Friday, 29 April 2016

Seasons Greetings

Things are finally heating up here in Spain, and the academic year is fast coming to an end. I shall be off travelling in June, working in the UK in July and August and returning to Iberia in September. But it's not just in English teaching where Spain is a land of seasonal work.

As much as us teachers head off to work in colder climes, the bucket and spade brigade arrive to the Costas to soak up the sun and the sangría. While half of Spain's industry packs up in summer (especially August), tourism kicks in and cafés, bars and hotels make ends meet for the rest of the year by catering for the masses.

Primary industry is still king in Andalucía, which means that people are constantly in and out of work, and their fortunes are constantly changing depending on commodity prices. The daily Cordoba newspaper dedicates a whole spread to agricultural prices, charts and tables.

The ever changing status of people's live here have led them to being quite relaxed about whether their cupboards are full or empty. Everyone is always borrowing cups of sugar from neighbours and sharing what they have (tools, cigarettes etc), it fosters a nice community spirit.

There is certainly no stigma about unemployment benefit as people regularly receive help from the government in between seasonal work, which greases the wheels of the local economy. Some people are a little to willing to take advantage of employee benefits and lax HR policy though. Thankfully, I have never worked in an industry where there just aren't any jobs at that moment.

Truly, everything is flexible here. Landlords are willing to accept 9 months rent for the entire year if the tenant is going away for the summer (often the case with English teachers). The same is true for utility bills. You can just go into the offices and switch them on or off depending on your needs.

Spring 2016 has also been the season where I've made a concerted effort to write more fiction an poetry. You can read some of my work on Scriggler. I will update you on any publications via my Twitter account.

Next month I'll be reviewing an upcoming recruitment fair in Cordoba (wish me luck) and reflecting on my fifth anniversary as a teacher.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Adventures from the classroom 26

May is going to be busy.

I've got the parents visiting, writing submissions, exam season, the Cordoba fair, immigration admin, a summer job to prep, and one month trip to plan. After all that, I hope to remain an EU citizen so I can keep working in Spain!

For these reasons, this is likely to be my last classroom adventures for a little while. Anyway, here's some funny stuff that's happened recently.


Twin trouble:

Every teacher's worst nightmare . . . identical twins.

I've actually taught twins before, and it took me a couple of weeks to realise as they were in different classes and had virtually the same name. This time, both of the buggers are in one group, and it's a class where the students spend more time rolling about on the floor and throwing pencil cases at each other, than listening to yours truly.

They both have a very low level of English, although their attitudes are slightly different. Pretty much the only English they can manage is this:

"WazzameaningindInglish . . . .Se me olvido mi carpeta." or
"WazzameaningindInglish . . . Jorge me está pegando."

. . . or that phrase followed by a long discourse in Spanish about how their dog has a funny face and big teeth.

Thankfully, I've learned to tell them apart even though they always come identically dressed in flannel shirts, and woollen pullovers, because one of them has a mole above his right eye. The one with the mole is naughtier. He swans about like an important olive oil magnate, like he doesn't give a damn about wasting everyone's time because he is a king and we are the peasants. They always sit apart with different friends, in fact they never really interact.

They are funny, I'll give them that. They both sport perfectly cropped side partings and are always dressed formally. There is something about the way they look that makes them seem 45 rather than 10.

Just as a note on how weird they are, these are the items they brought to Show & Tell:

'No mole' brought a ripped off woman's head from a glossy magazine.
'Naughty moley' brought a glue gun. I had to physically stop him plugging it in so he couldn't try and stick his classmates together.


Stat Attack:

Here's three charts that pretty much sum up my daily teaching experience.

1. Almost everyone who wants to go to the toilet is male, and under 12. I don't think they have smaller bladders, they just love getting out of class. If permission is ever granted they smile at their classmates like the Cheshire Cat.


2. Older students like to keep their phones on the table and insist that they have no pockets or bags to keep the damned contraptions in. I actually confiscated 6 (six!) phones form one class whilst we were reading an article about the disadvantages of mobile phone addiction.


3. This graph is relevant to all of my groups bar my two adult classes.

The red line is them.
The blue line is me.

I hate the fact that the only way to get them to listen even a little is to constantly drone on and even shout, but I have yet to find an effective method to get them to put a sock in it.


Hoist with her own petard: 

The time has come for me to moan about surly teenage girls. I won't go into detail, but I have one low level class of 15 year olds who are particularly rude. They bustle past me not returning my 'hellos' and 'how are yous?' and proceed to ignore me for one hour. I understand that they don't want to be cooped up in English class, but they may as well try to pass the exam so they can stop coming!

I only have the group for two hours a week, so it is hard to build any trust, rapport, familiarity or framework with them. There are plenty of ideas to try although I like to try and kill them with kindness. The more awful they are to me, the more I smile and try to help them, the more they flinch from my handshakes and high fives the more I shove my smiling mug in their faces. It's a truly intriguing battle.

Anyway, one particular class, I made an example of one of the girls as she was talking over me constantly. I said she was wasting everyone's time as I had to repeat everything five times. She got embarrassed and tried to save face by saying she didn't understand me. As a language teacher with nearly five years experience I know when people understand me.

She took her cronies to complain about my lack of clear speech to my boss who then asked me about their behaviour. I told her that they had the worst attitude of any students I have ever encountered and she promptly phoned their parents to tell them that they were being difficult. I assumed my boss knew about these students, but they had somehow escaped her watchful eye and their bad behaviour was news to her.

