Teaching


I consider myself very lucky as through things I do, day to day including my work, I learn of some of the amazing things our oft derided youngsters do. 

The latest is about 14 lower sixth formers from the excellent high school within our village boundary – St Mary’s Menston.

St Mary's Menston pupil Hannah Smith reads abut football to South African children

Hannah Smith, pupil at St Mary’s Menston, reads Frank Lampard to Zulu children

St Mary's pupil Kavindu Appuhamy gives an African child a lesson about rhinos, or is it the other way round?

St Mary’s pupil Kavindu Appuhamy gives an African child a lesson about rhinos, or is it the other way round?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I recently created a blog/website for the Wharfedale, Yorkshire, village in which I live – Menston. Looking around for news as the schools started up again after the summer break I found out about the latest phase in a project in which St Mary’s is involved, now in its seventh year.

Bambisanani

It’s called Bambisanani. That’s Zulu for … … … if you want to know you’ll have to go to the whole story, with more pictures, which you’ll find from a link on the latest post on the village website at:

http://menstonvillagewharfedale.com/2013/09/07/menston-village-school-in-south-africa-new-weekday-cycling-group-village-show/

Although the project revolves around sport and leadership, the Menston pupils also taught maths, science, history, chess, dance, football, rounders and netball while they were at Mnyakanya School in the deprived Nkandla region of Kwa Zulu Natal.

Cakes for the village show

Many thanks for the suggestions for cakes to enter in the village show on Saturday. I’ve chosen two unusual ones (which probably means they’ll get nowhere in the prizes even if I succeed in making them well). The first I’ll be making when I’ve finished this post – Beetroot cake with mascarpone and raspberries – thanks to blogger ‘Georgina’; the second I’ll be making the evening before – Chocolate prune and armagnac cake, a Delia Smith recipe – suggested by another of my favourite bloggers.

Other suggestions I’ll be making just for my own enjoyment sometime in the future. When I do I’ll let you know.

I don’t have a lot of time for blogging at the moment – the weather is superb for walking and photography but unfortunately that means it is also ideal for some much needed ‘tender loving care’ for Lofty, our beloved VW camper. However, having just cooked and eaten the obligatory full English breakfast I thought I’d use the 15 min ‘digestion’ pause to get this off.

The Romanians are almost uniquely able to have a joke on themselves and, being far better generally educated than the majority of people coming out of UK schools, are able to do it with a wit and substance sadly lacking in much of what we see from British commentators. I just love the poster campaign launched by the Romanian paper Gandul (‘The Thought?) in response to that from the Guardian. The posters are in English so English speakers can understand them even if the accompanying text is in Romanian.

http://www.gandul.info/news/why-don-t-you-come-over-raspunsul-gandul-la-campania-britanica-nu-veniti-in-anglia-update-10528548

So here are some of the Romanian poster words, each of which has a postscript “Why don’t you come over. We may not like Britain but you’ll love Romania”. There are many more gems.

Your weekly rent covers a month here – pub nights included

Our Tube was not designed with sardines in mind – sorry sardines

Our newspapers are hacking celebrities’ privacy, not people’s phones

Our air traffic controllers have seen snow before. They were unimpressed

We don’t have a congestion charge here. We believe congestions are punishment enough.

Our draft beer is less expensive than your bottled water.

And my favourite – almost absolutely true:

Half our women look like Kate. The other half, like her sister.

Most of my followers will know I have a serious love affair with Romania and Romanians and the majority of Romanians coming here so far are very well educated, hard-working and an enormous benefit to our society. But this doesn’t mean my eyes are closed to the problems: corruption is endemic (but worse in Bulgaria) and certainly a large number of Romanians coming here have come to commit crime and will do so in the future (the Romanians would say that they are not Romanians, but gypsies, and while I cannot support this racist statement there is an underlying truth).

So, much as I love Romanians and their country, the concern about freely opening the door to them is well-founded.

But it will be great for Britain to have a boost to the population of people who can actually speak English!

Sunday 3 Feb 2013. Another multi-tasking day, I’m starting to write this while I cook the obligatory Sunday ‘traditional full English’ breakfast and scanning a film to put some pictures here; I felt I must do this post after reading a recent ‘News’ item from WordPress about using internet in teaching:

http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/educators-on-wordpress/

The special 'Allstars' project room from we did internet teaching projects using first one, later (here) two, 'obsolete' laptops. This is 'Allstar' Daniela with me, 1994

The special ‘Allstars’ project room at industrial High School No.1, Burdujeni, Suceava, Romania, from which we did internet teaching projects using first one, later (here) two, ‘obsolete’ laptops. This is ‘Allstar’ Daniela with me, 1994

I think I might have been a bit of a pioneer in this field; the teachers in UK, Canada and USA with whom I did the projects in 1993/94 certainly were. Oddly enough, I had referred briefly to my email projects for teaching English only a few days ago when I did a post about how I became an English teacher in Romania.

