Category: work


earthquake-room-1500

Before I came to Mexico, my only experience of an earthquake was in an earthquake simulation room at the Natural History Museum in London. It felt pretty ‘cool’ to feel the ground shaking underneath me and to see the walls and the items on the shelves swaying to and fro. I spent a little bit too much time there, which would be fine if I was with a family or if I was part of a school group, but I was a vertically-challenged adult all alone on a half day that I had from work. But little did I know that I would actually experience an earthquake for myself… kind of.

It really was the most uneventful occurrence. I just remember hearing some rattling as I was teaching my 5th Grade kids. I thought it was just a really heavy vehicle driving past along the road, so I didn’t even bat an eyelid. That was until a student asked me if I had just felt that.

“Felt what?” I asked. “That was just a really big truck or something dri-“

“No, no – teacher! That was an earthquake!” they all pretty much said.

As I quickly rewound what happened in my head, I realised that I heard the door shaking, but even then I kind of dismissed the idea that I had just experienced an earthquake, because according to the earthquake simulator that I was in, which must be true, (and the information desks around the display, of course), I thought that earthquakes were more dramatic. But a friend of mine likewise reported that her students also confirmed we had all in fact experienced an earthquake. Unless it was a really, really big lorry that made its way down to her side of the school, too, which I think is still a strong possibility.

Even though nothing happened during that incident, thank God, and I haven’t experienced anything similar since, it was an eye-opener. I am living in a country where earthquakes take place pretty regularly (well, more so than what I’m used to), where in previous years they have been pretty destructive. This information fed my fear monster that I’ve already spoken about on numerous occasions, and my imagination ran wild… until I forgot about it… and now that I’m writing about it, I’m reminded about it again. Curses.

Two weeks before I arrived in Mexico, I remember hearing about a hurricane that slightly damaged the area that I would be living in, and that freaked me out a bit. I have experienced strong wind, but the only damage I have personally seen the wind do was blow down a tree outside my classroom, which was the school news story of the day.

thumb_IMG_2484_1024

Speaking of other natural disasters, I had always found it amusing that Mexican schools have a rain day. So whenever it rains, schools and parents are on the lookout to see if the government will suspend classes. And it’d always be a running joke on a Sunday night that the teachers at my school would wish for rain so that they didn’t have to go into school on a Monday morning. I thought it was funny, because if that were the case in England then there wouldn’t be any school, ever. Ok, well maybe for about a month, but that’s it. But then I understood why that happened when it rained heavily in September last year. Certain areas of my town were flooded, and school was suspended for about two weeks. Teachers at my school still had to go to school, even though no students were present, so be careful for what you wish for. But this incident will be explained fully in a later post.

And I just want to mention one more thing that happened as recently as this week. I know, I’m so behind, that this is actually surprising. As a teacher of the primary school, we have to escort the kids to their cars. But one day this week, I saw what looked like some sort of huge dust cloud blowing towards the school. But a teacher with a petrified look on her face told the teachers to get the kids inside the school – immediately.

It turns out that my ‘dust cloud’ was in fact a massive swarm of bees and they were hovering around the school gates. I’ve never seen anything like it before and we had to rush the kids safely into the closest classroom. The bees finally settled in a tree right by the school gates and formed a nest on one of the branches of the tree. It was a horrible ordeal because there were so many flying around the young kids. And I tried my best to look calm and collected even though I was screaming in my head, as only one bee terrifies me, much less a whole colony of them. I think I held it together though, so I’m giving myself a pat on the back.

wild-bees-nest-professional-wildlife-removal

This is an example of what it looked like…

I guess the point of this post is that these personal experiences with nature has opened up my eyes to how I’m no longer living in my little bubble in London; I’m becoming more respectfully aware my natural surroundings.

Discipline

Hi guys!!!!! So this vlog is about discipline at my school, more in my classroom more specifically. I talk about how sometimes this may be hard to carry out, especially if a child has done something that is quite funny.

