Monday, September 27, 2010


Nowadays, I'm teaching preschool as well as elementary school.  This is, to say the least, a unique experience.  Today I woke up with a raging headache and pounding sinuses, but headed into school anyway.  My first class was with the first primary class, the three year olds.  I walked in and they were screaming, sobbing, and clinging to moms.  It might be worth noting that my lesson starts fifteen minutes after school actually starts, so this had been going on for fifteen minutes already.  We managed to shoo the (not helping the situation by staying around and telling their kids they love them and that they are the best little children in the world) mothers out of the classroom.  Then we spent ten minutes trying to get their smocks on them and get them into their seats while they wandered around the classroom, still screaming at the tops of their lungs.  Finally things got mostly settled, with the exception of four or five who lay limp on the floor, sobbing "Mama... Mama."

The word limp is an important one, because if you pick them up and try to put them on their feet, they simply slump to the floor.  Likewise, if you try to put them into a chair, they melt out of it and wind up half under the table, arm thrown dramatically across their eyes, and continue to weep.

Eventually all but one boy, who would spend the entire forty-five minute class period laying on his face on the ground in the corner hicupping and crying, settled down enough to make a circle and learn the words boy, girl, and teacher.  We then repeated this process in the next class with the other group of three-year olds, though they were more settled down.

They also act, well, like three year olds.  It's stressful.  I don't know what to do with a pantsless child who is crying that their belly hurts, especially when I can't speak their language to them.  I don't react well to being sneezed on or having a child wipe his nose with my skirt.  God bless the teachers who do spend all day, every day with this age.  They are better people than I.

After lunch I had class with the four year olds and then with the five year olds.  One of the four year olds vomited, and of course it got on me.  Of course.

Tomorrow, though, I don't go below third grade.  Tomorrow will be cool.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

psychotic panda

Great timing and what an evil panda!  Enjoy!

Edit: I've gotten complaints that the video can't be viewed.  Which is odd, because I can.  Regardless, you can enjoy it at youtube here:

Monday, September 20, 2010

A new record?

Well, if you count meetings, I've now been in my school for 8 (non-consecutive) days.  Today was my 5th day actually interacting with children.  And I cried from sheer frustration.  Not with the kids, but with disorganization.  A new record?  Perhaps.

I have a contract for 24 hours (lessons, some are 45 minutes) a week.  There are 6 lessons Monday through Thursday and 5 on Fridays.  However, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have to leave after 4th lesson (so, at lunch) to make it to my masters classes on time.  This has made creating my schedule rather difficult.  20 of the lessons were assigned rather easily, I was told some of them would be used teaching teachers, and for the past week every time I've seen one of my bosses they've kind of shouted over their shoulder at me, "We need to figure out those last four classes!" as they ran off somewhere.

Fine.  Ok.  I'm used to this and I can handle it.

Today I hunted down the English director and told him I need my schedule.  I need to know what it is so I can plan times to meet with the other English teachers to prepare things, and also make plans with my study groups for my masters.  He then informed me that he thought the best thing would be if I taught the other teachers on Monday and Wednesday from 5-7 PM.

This means that I would go until 7 PM Monday and Wednesday, and until 10:30 PM (counting commute) Tuesday and Thursday.  I balked at this, and expressed that I feel I need at least one free afternoon a week.  He sort of blinked at me, and went, "Yes, Friday."  I tried to express that I would be happy to teach the teachers one afternoon a week, but not two.  "Well, we'll talk to the director and dean about it."

Those of you who know me or read faithfully know that I am a semi-professional crier.  I cry at the drop of a hat: sad, happy, angry.  I cry at commercials.  But most of all, I cry when I am frustrated.  So I walked down to my little room, and sat down, and stared at the floor until one of the other English teachers touched me and then, of course, I cried.  I told them what was going on and they were outraged "You tell him NO!"  "You are not a machine!" they shouted in typical Spanish fashion.

So I pulled myself together and taught the next two classes.  And then I went to the director, made sad face, and explained the situation to him. (Note: the director and English director are brothers.)  I figured that if we needed to talk to the director anyway, I met as well be the one to do so.  He declared that once a week was enough, and that I could do the other two lessons by offering assistance in classes.

So that's settled.  I feel better now.

