Monday, 14 July 2014

The ever-changing job role

On Saturday, I was called into a meeting with the centre director (my boss), the senior academic manager and the principal of the school. They wanted to know whether I would be happy to teach this week. Keen to assist where necessary, I said yes. However, with a dentist's appointment already booked for Thursday afternoon, I wouldn't be able to teach the final lesson of the day. That turned out not to be a problem as they could find someone to cover that class. But having agreed in principle, I was told that I might not actually be needed at all. I would find out on Monday.

Back in the office and my boss set to adjusting the rota for the forthcoming week. I would work from 08:00 to around lunchtime on Monday (and my colleague would have the day off), then I would teach. From Tuesday to Friday (minus Wednesday, which is the teachers' day off) I would teach all the classes, and then return to the office on Friday evening for a few hours before becoming admin proper for the weekend.

Today, I opened the office the 08:00 and, in between answering phone calls and emails and dealing with students, I planned a lesson. And when I say 'planned', I mean adapted one I'd previously used. Nonetheless, I felt under-planned and under-prepared.

Come lunchtime, I still hadn't had my new role confirmed and with time running out, I ran to the teachers' room for an update. The class lists were still be drawn up to accommodate the new arrivals and so I had to wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, at 13:10, a mere 20 minutes before the class was due to start, I learned that I wouldn't be needed after all. And so I went back to the office and asked my boss to roster me back on...

Although I was happy not to be teaching as I was far from prepared, I was annoyed that the whole debacle had played havoc with the rotas. Now, for the second week running, I am on earlies, which means no lie-ins for yet another week. And God, could I use one! Roll on Sunday and the timetable change.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

On being harassed

It's no secret that teenage girls have the propensity to be nasty bullies, especially when there is a large group of them. And at summer school, pack mentality is rampant. You're in or you're out, and if you're out, you're going to know about it. Vicious, vindictive and vengeful, these bitches will stop at nothing to get their own way, as I found out this week...

On Monday, I got up at 06:45 as always and grabbed my basket of shower stuff. Only when I had reached the shower did I realise that something was wrong. My TRESemmé shampoo bottle had been forcibly levered open and half the contents had been emptied into the basket. As much as I knew someone had deliberately done this, I tried to tell myself that they hadn't. Because that would mean that someone had entered my room and gone through my stuff. No. Better to tell myself that I had clumsily dropped the bottle. But I knew that I hadn't...

Yesterday was my day off and, with Brighton calling, I got up early and was off site by 08:30. First up was a visit to the dentist, where I was prescribed some strong antibiotics for an impacted wisdom tooth and given an appointment for (possible) extraction next week. With that out of the way, I split my time between sitting on the beach, doing some shopping and going for tea.

Perhaps unwisely, I decided to start the antibiotics immediately. I hadn't banked on the feeling of tiredness that came with them though. And so I found myself walking slowly back to the train station from where it was a short train ride and a long-ish walk 'home'. I reached the (mercifully student-free) college at around 17:00 and went straight to my room.

I was sitting on my bed flicking through a magazine when I felt something spiky under the sheet. Having recently done a fair bit of clothes shopping, I assumed it might be one of those hard plastic tags you have to cut out of the labels. But what I discovered was much worse. It was a thumb-tack. And there was NO WAY that could have gotten there accidentally. I jumped off the bed, ripped off the sheet and discovered several more placed around the bed. Somebody had clearly been in my room. And, since I wouldn't have slept on these for several days without noticing, someone had to have been in my room that very day.

I thought long and hard about whether I should tell anyone. After all, to tell them would be to draw attention to it and thus give the bitches the satisfaction of knowing they'd gotten to me. So I decided to let it go and, feeling the effects of the antibiotics, I went to bed...

But the vile brats weren't happy. They wanted more. So at 22:30, when they should have been in their rooms, one of the French bitches (a stroppy madam with the kind of the face you'd like to slap) barged into my room and just stood there. I demanded to know what the hell she was doing and snapped at her to get out of my room. When she didn't, I jumped out of bed, stormed past her and went to inform the activities leaders who were acting as house parents for the night. The activities manager and one of her staff members took the girl and her hangers-on downstairs to tell them off.

Today, the entire house got a severe telling-off and a warning NOT to enter anyone else's room or to meddle with their things. Whether the message hits home has yet to be seen, but at least that vicious bitch is going home on Saturday. And I for one am counting down the hours.

