Tips for being a legend when you’re a new teacher abroad and you’re peeing your pants on a regular basis

Catchy title, eh?

Seriously though, important topic. To be fair, I’ve only been at this gig for about two months, so I’m by no means an expert. Before my relocation to Spain I had zero experience – I mean, I taught someone how to dougie once at a party (badly), but this is DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

My previous life as a PR professional (I use the term ‘professional’ very loosely) taught me the complicated art of thinking on my feet, which is of course essential for teaching. Without this, I’d probably be dead right now, real talk. But other than this vital skill, I feel like I was totally unprepared. I feel like this is more of a problem when you’re in a new country – things don’t only go comically wrong, they go comically wrong in two languages.

So without further ado, or much ado about nothing (double negatives, very important for Spanish), here are some of my tips for being a legend when you are a new teacher in a strange country, and you have, at least in the beginning, no idea what you’re doing:

Music, the universal language

It’s no secret that I’d rather be making music than doing almost anything else, so I decided to incorporate it into my classes. Despite the occasional telling off because apparently other students in the academy ‘don’t like trap’, it’s been super useful to get people talking and also break the ice. With my advanced classes, we listen to English language songs and analyse them. For the kids, we sing songs and occasionally I allow a game or seven of musical statues. For one of my students, we dance to Michael Jackson (don’t ask).

Never underestimate the power of drinking games

Disclaimer: no alcohol was used in the teaching of these classes. This one was a total accident but I wanted to get one of my adult classes thinking about a certain subject, so we played Categories. Halfway through a game one of my students put his hand up and said “Wait, Beth, I know this game, we play this when we get drunk”. EXPOSED. But actually, it worked really well. I’ve also adapted several card-based drinking games and they’re super effective. So if you’re in your first weeks and you need a warmer or cooler idea, go nuts! No Centurion though, that’ll backfire.

Even if you only know one game, little ones will love it and become addicted for several months

Bingo is like crack to six-year olds. As long as you mix it up in terms of topic so they’re learning something, you can carry on doing it for weeks. They literally never get bored of it.

Bring cool stuff to class so your students think you’re cool

Again, accidental discovery. I bought some of my DJ equipment to class once because I was practicing that evening at a friend’s house. I left my controller on the table and my group of 12-year-olds went nuts and now they think I’m super cool (which obviously I am but it’s nice to be reminded).

Work smarter, not harder

Be disgustingly organised, even if you’re not. Plan in advance, work out when your free time is and reserve time for school prep/planning/marking outside of your lessons. Also reserve free time and keep it for just that, FREE TIME. Nobody likes a stress head. It’s super overwhelming at first, but do things which make you feel good and relaxed. For me it’s yoga, dancing, meditation, and watching compilations of Will Smith dancing on the Fresh Prince. Little things…

Put inspirational stuff up in your classroom to remind yourself that you’re doing great

Whenever one of my kids makes me a picture I put it on the wall. Last week one of my nine-year-olds made me an adorable heart-shaped letter that said “I love your Inglish class”. Sure, he can’t spell but the sentiment is there, dammit. I also include inspirational quotes; for example “WOO, ha ha”-Will Smith; and pictures of other inspirational educational figures, including Mr Schneebly from School of Rock and the Dean from Community.

Bottom line is, if your students are having a laugh, but still being challenged, then they’re learning. The rest is kind of up to them. But a few pretend drinking games don’t go amiss, of course…




TEFL life: a few more lols

A while ago I promised that I would continue to post about the embarrassing and ridiculous things that happen to me during my new career as an English teacher. I teach all different ages but a large proportion of my students are children between the ages of five and nine and, as any teacher knows, kids are ridiculous. Add to that the fact that I’m an overgrown child who still laughs at toilet jokes and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I feel like it’s entertaining for other people, however, so I’ll keep writing about it.

Here, as promised, are a few more ridiculous happenings from my TEFL life:

1)Recently I was teaching a group of nine-year-olds how to describe people, places and things. I used pictures of celebrities as an example. When I asked one of my students to describe Obama (bear in mind that at this point they only know words like ‘tall’, ‘short’, ‘fat’, ‘thin’, ‘old’, etc) he said ‘BROWN’ repeatedly and, when I pressed him for another word, he said ‘MORE BROWN’. He wasn’t wrong, to be fair.

2)I have no idea where he got it from, but one of my twelve-year-old students recently learned the word ‘nipple’ (not from me, I promise). Now he uses it for everything. He even put it in a piece of writing which was meant to be about the weather. Note to self: stop playing inappropriate rap music in lessons or his next word of choice might be worse.

3)Another of my twelve-year-olds asked me recently if we could do some speaking practice with a textbook exercise about food and mealtimes. In the middle of my explanation he put his hand up and said “Can we do oral?” Of course, he meant the exercise (I hope). Being the highly professional teacher that I am, I laughed for about twenty minutes straight and to this day none of the poor bastards know why.

4)Spelling is also a barrel of laughs. One of my students wanted to show me how she had learned the spellings for a list of classroom words, including ‘bookcase’. The letters B and P often get mixed up so she wrote ‘POO CASE’ and when she asked me if it was right, I again laughed for twenty minutes straight.

5) This week a student asked me what ‘bubble butt’ meant. That one is definitely my fault, must change my background music.

Given that I spent six years in the PR industry, several of those in B2B which requires you to be serious AF at times, you’d think I would have grown up a little bit by now…

I don’t care how much babysitting you’ve done, nothing prepares you for teaching kids

Teaching in Spain was my first experience of working in education – before that I’d been a PR manager. During those few years of my life I thought nobody had it worse in terms of stress. I envied teachers like my mother who had huge chunks of holiday where they could do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for six weeks straight. I genuinely thought teaching meant hanging out with kids for a few hours each day, then doing whatever you wanted.

