Nature or Nurture?

My mother used to make fun of our last name when my parents were still married. She claimed it was a derivative of “Schultheis”, only she’d pronounce it “Schul-theis”, emphasizing the ‘Schul’ or ‘school’ part. It certainly seemed fitting: pretty much everyone in my dad’s family was somehow associated with school or university. My grandfather used to be a teacher, then the principal of the school my father went to. Dad’s eldest brother was a professor at the local university, the middle brother a teacher in Switzerland. My dad himself had planned on attending uni for teaching, except I came along, and plans, well, changed.

As a kid, I always thought being a teacher seemed kind of boring. And a lot of work. In other words, not a job for me. If I couldn’t marry Prince Edward and be a princess, I’d be the singer in a rock band, and if that didn’t work out, there was always the option of becoming an adventurer in Australia. Naturally, I married a man who considered teaching as a career after retiring from the military… *cough, cough*

Many people seem to feel nostalgic about their time in high school. I look back upon mine with fear and loathing. After I was held back a grade, what remained of my less-than-stellar scholastic career comprised some of the shittiest years of my life. You can imagine my surprise when I, for lack of a better idea, enrolled in college in the US and actually started to enjoy learning! Decades passed, education happened, professional development occurred, but nobody ever mentioned the T-word again.

Until the husband decided to consider a degree in TESOL. He even did some observation and student teaching, from which he quickly gathered that, on second thought, this was not really the right path for him. But somewhere along the lines, the acronym TEFL kept popping up like a cartoon speech bubble in my head. I have always enjoyed language learning. English was my favorite subject in school. And if you do it right, you won’t be stuck teaching a bunch of kids. Right?

It turned out that a friend of mine had gone the TEFL path and very much enjoyed it. I had also become aware that an unreasonable percentage of my Facebook friends were in education, as teachers, principals, deans, tutors. It was beginning to look like a setup!

It took some soul searching and some serious consideration of pros and cons, but finally I signed up for an online TEFL course. Living in the vast wasteland of, well, anything as we do, of course there were no classroom courses available in my area, and being unemployed (or less than optimally employed) didn’t allow for the financial folly of spending  a few weeks in a more educationally aware place like, let’s say, the Big Windy. Again, surprisingly, I enjoyed the course. So much so that I decided to add on a specialized certificate in Teaching Young Learners. And while I’m on the topic, why not tack on Teaching Business English? Oh, there’s a sale, let’s pick up Preparing for the IELTS. And what the heck, might as well get an idea about Teaching English Online…

I see that superior smile you’re cracking: sure, sure, that’s a lot of pretty papers, but that doesn’t make you a teacher. No, you’re right, teaching makes you a teacher. When I signed up for the TEFL course, it did not include a practicum like other courses do. And even the one that did basically said “arrange for your practicum, and we’ll give you extra credit for it.” Instead, I started to look into what types of jobs were available. When I stumbled over postings for ESL School Assistants, I knew I was on the right track. Within a short period, I had interviews lined up at the elementary, middle, and high school level. The principal of the elementary school never called me back (which is, by the way, unprofessional and bad manners – always call back, even if you decide to hire someone else!). The AP of the high school was really nice and seemed to really like me, and just as importantly, the guidance counselor sitting in with us also really liked me. They were so enthusiastic, they offered me the job that afternoon. I was so elated, I accepted. The interview with the middle school never happened.

On my first day, I got to shadow one of the other school assistants. After my five hours there, I was sure I had made a mistake. These kids were loud! They didn’t know the difference between active and passive voice in tenth grade! They didn’t work! They were unmanageable!! The school assistant’s job seemed to primarily involve yelling at people to be quiet, giving them talks in the hallway, or cajoling them into doing something resembling school work. I went home, shell-shocked. When I told the husband, he said “well, it’s an inner city school. You could just quit.” I went back the next day and decided to visit my own classes instead of doing another tag-along. And then, I stayed.

