Thursday, 14 June 2012

Clases particulares


So as I mentioned in my last post, I've been a bad blogger.  I'm actually home now, so technically I can't really give you adventures from Spain, but there are a few posts I wanted to do before saying adiós from cyberspace.

The first thing I want to ramble a bit about is giving private lessons whilst you're abroad.  Because it's a real hit and miss business. 

Generally, I think I've generally been very lucky this year, I've worked with some amazing families and students and really enjoyed doing private tutoring.  That said, though, I've had some bad/strange experiences  and should probably warn new assistants that it's not all plain sailing!

To begin with, you'll get the odd family who will cancel lessons on you at a moment's notice.  I had one woman who developed an annoying habit of texting me five minutes before a class was due to start, telling me her daughter had suddenly developed a migraine.  The final straw came when she cancelled because her daughter was 'tired' and I had to tell her that I was too.  Tired of eating my lunch two hours early so I could teach in my break, tired of preparing classes that I never got to teach and tired of factoring money into my budget that I never got paid.  *Grumpy face*

Then you'll have forgetful students.  You'll arrange and prepare a class and go all the way to their door to find they're not in.  This will frustrate you immensely, especially when said class isn't in the city you live in and on a Saturday.

You may also be frustrated by getting up out of bed, walking a mile, turning up to give a lesson and your student telling you they don't feel like speaking English today, thank you.  (Seriously.)

The weirdest thing though are the families that don't interact with you.   If I had a kid, I'd want to know exactly who was with them, what they were like and what they were doing.  So imagine my surprise when I turned up for the first day of a new class I'd arranged via email and a nanny who had never laid eyes on me before just left me to my own devices with two very young children.  When the mother eventually did turn up, the only thing she said to me was 'how much do you charge?'  Then she handed me the money and I left the house. 

I think what made this even more striking was that after this class, I went to another family who couldn't have been more different.  This one always welcomed me into the house, had a little chat with me, offered me a drink and then asked about their kids' progress when the lesson was over.  What a contrast.

So yeah, I suppose if you're lucky, you're lucky and if you're not, it can be pretty crap.  One good piece of advice I was given though is to make sure that you get paid a flat rate per month for private classes, rather than per lesson.  Most families will agree to this if you offer them a good deal, and the advantage for you is a steady income. Whether your student cancels/forgets/decides they can't be arsed, getting paid anyway often softens the blow!  

De vuelta al teclado


I know that the logical title of this blog should be 'Semana Santa Parte Dos:  Un Hostal de Mierda con una Dueña  Esquizofrénica', but the holidays were so long ago that it now feels redundant to write about it all.  (I'm sorry I've been skiving so much from blogging, things have been a bit crazy of late!  This is actually a blog from the middle of May that I forgot to post and there's more to follow, os prometo!)

Anyway, I return to the keyboard tonight because I just booked my flight home.  I have only three weeks left here in La Rioja and everyone keeps asking me how I'm feeling about it.  This'll be an attempt to explain.

Put simply, I have mixed emotions.  On the one hand, I love being here, I've met some fantastic new people and I have a pretty cushy little number with my job, but on the other, it's time for me to move on.  There are lots of negative sides to this experience that a lot of people don't ever talk about, and although I don't want to complain, I'd like to clarify.

So firstly, of course, upping sticks and going to a new place involves leaving your friends, family and significant other behind.  That's not easy.  For all you may meet new people and get along with them brilliantly, they're no substitute for the people that know you best.

Secondly, I don't know if you ever quite get over your culture shock whilst you're away.  Some of it is immensely positive - I love the café culture here, the long lunches and the laid back attitude.  But I still can't believe that everything's closed between 2 and 5.  And the jornada partida (Spanish timetable of working 9-2, then 5-9, for example) will always remain an enigma to me.  

On top of that, even the most well adapted person sometimes has days when they wish they could have their home comforts.  I mean, I nearly had a mental breakdown in the supermarket the other week trying to find the right brand of tea and digestive biscuits.  It had been a particularly hard day, no-one at home was picking up the phone and the supermercado seemed to be my only salvation.  The awful realisation that it neither stocked McVities nor Tetley almost killed me.

Thirdly, the teaching does have its downsides. The first one, which you might roll your eyes at, is that it's easy.  By that, I don't mean that teaching is an easy profession, oh no, I just mean that teaching your mother tongue is not something that exactly requires you to perform intellectual somersaults.  I overheard an assistant the other day saying:  'I feel like I haven't used my brain all year' and that's kind of how I feel.  After 5 years of constantly challenging myself at university, spending my days explaining the difference between 'who', 'where', 'what' and 'when' makes me feel a bit restless.

And along with feeling restless, I'll admit at this point that I feel entirely dispensable.  I often wonder if I'm really doing anything that couldn't be done just as well in my absence.  Everyone tells me that I'm just being stupid when I say this and that there's no substitute for a native language teacher, but sometimes I'm just working from a textbook and the Spanish teacher's explanation of a concept is much clearer than mine.  You see, she's obviously had to learn all the rules of English grammar and knows why phrases are constructed in a certain way, whereas I've never really sat down to ponder when you should use what form of the future conditional...

Every once and again you do get the feeling that you're being useful though, if not for your insightful grammar explanations, but for being a young and 'fun' teacher and motivating the students to learn.  When you notice a 12 year old girl hangs on every word you say (demanding of her classmates to 'BE QUIET NOW, BECAUSE CLAIRE IS SPEAKING!') and tells you she wants to be an English teacher when she grows up, just like you, it's lovely.  Or I was telling one of my first years the other day that they would be getting a new language assistant next year and he said:  'Cómo se dice:  la nueva lectora no me va a caer tan bien?'  ('How do I say:  I won't like the new assistant as much as you?')  Unfortunately though, that tender moment was soon ruined by all his classmates shouting 'PELOTAAAAAAA!'  ('TEACHER'S PET!')  Good thing really, stops me getting too sentimental!