Sep 032014
Tales From The Chalkface: Gifted – That’s Me!

A big sigh of relief – the holidays are here. I’m doing a jolly dance around a pile of presents and cards that generous students, or more likely, their appreciative parents, have given me. This year, along with the chocolates and flowers, I’ve had a Mama Mia DVD and an African tribal mask, which you might think are odd choices but make some sense since the student who gave it has spent time in Kenya and, I hope, was inspired by some lessons about African tribal dance. The DVD leaves me baffled, unless the donor found it as a special offer. At least he didn’t get me Bad Teacher, which would have been very cutting. Joking apart, presents can be rather tricky. Is it a measure of popularity? Chances are the number of presents received is in proportion to the age of the children taught. By the time they’re 17, the sweet little girls and cheeky […]

Jun 152014
Tales From The Chalkface: Walking Away

Summer days make me more inclined to take a stroll home rather than jump on the tram, so last week, with the sun shining, that’s what I did. A change of routine is always a tonic. Heading for the Rynek, I pretend I’m a tourist and indulge myself by eating out. I head for The Dorsz because what self-respecting Brit wouldn’t want fish and chips, even if it hadn’t been a week since she went to her very own local chippy? Besides, this is my local chippy when I’m in Krakow. The first thing I see as I come through the door is an ex-student in the company of two workmates, all heartily tucking in. He greets me warmly and I remember he’s shy, so I smile and move on. Good to know he’s still around. After some fabulous fish, I leave, mouth tingling from the taste of malt vinegar (why can’t you buy that here?) […]

May 152014
Tales From The Chalkface: My Best Lesson

How do you know? In whose opinion? What’s the measure? Here’s an account (very one sided) of the best lesson I did last Monday (I only did the one). It was great to have a completely uninterrupted day to get all the admin that piles up out of the way. After six hours of methodical assessments and meaningful application of criteria, I was glad to shut the door on school work and had just settled down at home with a couple of headache pills and Facebook when, to my surprise, there was a ring on the domofon and the cheery voice of one of my private students, clearly expecting to be let in. A glance on my appointments calendar told me it was time for a 90-minute lesson I’d completely forgotten about. Fortunately, living on the second floor gives me just enough time to organise my books and minimise Facebook so it looks as if I’m […]

Apr 152014
Tales From The Chalkface: Porn Puppets

Got your attention? That’s what I watched in school this week. Let me explain: my oldest students performed a piece they’d been working on, based on techniques developed by Krakow’s own world theatre practitioner, Kantor. In one of his plays, he had his actors use life-sized puppets to represent an aspect of their characters. In this case, it was the now vanished childhood of pupils in a class – my students chose to use their puppets to express the threats of corruption and being dehumanised by unreal media-created expectations. In one scene I watched, baffled but fascinated, as their puppets became porn stars forced into a variety of athletic acts. The director’s instructions to: “Do it harder, faster!” In case you’re wondering what the puppets were like, each student had made a life-sized approximation (some more approximate than others) of a human being out of old tights stuffed with newspapers then carefully, and in one case, […]

Mar 152014
Tales From The Chalkface: Passing The Tests (Again!)

It’s mad March and I have a list of deadlines so long I dare not look at it. Mostly I’m aiming for the 31st. Like the students, I wonder how I’ll manage but, unlike them, I’ve climbed this mountain enough times to know I will manage. The word ‘stress’ crops up with alarming regularity and demoralising predictability. As I watch the students deal with all these challenges in a variety of ways that reflect their personalities and, to some extent, predict their success, I see those in denial who know they haven’t worked but hope it’ll be alright (for some it is) to those super organised types with their eyes on the prize. I want to let them into a little secret, though I’m sure none of them would believe me at this frantic point in their careers. The secret is this: exams don’t matter, not in the long term. They’re a giant con designed to […]

Feb 152014
Tales From The Chalkface: Another Day…

I’m a lark not an owl, so if I have marking to do I’m up by 6, rather than finishing it in the evening, but if I’m lucky I won’t leave my bed before 6.30 to start the day. I’ve kept a bit of England with me and breakfast to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, making sure I leave as the racing tips are broadcast. In winter, it’s still semi-dark when I catch the tram, but light enough for me to enjoy glimpses of the Rynek as the tram trundles round the Planty. I get off by the Philharmonic and have a chance to stroll along a Planty path before arriving at school after 8, in time for daily briefing at 8.15. I pop into the office for the register, on the way greeting parents, ancillaries, other teachers and students with a range of courtesies: anything from ‘Dzien dobry’ for a parent to a casual ‘Hi!’ […]

Jan 152014
Tales From The Chalkface: Conformity Rules – OK?

One of the delights of working in a language school rather than a regular school is never having to impose some regulation about what students should look like. Nowadays, it’s rare for me to have to tell anyone to take this off or put on that, so it seemed like a blast from my English-school past to find myself in battle with a teenager who thinks that wearing a gangsta style hat in a well-heated school is a must. Like riding a bicycle, enforcing a rule is something a teacher never forgets, and I quickly found myself going through the familiar stages. First, it’s the reasonable explanation of why it should be removed (because it’s not appropriate for a work environment), then, when the misdemeanour is repeated, it’s the temporary removal of the offending article, which is returned with a warning that should the offending object be seen on would-be gangsta’s head indoors again, said gangsta […]

Dec 152013
Tales From The Chalkface: What Would Father Christmas Think?

The run up to Christmas is like wading through a morass of ‘to do’ lists: the usual marking, preparing for exams, rehearsing the concert, taking down and putting up displays, writing reports, meetings – and all this as the pace of lessons must pick up if any students are ever to pass an exam. Here’s a post I saw while idling on Facebook and one I wish I’d written myself: “Dear Santa, I’m writing to let you know I have been naughty and it was completely worth it, you fat judgemental bastard! The older I get, the less inclined I am to conform to other people’s rules and regulations, which puts me firmly back in the rebellious teenager camp, only I’m hoping this time round I can do it with more style and less door slamming.” Censorship seems to be the issue of the moment in my world. Great debate has been had in staff meetings […]

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