibly because they need help with the end of year projects. The real reason is because I simply can’t control them.

This year was the first time I’d ever taught full-time in a school. I’ve worked for months at a time in the UK, but never from summer to summer. I’d never developed a relationship that had to sustain discipline and order for an entire year. So, I didn’t give it much thought this year. So I failed.

As it is, I tried to be the friendly-funny teacher it’s easy to be in a seasonal school. No, not just that – I was myself in class, and in real life I am friendly, kind of funny and more than kind of disorganised. When I began to have discipline problems, I resorted to threats and anger. This is not the way to go. Not even a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong: my failure didn’t turn 28 angels into 28 monsters. It doesn’t work like that, either. It was a difficult class, which I was assigned since, and I quote “we figured a man could handle it”. Putting aside the implied sexism, they were wrong. Other teachers have problems with that class, but I have the most. They don’t respect me, they don’t like me and they don’t want to do my work. Those students who are eager to improve their English are stupider due to my relationship with the class monkeys and their accomplices.

I do feel guilty about this. I really do. I’ve spent the months since my failure became apparent trying to fix it. The truth is, as I said before, once you lose that relationship, it’s almost impossible to get back.

So, what would I have done differently? Well, I would have spent an early class building a class contract with the students. I grade and return within x days, all weekend work taken on Tuesday in return for not standing/leaving class, no cell phones, finishing work etc. I would have set a routine for the beginning and end of every class. I wouldn’t have asked them not to behave like monkeys.

So, what have I learned? Well, I’ve learned that teaching teenagers is hard. Duh, right? It’s a real juggling act to be someone they respect/like but will also work for. It’s something I need to work on.

I prefer teaching adults. I’ve learned that. Adults have their own motivation (or the government who pays their unemployment cheques) and work as much or as little as they are able. It’s easier to develop a relationship, and when there are issues of discipline, the rest of the class are your allies, not your enemies.

Do I still want to teach teenagers? Good question. Honestly, I don’t know. The other 11-18 year olds I’ve taught haven’t been as bad as that one particular class. But, again, those were classes I taught for shorter periods of time. I’m hoping to get another, similar role in Mexico City next year. I think I’ll spend that time making my decision. Right now, I’m feeling like a failure and I’ve been struggling with my depression lately. I may not be a good teacher, but I’m smart enough to know that it’s not a good time to make a big life decision.

The First is the Model for the Rest

Or: Why I Go For Weird Girls

Gamer Girl

Lately, I’ve been reading Lust in Translation. It’s a fascinating, well-researched read with jolly insight from the American journalist who wrote it. It feeds well into interests I gained in a non-conventional relationship I had in the past. If you want my review, that was it.

Anyway, what really inspired me to write this post was the beginning of chapter 3:

In theory, a university-educated white woman (like me) could date and marry an immigrant Mexican laborer who didn’t finish high school. But although I occasionally meet working-class Mexicans, I have had romantic partners who shared my ethnicity, schooling and economic standing. Even when they weren’t American, my boyfriends have been stock analysts and journalists.

The way we sort our sex partners intrigued researchers at the University of Chicago. They wondered how a Mexican man in Chicago, a city of 3 million people, might find that every potential girlfriend he meets comes from the same town in Michoacán. MEanwhile my girlfriends gripe that all the eligible men they know are lawyers from New Jersey.

As I think I have said before, I come from a small village in South Yorkshire, whose people are ex-coal miners and their families. Almost everyone loves football, beer and not being called ‘gay’ by their friends. Therefore, isn’t this the kind of woman I should be attracted to?

This section got me thinking about my relationships, and about what might have affected them. It got me wondering whether our first relationships have a palpable effect on the relationships that follow. As a sample of one, I’d like to submit myself for the study, though I’m far from the first to theorise on this point1.

I think I’ve always been ill at ease with the ‘Come On You Reds!’ environment of my upbringing2. That’s what my mum says, anyway. I think the thing that had the most affect, though, was my first relationship.

My first girlfriend was a close friend of mine when I was 12 years old. Since I was a fat kid who covered his insecurities with stupid jokes, that’s her first point in the ‘weird’ column.

In truth, I don’t really remember much about C from when we first met. The strongest impression I have of her is the cartoon-like character she became in her search for identity during pre-adulthood. I remember watching Wiccan rituals enacted with fruit juice in plastic cups, and I remember her going to our American-style prom in a black lace evening dress she could have stolen from a Victorian widow. I remember her sarcasm, misanthropy, outspoken opinions, poorly-dyed black hair and growing interest in alternative culture. In sum, I remember a strong sense of her differentness, which I think still affects me today: long after I realised that my first love was wholly ridiculous at that delicate time in her life.