My schedule, for those of you who are interested (Mom):
Monday: work 9:15-1, 2-4:30, 5-7
Tuesday: work 9-1, class 4-8:30
Wednesday: work 9-1 (Wednesdays=awesome)
Thursday: work 9:45-1, class 4-8:30
Friday: work 9-2
I have a half-hour break in the middle of my mornings, from 10:45-11:15 M-Th, and 10:30-11 Fridays.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fresh Air

Today I went for a jog (yeah, let's see how long that lasts...) through my little pueblito as the evening was beginning to fall.  I trotted through neighborhoods for a little bit before I came across the park.  No, The Park.  Because it deserves capital letters.  It is big and full of grassy paths and trees.  It overlooks the valley, and the monastery and then the mountains loom over it.  It is beautiful, and full of Spanish families and random bits of old architecture.  So I trotted a bit more there, and then played football with some of my school's sixth graders who recognized me for a few minutes, and jogged around some more.  I walked home from the park thighs burning, sweaty, pink, and feeling awesome.

Dear The Park: I think I may have a bit of a crush on you.  Want to hang out?


Update: I got home last night on the night bus without any issues.  Granted, I caught the 1:30 AM bus, which means I could get to the bus on the metro still.  I think I'll have to either leave Madrid by 1:30 or stay with friends in the future.

So last night I went with some friends to a free concert.  It was Ojos de Brujo, a flamenco/funk group that I like a lot, and one of our other friends had found out about the concert through a friend.  So we took the trek out to far eastern Madrid, excited for the music.  The concert was very fun and the people running the event were lovely, talking with us and giving us more drink than we had paid for.  Little old ladies came up and danced flamenco in our crowd.  The vibe was great.

Except, of course, that the concert actually took place at a communist rally.  Now, Spanish communists are hardly scary people.  But this now marks the third time in my life that I've been told about a free concert and wound up at a communist rally, gaping slightly at the speeches, fist pumps, and songs that precede the concert.

And now, I have to do homework.  Ick.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

(Mis)Adventures on public transit

Cruising around on Tiff last year definitely spoiled me.  While I certainly had some adventures and misadventures on the bike, they are thus far nothing compared to the adventures I've had on the public transit of the community of Madrid.

I live about 50 km outside of Madrid capital.  This means two things.  The first, I have a lovely commute of a three-four minute walk to work.  The second, that I have a commute of about two hours to class and one hour into the city for any fun I may want to have.  During the day, I haven't had many issues with the transit system, other than running all around town like a crazy person trying to buy my monthly pass when I first arrived.  The bus station is a quick walk from my school and home, and the bus drops me off fifty minutes later in Metro Moncloa.  The seats are too small and my knees get slightly scraped by the carpet on the back of the seat in front of me, but generally it's painless.  When I go into Madrid for fiesta, though, strange things happen.

First came Noche en Blanco, last Saturday.  I stayed out all night having fun and dancing in the (roped-off) streets and generally had a great time.  Around 5 AM I made the wise decision to crash at my friend Nate's place for a few hours.  I woke up around 8 and headed out to catch the metro and then bus home.  Leaving his building, I (quite literally) stumbled upon a young pair of people locked in an amorous embrace on the sidewalk.  Like, really amorous.  At 8 in the morning.  Chalking that up to Spanish passion, I picked my way to the metro station around mountains of beer cans and crushed beach balls. 

Then I rode the metro, which is always fun on Sunday morning with the mix of drunk people swaying or holding their heads and little old ladies on their way to church and caught the bus home, where I happily slept.  Shortly before arriving to San Lorenzo, however, things got weird.  People kept getting on the bus.  Lots of people.  Everyone was dressed in what appeared to my sleepy eyes to be traditional Hungarian garb, and carrying figures of Jesus and Mary formed from foodstuffs.  While I had had a big night, I knew it hadn't been THAT big of a night, so I asked about it: apparently some form of festival.  They all exited the bus and started walking down the street singing in what I think was Romanian.  I blinked after them and headed home.