In the beginning, it was indeed a lot of yelling. Amazingly, teenagers are ill prepared and quite unwilling to stay welded to their seats and pay attention quietly for seven hours a day. The classes were huge, having close to thirty kids in the classroom was the norm. Most kids spoke Spanish as their first language. A great number spoke Karen. A few spoke Arabic. No allowances seemed to made for those ELLs, everyone was taught the same content with the same material. The ELLs had English class before everything else, and naively, I assumed that meant they were being prepared for the academic skills they needed to succeed in school. When in Government class I asked my kids what was meant by “the right to bear arms”, they flapped their appendages. They really didn’t know! At this point I realized that yelling and talking-to would not do with these kids, most of whom really wanted to do better scholastically. I would have to assume the role of tutor and, you guessed it, teacher.

This summer, I hope to attend a four-week CELTA course back home and afterwards, get a job as an actual English teacher overseas. Now ask yourself: have I always had the propensity to teach? Is there a teaching gene? Or was it enough to fall in love with the process and possibilities of learning at college? My mother, by the way, decided to switch gears and go into senior care after my parents divorced. As she advanced in her profession, she did a long-term stint as an educator for the next generation of care-givers. Her husband, who used to be her professor, now runs the care facility where she works. “Schul-theis” indeed.

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Perth’s a Bitch, and then you cry

See what I did there? Of course you did (NOT!)… it’s not quite so dramatic, really, but why don’t we just start at the beginning, if I can still get my head straight. Which, after 27 hours on various airplanes, is easier said than done.

I was pleasantly surprised by the entire Abu Dhabi leg of the trip. I had a lovely lady from Pakistan as my only neighbour in the row. We chatted, she shared some snacks with me, it was nice. Although I’m almost 100% certain this was not the extra legroom seat I had requested, it was comfortable and plenty roomy. The food was excellent. Which is a good thing, as the “light lunch” turned out to be the same thing as the vegetarian dinner option, just without cheese. I still enjoyed it the second time around.

Abu Dhabi’s airport is well organized and has lots of things you can do, mostly of course shop and eat. Also, shower (and for free), if you happen to have toiletries and a towel, which I did not and did not feel like purchasing. I might take them up on that on the return trip, though. Meanwhile I can report that the dry shampoo I ordered for tons of money is worth every penny and works like a charm.

Airport security consisted of a line-up of blokes who were really nice and even funny. Then again, I was there pretty early, which is always a good thing. No silly security scanner, no arguing that my deodorant is really NOT a can of Coke…

Boarding for Perth began on time. And then time stopped. Due to high traffic over Musqat, we sat on the runway for an hour. Which, you know, wouldn’t be a big deal if the seat was ok, but sadly, it was not. I had paid $150 for that whole legroom thing, which placed me in an emergency exit seat whose back did not recline and that, of course, had no storage in front (though I sneakily used my own seat to stuff things under). We ended up getting in with a delay of only 40 minutes but my back is shot and my arse sore as hell.

The food was ok. I had the fish biryani, mostly because the vegetarian choice was, oddly, garlicky mac and cheese, and I didn’t want to do that to my host, Ian, who was picking me up in Perth. In the middle of the night, we were served sliced apples as a snack. In the morning, they gave me neither breakfast nor something to drink. Fuck them.

Flying into Perth in daytime is quite something. You come in from Indonesia and get to see the entire WA coastline from about Port Hedland on down to Perth. The country up there is mostly just some bush and red dirt. LOTS of red dirt. A bit further south it begins to be divided up into large parcels which at least from the air still look like nothing more spectacular than red dirt, until even further south you start hitting farmland and getting more trees and bushland. Pretty cool, actually. I tried taking some photos for you guys but my camera ran out of juice before I got to the really good stuff.

They weren’t kidding when they said there’s been lots of construction at the airport, either. The new scan-your-passport-yourselves, you-silly-buggers stations are perhaps quite de rigeur but as I was an automaton, I ended up in the line for the real life border patrol agents, anyway. And you know, the sheep in the other line were no faster! You have to scan in your passport, answer security questions, then the machine spits out some kind of paper that you have to walk down to another machine 15 metres away. There, you insert the paper, have your noggin scanned, get the paper back, then take it and the passenger card, aka “you’re all dodgy people to us customs people”, down to Customs.

I nearly had a heart attack when I got there: the line doubled in on itself several times, then went behind a wall and performed another few doodles! See, we weren’t the only flight who didn’t come in ON time, but they all somehow ended up there AT THE SAME time! What a joke. The nice thing was, I handed the customs lady my questionable-suspect-card and she… sent me straight through! No scanner, no unpacking suitcases, not even a sniffer dog! And so I had time to visit the friendly folks at Vodaphone to get a new chip for my old mobile before my ride arrived.

