Thursday, September 26, 2013

work work work

Lately I've been having a lot of ups and downs about my work situation.  Well, mainly downs, and until I get my working papers, I'm just trying to be positive about it all...

For those who are unaware of exactly what I'm doing....  It has not proven so easy to find stable work in Barcelona, like I did in Madrid.  So, I am working as a "freelance" ESL teacher.  "Freelance" because I'm not exactly in the system per se, or I'm not in the system at all, as much as I'd like to be.  And until I am, my freelance status is more or less a self-given title.  For lack of a better way to put it.  It's not bad, working more or less for myself, but the instability is something I am not used to.  I also miss going to one place and putting my hours in, because this job requires a lot of running around, or should I say cycling around, and let me tell you, I'm two weeks in and my legs are already in tip-top shape..

Anyway, I have students of all types--with adults I work on grammar, vocabulary and fluency; with children I mainly teach through games, songs and other ludic activities; then there are the "mommy and me" classes which I sometimes can't believe I am a part--much less the leader--of, but then again, they are often the most entertaining...

Here. An inside look.

There are the Golden Girls, or what I've decided to call one of my new classes, which consists of three very classy and retired female friends.  It's actually questionable as to whether or not any of the three of them have ever worked, but I'm sure I'll eventually find out because that's what we do: talk.  They are interested in maintaining their surprisingly advanced level of English through interesting conversation about worldly issues.  They prefer to meet in a cafe, because what better than to chat over than a coffee, and so on Monday mornings we get together to speak some English.

We usually start with a review of the reading they've done at home, and then basically spend the next hour and a half battling to get a word in.  Unless I'm making corrections or clarifying doubts, I really don't say much.  It's actually pretty nice because maintaining the flow of conversation can often be the hardest part about this type of class.  But not with these women.  They have got a lot to say.  We laugh a lot, too, because these women really crack themselves up.  I love it.

Moving on to another conversation class is a couple with whom I've also just recently started.  We meet bright and early before the Golden Girls, beautiful because the majority of adults are usually looking for a teacher who can come after work, not before.  Anyway, this is not my first couples class, and hopefully it will not be my last.  I absolutely love the dynamic that is created between two partners working together, or at least in parallel, at something.  And they are usually the people I get know the best, if only through observing their behavior with one another..

Whenever I begin with a new couple, I usually use the same ice-breaker activity, which consists of a "how well do you know your partner" quiz (and don't worry, I always foreground it with "This is a very silly activity and really it's just an excuse to make you talk, laugh and feel comfortable", to avoid any homewrecking situations if you can imagine..).  So we did the activity a few weeks ago, and one of the questions was, "Who is your favorite singer or musical group?".  Each student answers for themselves, and then for their partner.  After we finish the quiz, we go through each question one by one.  When we got to this item the girl said something like, "I wrote nothing for him.  It's that he doesn't really have a favorite musician, he's not very interested in music".  And he says , "Okay, I guess you're right. ....."  And we sit there, the girl and I, waiting to see what he had written down, because judging by his facial expression, "nothing" was not his answer.  And all of the sudden, he proudly states, "Well, Beyonce.  I guess I like Beyonce."  And his girlfriend nearly fell of her chair in shrieks of laughter.  I was trying to be professional, so I responded, "Ya, she's good!"  Which she is.  But it was definitely not the response I was expecting from a 30 year old journalist who works in the car and motor racing industry.  His girlfriend said she would never let him off for that one.

Then there are the other types of couples...the "mommy and me" classes that I do in a "mommy and me" center, with an average of four babies to a group.   This is soo not-my-style, but I've actually come to really enjoy them, mainly because the age of the children is just so adorable (that being between 1 and 2 years old).  Some of them don't even have any words in Spanish or Catalan yet, but I know they are registering them in English, making a place in their brains, for example, next to "azul" and "blau" for "blue".  And I say "mommy and me" with a bit of a chuckle, because sometimes mommy can't make it.  Sometimes it's "grandpa and me", poor grandpa struggling to sit down at circle time and then not getting up again until we move to the table.  Other times it's "auntie and me".  And then, for one little boy, it's always "manny and me"...

I wasn't sure at the beginning if Cesar, the hot-pink, skin-tight v-neck wearing body builder was the father or step father or uncle or what, because the two had a strange, almost grudging relationship.  And obviously it was not something I was going to ask.  But with time, it became clear that he was in fact the child's manny, and some horrible parent was subjecting him to this torture.  If I thought I wasn't into these types of things, Cesar is definitely not into them.  It doesn't help that the little boy is a terror, the only one who is more often than not completely in his own world during the whole duration of the 45 minute class.  Poor Cesar.  I feel for him.