Kids can be challenging and they can stress you out at time. But you should NOT be a teacher if you think disciplining kids involves throwing objects at them, as one teacher did in another school. This was caught on camera, and she was rightly sacked. I forgot to mention this in the video, so I thought I’d post it here instead.

Enjoy! 🙂

Proud Parent

Hi! In this post, I talk about the first time I felt like a proud parent as a TEFL teacher. Who knew I’d feel like this? Maybe my family knew because I cried during The Lion King, and for every sad film since that film they would look in my direction to inspect if my eyes welled up. That’s not to say that I cried or anything, not this time. But anyway, I digress. My kids had to recite English poems in front of a ‘large’ audience.

Re-introduction

“Ok, so guess which one is the lie,” I excitedly told all of my soon-to-be new kids after I quickly introduced myself.

“My first fact is that I have danced in front of millions. My second fact is that I am in a Hollywood movie, which you will be able to see in cinemas in two years’ time. My third fact is that I have three sisters,” I said, as I stood in front of the class, three different times, for three different grades.

“The first one!” said one girl.

“No!! The second one!” said another.

Others chimed in, and it was amusing to hear their reasons for why they thought their selected ‘fact’ was a lie.

“She can’t be in a movie – come on!” shouted a boy.

“But she has not danced in front of so many people!”

Once I told them that the lie was in fact the third one, that I had three sisters, their mouths dropped and their eyes popped out of their heads.

“You Teacher Miss Monique???!!! What film are you in? Where have you danced in front of millions?” and their questions abounded along those lines. In particular, there was one kid from that day onwards, who persistently asked to see photos and videos of my performances during every. Single. Lesson.

This was the second time that I had to introduce myself to some school children within the space of about two weeks. But this was the first time that I said this to anyone at the school, mainly because my younger kids wouldn’t have really been able to understand the activity.

As mentioned in a previous post, I agreed to teach the 4th, 5th and 6th Grades because a teacher had gone AWOL. And although I was excited about the opportunity to teach older, and hopefully better behaved, kids, I was genuinely sad about abandoning ‘my babies’. I even took photos of their nametags and everything just before I left, like a reminiscent parent who was about to release their ‘child’ into the big, wide world. Or like a sad lonely person; whichever simile you prefer.

I had about an hour to introduce myself and to get to know the kids. I was free to just play games with them, so that’s what I did, and they loved it! I warned them that my classes wouldn’t always be like that. In fact, they would hardly ever be like that. They said that they understood, but I’m not sure if they took heed.

From the time that I introduced myself, I could tell that I would have a lot more fun with the older grades, mainly because I would be able to do more activities with them. And I also thought this, because they seemed “less wild” than the younger kids.

I did have fun with the younger kids though, and as I have already said in an earlier post, I bonded with them in such a short space of time. But because I only taught them for a short time, I thought they would’ve pretty much forgotten about me. But to my surprise, for a good long while at least, most of them, in particular the more ‘challenging’ kids in the class, would run up to me, to greet me with the biggest smile they could put on their face, or with a hug, or with the words, “I love you, Miss Monique”. And although that doesn’t happen so much now, every now and again, a couple of them still run up to hug me, just because.

Hey guys!! So this blog post comes in the form of a vlog, where I’ll be talking about patriotism in Mexican schools. Enjoy! 🙂

 

 

The notion of non-English school kids being disciplined and well-behaved is a myth; whoever came up with that idea is a liar and should be punished! In fact, it probably came from some schoolteacher in a desperate bid to try and install some discipline in the classroom.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the picture-perfect image of smiling kids, who eagerly cling on to a teacher’s every word, quickly dissipated. To be fair, my 1st, 2nd and 3rd Graders weren’t children from hell, but they definitely were challenging, particularly the 3rd Graders.

I learnt so much while teaching them during that first full week. I learnt how to think quickly on my feet. For example, if an activity wasn’t working, then I had to change it up a bit on the spot. And who knew that the ABC song would have a pied-piper effect on the 1st Graders? Whenever they heard the song, no matter what activity they were doing at that point in time, or how noisy they were, they would stop immediately without fail, and chime in at the top of their lungs, as if the song triggered some kind of hypnosis.