Last night I went out to sing Karaoke (awesome).  One of my friends offered to let me crash with her for a few hours, but I decided against it, figuring that I would need to figure out the night bus system eventually.  Mistake.  If I can avoid ever having to do so again, I will.  First, I walked for what seemed like forever but actually turned out to be only like 30 minutes through a residential neighborhood to arrive at the street where the intercity night buses picked up.  Arriving early at the bus stop, I watched a few twinks pick up clients.  Oh boy.  I positioned myself next to the most formidable looking old lady I could find, and waited for the bus, which zoomed by me 30 minutes later.  I was not having that, so I chased it, and after a block or two the driver stopped and let me on.  I settled into my chair, set my alarm for 50 minutes later, and dozed off.

40 minutes later I woke up and all seemed right.  I was in a nearby town, and should arrive home soon.  Good.  10 minutes later I woke up to the bus driver turning off all the lights, announcing the end of the route, and kicking me and the two teenagers left on the bus off.  Somehow, he had gone past our town and we had missed it (note: my town was supposed to be the end stop!)  We looked at each other, discussed the situation for a minute, and then started walking along the highway in the direction we figured was town.

Yeah, it wasn't.  After a few minutes I wound up at a housing development that I had never seen before.  I started crying.  It was pitch dark, one street light illuminating my world, and I was on the side of a highway with two drunk fourteen year-olds.  Other than the entrance to the development, there were no signs of civilization.  Somewhere, a cow mooed.  The girl screamed.  That, at least, made us laugh and kicked me into action.

The kids didn't have any credit on their phones.  I called my room mate (thankfully, he was still up at 6:30 AM) and sobbed "I don't know where I am, I don't know what's going on, and I don't know what happened."  Luckily, he was very helpful and got us walking in the right direction (the way we'd come from naturally).  He gave me the number for a few taxi companies, and they all told me no, because Spanish taxis don't operate at the ungodly hour of 6:30 AM.

So the kids and I walked single file along the shoulder of the high way for about a kilometer or so, cars whizzing past every so often and making the poor girl scream, my keys tucked into my fingers Wolverine-style and a pen clutched in my other fist.  Eventually I saw something that gave me hope: the crematorium of San Lorenzo.  We were going the right way!  A few minutes after that, we were in a housing development that I recognized, and the domes of the monastery came into view in the distance.  Now that it was the acceptable hour of 7 AM, I called us taxis, and we headed home our separate ways.  The taxi driver tried to chat with me, which I was generally unresponsive to.  I finally fell into my bed at 7:15, only 3 hours and 45 minutes after I parted with my friends for what I figured would be an hour and a half-trip home.

My angry hate letter to the bus commissioner?  Sent.
My plans for tonight? Sleeping at a friend's.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

time commitment

I just sat down and tallied up my responsibilities this year.  Every week I:
  • am at school around 31 hours, teaching 24 lessons in 9 grades (from 1st kindergarten (3 years old) to sixth grade) and to teachers
  • commute 8 hours to and from class
  • physically attend class for 9 hours
  • complete around four hours of homework (reading can be done on the bus, granted)
  • plan for my lessons (At Krudy I usually spent about one hour per week straight-up planning for lessons per grade, plus time spent creating materials.  Obviously, I will not be doing that here: the teachers will provide me with a great amount of material.  But even if I spend only 20 minutes per grade planning/preparing materials, that's still 3 hours a week.)
In addition to these things, every two months I have to complete a final project for my two classes.  This time, it's a research paper and a didactic unit.  Every six weeks I have a training for the Beda program.  About once a month I have to dedicate a Saturday to something for school.  I also need to start writing my masters thesis soon enough, because I don't have a dedicated time for that.  I'll also hopefully give a few private lessons... Madrid is not cheap.  Madrid is EXPENSIVE.

I knew this was going to be a time commitment, but right now my head is spinning a little bit!  I know also that I can do this, it's just that I've gotten so lazy.  Give me some time and I'll get back in the swing of things for sure.  I think I can rest assured that I'll be doing a bit less traveling this year!

One place I will be traveling, though?  Budapest... I just bought a ticket to visit for the weekend of November 26th. :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Settling in...

I'm doing this.  I'm all tucked into my flat, with my room mostly decorated (still need to make it to a paper store to buy blue tack to put up a few things, but otherwise done).  I've bought some food and found spots for it in the kitchen.  I've discovered the (very dangerous to my wallet) beautiful deli down the street, replete with gorgeous Italian products and even some Betty Crocker offerings.  I have my transit pass, a bank account, and a mobile.

