Monday, December 27, 2010

Paradise is Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo. A small town that garnered much infamy within our CELTee group, mostly because of one particular students' recurring trips there (three in total, during her time in Costa Rica). Not that you can really blame her. There's a lot to do and very much a "small town, slice-of-life" feel to it (Ticos vacation there about as often as foreign tourists).

puerto viejo

With funds and desire to stay in San Jose for the rest of my time in Costa Rica dwindling, I decided a multiple-day beach trip was necessary. Everyone had their opinion about where I should go and what I should do, and eventually I settled on...Puerto Viejo. Decision motivated mostly by cost of accommodations, however; not going to lie.

Or not entirely cost. Character factored in, too.

"You have to stay at Rocking J's," Eva insisted multiple times. "It's amazing."

And so, before I even get to what I did on my winter vacation (not much), an introduction to where I stayed.

Rocking J's wins two awards: Cheapest Hostel I've Stayed At, and Most Unique Hostel I've Stayed At.

In short: it's an entirely open-air, tin-roofed joint with razy mosaic art and hammocks, as well as a tasty in-house restaurant.

As for the rest of the trip, I think I'll shut up for once and just let the pictures do the talking.

Rocking J's

Happy New Year, readers. :)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

First North Korea, Now Sweden?

I am so unplugged from the news that I don't hear about suicide bombings in my future adopted homeland until days after the fact from other people. (And not even from my Swedish boyfriend/fiancé-type-creature who lives in Stockholm!) And since no one on Facebook was posting about it, I had to hear it from my boss here in the States when I dropped in to return a work shirt.

Only the bomber himself was killed, apparently—guess he failed the "massive explosives" course at terrorist training camp!—but obviously it's still a bit of a shock. Between this and escalating North-South tensions on the Korean peninsula, it seems like everywhere I want to go has recently been under threats of violence.

I'm not frightened about it. I'm not angry. Those are the kind of responses that actions like this set out to trigger; you give into those, and "the terrorists* have already won." I will still go to Stockholm in January, and I will still move there after another year in Korea. Likewise, the Cheonan sinking or military shelling in Yeonpyeong won't keep from going back to Korea. If South Koreans aren't living in fear, then why should I?

I think the only appropriate response to political violence is disappointment. Sadness. There's one fewer person on the planet, that much less potential for good and kind things in the world—though arguably that was lost long before Taimour Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly blew his guts out, people can turn around. Can change. He also left behind a wife and three kids to live with what he did. What he wanted to do. "Oh, your dad was the guy that blew himself up in Stockholm back in 2010, that's right." What a crap legacy to leave behind for such cute kids!

My condolences go out to his widow and children.

*why I hate the word "terrorist" and go to great lengths to avoid using it is another blog entry altogether; just making my dislike of the word vocal, here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Does this make me certifiable?

As of last Friday, I am officially a CELTA-licensed teacher of English.

And for the umpteenth time, I am so glad that I did this in Costa Rica instead of NYC. I met some lovely people here—seasoned travelers from all over the English-speaking world—and staring down language analysis sheets and lesson plans and cover sheets would have been suicide-inducing in NYC's awful November weather.

The course is so worth it. Whether or not it reflects in a pay increase in South Korea (or of course it does, it's just a question of how much), I did learn a lot about teaching and pedagogical techniques. Everything I didn't learn in my first hagwon. Not that Sherlock Academy can really be blamed for that: this was a month of full-time classwork and practice teaching, and it wouldn't exactly be cost-effective for Sherlock to only get 11 months of teaching out of my 12 year contract. But I think I went into the thing rather under-prepared.

But all of that's neither here nor there! Gaps have been filled, methodologies taught and deconstructed, etc etc. My head is filled with teacher-training and language-analysis and I'm good to go! But I have another week in Costa Rica, so what to do?

Today I finally worked up the gumption to visit the National Museum in the downtown part of San Jose. It only took a month of me seeing it and feeling guilty about not going inside to spur me into action.

It's a history museum, in short, starting with prehistoric nomadic tribes up until the 1948 Civil War. (One of the results of Ferrer's victory in the war was the abolishment of the army, so the building that now houses the museum was once military barracks/headquarters.)

My favorite parts were the assorted prehistoric/pre-columbian exhibits. Observe:

But everyone has been telling me how I have to get out of San Jose, and so I'm trying to figure out what my options are.

One option is a 4 - 5 hour bus ride down to Guanacaste and lay on the beach for a few days. It's expensive down there, though, and I don't have a tent for the cheaper camping lodgings.

The other option is the closer (~3 hour bus ride) Jaco Beach, with lodgings about the same as what I'm paying here in San Jose.

There's also a volcano nearby, to which I can take a bus. Though, the internet is telling me I should visit a different volcano. Yikes!

Plus, there's the old capital of Cartago, with ruins and sites I have yet to see. Schedule looking like this:

Wednesday: Cartago

Thursday - Monday: The beach at Jaco, staying at Las Camas

Tuesday: Volcano, if I feel like it

Wednesday: Go home! :C

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Brief Musical Interlude: "Anything You Can Do"

Great idea for comparatives class: "Anything You Can Do" from Annie, Get Your Gun.