All in all, it's been a pretty sh*t week. As if having to deal with those bitches wasn't enough, I'm being harassed ad nauseum by some obsessive freak from my university days who thinks that stalking me via this blog, email, phone, SMS, WhatsApp and LinkedIn will make me want to talk to him. Just how many years (yes, YEARS!) is it going to take to get the message?! Well StalkerBoy™, let me spell it out for you: I. Don't. Want. You. In. My. Life. #notfuckinginterested #getalife #loser #getoutandstayout #hastanunca

Sunday, 6 July 2014

A day in the life of a summer school administrator...

For teachers at my summer school, Sunday is a not-quite day of rest. It isn't a day off, but it doesn't require too much effort either. Teachers find themselves on airport transfers, helping out on the Sunday excursion or filing paperwork. But this year I'm not a teacher, I'm an administrator. And Sundays in the office are the busiest days of the week...

I started my shift at 10:00, going straight to the office to dish out pocket money and help check in some of the new arrivals. Knowing that the day would be busy, we had told the kids who wanted pocket money to come for it yesterday. But most of them hadn't bothered. And so I had to make a decision: give them pocket money or get the new kids checked in so they could go on the trip. I chose the latter, which made me rather unpopular. But as I saw it, those wanting pocket money had had ample opportunity to come and get it the day before.

With the 130 kids piled onto coaches bound for, ummm, Worthing, the other administrator and I got down to dealing with all things arrivals – staff wanting their transfer packs, drivers announcing their arrival on-site, and kids from early flights needing to be checked in. For an hour or so, the office was a hive of activity. And then the real work started...

The phones were ringing off the hook with staff at the airport calling in to report problem after problem. One hadn't met their students, another had a cancelled flight, another a delay... And things got worse. At 15:30, a staff member rang me to say that his taxi driver had taken him to Ashford International instead of Ebbsfleet International, some 45 minutes away! Which meant that our staff member wouldn't be there to meet the student on the 15:45 Eurostar from Lille. Cue some frantic phoning around to our other six centres to see if any of them had a staff member in the area who could take our student. As good luck would have it, two of the centres had staff there, one of whom was tasked with collecting our student and waiting for our staff member to arrive to take her off his hands.

Later still, another staff member phoned from LHR5 to say that two of someone else's students were wandering around uncollected, although this turned out to be just her stirring the pot. The agent had simply sought out the first uniformed staff member and handed them over, meaning that the person actually tasked with finding them couldn't find them. But as one problem was solved, another occurred, this time in the form of a mother ringing to say that her daughter hadn't been met. It took several phone calls to staff members, airport coordinators and the mother herself to try and resolve the issue, only to learn that the student had managed to locate the correct staff member all by herself.

The day wore on. The other administrator and I were rushed off our feet checking in new arrivals, finding staff to show them to their rooms or take them to the dining hall, taking phone calls and trying not to let any of the balls drop.

By 20:30, with just half an hour left on my eleven-hour shift, we had only checked in 64 of the 99 new arrivals. My boss asked me if I would mind working an extra half-hour, but as another coach-load of kids arrived, that became an hour. By 22:00, I was shattered and with twelve solid hours in the bag, I clocked off. It's my turn for the early shifts so I start at 08:00 tomorrow, but I will be finishing an hour earlier. Roll on bed-time...

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Adiós España, hello UK

For the first time since moving abroad, I am keeping my apartment on for the summer. Not having to try cramming everything I own into a 23kg (51lb) case and a 10kg (22lb)carry-on took the stress right out of packing. It also meant that I could take only what I needed back to the UK, rather than my usual everything-but-the-kitchen-sink. Yay for having a suitcase that weighs just 12.5kg (27.5lbs). If only the weight of my case were all I had to worry about...

On my flight back to the UK last summer, a man two rows behind me had a heart-attack. Amazingly the man immediately in front of him was a cardiologist (how lucky was that?!) and he sprung into action. Despite the pilot radio-ing LGW to ask for emergency landing assistance, we ended up in a queue circling Gatwick for 15 minutes before being accidentally directed to a closed runway! It took 20 minutes to re-open the runway and then we had to wait for the paramedics to board! All in all, it was a monumental screw-up that could have resulted in the loss of a man's life. Fortunately, that didn't happen. I, however, was quite late for my induction.

This year I was keen to avoid such dramas, so you can imagine how miffed I was to be told that my flight would be delayed by 45 minutes thanks to the French air traffic control strike. That 45 minutes somehow became two hours and five minutes meaning that it was 20:20 (Madrid time) before we took off. (How much was I hating the French?!).

We landed in London Gatwick at around 21:00 (London time) and then had to wait for AN HOUR for so much as one bag to be offloaded from the plane. Even though it was clear that we were going nowhere, ticket sellers kept approaching us saying, "Tickets to London Victoria, tickets to central London". I eventually snapped at one, telling him bitterly that none of us would be going to Victoria or anywhere else until our bags showed up. He apologised and backed off.