I’ve already explained in a previous blog post that I don’t have the best memory when it comes to names. During the previous week, I got them to write their names on the board, write their name cards for their cubby holes, and then I wrote their names on a piece of paper. I learnt the names of, shall we say, some of the more disruptive kids in the class first, because of the amount of times I had to say their names. But by the end of the week, I had learnt the names of all 37 of my students, which really was an amazing feat for me as it usually takes me an age to learn just one name. So to learn people’s names in the future, I now know that I not only have to see it written down, I also need to repeat it several times for it to be etched into my brain.

      

I learnt that I’m not actually as bad at drawing as I thought I was. I was pretty much forced to be more creative with my hands, as most of the learning aids that accompanied the course books had apparently been destroyed by a hurricane around five years ago.

   

                                        

I learnt that despite my preconceived idea that younger kids are ‘harder to handle’, the youngest grades weren’t actually that badly behaved; it was the older kids who posed the biggest problem.

I learnt that I apparently only really became a teacher when I was inundated with so much work that I had to stay behind after-hours just to try and catch up with everything. One late afternoon as I was stuck behind my desk, I heard a cackle outside.

“You’re a real teacher now,” Yudith, the 2nd Grade teacher, playfully said with a cheeky grin on her face as she made her way home, because I was still working.

Yudith is quite a character; she makes me laugh and I know that her comment wasn’t malicious. She was one of the first “Spanish teachers” to start talking to me, and she let me borrow her paint so that I could decorate the windows in my classroom, but anyway, I digress.

I learnt about how loving, thoughtful and generous kids could be. I received love from them in the form of a gift, such as a sweet, a flower or even ‘just’ a hug. Teenagers tend to be ‘too cool’ to show this kind of affection and appreciation, but I discovered how unashamed ‘my kids’ were to express these feelings. I learnt about their capacity to ‘forgive’. I would tell someone off for doing something and they would huff and puff about getting into trouble, but the very next day they would act as if nothing happened and that everything in their world was bright and rosy, until they got into trouble again.

And finally, I discovered that I could bond with the kids so much so, that I felt as though I was their parent. I genuinely felt proud and happy for the children once I could see that ‘aha moment’ in their eyes and their expressions – the moment that they understood what I was teaching them. I had to stop arguments and then get them to ‘make up’ or at least tolerate each other. I saw them at their most vulnerable points, such as when I consoled them as they cried; I had to do all sorts. And even though at times they got on my last nerve, they were my kids. And I didn’t fully realise that I had this feeling until I had to think really hard about leaving them, when I was offered to teach the older grades, as an opening suddenly arose…

First steps

My first day of school got off to a brilliant start on Monday morning. Either I was too jetlagged to hear my phone alarm, or it didn’t go off at all; maybe it was more the former rather than the latter. Either way, I woke up the time I was supposed to be there, so I was in panic mode.

I got washed and ready in record-breaking time and power walked all the way to the school. Well, almost all the way as I quickly discovered that it definitely was not power walking weather; I was sweating bucket loads!

Once at the school with my sweaty self, I was given some time to acquaint myself with my classroom. Now remember this; it was completely bare. No materials, no books, nada.

    

    

This was definitely in stark contrast to the neighbouring classrooms with their appealing, colourful and thoughtful displays and lay outs. I was given a while to read through a load of rules and regulations.

‘I really have a lot of work to do,’ I thought to myself.

Then entered Elsa with her beaming smile. She answered the many questions that I had.

“Right,” she said, “are you ready to start with your kids tomorrow?”

‘What?’ I screamed in my head. I did not feel comfortable teaching at all, not in the slightest and my classroom hardly encouraged the kids to want to learn English. That question was starting to become a regular occurrence. And I’d later find out that I would ask that question on at least a weekly basis.

