I’m a teacher!

I’m a teacher!

I had no idea when I decided to teach EFL that I would love it the way I do. Turns out I’m pretty good at it too.

At the Anglo, every teacher is observed by someone from the QA department once per quarter. Because our school is so new, we haven’t had observations until just recently.

To say it is stressful does not convey the terror of this experience. These observations not only rate your teaching ability, lesson planning and overall use of English, but they go toward rating the entire school. Our goal as teachers is to score a minimum of 2.5 (of 4).

Never having been a teacher before, I was quite nervous. They don’t tell you when they are coming, although they did say they wouldn’t come on a Saturday or observe on the first day of a new course.

So what happened? The observer came on a Saturday on the first day of a new course.

Saturday courses are 6 hours long. They are painful. For the students and the teachers. The first day is also a bit challenging, as you don’t know who will be in the class and how they will gel as a group.

To make matters worse, the observer came to my class at 1:40 p.m. — within an hour of the end of the class, when everyone is at their tiredest and, in my case, half the class had left early.

Good Fortune

I was quite lucky, however, in that I had had several “mock” observations — by the academic supervisor and my mentor (a fellow teacher with lots of experience), so I knew what to expect.

It would have been nice if everything had gone smoothly, but, of course, I only had 2 of my 7 students left and they were struggling with the listening activity I had planned.

Naturally, the observer picked up on this and, in her notes to me, asked me to “reflect” on the way I teach listening micro skills, as well as on my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher.

Yikes. I didn’t even know what micro skills were until that day! I mean, I knew what they were but not what they were called, so I had to ask her. She was very kind in explaining it to me without making me feel like an idiot.

Good Writer

Fortunately, I am a good writer. They give you 3 working days to respond with your reflection. Of course, I started right away. My reflection ended up 5 pages long!

Extensive? Uh-huh. But worth it. You see, you are also rated on your actual reflection! So, in that area I received a 4 (of 4). And, of course, as a native English speaker, my Use of English was also a 4.

The conclusion was that I scored a 2.7 overall.  Yippee!!!!! This is very good for me!

Teacher Conference

NGL The Anglo
Our team at the Anglo Teachers Conference in Mexico City 5 Jul 2019.

Last week, a bunch of teachers from the Anglo went to Mexico City to attend an annual conference given by National Geographic Learning, who provides many of our textbooks and materials for kids and teens.

Because so many of us were going, The Anglo rented a van and a driver to take us there. On a good day, the drive is about 2.5 hours. We left at 6:00 a.m. in order to get to the conference by 10. We made it.

The conference was really good. It would take too long to fully describe it. Let’s just say the first half was about teaching 21st century skills and the second half was about using photography and story to engage students. Turns out that the photographer lives in Querétaro! We made sure to get his email address so we can invite him to the school. Luckily for me, everything was in English.

Afterward, we went to a local Mexican “fast food” restaurant called La Casa de Toño for lunch before heading back to Queretaro. It was very good and very inexpensive! I had flautas, flan and a Corona light for less than $100 MX ($5 US). God, I love Mexico!

The ride back was uneventful. Most everyone slept at least part of the way. We got back to school around 6 p.m. Long day.

 

Living in the City

Living in the City

Ok. So I’m a slacker. Let me just say that I am well aware of that. Yet it isn’t because I don’t want to write my blog… it’s more that I want to sleep more than I want to work on this thing. (My typical day starts at 5:30 a.m. Right now, I teach from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then again at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The first thing I do when I get home in the morning is take a nap.)

But here I am, giving it another go.

It has been an eventful couple of months. Izzy’s recovery took some time. Between her overall health issues, her shredded toe pads and her bad haircut, we spent a lot of time getting her back to “normal.” We knew we had reached it when she started running around the house and jumping up and down on the furniture.

We are still a little gun shy about the front door, although, at this point, she probably knows where she lives.

Spring in the City

We moved into our new place in April. Since then, we have gotten more furniture and have settled into the place. I now cook regularly (when I’m home at dinner time), and often walk to or from work. I could do it more, but it is dark that early and I feel more comfortable in an Uber.

At night, I Uber to work and my friend, Joe, drives me home. Even with three Ubers a day, it only costs me $5 a day, $3.50 if I walk one time. Sometimes I take my car, but not too often. It is just too hard to find parking when I get home!

With the change of seasons also come the bugs. I was quite shocked the first day I walked into school and gigantic flying ants started falling out of the light fixtures.

Giant flying ants
One of the flying ants at school.

I’m no wimp, but bugs falling from the sky makes me itchy. I was told that these flying ants only appear after the first rain and then disappear. Thank God.