To add to my increasing grumpiness, I had internet problems to contend with. I had switched to my UK SIM and called the automated service to set up internet on my phone. I received a text informing me it had been set up, but it wouldn't work. It took almost an hour before I finally managed to get online. I hastily WhatsApped my sister asking her to check the train times for me. If my luggage arrived in the next 15 minutes, I might be able to make the 22:19 train to Polegate.

At 22:00 the carousel groaned into action and I battled my way to the top praying to see the reassuring brown-gold of my case. Black, black, red, black, navy, black sky blue, black, more black. And then there it was. I hauled it off the carousel – and onto some Spanish teen's foot! I then legged it to the arrivals hall and on to the train station (stopping en-route to grab a pasty) making it to the platform with minutes to spare. The train arrived on time and soon I was on my way to Polegate.

I arrived into Polegate at 23:05 and made my way outside to the conveniently-located taxi rank. The ten-minute journey to the Travelodge, which will be my home until Saturday, set me back a rather extortionate £12 (€15/US$21). And the driver had the cheek to complain when I held out a £20-note. Well it was either that or underpay him by £2 since the only other money I had was a £10-note. He made a big song-and-dance about looking for change before reluctantly handing over £8 (€10/14). I pocketed it all and went to check in.

Tomorrow, I start work. The office needs to be set up ahead of the arrival of 126 students on Sunday. We have got Thursday and Saturday to do that. Friday is reserved for an eight-hour (!) induction. Welcome to summer school...

Monday, 23 June 2014

When teaching is more than imparting knowledge...

Saying goodbye to classes can be difficult, especially when it's a class that has been such amazing fun to teach. Today, I had my last lesson with my More 3s (s0 called because of the coursebook they use). The class comprises just four students – A (12), an absolutely gorgeous girl who started the year hating English and ended it with a huge smile when I told her she'd got 96% on her test; J (12), a delightfully mischievous little boy with a wicked sense of humour; P (11), very much the teacher's pet, but a sweet and helpful little girl; and G (10), the baby of the class...

At 18:30, I walked into the classroom to discover I had just one student. I knew that A wouldn't be there, so I had said my goodbyes in the previous lesson. I hadn't seen J in several lessons so I figured he wouldn't show up. P and G were definites though. Yet, only a downcast P was there.

Halfway through the lesson, there was a knock on the door. We both looked up, expecting (and hoping) to see G, but it was J, and he was just in time for the sweets I had bought! All too soon it was 19:30 and the lesson was over. Neither P nor J wanted to leave. They stood there miserably saying what a shame it was, before launching themselves at me for full-on bear hugs. I said goodbye for the umpteenth time and ushered them out, quietly sad that G hadn't showed up.

Ordinarily, I try not to invest too much in children. You teach them for a year, then you leave, or they do. Getting invested doesn't help either party. But with G, I couldn't not. You see, G is a sweet but seriously attention-starved child. Just 10 years old, she spends most of her time alone, often in the street. Her mother works all hours; her father is absent or dead; and her 21-year old brother seems not to play much of a part in her life. So she walks herself to and from school along busy roads, goes home to an empty house, makes herself a lunch of cookies and then walks to the academy for lessons.

I see her when I am coming to work at 13:30, and again when I am walking back from my break at 17:00; and, rather more worryingly, again at 21:45 when I am walking home from work – always in the street, always alone. Her eyes light up when she sees me. She literally runs to join me. I stop and talk of course, but before long, I have to send her on her way. I can't spend time with a ten-year old. She has become too attached already.

It wasn't always like that though. In the early days she was an absolute nightmare to teach. She had a ridiculously short attention-span, and she threw major tantrums when she didn't get her own way. On one occasion she asked me (in Spanish) if I would give her my pen as a gift. When I declined to do so, she hurled herself on the floor and wrapped her arms round my ankles and refused to let go. So I taught the class standing on that one spot and trying to ignore the child holding my legs. At the end of the lesson, she jumped up and flounced out of the room. Seconds later, she barged back in, tried to hit me with her folder, screamed 'Hasta nunca!' (See you never!) at me, then stormed back out. The school called her mother about that incident.

Over time, her behaviour changed. She was less volatile, she spoke more and more English in class, and her test scores went up. And then came the bombshell; her mother was withdrawing her. So I went to Tiger and bought her a presentjust a notebook, a pencil, an eraser and some ink stamps. Usually she loves presents, but this one made her sad because of what it representedthe final goodbye. When the lesson ended, she pressed an envelope in my hand (containing the letter below), hugged me tightly and ran out of the room so I wouldn't see her tears.