In the end, I was given an extra day to decorate my classroom and to familiarize myself with the children’s syllabus. I can just about draw a stick man, much less make a variety of art displays for a classroom, so that was a huge challenge for me, but I was quite proud of my efforts in the end. Even though I was given an extra day, I still didn’t feel ready. Nevertheless, the next day was show time, regardless.

The first day with my first, second and third grade kids was quite nerve-racking, but it was a lot of fun. I was introduced to them in Spanish, I guess to make sure that they behaved. I distinctly remember their beaming faces and how quiet they were as they listened intently to Elsa’s every word. And I definitely remember how quickly that stillness disappeared by the end of the week!

Anyway, so I had them for one period instead of the timetabled two, so that we could get to know each other through games and activities. They loved the games – score! And they were angels, well in the first lesson anyway, but that declined a bit (ok, quite a bit) during the second week.

But anyway, as I was told not to follow any curriculum for the rest of my first week, it was a little difficult to just think of games and activities to keep them occupied for the time that I had them. It definitely is a lot harder than it seems, believe me, but I managed it in the end.

It was over the following week where I had to be a lot more creative with my activities and displays, because of a distinct lack of resources…

Getting out of bed at this time of year is a real struggle. No matter how many times you press that snooze button, again and again, you. Just. Can’t. Get. Up!! You would rather hibernate in your bed until spring than venture out into the darkness on a perilous journey through the blistering winds, in the cold and the rain, to get to work.

Well, at least the Christmas holidays are coming up very soon, but not soon enough. You’re anxiously counting down the days where you can finally eat, drink, be merry and sleeeeeep!!!

But until then you’re tired, and when you’re tired you do stupid things.  Very stupid things. In fact, I don’t even think it’s because the days are darker. For some reason these days, I don’t know – maybe I’m getting ‘old’, but I just feel so tired. Like, ridiculously tired – stupidly tired. I do the most stupidest things, ever.

half-asleep-mind-sept-11_1

“I must be overtired’, Buttercup managed. ‘The excitement and all.’ ‘Rest then’, her mother cautioned. ‘Terrible things can happen when you’re overtired. I was overtired the night your father proposed.” ― William Goldman, The Princess Bride 

As I’m yearning for my bed right at this minute, I’m writing this post to highlight how dangerous (to your dignity) tiredness can be when you’re doing the most mundane and automatic tasks.

So in no particular order, here’s a selection of stupid things people have done as a result of fatigue. Ok, maybe this was mainly myself. Have you ever:

1. Used your Oyster card as a key fob to enter your work building?

2. Used your mobile phone as an Oyster card at a tube station?

3. Slurred your words on the phone so badly that the receptionist asked how you were feeling? You said fine, and then out of politeness asked them the same question. They replied that they were better than you…

4. Used a fork as a spoon to eat your cereal?

5. Sent the wrong cover letter for a job application?

6. Forgotten to send a CV with your cover letter?

7. Attempted to put a tub of butter into the cutlery draw?

8. Used hair lotion as body cream?

9. Used hair lotion as face cream?

10. Poured lemon juice into your cup of hot chocolate powder?

11. Attempted to pour cold water into your powdered porridge instead of the hot water that is needed to make it?

12. Searched high and low for your glasses only to find that they are already on your face?

13. Opened the dishwasher to put butter in it?

14. Called someone you know very well by a completely different name and prayed to God that they didn’t hear you?

15. Had a conversation with the wrong person? This is something that can easily happen on something like WhatsApp for instance, especially if they share the same name, i.e. Michelle.

16. Attempted to use nail varnish remover as a facial toner?

17. Made a whole bowl of couscous for breakfast when in actual fact you wanted porridge?

18. Ran into a large mirror as soon as you woke up because you heard a knock at the door, but you woke up in such a panic that you thought the mirror was another door?