What little Internet footprint I can find of her tells me one thing: the people I’ve become close to since then would probably have a lot in common with her.

C was in my life for six years in one role or another; even as a dubious friend when my next relationship started.

The relationship in question started when the girlfriend of a good friend of mine needed to talk to someone about leaving him just as I needed to talk to someone about having been left.

S was kind of a mainstream breath of fresh air after C, although she didn’t exactly go with the flow of the crowd, either. She had a tattoo, several ear-piercings and a belly button bar. At the time, freshly pressed from the grim North, this was amazingly exotic to me. She was (and is) sarcastic, occasionally acerbic, intelligent in a career of morons and with an interest in Gothic fashion. We had a comfortable, if staid time together, where she often humoured my geekier side that grew along with my independence. I suppose that’s why I was initially drawn to E, after far too long a mourning period.

S, along with a couple of my other exes, as one of my best friends, regardless of geography. Although that held back my recovery for a while, I’m glad we were able to stay civil.

The torch I carried? Seems appropriate.

Okay, so on to E. The truth is, I’d carried a little torch for E for a while. Well, maybe not a torch, but it was certainly bigger than a matchstick. Maybe it was just the idea of sitting naked while discussing the likelihood of Romana returning to Doctor Who3.

Anyway, E was an is pierced in several interesting places, is into Doctor Who, roleplaying, LARP, Sherlock Holmes, oh and polyamory4. She has her share of ‘The Crazy’ which either complimented or rubbed up against mine depending on the direction of the wind. I had a crazy, complicated, fun and educational year with E which is still a regular topic in my after-dinner conversations.

During that year, I had two little flings5. One was with a sweet, clever and slightly socially awkward girl who came to my flat to watch Glee. The other was with a strong, passionate roller girl with whom I sometimes regret not having had the courage to pursue something more serious with. They were and are two amazing, weird and sometimes baffling woman who could never be mistaken for each other in any circumstances. Neither would they fit into daytime TV’s narrow sphere of normality, save Glee-girl, who passes only because her shyness hides her intelligence and originality.

I am not going to discuss my experience at the Heaven’s Basement concert, as that is a post or two in and of itself.

Lalla Ward as a vampire. Because I can.The movie is Vampire Circus. If you don’t know who she is, Google is your friend. And I judge you.  

That brings us to this past year, then. First is J. She was my boss at a seasonal ESL school who I mocked for trying to keep a photocopy unstickmaned. She was pierced, tattooed, cynical, just back from Russia and as into me as I was into her. This last was particularly surprising to me, as I can only say for certain that that had happened to me once before. Anyway, we shared the same silly sense of humour, career and plans for the future. She even had previous dealing with my particular brand of the Crazy. Within a month we were in love, engaged, living together and had confirmed jobs in Mexico. Only two of those are still true. Yes, sometimes it is weird, but I only choose the girls who can deal with ‘weird’.

Now there is P, a weird Mexican I met on the Internet who likes ice sculpture, video games, zombie walks and cats. She’s an ex-roller girl who almost moved to Paris for a man. I totally get that. She has tattoos, piercings and cynicism; all of which seem to be prerequisites in my dates.

Again, the relationship is moving ridiculously fast while we come to terms with each other’s Crazy. Hm. There’s a lesson there somewhere.

So, yeah. I’ve had minor-crushes on attractive mainstream(ish) girls, but never ones who can only talk about The X Factor and the Kardashians. They included a Belarusian (discussed before on this blog), a deceptively normal-looking rocker, a fellow teaching student with man issues and a girl with dreadlocks, unshaven armpits and a tendency to fall of the roof when writing poetry. Okay, maybe I don’t go for mainstream girls.

I haven’t made a personal, romance-related blog for a while. They usually turn to angst and self-criticism in my experience. Regardless, writing out my romantic history like this certainly shows that I have a mental type6.

So, maybe C still haunts me today. Maybe she’s why between a girl with pink hair and tattoos or a girl with blonde hair and fashionable clothes, I’ll always as Pink Hair for directions. An alternative, of course, is that I’m just looking for someone as abnormal as myself. Pot-AY-to, pot-AH-to.

Assuming anyone is reading this: have you had the same experience? Looking back with honesty, is there one kind of person; one model of personality that you keep coming back to? How far can you trace it back? Why do you love the people you love?

 

1  One and Two, for example.
2 Come on you Reds!
3 A lady of my acquaintance is due a thorough induction in the not-so-distant future. 
4 Polyamory from Miriam-Webster: ” the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.”
5 A reminder – Polyamory from Miriam-Webster: ” the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.”
6 Though not a physical one, but I think posting pictures would be undignified.