I don't want to gloat, but I found it funny that they acted up in my class and though they could get me in trouble. Unfortunately, the call to their parents hasn't really improved their behaviour, so I'll have to keep smiling :)


Exam time:

The Spanish love exams. It's test after test, just like Mexico. In fact, I am expected to assess the 70 or so students I teach at the public school every three weeks. I teach them for 30 minutes per week and have to grade pronunciation, fluency, participation and effort . . . individually.

Most students who come to the academy, come to pass the tests which they need to go to, or finish university, so there is a big exam focus with the classes.

Individual speaking exams are always pretty time consuming and require classes to be left to their own devices. When you have to hear about how many brothers and sisters people have, or how you spell "Baena" for the 80th time that day, you want to rip your ears off.

I tried to keep the kids busy during my speaking exams with Finding Nemo and Wallace & Gromit but they are so unaccustomed to being unsupervised that they just went mental and shouted and hit each other during the showing. I guess I am learning that if you treat children as adults, they still act like children. Ha ha.

On the plus side, one kid did tell give me a wonderful insight into the Spanish nuclear family.

"My father likes the Hot Dogs" he stated confidently, "But is very interesting . . . because my mother no like the Hot Dogs".


Crosses and ticks update: 

Where to start? I have had successes and failures, tantrums, emotional hand shakes and toothy grins of gratitude. One thing is for certain, they all know they question now

"Phil! How many ticks for me?"

I like to offer different prizes for getting three ticks (or positive points), although they go too mad for pens, and some dick stole my box of sweets so I have to stick with stickers for the moment.

I have had some success improving behaviour with bad students who respond to praise and love being able to get a prize for doing good work. On the other side of things, I think it can be useful to threaten the good students with crosses (sanctions) if they are taking it easy or not paying attention - it shows that you are fair.

The problem is that the ticks and crosses are interrelated systems. A bad student who pushes their luck can do just enough good work to get their crosses cleared and avoid sanctions, and a good student who occasionally misbehaves can undo all of their good work by being loud or disruptive once.

The system certainly needs work as it is too volatile, but I have to remember that with twelve different academy groups it ain't easy managing all of the different ages and abilities.


Show and Tell: 

I wanted to do something fun with my younger groups and allow them to talk about themselves. We had studied materials and objects a lot so I gave a rousing example of 'Show & Tell' with my Marks and Spencer biscuit tin (thanks mum).

I made sure everyone brought in something different - jewellery, books, clothes, footballs, iPads, photos and of course weird ripped off heads of models and glue guns.

I made it very clear that I wanted photos of pets, not the animals, however one cheeky little madam brought in her canary, cage and all. As her parents had already driven off, I was stuck with the blasted budgie for an hour so put it high on a shelf an hoped it wouldn't be too noisy.

Halfway through the class my boss came in to speak to me about some exams. I glared at my class to make sure they didn't make any whistling sounds and luckily she didn't notice the bird perched on the cabinet. Result!

There were of course, several students who forgot their object. Their objects were replaced by Google images or an item of their clothing. I did manage to get decent photos of them all (except one grumpy chap) to display in the classroom. The presentations were regularly interrupted by whinges about not seeing the item properly, or heckles from the crowd, but I think they enjoyed bringing something in anyway.

My other groups were subjected to my new found literary prowess and wrote cinquain poems about sea creatures. See the Penguin example above.

Until next time.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Semana Santa in Spain

Semana Santa in Spain . . . was basically this for a whole week. Processions.

Drums and marching bands until late into the night, while hooded groups from church contemplated their sins in silence. I mostly just watched and drank wine.

To give you a rest from my babbling I will let the pictures do the talking for once.


The large coastal city has some nice old parts and plenty of smart new additions too.

Lots of older English ordering calamari and buying ceramics before heading to the Picasso museum.

I stayed right next to the central market, handy for a quick bite.

Here's a view of the port from on top of the hill.

And finally, not a fan of 'builder's' but this is my cup of tea. Already looking forward to a trip across the water to Morocco!


The small town of Ronda lies inland perched atop the an impressive cliff face.

Here is the famous bridge that joins the two sides of the town across a gorge.

Great walking in the hills below the town.

I stayed here, in a great location below the bridge. It turned out to be one of my favourite hostels, great value, really relaxing and served a mean Spanish omelet.


Gibraltar, the home of proper pubs, the navy and even a Morrison's! What with the Spanish frantically buying fags and gin, the locals talking about the Premier League and the monkeys, it struck me as a great setting for a Soap Opera. Move over El Dorado!
The view from the top . . . again. Walking up the rock was possible although not recommended at the tourism office. 

After hours monkeying around up there I devoured the curry I ordered in about two minutes.

Gibraltar really is 'little England', with red phone boxes, the same pedestrian crossings and bank notes with the Queen's lovely face on. These threatening no parking signs amused me for some reason.

After an exhausting day wandering around, getting lost and finally finding a place to buy Marmite and curry paste, I headed to Algeciras, the Spanish port across the water.


Europe's oldest city is a corker. Narrow cobbled streets, tidy city beaches and some great harbour views.

I got the boat across the water (not the one pictured), as the city is on a spit. It was a nice walkable size and was busy with Semana Santa processions, although not a crazy as Sevilla or Málaga.

Being in a city with this many forts reminded me of being in Portabelo in Panama waiting for my maritime voyage across the Caribbean. I got a great 'racoon' tan after hours pounding the pavements wearing sunglasses and no hat.

It was a great trip around the South of Spain, now it's back to Baena for a few months before some more travels.

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