And between just those three classes are a handful of others...the three 40 something, very busy photographers, more or less beginners, who hope that I will work magic with our one and half hour session a week (despite my pleas, homework assignments, etc, they do nothing outside class to improve).  Then there is the very young, dedicated techy, who as intelligent and hardworking as he is, struggles and struggles to not make the same, very serious mistake twenty times in one class.  There are the extra-curricular classes I teach at a very yuppie private school during lunch hours.  Of the 15 to 20 hours of class I teach in a week, these are probably my least favorite.  A group of 12 rebellious (and failing) 12 year old students is enough to ruin even the most patient of a teacher's day.

And of course there's the middle-aged mom who will be traveling to Houston at the end of October to get open heart surgery with one of the best surgeons in the world.  She does not believe me when I say that it's very possible her nurses will be bilingual, being Houston and all.  But then again, she was there for three days last year and did not get that impression.  She has played it pretty cool, laughing about her clumsiness with English (she is somewhere around pre-intermediate), always studying out of the book I gave her but without too much abandon, and basically coming off as a carefree stay-at-home mom who really just wants to speak English more or less well.  Pretty amazing considering the situation.  It wasn't until this week that she has shown any signs of nervousness, and though this is unusual, we spent our whole class writing emails to the hospital coordinators in Houston.  She was so worried that they wouldn't understand a certain detail about the preparations for her surgery, and her gratitude for my help was undoubtedly the highlight of my week.

By far the best part about all these classes is meeting new people and getting a real inside glimpse of what would otherwise be a total stranger's life.  I put up an ad, some people respond to it.  Or I respond with my resume to ads for people in search of a teacher.  But the odds of coming together are actually quite slim, just due to the sheer amount of students and teachers out there ('tis the moment to teach English in Spain).  And every time I meet with new potential students, and I see the possibilities of our relationship, I get a surge of excitement.  Because I know we will probably, inevitably, become friends.

So despite the instability, the rainy days that I have to be in several different parts of the city at 10, 1 and 5 o'clock (so unproductive), the feeling that my job is not serious, or worthy, or whatever...  There are enough good moments that remind me that it's not half-bad, that for a temporary situation I've really got it made, that I might actually miss this one day...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

back in BCN

After eight months of being over it, it took an intense three weeks back in the states and a consequential good hour just now rummaging through old posts and photos, to get me back to my senses..

As much as I have sort of come to despise everything that is "the blog"--some people's self righteousness, others' obsession with self promotion, etc--it is just so much fun, mainly for me.  The otherwise solo process of writing, reflecting and then looking back can also be enjoyed with others.  Plus it forces me to dot my i's and cross my t's. update.  I was here last in February.  Fast forward eight months later and I am sitting in my cavernous and cave-like Barcelona apartment, jet lagged and nostalgic.

For what? Oh you know, just the normal things, like Ibiza in January and Lucas's and I's co-unemployment; my mom and her aura and her house, even though I at one point in this trip said I would never return there; a heartbreakingly beautiful short story I read at 4 am while flying over the Atlantic Ocean this morning, and the hour that followed in which I could do nothing but skim those eight pages over and over; the smell of my Sophomore year dorm room, which smelled like my roommate's DKNY perfume which she sprayed without abandon every morning before taking off for the next 12 hours; the smell of this very house that I sit in, and I wonder how a person can be nostalgic for something that is literally right under (or in) their nose.

It's actually quite the rainy, chilly fall day in Barcelona, even though it's technically still summer.  I attribute the nostalgia to this:  I ventured out and zombied around a bit ago when it had stopped raining, and coming back in, with my leather jacket on, I had a deja vu of March and April, the first months here, the dark, damp and chilly front-of-the-house that never invites you to hang up your coat on the coat rack. You walk around in jacket and scarf for a good ten minutes before you realize you're inside and should probably put a sweater on instead.

I can't help but be a little disappointed by this non-welcome home that BCN is offering me.  Not only the cold, crappy weather but also today happens to be a holiday, one of the biggest here in Catalunya, being the National Day of Catalunya and all, and the streets are filled with aggressive anti-Spanish signs and people dressed like superman in the Catalunya Independence flag.  They are making a human chain all around the Catalan territory to show their support in the movement for independence.  Trying to see it from an objective point of view, I can't help but feel a certain negativity, the masked hatred that is brewing up in the crowds.  I'm all about patriotism, I'm from the US, how could I not be?  But this anti-patriotism, against Spain, overshadows the Catalan's pride in being from Catalunya, and for me, as an outsider, probably because I'm an outsider, it's a huge turnoff.

But nonetheless, aside from the rain and the reminder of my ex-patriotism, I am happy.  I nearly teared up at the airport, looking through its floor to ceiling windows at the mountains to one side and the sea to the other.  It's rainy, the perfect excuse to hole up in my room, reach out to the world via web (I have probably sent over 150 emails today) and wait for Lucas to get home from his trip to Copenhagen.  I feel like I've been away for ages.