Tuesday, September 21, 2010

First week of School

Well, it is now Tuesday, September 21st. Today marks the 3rd week I have been in Europe... it seems as if though I have been here for ages though... crazy! I am writing this from my classroom as the mist continues to move through the mountains above me. Everyday I get to drive to me school with the bus and marvel at the beauty around me, all the meanwhile, everyone tells me that this is nothing, that just wait until winter. To me this is gloriously beautiful and herald's the wonder of God's creation.
Corner, wonder, going, still, make, move... these are all words that about half my students have no idea what they mean. hmmm... Teaching a foreign language IN that foreign language is pretty darn tough when words like this are not understand by good chunks of the group. The difference between my levels is extraordinary, 3rd years (which are equivalent of 14/15 years) are vastly less knowledgeable than their 4th year compatriots. Also, what is incredible that within the same class of 24 which we have split into 2, one group of 12 might have a fairly impressive level of English while their classmates perform far worse.  It really amazes me the difference in levels. This, of course, is not intellectually new news to anyone but to see this in the classroom has been quite incredible to me. Obviously, for those of you who are teachers or who have taught before this will come to no surprise. My first week has taught me two things quickly: 1) lesson planning takes far longer than the lesson itself, and it takes a lot of creativity to try to think of interesting things every class, 2) kids may be about the same age but they act ridiculously different and one leader can change the atmosphere of a class completely.  Mondays I have 5 hours of teaching starting at 8:30 am. three in a row in the morning, and then 2 in the afternoon. Classes are 1 hour long so the poor things really have to slough it out. by the time the 4 pm hour begins, the poor kids are dying to get out-honestly, so are the teachers! haha. It also works out that what is renowned as the toughest single class in the school are my 3 and 4 pm hour classes on Monday. Great... everyone loves that kind of start to the week, right?! Anyway, they are definitely full of energy, one student has already been thrown out of class-literally ejected-3 times in 7 days, and there are about two other troublemaker kids who are super energetic. Mostly though, these kids are bad, or violent, or anything like that but rather they are just middle school kids with tons of energy. Taming their habits of hitting eachother with everything from their hands to their pencils to pieces of paper seems to be taking some time but... hopefully we'll get through that. Also, flipping the bird is apparently an ingrained portion of a 14 year old Andorran culture but again, we are workign through that. Tuesdays and Thursdays I have 3 classes and an hour-long meeting, while Wednesday I only have one class and a long meeting 1-2 hours and best of all Friday, just one class! :-)
One thing that has been my saving grace so far is a very supportive English department and even more than that, a supportive teaching staff. I am blessed to just have great teachers who are working hard, care about the quality of their work, not so they can get their pay and go home but because they really love their jobs. I am very, very pleased with that. In particular, a fellow newby to Andorra whose name is Cesar (pronounced Thesar) has been keen to make sure things are going well with me, that I don't have any questions and he has always made it clear that he want to help when he can. He taught for 3 years in the US and they were also his first years of teaching so he can empathize with me. He also was kind enough to give me a ride back from Barcelona on Sunday.
So, school is going well, life is not all about school although I do work hard to do the best I can and I think so far people are pleased with my efforts. I am also tutoring, right now I am only going to tutor two people, although I have about 8 people have asked me if I can tutor them! but they all want, obviously, to do it in the evening and I would like to a) have a life and b) I have other things to do in the evenings. Mondays will consist of this. School from 8:30 to 5 pm. I leave for school about 7:15ish to get to school by about 8 so I can set up the class before my 8:30 class. We have to clean up our rooms everyday so it takes a couple minutes to resettle everything everyday. Then, at 7 I have catalan lessons in Escaldes (near Andorra la Vella where I live). After Catalan ends at 8:30, twice a month I have language dinner where we take turns speaking in different languages. Tuesday I have class from 8:30-5 but I have a nice big afternoon break so I can do lesson-planning and blog-writing! :-) Then at 5, I have the school choir practice from 5 to 6. Then I head out immediately to get to St. Julia which is about 20 minutes from Andorra la Vella and 40 minutes from my school in order to tutor one particular kid. then it's soccer practice at 9 pm in the same town so I'll just leave the kids' place and walk to the stadium where my team, FC Lusitanos, plays. Wednesday morning I don't have morning classes! :-) woohoo! so it's a good day for getting things done at the apartment or in town. Thursday is like Tuesday but so far I have nothing in the evenings-this may change with a tutoring session but right now it's clear and I think it's likely to stay clear. Friday I only have one lonely class so the morning I can again get here early and try to get my next week's classes started. In the early evening I may end up having one tutoring session because there are two kids at once that really want to get tutored and I may end up just saying yes... even though it's Friday.  The weekend so far is blissfully unbusy. I am still trying to track down church in a language that I understand but there's always mass in Catalan so that's all right.
I started playing soccer with these guys last week like I told you and it was all right but unfortunately on Friday I rolled my ankle pretty badly and am out for about 2 weeks.  I was also told that I won't be able to play in any games until at least January because the season has started so they can't sign new players. BUT, I can practice and then if I do well, and I want, I can sign a contract in December. The prospect of all this is fun, all the players except a small handful of Spanish, are Portuguese so I am inundated with that language too, although with my loss of language and their different accent, I'm often missing large chunks of what is going on.
This past weekend, I had wonderful honor and privelege of having Shelly Slemp visit me from Sudan which was truly awesome. Because of another trip she had to make she was only able to be here for 3 full days plus Thursday night but we made it count! :-) We went hiking, went to Caldea-which is a big spa here-, walked around all over, showed her my school, and she got to sleep in our new apartment the same night that we did! :-) Sunday we went to Barcelona and enjoyed some time in Parc Guell-truly a cool place if you ever get a chance to go, and then the Sagrada Familia which is an impressive place. Some say that they don't like the architecture or the church itself that much but I thought it was a very neat church. My friend and coteacher Thesar has an apartment which actually overlooks Sagrada Familia which is super tight. Anyway, he was in Barcelona this past weekend as well so he was very kind and drove me back that night at about 8:30 while Shelly stayed in a hostel we had found earlier. In short, she and I had a wonderful weekend with plenty of time to talk, catch up, and discuss all sorts of things-very fun! :-) Because I have not really had a chance to explore Andorra I knew very little but by the next time someone comes visit me (allison) I should have a slightly better handle on things! :-)
Okay, I should go, eat, and then maybe actually work. Tuesday afternoon is nice because Monday is by far and away my toughest day with my toughest kids so I can feel a lot more relaxed. I will put a couple photos up so you can see what things look like.
Peace and Love from the Principality

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