For most of the projects we used a single obsolete lap-top on which the children took turns; it had been discarded by some Arizona school; later I got a second. There was no Windows available to us (though it had been launched about 10 years previously); we used MS-Dos and saved our work on ‘floppy discs’. We supplemented the emails with airmailed communications and exchanged photographic prints. The slide show below, click on any picture to see it, tells some of the story.

The ‘Allstars’ as they chose to call themselves, from class 9s (‘gymnasium’ or middle school) in the industrial school no.1 in Burdujei, Suceava, did projects with schools in Liverpool, Canada and Northumberland on histories of their respective countries and other subjects; the much younger Bunnies, a special needs class in school no.11 in Suceava, did a project with special needs children from the ‘Jim Allen’ elementary school in Pensacola, Florida, on their respective towns.

Both these groups of Suceava children were not expected to achieve very much by the Romanian system. However, the head teacher at School no1 was very supportive, even giving the group its own small project room (top picture). The head teacher of school no.11 told me at the beginning I was wasting my time with the special needs children. He was gracious enough at the end of the year to admit that he had been wrong, when they invited him to a year end exhibition of their project. Their teacher, Vasilica, never had any doubt; she had no special needs training, no special needs resources; she taught them with love alone.

The Leo Club of Suceava Burdujeni

The Allstars went on to form a Leo Club, despite their parents’ objection to them doing any voluntary work (this came from the enforced unpaid labour as ‘Pioneers’ under the Communist system) and, among other activities, they worked with special needs kids in the orphanages; some of them eventually took some of the 30 available places at one of the two top high schools – the leading school for humanities and languages – in Suceava, something no-one would have believed they were able to do. There was already a Lions Club in Suceava, instigated by a French Lions Club soon after the revolution.

Working with the Allstars and Bunnies and many other Romanian children was probably the most enjoyable and satisfying part of my time in Romania, if not in the whole of my life.

That year, or the year before, I presented two or three papers on the use of internet for teaching English as a foreign language at a conference which had physical audiences at centres in the USA and Mexico but contributors from around the world via internet. I had to go 600km to the capital, Bucharest, to find the facilities to take part, which I did in the middle of the night in Romania. The papers were eventually published in the conference proceedings; I’m hoping those will turn up in my ‘store’ in Romania.

I worked in one school which had a more ‘modern’ computer network and I think the operating system was Linux; if I remember correctly we emailed using a program called Pine. I think I first saw Windows in about 1996, when I began to teach English in the computer studies high school in Iasi, though I didn’t do the email projects there; I taught the curriculum more conventionally.

Two students on the week long course I did at the University of Bratislava, Slovakia, on using computers and doing internet projects for teaching English

Two students on the week long course I did at the University of Bratislava, Slovakia, on using computers and doing internet projects for teaching English

The work with computers and internet projects not only took me all over Romania, showing teachers and pupils how to use computers and how to do such projects, I was even lucky enough to go to Slovakia for a week and do similar things with students as the University of Bratislava. What a lovely town!

Old battered films

Although most of my photographs taken in Romania seem to have been left there – prints, negatives and slides – as I cannot find them here, a few weeks ago I finally got around to taking some films which I did bring back from the canisters in which they had been stored for years. I had to leave them under some weight for several weeks to get them flat enough to cut into strips for the scanner, and I cut them a few days ago. I’ve just sorted out some to scan for this post – it’ll take weeks or months to do them all (about 60 35mm films). Unfortunately the pictures I want for here are on three, four or more different films and as I might as well scan them all rather than just the shots I want it’ll take a couple of hours or more (Tuesday 5 Feb: in fact it took all day and more so the intention to post this on Sunday went by the board!).

The films are rather battered and bruised and the colour is way off after their treatment over the past 20 years or so. I hope they are interesting nevertheless as I don’t have time to do any ‘repairs’, though I hope to do so sometime.

Back to cooking and tv

However, after I’ve finished with the films for this post I’ll go and scan a film (black and white) I shot yesterday for my photo blog – while making some bread (we’re out) and getting ready to cook the evening meal – it’s pork chops from a named farm nearby via our excellent local butcher; left to my Romanian wife she’ll cook them Romanian fashion – for at least an hour – rather than the 10 minutes they deserve. Some things can benefit from the long cooking like, strangely enough, runner beans, which become something quite different and eat very well with mamaliga (Romanian corn meal mush or ‘polenta’) when cooked for an hour and a half.

And all this before my Sunday evening tv marathon begins with the news at 6pm (over dinner). Then there’s ‘Country File’, followed by ‘Call the Midwife’ (how good to have a drama with good stories, no violence and where the characters have a vocabulary other than four letter words), and then ‘Ripper Street’, which has enough interest to overlook the sometimes gratuitous violence.