19. Desecrated the English language with sentences like: “She took too slow”?

20. Spent half an hour looking for clothes you were already wearing?

21. Woken up suddenly on a train and realised to your horror that you were halfway through a conversation you were having with yourself out loud? As the only people around you were sitting right in front of you, you decided to pretend to be on your phone and tried your very best to carry on with the conversation that you didn’t particularly remember the details of…

252493999_9fe62c301a

Remember, tiredness kills, or it at least makes you do stupid things. Rest well, or if you can’t do that then you can purchase a walking sleeping bag like my friend below. Feel free to share your tired/stupid stories. Sharing is caring and all that malarkey. Peace.

sleep-walking-bag

So I’m eating beans and toast for lunch, again, for the third time this week. It’s either that or a tin of soup, again. But to jazz it up a little, I’ve learnt that a lamb samosa goes a mighty, long way. It’s a bit of a weird combination, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it – trust me. My little experiment worked. “Excellent”, she says whilst tenting her fingers together like Mr Burns (I had no idea that that was the word for it either).

I really thought I’d left my student days behind me. Sort of. In fact, I don’t even remember having to eat beans and toast at uni – EVER! Hard times, eh?

In fact, I filled out a small survey about the seven social classes in the UK, and the BBC so kindly informed me that I was part of the emergent service workers. This group is “a new, young, urban group which is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital”. I’m second from the bottom (curses, I should’ve listened to those who warned me about getting a job in the media), but I’m highly cultural… and social… so… meh.

But anyway, I digress. Wouldn’t you say that beans, toast and a samosa is an ingenious way to save money, which would only then be spent on highly social and cultural things, like… I don’t know – what DO I dooooo????!!

Well, never fear. This week, is a bloomin’ good week. This week I can treat myself. This week I can march right on down to glorious Whitecross Street, with its aromatic smells of food from all over the world, and order a £6 venison burger from a stall, because I earned it, dammit!

“Well, why?” I hear you ask. Well, my dear friend, it’s that time of the month again. Not the ‘bad’ time of the month that shall not be named, but the pleasurable kind that is welcomed by females and males alike – payday is coming *choir ‘ahhhs’ heavenly and harmoniously in the background*!!!

It has such a melodious ring to it, doesn’t it? Payday. Hooray for payday. It’s that golden pot at the end of the rainbow, fellas. Hey you guys – I’ve struck gold! And the crowd goes wild, as the man in my head shouts: “Get in there, my son!” I’ve received the golden ticket! I will go past go! I will collect £200! And the Milky Bars are on me!!!

I’ve been waiting for this moment to come for a very long time… ok so maybe just about a month. I can picture it now, all in slow motion. My name is called. I swivel my chair around to see that I’m greeted with a steely, reluctant smile and a purple envelope marked ‘private and confidential’ with my name on it. I prise the envelope out of the person’s hand while smiling.

Then as they walk away I rip the payslip open like an excited kid at Christmas.

pay 1

My eyes are drawn to ‘Amount’. I shriek with ecstasy and relief. ‘YESSSSSSS,’ I scream in my head, ‘I now have mon-ay!!!!!!!’ I then do a little dance:

Then my eyes are drawn to the section entitled ‘Deductions’. Great, Student Loan has already had a little bite from my pie. Oh wait, then there’s tax and NIC. Fantastic.

Then I’m filled with dread. I need to save money for that deposit on a house, which seems like an ever-increasing elusive illusion. But there’s travel costs, living costs, bills, etc. and the list goes on and on and on until it suddenly dawns on me that I’ll hardly see any of this. Then I sigh, bang my head on the table and get back to work.

Yep, that’s pretty much how it’ll go on payday, as it does every month. And then I’ll just about manage to stretch it out until the next payday, and on and on this vicious cycle goes.

There’s this guy at work, who eats muesli with water and raisins. Muesli with water and raisins – who DOES that??!! And he swears blind that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. He ‘ummmmmms’ and ‘ahhhhhhhs’ as he eats it, makes some other weird noises and says it’s “incredible”. I accepted his challenge to taste it for myself, which I regretted as soon as I put the spoon in my mouth. It tasted like wet cardboard!

“No, no,” he says, “you have to put more raisins in it.”

“No – you’re so kind, but I think I’ll pass, thanks,” I reply, as I wonder if I should actually swallow this ungodly thing. Who knows what it’s doing to my body and if my tongue can be nursed back to care after this horrific, traumatic experience?