While there were many at school, we only had a couple at our house. The bigger problem was the regular kind of ants — millions of them! I’ve never seen so many in one place. They were coming in from the roof and clumping on the walls in the dining room, running down and swarming on the floors. It was a nightmare!

Our ceilings are 20 feet high, so you can’t reach high enough to spray without getting Raid in your eyes. So, despite many efforts, we were powerless to do anything about the situation.

plaga de hormigas
A plague of ants. Literally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a friend from school help me call an exterminator, who came the next day. Unfortunately, the exterminator didn’t bring a ladder. I tried to explain to him that there had to be a nest on the roof, but he just kept telling me his work was “guaranteed.”

Good thing, because the next day, the damn ants were back, this time in our office on the wall next to our bedroom.

Naturally, I was on the phone in an instant, begging him to come again. Of course, he doesn’t have a ladder, and I insisted he send someone who could get on the roof and kill the nest. Fortunately, he found someone — two young guys, one of whom spoke English, arrived shortly after and headed up onto the roof to kill the critters.

Well, you want to know what happens after they exterminate? All the dead bugs fall from the ceiling all over the table, the desk, the floor — OMG YOU JUST WANT TO SCREAM!!!!!!!

Ah, alas, despite the horror of it all, the ants have not returned.

I suppose I should think myself lucky that it was just ants. They do have those enormous flying cockroaches, too, but so far, the only ones I’ve seen are already dead. Needless to say, I’ve got Lyn on bug-duty. It’s his job to remove them so I don’t have to. They make my skin crawl.

Long time acomin’

Long time acomin’

Friends, friends, friends. I am so sorry that I have not kept you up to date. Not only have I never finished telling you about my winter vacation — now some four months ago — but I haven’t told you the harrowing tales that have followed.

First, the months of March and April were absolutely slammed. As we prepared to move, we found ourselves having to spend far more money than we thought. What we believed to be a “done deal” in terms of our new home, was still under negotiation. We ended up paying more (albeit, not a lot more) in rent and ended up moving in to a house that had many unforeseen problems.

Gas.

The first issue involved the gas. Being in the city center, the house had originally had natural gas, which we were able to contract for and paid for the set up and installation. When they came to install the meter, however, they discovered that no natural gas was running through the pipes. And here I was thinking I had done such a great job getting everything arranged!

The upshot was that we had to buy a Liquid Propane tank and totally redo the existing gas lines to accommodate this hiccup. Of course, all of our new appliance scheduled to be delivered were ordered with natural gas hook-ups.

Changing that wasn’t so bad. Just an annoyance, really.

The next glitch came when we removed our air conditioner from our old house. The hole it left behind was enormous! Of course, this was on the Friday we were expecting to move out. The following day the landlords were coming to get the keys and do an inspection. Shit!

Thankfully, our realtor, Mauricio, was a great help. I texted him and he not only found someone to fix the hole, he came with the person and oversaw that it was done well and completely.

The move.

So, Saturday morning, we packed up the last of our stuff and headed over to the new house, which, at that time, still had no gas, among other things. Our landlord had promised the house would be “clean” when we moved in. Well, it was clean, if you are talking about the floors and freshly painted walls. But the old, nasty fixtures in the bathroom and the kitchen were anything but. They were old and nasty, to say the least.

Really nasty.

Lyn and I had prepared ourselves for this possibility, as our prior landlords were very hands-off as well. If something broke, we fixed it. Their entire role was to collect the rent. Yet, despite our foresight, we had hoped our new landlords would at least replace the kitchen and bathroom sinks. After all, we had requested it earlier in our negotiations and were told “don’t worry.”

Once we had the gas hooked up, we found out that the water heater did not work. So, off we went to Home Depot to buy a new one, one of those fancy instant ones, which we arranged with the plumber to install later that week. (More about that later.)

 

The original sinks in the nasty bathroom.

The dogs.

The first couple of days were very much like camping — you didn’t really want to use the facilities, but it was all there was. Even before the move, the dogs were getting agitated. They can always sense when things are about to change. For them, the change was much more dramatic — from a suburban setting with lots of green spaces to an urban brick jungle. Considering all that we were struggling to accomplish, we didn’t pay enough attention to getting them acclimated. A big mistake, which became very evident on our first day back to work.

Monday, both of us when to our prospective jobs. When I got back at 7:30 that evening, the plumber was at the house. He had come to complete some repairs (we didn’t know he was coming or that he had a key). That part was fine with me, until he told me that he accidentally let Izzy out. Even then I didn’t grasp the whole picture. Not only had he let Izzy out, but he was unable to get her back and she had been gone by that time for about 2 hours.