Although I’ve said before that photography and cooking have quite a lot in common (or perhaps because of it), it’s quite difficult to scan films and cook at the same time. Apart from trying to remember to wash my hands before putting on the cotton gloves to handle the film, or remembering to take the scissors to cut the film but the knife to cut the vegetables (for braised red cabbage with Juniper, steamed caulifower and brussel sprouts, and roasted potato wedges) I have a big worry that I’m going to cut off a finger or steam a film!

I’d better get the scanning done soon. It’s creeping up to 6pm and I’ve started on the cook’s obligatory (unless they have a medical condition forbidding it) red wine; although it’s vital for cooking it ain’t so good for scanning. In fact, it’s beginning to look as though the scanning will not finish by 6pm, so this post will not be posted until tomorrow (didn’t make that either).

This blogging ‘lark’ has taken over my life; how the bloggers who post ten times day, especially those who write something rather than just post a picture each time, do it I don’t know. I started this blog to write about my interests but now blogging itself has become an interest and I find myself writing about that.

I’m conscious that I wander about a bit in my posts but no apologies – two of my favourite blogs do this too. Food and Forage Hebrides hides super recipes among all sorts of insights into life on a Hebredian island; My French Heaven tucks anything from Coco Chanel or how to clean silver to long distance sailboat racing in his wonderfully illustrated food blog, though admittedly not usually in the same post.

“What’s with the ‘mafia’ in that factory?”, I asked my companion. Or, rather, what I actually said was “Ce este cu ‘mafia’ la fabrica asta?”, necessarily exercising my newly-acquired broken Romanian in my first few months as a volunteer in Romania. This was May 1993.

My companion in the train compartment was my landlady, who had kindly accompanied me on a train journey from Siret, in the far north of Romania, to Focsani, 300 kilometres south, to what I had been told was “The best factory for BCA building blocks in Romania”. We were now on the return journey.

Raluca, Alina and Ramona, l to r, with Ancuta behind. Four of the 'Bunnies', my delightful special needs class from School no.11, Suceava, in 1994. They are wearing T-shirts from a special needs school in Pensacola, Florida, with which the Bunnies did an email project (despite the headmaster's attitude which was that I was wasting my time trying to do such a thing with them. He had to eat his words, but more of that in a future post about the delights of teaching English in Romania.

Raluca, Alina and Ramona, l to r, with Ancuta behind. Four of the ‘Bunnies’, my delightful special needs class from School no.11, Suceava, in 1994. They are wearing dandelion coronets we made on the day, and T-shirts from a special needs school in Pensacola, Florida, with which the Bunnies did an email project (despite the headmaster’s attitude which was that I was wasting my time trying to do such a thing with them. He had to eat his words, but more of that in a future post about the delights of teaching English in Romania).

She didn’t speak English but, as a book-keeper and someone I already felt I could trust after living two or three months with the family, she was an invaluable companion on an expedition to purchase building blocks for a new ‘half-way house’ to be built by the charity I was working with as a volunteer in Siret, for teenagers coming out of the then infamous institution – the camin/spital (hostel/hospital) – in Siret.

A big bag full of bank notes

Purchasing building materials in Romania in 1993 was not a case of picking up the phone, placing an order, waiting for delivery and an invoice to be subsequently paid, as I was used to in the UK. It was necessary to go to the producer, select the product, see it loaded on a freight train back to where it was required, and pay in cash on the spot. The necessary cash, in the ‘old’ Romanian currency – lei (lions) – was not a few bank notes in my pocket; it was a very large sports bag full of notes of the maximum denomination. I cannot now remember the actual amount, but it was millions and millions of lei in a heavy, zipped, padlocked bag (carried by a very nervous tyke).

“Everyone knows about the mafia”, was the response in perfect English, not from my companion but from a tall, slim, elegantly attired lady sitting opposite. The smile was friendly, but there was also a hint of some joke I had not seen and an overlay of amusement in her eyes.

It wasn’t unusual to meet an English speaker on a train then – there were a lot of British, American, Canadian and other English-speaking volunteers in Romania in the early 90s – but to come across a Romanian speaking near-perfect English was very unusual; the usual second language for well-educated Romanians was French (ignoring the Russian which they had been obliged to learn). Opening up Western tv programmes to the population changed that and then internet came and every child I ever met wanted to learn English. What a wonderful situation for a teacher of English – pupils desperate to learn.