But the story doesn't end there. Two days later, her name was back on the register. She had somehow managed to convince her mother that the classes were worth paying for. And so she stayed. This term, she worked really hard and walked out with a 76% – a vast improvement on her bare 50% pass of the first term. She'd have done better still if she had answered all the questions. She was so proud of herself, and rightfully so. With no prompting or assistance, she had sat down and studied. Today's class was supposed to be her reward – games of her choice, sweets and a little gift – but she didn't come...

G's 'goodbay' note to the class

At 21:30, I had finished teaching for the day and was packing up to go home. The receptionist stuck her head round the teachers' room door and told me that a student was waiting to see me. I walked into the reception area to find G sitting on a bench looking really upset. It turned out that she had fallen asleep, and with no-one to wake her she missed the class. When she woke up and realised, she ran all the way to the school, only to be told that I was teaching and she would have to come back an hour later. And that's exactly what she did.

I went into the teachers' room to get her the present I'd bought, then sat and talked to her for ten minutes about her day, her mother's response to her report card, her plans for the summer, etc. She leaned into me, head hung low and looking every bit like she was going to cry. It was obvious she didn't want to leave, but I had to get her to. I couldn't have her walk home with me, couldn't have her know where I live – she already knows the street, mainly because she lives on the same one just in the other direction! So I gave her un abrazo fuerte (a strong hug) and told her she'd see me in October. I don't know if I'll be her teacher, or if she's even coming back, but no doubt I'll see her hanging around the streets, alone and hopeful. Whatever happens, the mere promise of October was enough to placate her, and she left. Ten minutes later, I did too...

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A change of summer job

For the past two summers I have worked at a prestigious summer school near Brighton in the south of England. This year was to be no different. Way back in November, I applied for and got one of the teaching jobs. I signed and mailed the contract, and booked my flight back to London...

Last week, I got an email from the staffing manager telling me that he had to move some people around "because of student numbers". And, since I had helped out in the office for a week last year, he wondered whether I would like to be based in the office for the whole summer. I emailed him back and told him that as a teacher, I would obviously prefer to teach but if they needed me in the office, I would be happy to do the job. And the following day I got an email confirming my new role of administrator.

I absolutely love teaching, but the more I thought about the new role, the more I came to like the idea. After all, I spend ten months of the year in a classroom, so a spell in the office might be nice. Though I only spent one week in the office last year, I enjoyed the experience. The icing on the cake though was that I would be working with the same girl I worked with last summer.

Excited, I Facebooked my friend to tell her the good news... only to receive some less than thrilling news in response. The job I'll be doing is hers. She's decided to stay in Greece for the summer, hence the last-minute vacancy. I could have kicked myself for my stupidity. Oh well. This time next week I shall be back in London ready to start work the very next day. Bring on the madness!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Hidden Madrid: El Museo Geominero

For this week's photo post in connection with Travel Photo Discovery's Travel Photo Mondays project, I'm going to showcase my new favourite culture spot. While Googling something unrelated, I stumbled across an article on a little-known museum. Interest piqued, I put the museum on my immediate must-see list. And, like the author of the article, I was absolutely blown away.

El Museo Geominero (the Geomining Museum), which might just be Madrid's best-kept secret, was created in 1849 at the request of Queen Isabel II (r. 1833-1868). Today, the museum is home to an impressive collection of 3,500 minerals and 6,000 fossils. Construction of the equally noteworthy building in which the collection is currently housed began in 1921 and was completed in the 1940s after WWII.

Located on Calle de Ríos Rosas, 23 (Metro: Ríos Rosas, L1), the museum is open Mon-Sun 09:00-14:00. Entry is free, although you do need to bring photo ID, which will be scrutinised and added onto the system.

The stained glass window in the first-floor lobby


The beautiful stained glass ceiling


The exhibition room from the ground floor


Just some of the 6,000 fossils in the museum's collection


A solitary trilobyte


More fossils


A gastropod


Samples of quartz


A geologist in the making

The museum would obviously be of most interest to geology fans, such as the young girl in the photo above. She could not have been more than about six years old and she was carefully copying down the details of the crystals she was looking at!

You don't have to be a geology fan, however, to appreciate this museum. The bright, spacious exhibition room with its open galleries will appeal to most people. And once you've seen everything you want to see, you can sit on the comfortable red velvet-covered seats on the ground floor and just while away the time in beautiful surroundings...

View of the second, third and (out-of-bounds) fourth floors


Looking down from the third floor


The marble staircase leading towards the main door