With any luck, I'll get to this in my class tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

CELTA, Week 3: This Time It's Personal

Now that I'm partway through week four, thoughts on week three:

God. Damn. Brutal. We had to design our own syllabus for this week, which was fortunately fairly hands-off and not as terrifying as it sounds. I think at this point my fellow CELTees have started to wonder if I'm not going to just "get a Glock and mow these people down!"* This isn't commentary on CELTA as such; more that my time management skills are terrible. (I should be working on a self-evaluation right now. What am I doing? Hint: you're reading it.)

The other thing about CELTA is that there is literally a whole rainforest of paperwork to sort. In addition to the two to four handouts we get per "how to teach" class (two of those classes per day), for every lesson we teach we have to fill out lesson plans, cover sheets for the lesson plans, and language analysis or skills focus sheets. Additionally, whatever handouts we use or create, we need an extra copy for the portfolio we send off to Cambridge. Then, once we've taught our lesson for that day, we go home and type up a self-evaluation to go in the portfolio, along with our lesson plan and the tutor's evaluation of our performance (which we get the next day, during group feedback). If we're not teaching, then we're assessing other teachers (so we have things to contribute to group feedback the next day), which means we get copies of their lesson plans to mark up with notes. And for the cherry on top, there's the written work we have to turn in. For the first two, it's quite straightforward; for the second two, since they're about planning a theoretical lesson, we have to (again) include any handouts we created for that theoretical lesson.

In case you couldn't tell, that's a lot of paper. Paperwork, and keeping track of papers, is just not really my forte. I think at least half of the stress I've had to deal with on this course comes from sifting through a whole notebook of papers. Every couple days I go on what I've come to call a "hole punch bonanza" so I can at least not have them faffing about loose, but it's still annoying.

"Oh, but Katherine, there's so many ways to organize your stuff! You can fix that easily!" Well, nuts to you. Every attempt to impose some kind of logical order on my morass of stuff degrades into chaos, 99% of the time. The 1% exception is books. My library at home is very neatly sorted and categorized, maybe because books are much bigger and easier to see? No clue. Without the time to sit and sort and purge my coursework of unnecessary faffery, things get out of control. Papers and little things are a hot mess and will continue to be so until I die.

Moral of the story? If you have issues with your executive functions, prepare to crank your attention knob all the way up to eleven if you're doing CELTA.

So three weeks of swimming in handouts and lesson plans will just do you in. My latest feedback session, I probably gave off the impression of being absolutely frustrated with myself and depressed and convinced I'm a total failure etc. It's not that. It's just a combination of 1) having high standards for myself that I never live up to 2) getting absolutely overwhelmed with handouts and paperwork and bits of paper every day, five days a week, for the last three weeks, 3) a broken sleep schedule and 4) having to, within a lesson, be conscious of five trillion things at once.

And here we're back to the executive functions bit again.

Instead of just planning a lesson and having it assessed on whether it was a successful lesson or not, you are constantly performing to CELTA's standards. Some of those are fairly broad and important, like: creating good rapport with the students, successfully conveying the meaning of new material, whatever. But others are minor, almost to the point where I'd call it nitpickery. Things like task-checking, when you drill and when you write things on the board, etc. Having to juggle all of those nine hundred things in your brain while simultaneously interacting with your students and facilitating a successful language class takes an intense amount of concentration—at least it does for me, since interacting with students and taking on the performative role of a teacher sucks up more of my spoons than other people.

(Aside, that article is really interesting. No, I don't have Lupus, but I think it works out for everyone—teaching may take more of my spoons than of a coworker's; on the other hand I can sit down and breeze through a writing or "language awareness" assignment with only half a spoon or so.)

So on some level, CELTA is going to cost you some spoons. Either you're an energetic, gregarious entertaining-type who can't bear to sit and spout off a lot of analytical nonsense, or you're a total language pedant introvert who cranks out the essays with a certain academic glee, but absolutely struggles with classroom management and engaging people. It's not even a spectrum, probably, it's more like a Cartesian plane: at (0,0) is where you need to be to get through CELTA without losing any spoons, the ideal balance between whatever factors are relevant. But of course people have strengths and weaknesses and so you have (6,0) or (2, -2) or whatever else. You're going to have to make some weekly (even daily) sacrifices and struggle (to a greater or lesser extent) through all of them as you try to traverse the distance from your point back to (0,0). And it will take a toll on you. The question is, how far do you have to go, and how much can you push yourself?

*To end on a more lighthearted note, the "get a Glock and mow these people down!" line is a reference to the legendary MST3K episode Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. I quoted it to myself during a break and managed to confuse just about everyone who heard me. To clarify, here's the clip. The whole thing is hilarious, but the line in question is at about the three minute mark. It loses something in the pure reading of it; half of the humor is Mike imitating Raul Julia (or imitating Mike's imitation of Raul Julia).

Fingal: Maybe I had to put up with out there, but not in here.
Mike (as Fingal): I'm going to get a Glock and mow these people down!

And for Facebook, which hates embedding video in notes:

You make me tingle, Fingal. Are you single? Gimme a jingle. ;)