You can imagine my horror. I was dumbstruck. I immediately grabbed Sophie and started walking the streets calling for her and asking everyone I saw. Of course, the plumber felt terrible and accompanied me to look for her, which was helpful given my Spanish language skills.

The plumber and I searched for hours to no avail. When Lyn got home, he and I searched some more, but we couldn’t find her. It was horrible.

The next week was filled with tears and anxiety. We did everything possible to find Izzy. All of my students looked for her, posted her picture on their websites, encouraged their friends to do the same, and sent me pictures of every possible found dog they came across. I put up posters around town, as well as following up on every possible siting. Every day that I didn’t see her little body dead in the road gave me hope, although it was dwindling.

After a week, I really didn’t think we’d ever see her again.

Miracles do happen.

But then… a Miracle! Apparently, Izzy was so desperate — sick, hungry, injured — that she approached a woman in a parking lot who spotted her collar and tag and took her in, knowing that someone, somewhere must be looking for her.

It didn’t take long for the message and photo to reach  me. It was late at night, though, and we weren’t able to pick her up until the following day.

Izzy on the way back home.
Izzy when I picked her up from her rescuer.

Poor Izzy! When I picked her up, she was clearly very ill, listless and depressed. Lyn and I took her immediately to the vet, where they kept her for 5 or 6 hours to rehydrate her, take x-rays and blood, and start her on antibiotics. By the time we got her home that night, the poor thing was exhausted. Those who know her, know that she doesn’t like riding in the car. She hates it so much that she literally screams at the top of her lungs with her small-dog high-pitched whiny voice. On this day, however, there was not a peep out of her. She just curled up in the seat and went to sleep.

The following week was difficult, but she eventually began to rebound. That’s when other problems showed up. For example she had worn her toe pads down till they were bloody. She also had an enormous deep hole on her neck. And, when the lab work came back, her liver enzymes were through the roof! The vet suspected her liver might never improve. Thankfully, though, Izzy is one tough little girl and she has totally recovered. Until, that is, we realized she was limping still. Turns out, after yet another vet visit, that she has a broken toe. The poor child has been house bound for weeks except for visits to the vet. She has no interest in going anywhere near the front door, thank goodness, but it would be nice to get her outside so she can have a good sniff around.

More later…

 

Chunk 3: Tamasopo & San Luis Potosí

Chunk 3: Tamasopo & San Luis Potosí

The saga continues…

Our next stop was Tamasopo, which is known for its “cascadas” or waterfalls. As with those falls at the beginning of our trip, I expected these to be somewhat remote. I was wrong! In Tamasopo, the waterfalls are right on the road, easily accessible by car, and surrounded by conveniences such as restaurants, shops and bathrooms.

At first, I was hesitant to go in the water. It wasn’t that warm, being January and all, but I decided it was worth it. I actually changed into my bathing suit in the car so I could partake of the water. Since I hadn’t planned to swim, I didn’t bring a towel. Fortunately, they sold those in the shop, along with inexpensive water shoes — necessary for walking on the rocky river bottom.

The water was perfect! We had a great time, even using the rope swing and jumping off the rocks nearby. There were other people there, of course, but not too many. One of the benefits of off-season travel.

The hotel we stayed in in Tamasopo was very nice. While the room wasn’t anything special, the grounds were lovely, and all the rooms looked out over a sprawling green space with large pools. There was a river close by, so you could actually hear the sound of the water cascading over the rocks.

I did have a problem in the hotel due to mold. My allergies had a lot more fun than I did! I reported it to the hotel so they could fix it. I imagine it is typical for a room with stone walls situated in a damp area.

We didn’t stay long here, just a day. By 4 p.m. we were back on the road heading for San Luis Potosí.

The Mountain Pass

A lot of this trip involved driving on windy mountain roads in the dark. This section of the journey was no different. What surprised me was the amount of traffic. I suspect that it was due to there being only one road connecting these areas. Sort of like going into one of the U.S. national parks. You just have to be patient (not my strong suit).

When we got into SLP it was dark, once again making finding things a bit of a struggle. Fortunately for us, I had booked a hotel right in the historic downtown of the city. Score! Of all the places we stayed, this was the most modern and comfortable. Naturally, it was also the most expensive. But who cares! Having a big comfy bed with a great comforter walking distance from everything was worth every penny!

SLP isn’t a very big city, so we were able to hit the highlights in one day. The only issue was that some places were closed because of King’s Day — January 6. This day is when families exchange Christmas gifts. There is another tradition, too, involving putting a small figure of the Christ child in a cake. The person who is served the piece with the figure is responsible for bringing or making tamales on 2 February. I like this tradition, even if, in retrospect, it seem a little canibalistic.