I've attended meetings at the school, and met my colleagues, who all run up and kiss me.  I'll have my own little classroom to decorate and use.  The kids seem to be at a lower level than my Hungarian ones, which makes sense since they only have English two or three times per week.  The system is a bit different, too.  Emily (the other girl from my program) and I will have the same schedule, and the students will come to us in groups of three or four for short amounts of time throughout their lesson.  So, instead of having 12 kids for 45 minutes, I'll have four groups of 4 for 10 or 15 minutes each.  This should make planning easier.  On the other hand, I'll be teaching from kindergarten (four/five years old) to sixth grade (11/12 years old), so that should make planning more difficult.  I am sad to only be seeing the kids once a week, but I figure that such intensive sessions should somewhat make up for this.  Once I learn their names, of course... since I'll be working with something in the neighborhood of 450 kids, if I've done my math right!

The main English teacher will give me a general plan for the week, which I'm welcome to supplement or change as I see fit.  Further, they've stressed that I am a real teacher here, and that I am to punish and reward the children as I see fit, write reports on them, and give them grades.  I'm in educator heaven.

I really cannot emphasize enough how nice everyone is being to me.  I said something along those lines to the English director, and he laughed that the school was famous for that.

The roomie is proving to be super nice, chill, clean, and helpful.  Also, the cat is warming to me.  I came home today to find him sitting on my bed looking at me like "What?!"

Now, some pictures.  And by some, I mean two.  I've been busy!

This is the courtyard of the monastery, on the side my school is on.

A view of the spires from inside the school.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Safe and Sound

I made it to San Lorenzo without any major issues.  My first flight was originally delayed, and then un-delayed, which was a bit startling when we returned to the airport to find my flight would be leaving in thirty minutes!  Of course, it was Scranton, so I had plenty of time to go through security and everything, it was just the shock of "What if?"  And as a very happy bonus, due to the initial huge delay, they didn´t charge me for my bags, thus saving me a cool 250.  I was giddy.

I sat on the plane from Newark next to another girl in my program, oddly enough.  It was nice.  Then Emily, the other girl who will be teaching at my school, was sweet enough to come to the airport and help me manage my bags on the metro and train out to San Lorenzo.

I cannot even believe how organized my school is.  There are stacks of curriculum books, neatly organized on labeled shelves.  We were immediately presented with our health insurance cards and information, a list of the meetings we need to attend next week, and last year´s yearbook so that we can get to know the school a bit better.  Kisses were promptly applied, the invitation to use the informal you the first sentence said, and the director ran all over the school with us talking a mile a minute and showing us things.

I´m spending tonight in a room in one of the towers of the monastery.  Towels were placed on my bed, as well as a big bottle of water.  I´m excited to spend the night here... I´m hoping for some royal ghosts (many, many old Spanish kings and queens are buried in the crypt).  I´m being fed dinner at nine.  I was also given a Spanish cell phone to use until I can get one of my own on Monday so that the director wouldn´t feel nervous about my innability to reach him and his to reach me.

I feel so good right now. I really do feel welcomed here.

Tomorrow I´ll move into my flat, which is breezy and light.  My new roomate and I talked for a long time, basically until I ran out of Spanish, and got along really well.  Then I went for a walk around town, soaking up the pink sunset light, and watching the Spanish shout at each other happily while out for their evening constitutionals.

I´m nervous about the school year, of course, to know exactly what classes I´ll have, to meet the kids, and to find my place in the school.  But really?  Right now I´m just glowing in the feeling of a well-made decision.  I feel good here already.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I'm packed, undoubtedly with too much stuff.

I'm a bit tipsy off a bottle of cava, yet I can't sleep.

I'm off to Spain.  I'm off to live in Spain.  I've wanted to do this since I was 19.  My life is pretty much awesome, even if I am sorry to leave my family, dogs, and the comfort of English.

When I left Spain after study abroad, I brought home a Euro with me.  It was shiny and new.  I promised myself I would someday use it to pay rent in Spain.  I pulled it out the other day.  It's dingy and a bit scuffed after five years in my wallet.  But it's still there, and I'm going to use it as part of my first month's rent.  God.