Monday, January 21, 2008

Reign in Spain 3

Well week 1 is out of the way now. On Friday at 2.00pm, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and took the bus into the heart of Seville. The weather definitely took a significant turn for the better temperature-wise on Friday. I trudged on foot to the Plaza de España, around the beautiful Parque de María Luisa and on over to the Cathedral Quarter. The cathedral has the world famous Giralda bell tower. This is an interesting relic of the Moorish period in Spain's history. The main part of the Giralda and the Patio de los Naranjos (the orange tree patio) are all that remains of Seville's mosque. I went up the Giralda. I normally steer clear of towers in cathedrals because I have a bit of a fear of stairs/heights and claustrophobia. I don't like flights of winding stairs. It's not so much the climbing up but the coming down. I remember going to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Gaudi's great unfinished masterpiece. Being a modern cathedral, you can go up most of the way in a lift. Feeling confident in the newness of the building I thought I was able to go down using the stairs. I was OK until I reached a point where the stairs just became a basic spiral and very little to hang on to. His Lordship tried to coax me down but I was having nothing of it. I RAN back up as fast as my little legs could carry me and took the lift. Well on Friday I thought I would give the Giralda a go and discovered to my surprise that it is ramps all the way up. I wouldn't describe it as accessible to the disabled but it was a darn sight easier than stairs. Seems legend has it that the Moors rode up there on horseback. Once up on the balcony, you have wonderful panoramic views of Seville.

Back at the Colegio Mayor, we have developed something of a tradition, coming together for tea most afternoons. Thankfully, one smart cookie thought to bring a cheapo kettle with her - well, I don't think the Spanish know what a kettle is! The Colegio is a wonderful house. On Sunday we discovered that off the main patio is a door which leads out to a beautiful garden. Well, I say garden, it is really a fully fledged park. Seems the house was the ancestral seat of the Conde de Guzman.

Back into school today and I discover that, not only is the teacher off again but there is another student from the University of Seville who has been placed in my class. Not wildly impressed by that. Especially since she insisted on yapping to me all the way through the morning, even though the teacher was trying to take the lesson. This afternoon in English, it was a laugh. There was the teacher, the language assistant, me, the new student and my buddy in the one class. Mad...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Reign in Spain 2

Well, things have settled down here a little bit now. After the initial excitement, we are mostly tucked up in bed by 11pm. Being outside of Seville, we generally have to get a bus into town and another to our schools. So this means departure by 7.30am for most of us. This is a big deal for a lot, but it is actually a bit easier for me, since I was getting a bus at 7.10 when I was on my first placement. Monday was a university day - well we had a presentation on Seville University and refreshments. We met our compañeros again and mine was recovered from her illness. Lovely girl, but insisted on speaking English to me the whole time. Not sure what I get from the deal, really. But it was a buddy task to accompany us to the school. We were walking along this road in the town to our bus stop when I became aware of a terrible smell. I looked down to my feet to see what I rather suspect was raw sewage running down the pavement. A woman in a shop was brushing what seemed like gallons of the stuff out of her shop door onto the pavement. I felt for her but I felt for myself more. Suffice it to say my trousers were put into soak when I got back in case they had trailed through the stuff. Only in Spain! Thank God it wasn't the height of the Andalucian summer! Anyway, my buddy and I made our initial visits to the school and found out what bus I needed to get in to school. I won't see her again until Monday when she starts her placement at the school - she only does three weeks and then comes to the UK for a month

The lingo is so difficult to understand. The Andaluz accent drops 's' sounds all over the place and also the odd consonant when it feels like. I'd really love to know which bright spark with a warped sense of humour decided to partner up Andalucia with Merseyside in this project. Still, at least the challenge is equally weighted! I find myself nodding and saying "Sí, sí, vale.." all the time when I haven't got a clue what people are on about. It is bound to get me into trouble at some point! Mind you, my tongue is completely tied, too. One rather quaint thing which I remember from my time in Málaga is the tendency to add the diminutive ending 'ito/ita' to everything, so whatever you talk about translates as a 'little something'. So I am nurturing the habit of foregoing a cervecita (a little beer) in favour of a cafelito (a little coffee) and taking my toast golden brown with the butter blandita (a little bit soft - just like me!).