The night we arrived, we walked around the block to the main plaza where they were having a holiday light show. All I can say is, WOW. Amazing. I am attaching a short video for you. Basically they developed this show so that it blanketed the main cathedral. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Hundreds of people were just standing in the square watching.

Among the highlights of SLP was visiting a prison that has been converted to an art school and museum. It was technically closed to the public, but since the school was still open, the security guard allowed us to go in and look around. If anyone stopped us, we were to tell them that we were looking at applying to the school. Ha! The security guard was very knowledgeable about the history of the place. It was clear he appreciated our interest in it as well.

Centro de los Artes, San Luis Potosí.

Floor plan Centro de los Artes.
The inside of the buildings are used for classrooms and galleries.
One of the sculpture gardens between the buildings.

We pretty much walked the length of the city and back along the main boulevard, stopping to investigate the street vendors and churches along the way.

Next stop — Dolores Hidalgo & Guanajuato.

Chunk 2: Xilitla & Hotel Tapasoli

Chunk 2: Xilitla & Hotel Tapasoli

Ok, since I have a little time, I’m going to fill in the blanks about my winter vacation. As you know, one of the teachers (Jodi) from the TEFL program in Puerto Vallarta come to visit us in Querétaro. She and I took a driving vacation to some of the most amazing places. Here’s where we started:

The Road to Xilitla & Hotel Taposoli

A little map to help you see where we went!

Jodi ran into some travel problems right off the bat. There was some kind of weather problem in Mexico city and she was unable to leave on the day she planned. She wasn’t alone. Quite a few tourists were also stranded. Of course, she at least could go home and try again the following day.

Once again, however, there were problems with the flights–delays, cancelations, etc. — so I took it on myself to see what I could do. Ultimately, I was able to find her a flight that eliminated having to go through Mexico City, but it meant she would have to spend the night in Guadalajara and leave first thing in the morning.

Since she was now delayed by two days, our new plans involved leaving for Xilitla immediately from the airport.

Jodi Donna Road to Xilitla
Photo op!

The road to Xilitla was long — about 4 hours plus some time for photos and food. It was a little nerve-wracking for me to drive into the Mexican countryside. This country has a bad reputation when it comes to traveling in certain areas. Fortunately for us, we were heading into a very popular vacation area in the mountains.

Delicious Margarita

If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought we were driving around some areas of the west, particularly in Idaho, where the elevation reduces the amount of tall trees. It was a perfect day to drive, and we made very good time, stopping only a few times to take photos.

A beautiful lookout. Unfortunately, it was not well maintained. What you can’t see in the photo is that, behind the cross & building, people have used this spot to dump garbage.

We did stop in one small town for a bite to eat. Wow. I can honestly say it was the best meal we had on the trip.

Restaurant Carretas

Amazing seafood, especially considering it is about as far away from the ocean as possible! The margaritas were also spectacular. I hope I get to visit this place again sometime.

 

View of the valley from the cross overlook.

 

Strategic Choices

When we planned the trip, we decided to stay in “interesting” hotels wherever possible. We were not disappointed. In Xilitla, we chose Hotel Tapasoli. The photos made it look like a visit to Hobbiton. We weren’t disappointed! While we didn’t stay in one of the hobbit houses, we still had an amazing stay.

Hotel Tapasoli
One of the “hobbit house” rooms at Hotel Tapasoli

We met a couple of nice people in the parking lot that invited us to see there hobbit room, which was right on the edge of a cliff with a spectacular view of the valley. There was another couple there too, enjoying the view over a glass of wine or two. We were invited to join the gang. Of course, we had brought some wine on the trip with us, so we added it to the festivities.

Hotel Tapasoli Breakfast
Breakfast with Alfredo and Evie

The couple we met were very from San Luis Potosí, a small city that was on our “to do” list for the trip. Of course, we talked about places to go, people to see, and politics. Alfredo’s English was excellent, so the conversation was quite animated. He and Jodi got into it over Trump. I tried to stay neutral and calmer, but watching the exchange was very entertaining.

The following day, we met them again at the hotel restaurant — a lovely deck with a great view. The food was amazing! I had chilaquiles, the local breakfast choice. It is a combination of tortilla chips, eggs, beans, rice and whatever else you want, with red or green salsa. It is hard to describe, but absolutely delicious!

Chilaquiles

After breakfast, we headed to Jardín Escultorio de Eduard James, a famous sculpture garden in the jungle. Of course, google and apple maps both failed me in the GPS area. We managed to get a little lost, but not too badly. After all, as in most mountain towns, there is only one main road. Once you find that, you’re golden.

