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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Last Ride to School

Tomorrow will mark my 25th and last day of bike commuting to Rocafort, a town about 14 kilometers from my apartment here in Ruzafa. I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every ride. I have found that I felt more relaxed on my rides on the days when I left a few minutes early. I always arrived early—at least 30 minutes before the kids show up. It’s just that when I leave four or five minutes earlier than usual I just feel less stress along the route—not that I really felt any stress. Every day as I mount up after carrying my bike down three flights of stairs I stow my gear in my saddle bag, put o my sun glasses, and bless my lucky stars for getting out for a beautiful bike ride. I can’t believe that I get paid (and well) for it.

Every day this week I have stopped off at a little café about ¾ of a kilometer from the school to buy a sandwich of tortilla de patatas, loganiza, con mayonesa which is basically a heart attack wrapped in fat and then dipped in cholesterol. Keep in mind that I have just ridden 14 kilometers in the summer in Spain at a fairly quick pace. I eat the sandwich when I get to my classroom as I am preparing for the day’s lesson. One of these days I am going to stop in at this café and record a video of the woman who makes the tortillas which is one of the best I’ve had…ever. This is no small feat as I order tortillas in almost every place I go.

One of my astute kids introduced me to Microsoft Powerpoint. I wish I would have known about this at the beginning of my classroom career. I have been developing my lesson plan on Powerpoint and it is really a marvel—at least when teaching kids between the ages of 11 and 13 who are bored to fucking death of learning English. I feel for them; I studied French in high school and I was totally fucking bored at every step of the journey. My two teachers didn’t know French very well so I know that we part ways in our methods. My kids at least respect the fact that I speak English better than their teachers and I also speak Spanish as well as any 13 year old in Spain. I had to explain to them the word “mutiny” (motín) in Spanish one day when they were being a bit unruly. Then I had to explain what it means to hang someone from the yardarms and to give mutinous dog 40 lashes. Discipline onboard has improved considerably since that lesson. If there is one thing that kids understand it is violence or the threat of it.

I think that I know as well as anyone how boring it can be to study a foreign language. I have spent most of my life entrenched in the study of languages from Arabic to Modern Greek to my current struggle with the language of Cervantes. I lectured my kids today (in my finest Castilian Spanish) about the nature of studying languages. I told them that there are no short cuts, there is not easy method, you can’t learn English by playing games but there comes a moment when the work pays off. For me that moment was when I could read in Spanish. Since then it has been a real joy; I could say the same thing for my study of French. M reading level in French is quite high even though I struggle with the spoken version. I read Le Figaro almost daily.

More than anything I want to inspire my kids to really sink their young teeth into learning English. All of them speak it with very little accent. I tell them that they can speak English like a native if they keep practicing—unlike their old teacher who will always have an accent no matter how long I live here, that’s just the cruel reality of language learning. I want them to understand that English isn’t just another subject in school; it will be an important determining factor in how they live their lives. If they can master English they will feel much more comfortable in Europe outside of Spain. I also told them how much I envy the fact that they speak perfect Spanish and can travel to 22 countries in the world where their language is spoken.

Part of my Powerpoint presentation (that’s what they are called, presentations) included descriptions of parts of the USA. Seattle was featured, of course, but also New York and California. One of the kids, who comes to school on his skateboard, told me that California is la leche, or the milk literally but means “the shit.” I don’t worry much about his English. He’ll learn it well. He understands that there’s a big world waiting for him outside his familiar locale. I learned that same lesson when I was about 15 and that has made all the difference.

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