You don’t have to be a teacher

Back to my new acquaintance – Felicia: she turned out to be the Inspector for English for the ‘county’ (judet) where I was living – Suceava. Eventually she pleaded with me to come to ‘teach’ English in what she described as the top high school – Liceul ‘Stefan cel Mare’ (‘Stephen the Great’ High School) – in the ‘county town’ of Suceava. “I’m not an English teacher”, I said, though I had taught English, for short times, to immigrant children in south London and to adult Spaniards at the Berlitz school in Madrid. “It doesn’t matter”, she countered. “We have excellent teachers but have not and never have had a native English speaker”. She was very persuasive and we finished the journey with me having agreed to extend my 6 month stay in Romania and go to ‘teach’ in Suceava. How things went from there is another chapter, sometime; suffice it to say for years more I taught English all over Romania and ended up married – to a Romanian history teacher

The Mafia

Oh, I’d almost forgotten the mafia. “The word you were hearing, was ‘marfa’ not mafia”, Felicia chided me. “They were talking about the product you wanted – ‘marfa’ is Romanian for ‘produce’.

“Mind you, you almost certainly encountered a mafia”, she added with another wry smile.

***

This addition to my ‘About’ was prompted not by something from Romania, but from another tyke (Yorkshireman for any of my readers who – unlikely – don’t yet know this dialect tag which we proudly bear) who has gone ‘self-sufficient’, building a strawbale house, in Poland (despite the post title, it’s in English):

http://winkos.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/przepraszam-nie-mowie-po-polsku/

I just love where blogging takes me and I was surprised to learn that Eddy’s story has so many things in common with mine, including being lured into teaching English. My own wanderings into strawbale building will have to wait for a future post.

From time to time I’ll do a bio post like this, in no chronological order, and eventually add it to the pages under ‘About’ above.

*

HAPPNEW YEAR

to you all

may your year be full of rainbows

*

I’m about half way in drafting the promised post on my disappointment with what Britain has become – basically since Tony Blair became prominent on the scene (until which time I was a life-long Labour supporter). I guess it’s going to get me into quite a bit of trouble with many people, but perhaps not as it’s likely not that many people will read it.

I’m prompted to find time to complete it by many recent events, among which:

  • being told I could not take photographs of my teenage nephew playing football;
  • my subsequent weekend in Germany where I freely took pictures in a children’s playground full of children and their parents without complaint (I have put just one, of my grandson on my classic camera/film ‘photo’ blog – grumpytykepix);
  • children taken away from foster parents because they were members of UKIP (I am not, by the way, a UKIP supporter in general);
  • looking through a recent GCSE maths paper and finding I could do the first five questions in my head in less than a minute (I haven’t ‘done’ maths for over 50 years);
  • Bradford metropolitan council’s insistence on allowing hundreds of new houses to be built in an area which simply cannot support them (in fact almost anything Bradford Council has done in the past two decades);
  • the appalling treatment of elderly people in the NHS;
  • the increasing ‘regulation by tick box’ in vital areas like care and education;
  • the appalling fall in journalistic standards, in general but particularly at the BBC (and the schoolboy antics introduced into many otherwise interesting and ‘serious’ programmes);
  • … there are a few more.

Meanwhile, maybe I’ll succeed to do a post or two on more enjoyable things, like food and cooking – especially as I’m really keen to try a couple of recipes (onion soup and a chocolate cake) on one of my favourite ‘cookery’ blogs (actually more than that), ‘My French Heaven’.

I wonder if this post might unearth some former students of mine:

Aliya, Kazakhstan; Daily, Estonia; Diana, Belarus; Jozef, Slovakia; Kaisa, Estonia; Pavlina, Czech Republic; Ruslan, Ukraine

More about the poster below.

Poster for English course, Ecumenical Institute, Iasi, 2004

I found this proof of a poster while visiting Romania in August this year, sorting through papers I had left in store there. I made the poster to promote an English course I was teaching at the Ecumenical Institute in Iasi (no copies of the poster itself; just this proof showing some corrections to be made before printing). Not particularly interesting, but I used pictures of and quotes from my students at the end of a course at the Institute the previous year (2003) and that made me wonder what they are doing now. We had such a wonderful time together, especially as the course wasn’t limited to the classroom and we made trips, including to the wonderful Bucovina, together.

The course was for the World Council of Churches and students from various former communist bloc countries were chosen on the basis of their likely use of better English in ecumenical activities. For every one of them it was the first time they had been out of their own country. Perhaps not all the students are on the poster and I cannot remember for sure the names and countries (Kyrgyzstan?) of any others, but they will be in the picture on a commemorative mug made for each of them to take home. The archbishop Daniel, also in the picture, took a keen interest in the course; he became Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox church in 2007.

World Council of Churches English course, 2003, Iasi, Romania, commemorative mug

I thought I’d see whether posting it on my blog might get through to at least one of the students. By the end of the course they were pretty good friends so may well have kept in touch with each other.

So, Aliya from Kazakhstan, Daily from Estonia, Diana from Belarus, Jozef from Slovakia, Kaisa from Estonia, Pavlina from the Czech Republic, and Ruslan from the Ukraine, or any other student who is on the picture on the mug, I’d love to hear from you and to know how your English is now!

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