The Jardín is amazing! Acres and acres of amazing buildings and sculptures designed just for this place. Lots of steps, though, so if you have bad knees, you may want to just buy a photo book.

I did buy a few things here: a T-shirt for Lyn and a small, hanging parrot for our new house.

 

Jardín Escultorio de Edward James
Jodi in the Jardín Escultoria de Edward James

We ended the day by heading to our next venue — Tamasopo — where we were looking forward to experiencing the amazing blue waterfalls. Stay tuned. We’ll cover that in Chunk 3.

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year from Querétaro, MX

NOTE: I totally forgot about this post! It has been sitting in my “drafts” folder for over a month!

Well, a year has come and gone. In it, we have done so many things! The biggest one, of course, is having moved to Mexico to become English teachers.

As I reflect back on the year, it amazes me how far we’ve come, how many changes we have made in our lives, and how much further we still have to go.

Moving to Mexico

Our grand adventure began last January, when we decided to take the TEFL training course in Puerto Vallarta. Simultaneously, we sold our home of 16 years and took a huge risk deciding to move to Querétaro sight unseen, no jobs waiting for us, no knowledge whatsoever of the city. Truly blindly, following the advice of people we hardly knew.

I pride myself on my adventurous spirit, but this, even for me, was very bold and a bit scary. Fortunately, as always, everything worked out.

We’ve been here in Querétaro now for almost one year and we just adore the city and the people. More interesting for me is how much I love my work. I have always poo-poo-ed the idea of being a teacher as I have no patience for children. Fortunately, as a language teacher, I teach mostly adults with an occasional teen thrown in. Teaching English is very rewarding, too. The students recognize that being able to speak, read and write in English is their ticket to a better education, job and future.

 

Vacation Is Over

Vacation Is Over

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had almost a month’s vacation, over which time I’ve been on quite an adventure. So much to report, but I don’t want to make this post too long. Thus, I will break it up into chunks.

Chunk 1:  The New House

As you know, we have been renting a condominium/house in the suburbs of Querétaro in a development known as “El Refugio.” The house and everything in it was brand new when we moved in, which is always a plus. The condominium complex is also relatively new, so everything here was clean and lovely. We met some wonderful people here, as well. All in all it has been a great experience.

Because it is in the burbs, there is a lot of green space that is great for the dogs. Unfortunately, the downside has been that it takes from 20 minutes to 2 1/2 hours to get to work. I know that’s a pretty wide timeframe, but the traffic here can be horrific. Recently, too, we’ve had a gasoline distribution problem, leading to long lines at the gas stations and creating panic among those of us who have to drive to work every day.

Even before that, however — way back in December — we started looking to move somewhere closer to my school. Our lease here is up on March 10th, and finding a place in “el Centro” isn’t easy. There is a lot of demand and not much inventory. Some of the homes, too, are colonials that are in need of a lot of repair. Those that have been remodeled are, as you would expect, rather spendy.

I managed to find a website (or 3 or 4) that aggregated various listings and found several potential places for us. I was a bit concerned that I was starting the search too soon, but it worked out perfectly. Of course, I was also a bit nervous about my language skills, as well. Not everyone here speaks English (duh!).

What will be the living room. Great window, right? It is the only window that looks out onto the street.

A few of the listing realtors did contact me, and Lyn and I went to see three places, none of which worked for us for a variety of reasons. One realtor that contacted me did so to tell me that the place I was interested in was no longer available, but he had one that wouldn’t be available until February or March that he thought I might like.

A quick note about the photos: You have to visualize it empty. 

He was right! The house, which is located in the heart of the historic district, was being used as a government office that was moving out to get more space. They had been there for six years and, in that time, very little had been done by way of improvements. Nevertheless, the house was amazing! HUGE! With an interior courtyard, five large rooms (living room + four rooms) on one side of the courtyard, and a dining room, kitchen, and two bathrooms on the other side of the courtyard. Much of the outdoor space was covered with beautiful stone archways with a large area open to the sky and the area between the bathrooms and the main house covered with glass roof enclosure.

Looking in from the front door.

Despite the fact that there was an office there, it was easy to see what an amazing house it was and could be again. The ceilings are easily 20 feet high, and the stonework and configuration meant that it would be very cool all summer long. Of course, it also will get a bit cold in the winter, but that we can handle!

The kitchen. Very rustic right now, but the potential is enormous!

Other issues around this house, though, are that, unlike here in Refugio, it is unfurnished. We have a plan for that.

More later!

The dining room. The woman will be our new landlord — Doña Rosita!