I haven't met my teacher yet as she is off with the flu. My school is a bilingual school. This means that certain lessons are delivered in English. I have yet to see how this works in practice. I saw an English lesson when the exercise was all about saying "I am going to do something". The class had to think up an example. One rather confused lad questioned why he had to do this, "Por qué? Es mas facile en español!" (Why? It's easier in Spanish!) Nice to know the Spanish come out with the same stuff as our, eh? I caught two boys throwing a ball to each other while the teacher's back was turned. Being a bit reticent to do anything and really not sure of what language to use, I looked at one of the boys and shook my head disapprovingly. The cheeky little bugger looked at me and put his finger on his lips, signalling to me to not let on to the teacher as if I was complicit in his little game! When they did it again, I confiscated the ball from the other boy (having rehearsed the Spanish for 'give it to me' in my head!) This has been an amazing culture shock for all of us. Our combined findings are that nobody really does dynamic and interesting lessons here. Everything is done from the book, to the extent that some teachers just read straight from the book. We haven't seen any evidence of stating lesson objectives. We have to fill in a log book during our visit including lesson observations. These ask things like, what sort of transitions do you see from one part of the lesson to another?, how does the teacher start the lesson?, how does the teacher end the lesson? The short answer is dunno. Does standing up and looking authoritative count as a lesson starter? Does the bell going and the children just putting their books away and going out count? It is all very laid back. I'm tempted to say that I don't think that is all bad. See, they don't sweat the small stuff - the kind of stuff that we in the UK can get embroiled in the name of discipline and end up blowing up out of proportion. The children call the teachers by their first name (saves them playing guessing games). They may or may not ask if they can hacer pis when they need the loo. There is always a toilet roll at the front of the class which they randomly just come out and use if they have a snotty nose. I haven't seen anyone told off yet. They certainly don't seem to fuss as much as our children. It is generally agreed that the schools are not as bright and colourful as our schools. There are displays but there is not as much effort put into making the environment look pretty. They're clean but spartan. They are years behind British schools in terms of investment in technology and mostly use good old fashioned blackboards. I think they spend money on books instead - perhaps we can learn from them in this! For all that the lessons are a little lacklustre in comparison to what we are used to, the general consensus was that the children still seem to learn. But unlike our kids they are not expecting to be entertained.

In terms of the teachers, they really do not arrive until dead on 9.00am and they are shooing you out of the door at home time. My school day, like many of the others, is from 9.00am until 2.00pm with a half hour break at midday. Other schools go on until 1.00 and have a 2-hour break, returning at 3.oopm for another couple of hours. The staff room, oddly enough, has the same motley collection of education journals, notices for staff training and union notices as the average UK staffroom. BUT NO KETTLE!!! Sorry, the kettle is the heart of community in a staff room. We haven't seen much marking done and nobody seems to take work home. I find the 3 hour morning a long time to go without a break but at least the work is over early and you can still do something with the day.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The reign in Spain

I had quite forgotten just how dull Sundays were. I mean real Sundays, the kind that busy people hanker nostalgically after. The Sundays we used to have when I was a child before 24-7 became the byword that we all live our lives by. Well I'm having a taste of that now. Castelleja de Guzman is a small village on the other side of the River Guadalquivir from Seville. It has been quite an overcast day, threatening rain for some time. This is a place where the Sabbath is still kept holy - at least the shops do not open, anyway. My group has been rattling around the Colegio Mayor Santa Maria del Buen Aire wondering what to do with themselves. Well, that is not strictly true, since most of them didn't see their beds until about 5am! Most made it for lunch at 2pm and many have taken themselves off to Seville. Two days in and a combination of hangover, lack of sleep and boredom has caused an outbreak of homesickness. "What's the matter with you?" I said, " I was hoping you seasoned travellers would be well used to this. I was hoping you could teach me a thing or two about survival away from home?" I am, nevertheless, enjoying being able to fulfil the function of team mum, providing a shoulder to cry on and hugs on demand. Well, most are barely older than my eldest.