Clearly, though, Perth is not nearly as excited about having me here as it was last time. When I finally had the internet up and successfully identified five of my Facebook friends (one of whom was ‘identified’ by a photo of Tony Abbott – rrrright) just to log in, I learned that the barbecue I was supposed to go tomorrow has been postponed. So, no welcome gig by the Spudniks, no burger with beetroot.

I am, however, freshly showered and have had a cup of tea. Now to put up the feet for a bit…

Vyv Does Oz: Cold Feet, Warm Hearts

My great-grandparents had on their wall a framed piece of embroidery with the lines “Wo man singt, da lass Dich ruhig nieder, /böse Menschen haben keine Lieder” (roughly: where there is singing, gladly rest your head /where evil dwells, no song is to be had). Taking this as my motto for the upcoming trip, I couldn’t be safer anywhere else. Most of my friends on the other side of the world are musos. Phew!

At least for a few days I’ll be staying at a fabulously beautiful place in Bassendean, nearly exactly opposite to my pad in Swanbourne. If you’d like to take a peek at Cook House yourself, feel free.

In order to provide you, my three-and-a-half readers, with the most bang for no buck, I have unearthed my old Flickr account where I will post trip pics as I go along.

My schedule is beginning to be occupied with gigs and barbecues and theatre visits and coffee meets, all of which is certainly giving me the warm and fuzzy. And yet, the first bell that rang in my head when I woke up this morning sounded an awful lot like “Idontwannago, I dontwannago!” Considering there are still five days left until departure, this does not bode well. Not that the sudden case of cold feet is entirely unexpected; I suffer from a minor version every time I’m going anywhere, and if it’s just to a local event. Even if I’m really, really looking forward to it. Not sure why it gets that way, but there isn’t much I can do besides talk myself down and carry on with life.

Vyv does Oz, Take 3

Getting to Australia the first time took roughly 17 years from start to finish. The interval between Sydney and Perth was only seven years long. And now, it’s shrunk down to three. I take this as a sign that I’m either going to croak soon or get back even sooner next time. But who knows, my crystal ball has been rather murky since we moved here.

In any case, the time for travel is very nearly upon us again. In fact, yesterday was my last day at work. Another notch in the retail belt. I can’t say the customers have grown on me very much, although we did have a handful of lovely regulars. Everyone else: mainly shitheads. But that is material for a different kind of post. Let’s talk about some more pleasant matters.

Australia, land of sun, sea, sand and snakes who frolic on the beach. To my still fresh surprise, I am actually visiting friends there. And doing a fair amount of state hopping, which is only possible because my stays are also getting longer. Where I walked off the pounds during ten days in Sydney in 2006, I spent fourteen glorious days toodling around Perth three years ago. But this time, dear friends, I won the holiday jackpot with five whole weeks of sightseeing, music and flat whites. I’m returning to Perth, previously much snubbed by me during penpal days, voluntarily and happily, then casually jetting to Melbourne to see what they’ve got to offer, and up to Brisbane to find out how my former classmate ended up there when nothing in her bio could have predicted it.

Honestly, I am excited. But also regularly waffling about the grade of excitement. While I enjoyed Perth quite a bit last time, it was also occasionally quite challenging. This time could be far better or far worse. What will people’s expectations be of me? What are mine of them? And what will I eat for dinner once I move out of my AirBnB place in Bassendean, where my hostess will cook for me?

The journey begins on March 30.

When the Postman Rings Twice

We’ve barely skated into an unseasonably warm and humid October, and here I am talking about Christmas already. Yes folks, consider this an early warning system because I am at it again! Last year, I unveiled the Christmas Card Project (CCP), which is a no-strings-attached reciprocal idea for those of us who enjoy receiving real mail once in a while (for you youngsters: we’re talking snail mail here). “Snail” being the operative word because I hope for lots of participation which does require a little planning on my end. Here’s how it works: you send me your address. Please don’t leave it in the comments, I’d hate for you to have to expose yourselves unnecessarily! If you are not connected to me on Facebook and don’t already have my email addy, you can email me at vyvienn@gmail.com. I will then compile a list, add you to it and send you a Christmas card. Easy peasy! Caveat, though: if you do send me your address, I’ll return you mine, and yes, I’ll be just a touch cranky if I don’t get a card from you. After all, this is all about the joy of a raised flag on the mailbox, to employ an American image here.