I have newfound respect for teachers everywhere. On top of the mountains of planning, marking, actual teaching time, occasionally receiving abuse – which all teachers deal with from time to time – there’s the added ridiculousness of teaching children. You not only get to teach the little angels, you also take on the role of babysitter, which is a challenge in itself. The challenge becomes even more difficult when he aforementioned little angels don’t speak your language and you can’t tell them to settle down, get off the table or STOP PAINTING HER HAIR SHE DOESN’T LIKE IT. Here are a few highlights from my first few weeks of teaching in Spain:

1)When I lost one of my six-year-old pupils. Seriously, I lost him. He dashed out of the door at the end of the lesson with one of his classmates, then five minutes later his mum arrived wanting to know why he hadn’t left with everyone else. I managed to explain in very bad Spanish that he had most definitely turned up to class but for some reason she didn’t believe me. At one point she started eyeing my cupboards suspiciously. He turned up to his next lesson and hadn’t lost any limbs, so I can only assume everything turned out fine and he wasn’t abducted.

2)When I lost another one of my pupils for ten minutes. He’d asked to use the toilet then vanished into thin air. When I went to investigate his whereabouts, the toilet appeared to be empty. I searched the other classrooms to no avail and eventually found him hiding in the corner of the bathroom doing a number two. I would love to be that open with my bodily functions…

3)When I accidentally played a profanity-ridden dancehall track to a group of nine year olds as background music. They sure as hell can’t speak English but they now all know what ‘pum pum’ means.

4)When, in a desperate attempt to appear cooler to a class of apathetic teenagers, I sang ‘Despacito’ at them. I still can’t remember why, or even what the purpose of the damned lesson was.

5)When I said ‘fucksticks’ because I couldn’t find the right page and one of my pupils decided to repeat the phrase incessantly for the rest of the lesson.

6) Whenever I’ve tried to tell a joke. Now I know why I was too scared to try stand up.

7) When I told one of my older students the best coffee shops to visit on her upcoming trip to Amsterdam. I got weird looks from everyone for the rest of the lesson, although maybe I could use a ‘sorry I was high’ excuse for my musical outbursts (Despacito round 2, anyone?)


Spain: first impressions from a cheeky expat

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that I recently jacked in my job and London life for something more, shall we say, not London-y. I chose Spain for the culture, climate, people and of course, some of the sexiest music known to man. I’d visited the country several times during my life, everywhere from beautiful Salamanca and exciting Madrid to the frankly embarrassing UK-On-Sea, Salou. I knew I’d made the right decision in terms of weather, food, et al, but had I made the right decision in terms of lifestyle?

As I write this, I’m on month No. 4 in Spain, having spent the past three in Barcelona working in a hostel. I spent the next month in rehab (aka my parents’ house) to save money and more importantly, my liver, before returning to Spain and to my new home Salamanca, to take up a teaching job.

In Spain, everything runs about four hours behind UK time. They might be an hour ahead, but nobody’s rushing here. Even the average walking pace is slower. Granted, I spent six years in London where everyone moves as if there are tiny segways attached to their feet, but here people actually amble. This can be hell if you’re carrying large bags of shopping up the hill to your apartment and stuck behind several old dudes, but there’s something to be learned from the Spanish way of walking. You’ll get there eventually, so why rush?

Spain is weird. It’s not just the slow walking, everything is done with a kind of laissez-faire attitude which is both something we Brits could learn from, and incredibly annoying. During my first week in Barcelona, I made three trips to get my social security number. One didn’t work out because the official I was scheduled to see was out at breakfast, the second time he couldn’t find his pen. This is not a joke. Government workers especially can afford to be very chill because of their job security, but this attitude extends to everyone – office workers, bartenders, bus drivers, possibly strippers. Everybody’s chilling.

I’ve experienced a lot of this first hand when it comes to work here. My first hostel job in Barcelona required me to ‘just show up on Monday’ and they actually seemed surprised when I did. Needless to say, I didn’t stay there very long, there wasn’t much to do. Or maybe I was just four hours early. My second hostel job, while much more ordered in terms of activity, still left me with hours of chill time that I didn’t know what to do with. In London, we’re used to getting up at the crack of dawn, going to bed exhausted around 11pm and not really stopping much in between. Lunch is a hurried sandwich inhaled at your desk in between emails, not a leisurely two-hour affair. Dinner is whatever you throw together when you’ve finally gotten off the tube, not another leisurely two-hour affair. It takes some getting used to – I spent my first weeks in the country feeling like I was permanently skiving from an imaginary job, hiding from a boss that didn’t exist.

On top of the dramatically reduced pace of life, there’s the language barrier. I’m learning Spanish, but it’s a slow process. In Barcelona, everyone spoke English and my job was at a hostel for backpackers, chiefly from the US, Australia and other such places, so a knowledge of Castellano or, for that matter, Catalan, wasn’t a necessity. In Salamanca, where I’m now based, it’s a different story. You can easily go a full day without hearing a word of English, particularly if it’s out of tourist season. To be fair, that’s the whole reason I wanted to work here, to improve my Spanish, but it’s definitely a culture shock. Translating everything in and out of Spanish in your head is exhausting. It took me fifteen minutes to order a baguette yesterday.

Despite the difficulties, I’m (very slowly) becoming accustomed to the lifestyle here. I stand by my decision. It might be slow, it might be relaxed to the point of madness, but the Spanish lifestyle – indeed, the Mediterranean lifestyle as a whole – has got something right. Life isn’t something to be rushed through. It’s time we were all a bit more chill, a bit more ‘whatever’.

I’m embracing this because I wrote this post four weeks ago and couldn’t be bothered to publish it.