Wednesday, March 4, 2009

the end of the beginning

Tomorrow is the last day of my TEFL certification course...finally. While I haven't been happy with every aspect of the course, I have learned a lot and do feel prepared to start teaching...once I type up my CV, send it out to language institutes, get interviews, get hired, and all that good stuff. I hope to start this process early next week, which fortuitously coincides with the beginning of the school year in Argentina. 

During the past three weeks I have taught five classes, with mixed results. The first two classes went pretty well, I thought, and I walked home with a bounce in my step, confident that teaching would be a fulfilling and fun, albeit temporary, occupation. Last week, however, did not go as well as the previous week. While my lessons were by no means ineffective or painful, they were certainly tedious, and I felt that more often than not I was not getting through to my students. I think the lower teaching levels had something to do with it - I struggled to keep my dialogues and activities as basic as possible (simple sentences almost always make me cringe) and often threw in several words that were too advanced, and consequently created more trouble than they were worth. Several times I just wanted to say, "Don't worry that you don't know what it means - it's not important! For the love of God, can we just move on?!" My main problem was "teacher talk time", which basically means that I didn't know when to just shut up. I would often just rephrase my question, rather than allow a moment of silence for the students to stop and think. The silence flustered me a bit, and so I always tried to end it by any means possible. My trainers were very constructive in their criticism, and all in all my mistakes were like those of any beginner and could be remedied with effort and experience. I knew this, and so was not entirely discouraged. But there definitely were those moments when I questioned my choice and thought that maybe I was never meant to be a teacher. An exaggeration, to be sure, but in the back of my mind nonetheless. 

So it was with a significant amount of self-doubt that I prepared for my lessons this week. (Yes, Dad, I know I'm too hard on myself.) I didn't prepare as much as I should have this weekend, and was kicking myself in the ass on Tuesday morning as I was struggling to write the activities I intended to use. But sometimes things can come together just as quickly and inexplicably as they can fall apart, and such was the case for my lesson. I dramatically reduced my teacher talk time - it turns out that when you give students the chance to think, they usually come up with the right answer - and my explanations of the grammar point were succinct and effective. Moreover, there was a discernible flow and direction in the lesson which made my job much easier. I walked home with the same first-week-bounce in my step, realising that, as my trainers had suggested, several small changes in my preparation and execution could make all the difference. 

As for my new apartment...the first few days have been interesting. Well, maybe just the first day. I knew before I moved in that there would inevitably be some problems with the place - lights that don't work, the occasional leak, etc. It is an older place, after all, and I'm only paying $950 Argentine pesos (about $270) for monthly rent for a decently sized place in one of the nicest and most expensive neighbourhoods in the city. So I figured there had to be a catch, but I hoped that it would be just be several little surprises that I would adapt to easily. 

So far this has been the case, though initially I feared the worst. My room and bathroom are upstairs, but the steps and hallway leading to them are somewhat outside (if you continue two steps down the hallway from my room you reach the terrace.) Which means that when it rains, as it has been the past several days, the hallway floods. Not terribly so, but enough for you to need to mop the water out to the terrace. Ok, I can deal with that. There's also not really a handle or button to flush my toilet - you have to pull up the lever (?) in the tank. Again, once you figure out the technique, not a big deal. And I only get warm-hot water in the sink in my bathroom, though I've been told this will soon be fixed (we'll see.) So I've been adapting since Sunday, and I still think the terrace itself is worth the little hassles. (I'll try to post some pictures once the weather clears up.) 

And though I've only been here three days, I feel like it's already my home, if only because I've already comically wiped out in front of my new roommates. It seems that every time I move into a new place with new people, I inevitably break the ice by falling flat on my ass. This time I blame it on the wet floor and my dippy flip-flops, but really I'm just an incurable clutz. And I've got the scars to prove it. 

I think I'll get along well with my new roommates. I've been very busy these past couple of days and so haven't had much time to sit down and talk to them. Estefania is a 28 year old graphic designer from Buenos Aires, and Vicky is a 29 year journalist from London. She's currently working on a travel guide for Argentina and Uruguay. And then there's Salvador, la mascota de la casa, a cute pup.

I'm very excited for the "graduation" festivities that are to ensue tomorrow evening and will continue Friday evening when my entire class goes out to dinner (which will consist of beef and red wine, of course.) We're planning a weekend trip to Mar del Plata, a city on the beach about five hours south of Buenos Aires. We all deserve a small vacation after working hard for the past month. I really like the people in my class - there are about 20 of us - and while we have seen each other almost all day, every day, for the past month, this weekend should be a lot of fun. Unfortunately very few of them are staying in Buenos Aires once the course ends; most are looking to teach somewhere else, some are going back home. But that seems to be the case for TEFL teachers and expats in general: people always coming and going, meeting new people and creating friendships, but knowing that they'll be gone before long. 

Of course, once you expand your circle of friends outside of the expat bubble, this is less of a problem. On that note...I met with my Spanish tutor, Marco, yesterday, for the first time. It was an "interview" rather than a lesson, in that he wanted to assess my level and explain how lessons would work. I should start with a full lesson on Friday, and I can't wait. For me, starting a new language is always an exhilarating experience - what was entirely foreign to you mere hours before is suddenly recognizable. There's a sense of possession that comes with the acquisition of new vocabulary, and I always start lessons with a certain amount of greed. For me, the frustration comes later. And it inevitably comes, often sooner than I would expect, so I like to revel in those first few glorious weeks when you mark your progress in great strides rather than small steps. I've never taken private lessons before, and I'm excited to progress at my own speed (however quickly or slowly that may be) rather than according to the needs of my peers. 

That's all for now. Need to get a good night's sleep before the festivities begin. 

1 comment:

  1. great post puta. sounds like you are doing well and enjoying yourself (an admittedly keith thing to say). i am not sure if you can say dippy in your blog. i believe there are at most four people who understand what that means, and it is probably just you and me since ka and cyn have always been a bit slow. keep up with the blog posts. i really do enjoy reading them. you know you write very well. and you are funny. did you know that? practica su español. diviértete este fin de semana en la playa. en el futuro hablaremos solamente en español. te llamaré cuando regresas. ciao.