Although I’m beginning to believe that he genuinely loves this ‘lunch’, because he seems a bit strange like that, I also think he’s doing this to save money.

So what do you guys scrimp and save on? How has it worked out for you? Do you have any tips? If it’s lunch, then what low-budget food do you eat?

“So, this is…err…Bob…?”

I thought I was doing so well!! I was actually remembering people’s names, well most people’s names, during my Olympic training, or I should say more accurately, ‘rehearsals’.

Well, actually after about five or six people, my capacity to remember any more names ceased to exist. But still, to learn that many after meeting them for the first time was a huge achievement for me- high five!

So here’s a scenario about how rubbish I am at remembering names. As a first year university student, your aim it to make as many friends as possible to ease you into the social environment. Well, remembering someone’s name would be a big step towards that goal, wouldn’t you say? The problem, especially for me, is that there were so many names to remember.

[Cue music for the revelation of my cunning plan]

So my cunning plan, and believe me, this was by no means weird, was to ask for that person’s number. Then as I entered that person’s number in my phone, I would ask them how to spell their name. Simple. All I needed to do to remember their name was to see the name in its written form, then it would be etched into my brain, forever. Then, hey presto, in my next chance encounter with the person, I could say with confidence: “So your name is Ukweli, right?” Boom, mission accomplished. “Hey, Luc… Luc with a ‘c’ and not with a ‘ke’- heyyyyy, how youuuu doing?!” Boom, gold star for me.

It was a genius idea and it worked well for a while, until one day I asked this girl to spell her name for me, because, and I did emphasise this point, it was very difficult to spell. As I was entered her number into my really long contact list, she replied bluntly that her name was Emma. …Fail!!!!

There aren’t even any real spelling variations for that name! What’s worse, I don’t even know if that was her name, but Emma was the first really simple name I could think of to write for this story!!! In case you were wondering, it’s fair to say that we didn’t keep in contact after that fateful incident.

Even more embarrassing was when I was in a coffee shop with a friend, and then another friend (and I do use that term loosely) came in, who I had not seen in years. I knew I would have to introduce the two people, and I was racking my brain for her name: ‘Brain give me the name, dammit!’

                     

A name came to me, but I wasn’t sure if it was correct. I ended up just mumbling the name very quickly, hoping for the best. I was sort of saved when my friend asked my other friend herself, saying that she never heard it properly. I felt stupid though. I still do. To be fair, the friend, whose name I forgot, actually uses two different names as a first name, confusing my poor brain even further.

I hear you ask, how do I remember the names of ‘famous people’? My answer is that is that I don’t. I try to describe them based on how they look and what they do.

But what brought all of this to my attention is that I started a new job two weeks ago and I was introduced to everyone in the office, all at once. This is the biggest office I’ve worked in so far with all of its 20 people seated at their desks.

How in the world are people supposed to remember all these names at once? It was all just a blur, by the time another name was mentioned I had already forgotten the name, which was previously mentioned. Awkward.

I asked a couple of people for their names later on, and I quickly forgot them again. I didn’t want to keep asking, so I used impersonal greetings: “Heyyyyy… Hey you/dude/girl,” but making it sound more natural, of course.

I am of course in a professional working environment, now, and I can no longer just go up to someone I barely know and ask for their mobile number, that’s just weird.

Instead, my plan has been to draw a seating plan of the office, so I can write people’s names down. If I overhear someone’s name being mentioned I would quickly scribble down that name and the position of where they are seated in the office.

This is me being pragmatic, and taking the initiative to overcome a weakness. I really doubt I can use this example as an answer to an interview question about my weaknesses though. “I forget people’s names, so one day I drew up a seating plan of the office. Every time I heard someone’s name being mentioned, I tracked their movements and I wrote their names down. Now I know everyone’s names. Everyone. Single. One.” [Said in a freakishly high-pitched horror movie voice].

How do you remember people’s names? Can you give me any tips?