So, the story so far. We arrived ahead of time on Friday. We had a cold dinner ready for us when we arrived. Then we went straight out into the village to a local bar, which was very nice. I just went along for one and was back by midnight. Some others arrived back about 1.30 and the hardened drinkers came in about 4am and woke the whole place up. Apparently they were reprimanded for it! Good start, but at least Babe, my cuddly pig companion and I were tucked up in bed. Saturday we were up early in the morning as we had to be showered, dressed, breakfasted and out by 9.30. We went to the Fine Arts Museum and were given a talk by some professor of Art History from the university. Sadly we couldn't enthuse too wildly as everyone was knackered. We then had to walk across town to the Real Alcazar. That was a bit like the Alhambra. Actually, I think the Alhambra has it won in terms of its location; the views of the city of Granada are breathtaking but I would say that the interior of the Alcazar is more impressive than the Alhambra.

Then it was off to meet your buddy. Except mi compañera couldn't come because she was sick - or had the idea of an old biddy buddy frightened her off? Anyway it was all a very convivial al freso affair but there wasn't quite enough warmth to take the edge off the temperature! Lovely and sunny but really quite chilly. I was glad of my scarf and gloves. Coming home was a faff and a half. We got on this bus, which was a circular bus route. There were two we could have chosen from - same route, circular but opposite directions. Suffice it to say we took the one which must have been furthest from our stop as it took forever to get there. We had been told to get off at a certain stop where we would be able to get our second bus. But no-one had told us we had to catch it from the indoor bus station just behind the stop we'd just got off at. There were three of us , including one recovering from a broken leg and walking with the aid of crutches . She had done brilliantly with all the walking but was feeling it by now. My head was pounding and when we finally got back I slept (as did most others!) After dinner the others went out on the town but I stayed here. Clubbing in Seville city centre is not for me! Two of us stayed behind and we watched an episode of Curb your Enthusiasm and one from the Office. My laptop is going to be a real lifeline and it was worth making room for it in my suitcase (although those thieving bar stewards, Ryanair charged me £11 for the benefit of carrying 2.7 kilos over the measly 15kg limit!).

Seville is a very beautiful city with lots of open spaces. But it is cold in the shade though it does warm up as the day progresses. The thing that has struck me so far? The oranges. Everywhere you go, walking through little squares or even just along the road, there are orange trees and occasionally lemon trees laden with well ripened fruit. I think I will stay in tonight and get my head around the paperwork for tomorrow.

Click here for flickr photos.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Back to school...

Well, technically not back to school but at least back to college for me. I didn't want to go. I have thoroughly enjoyed my sloth-like status of the past few weeks. Now it is time to think about all of the stuff I should have been doing, but haven't. The hols were good. Managed to find time to catch up with a few friends which I really enjoyed. Once you get into the throws of a new term, it is impossible to stay up to date with what everyone is up to.

So, back to the grind, back to the 6am starts (nearer 6.20 when I'm at college). But, to make things a little more bearable, his Lordship bought me an iPod for Christmas. Both our girls were getting the new iPod nano but I am a practical sort, so I instructed him to seek out the old iPod nano which would be cheaper now. This he dutifully did, so after years of my constant whining on about those pains in the butt who sit on buses irritating the hell out of you with the "tss tss tss" from their personal music, I have decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Last night I got on the bus, spent 5 minutes trying to fix the earplugs in my ears in such a position that they would (a) stay in, (b) would direct the sound into my ear and (c) wouldn't cause me excruciating pain around my delicate little shell-likes. Now to the important business of listening to a bit of classic rock from Pink Floyd. My peace didn't last long though. Some brainless wonder with a GNVQ in 'Applied Prat Studies' decided that personal music playing actually means any method by which you can blast the creative output from some talentless hip-hop 'artist' into the eardrums of a bus load of commuters. Still, being very British, we sat motionless and put up with it!

Spain on Friday...I'm feeling a bit nauseous...