Don’t celebrate Christmas?  No worries, you can still participate. I’ll let you in on a secret: I do, but I’m not a Christian. Paradoxical? Sure, but not if you know me. 😉 Just let me know you’d prefer to get a secular mailing instead. I’m not someone who condems “Season’s Greetings” as a sentiment.

Can you invite your friends to this shindig? Of course! The more, the merrier! As long as they understand how this is supposed to work.

A final note: you, my darling friends and relatives from back home in good ol’ Germany don’t need to do anything. There’s no way for you to escape the card, sorry. So get those ink bottle refilled and print yourselves some cardstock, because I WILL be extra cranky if I get nothing from you. 😛

Oktoberfest

There’s no denying it, Germans are everywhere. And wherever there are Germans, there’s the inevitable Oktoberfest. Fort Wayne has had a German men’s choir, the Männerchor, since 1899. I don’t know if they did Oktoberfest then, but they host it now, and have done, for the last 30 years. It is held at the inevitably named Park Edelweiss not too far from our house. Saturday was a beautiful day, so we ventured over there to check it out and catch up with friends.

The area surrounding Park Edelweiss features a lovely pasture, a lot of woods and a large pond. I mention this because I recently learned why there are so many ponds around here all of a sudden (there weren’t back in ’89): when the highways were built up, the State needed dirt and basically dug a pond in exchange for the dirt for anyone who applied. Lots of people took advantage of this, and thus we’re becoming a Land o’ Lakes (not to be confused with the butter).

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The building itself is a giant barn. Not that we don’t have barns back home, but this is a very distinct style not normally found outside the U.S. Of course, I didn’t take a picture of that, but I do have some shots of the outside of the barn, including the little Biergarten.

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The menu for the event promised Schnitzel and Spätzle, but instead, we got potatoes (not bad, but very far from Spätzle, commonly advertised as Swabian noodles). There was, however, German beer, Köstritzer from East Germany and Warsteiner for the pilsener fans. See if you can guess which one DH favoured:

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Incidentally, amongst all the non-German cakes and desserts, I found a very tasty piece of Zwetschgenkuchen (plum cake)! It was too small to photograph before being devoured, but I’m glad it was there nonetheless.

After dinner, the men’s and ladies’ choirs put on some live music upstairs.

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When Americans think of Germany and particularly any kind of fest, they think of Bavaria and its original Oktoberfest, hence I was a little apprehensive when the conductor announced “traditional German fest songs” (DJ Ötzi? Wolfgang Petri?) Undeterred, the ladies launched into… the Lorelei?? The infamous mermaid vixen of the Rhine valley hardly qualifies for the occasion, I should think! Next up, there was a rendition of Muss I Denn, made famous in the 50s by GI Elvis while stationed in Friedberg. The farewell of a Swabian carpenter to his sweetheart isn’t what I consider Festmusik, either, but what really got me was the following Sah’ ein Knab ein Röslein Steh’n, which is neither Bavarian nor even remotely related to anything that should be played at a party. By then, I had a huge headache (unrelated to the festivities) and horrendously itchy eyes (possibly caused by something in the barn) and had to flee the scene of the musical crime.

Still, it’s a nice little event if you enjoy plausching with older people who are real Germans or possibly trying new foods which remains reserved for October 13th and the Edelweiss’ Taste of Germany foodie event.

On with the Motley

Or so says Jeremy Brett, sadly departed. I’ll tell you this, my dear readers from days long past, because you come stumbling in here during those occasional drunken wanderings, looking for who knows what and wondering, perhaps, if my not writing means not doing.

Hardly. Blogging is like Facebooking, only without the comments. Which you would know, were we connected on Facebook. But that’s not necessary. The past is the past. I never came looking for you, believe me. I don’t miss any of you. The amazing thing is, not only have I done, I’ve been done to! Life’s had some surprises in store for me, and though apparently only those lessons learned the hard way are of any real value, I’m glad that what happened happened. I am better for it.

So, if you still want to know, you can always go back to Flickr, the miniverse (literally. Inside-inside joke). Or try to find me on Facebook. Stranger shit has occurred.