Fourth day down

Jesus Shitfucking Christ.

OK, let’s go back to the beginning. Whatever one might say about Vaughan, they aren’t slackers. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made that post on Monday – it only took time, which is something I don’t have. Or at least, I didn’t.

My workload for the past few days has been INSANE. On Monday, as you might remember, we had to make six lesson plans. OK, fine, no problem… except that it meant I didn’t get to bed until 2am. Oh, and there was another guest in the room I was staying in, so I had to creep around with as little light as possible to avoid waking her. Not easy. I could perhaps have done a little bit of it during the break on Tuesday, but I know full well I wouldn’t have had enough time even if it would have been possible to print the aforementioned plan. Oh yeah, we can’t print stuff – if we want something printed, we have to email it to our teacher, and with everything she gets, she’s going to miss a bunch of pictures. I don’t know why they don’t provide a printer that we could connect our own computers to; there is a photocopier, but that’s no good if we don’t already have a hard copy.

As it happened, I wrote out all my lesson plans as a single document with sections marked Basic, Inter, and Adv. When I finished, I made a slight attempt to split it into three seperate, level-appropriate documents, but then decided against it because holy fuck it was nearly 2am! In the end, I submitted it as a single 13-page, >2,000 word PDF, which was probably for the best.

On Tuesday mañana, we got some tips for how to actually implement our ideas and how to structure a lesson, which I now know instinctively but am at a loss to verbalise. Basically, move fast and keep correcting. We were also told what to do if we ended up with people who genuinely had zero English.

That tarde, before the siesta had properly ended for anybody, we were thrown in with our first classes. Every single one of us was absolutely terrified of what was to follow until we actually started, at which point we calmed right down and got on with things quite pleasantly.

As I’ve said before, the Vaughan method stands in stark contrast to the prevailing view of TEFL. The consensus approach is to teach students the elements of the language with lots of vocabulary but not to worry overmuch about minor or arcane grammatical errors, on the grounds that the most important thing is to be understood. Vaughan rejects this idea and focuses on achieving perfection in grammar and punctuation – hence, rather than getting students to speak a lot, we instead asked them lots of questions and corrected them as soon as they made any sort of error in any area. The early Medieval Arab domination of Spain still manifests today in the way English-speaking Spaniards pronounce the letter V as B, H they way CH is pronounced in Irish and German, have no idea what to do with J, and stick /g/, /d/, and /e/ sounds before W , Y, and S respectively. This makes correcting pronunciation a real task, as I have to resort to describing how to position your tongue to explain /dʒ/. Not pleasant. (There are also some issues with vowels, but that’s because English is terrible).

There are also problems caused by English’s being an insane hodgepodge of Latin words and pronunciation stuck on top of Germanic grammar makes things uniquely difficult for Spaniards. (I believe German itself has fewer words in common, but it also has much more consistent grammar and pronunciation). Questions in particular are a major point of trouble – while in Spanish, like French, a question is formed by changing the tone of a statement, English (as well as German and, for that matter, Irish), asking a question involves changing the order of words in a sentence as well as altering the tone, and the Spanish-speakers constantly trip up over this. It doesn’t help that Spaniard start learning English at a young age in school from teachers who usually have only middling proficiency, and pick up lots of bad habits.

Ability with English is massively variable. The lowest of the low speak English substantially better than I speak either Spanish or French, but still make all sorts of mistakes all the time. The highest of the high are positively fluent – indeed, one particularly brilliant man who had been coming to these free sessions for four years actually corrected me on a subtle grammatical point – and he was right about it too. I could do nothing but congratulate him. (I did manage to regain respect when he insisted that have got is American and have gotten is British – remember when I said they pick up bad notions from teachers).

All that said, I do get the impression my students appreciate my services. While there is considerable, well-informed and well-reasoned criticism of the Vaughan method, I don’t think Richard Vaughan envisaged his system as a standalone approach. Rather, it serves as a complementary style to school lessons and traditional TEFL, reinforcing ideas already learned while beating out misconceptions that have taken root.

With that in mind, if anyone is considering joining Vaughan, I would reccomend they get themselves a formal TEFL qualification beforehand. Sure, Vaughan is great and all, but its methods are, perhaps unreasonably, frowned upon by the wider TEFL network; hence, a proper qualification will be of immense use if you ever wish to leave Vaughan and teach elsewhere.

But back to my personal experiences. For Wednesday, we were told to make three new lesson plans, one for each level; however, it was also known that we were free to reuse and recycle old material. I managed to accomplish this by rearranging my lesson plan into a set of seperate, topic-specific documents which I expanded there and then, and could continue to expand in future; this gives me a nifty, modular document which I call the Grand Lesson Plan (GLP), that is incredibly flexible and can be used and adapted on the fly in any class. We also had to define the nine parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and interjections), as well as thir subtypes. I finished most of this at around midnight; I still had new homework left ot do, but I reasoned that could wait until the next day as I would be too tired if I tried to do it there and then.

 On Wednesday, we were collectively told the most common criticisms levelled against us. These mostly had to do with speed, organisation, and dynamism, most of which can be attributed to it being our first day. We also got a book full of the sort of material we had been working on the past couple of day, which we were told to use instead of our own questions. The official quite sensible and understandable, reason for this is that forcing us to come up with our own material makes us understand it better; however, speculation has also been raised that it is partially to weed out the wimps.

So, now we had been told to abandon the lesson plans we had spent hours working on in favour of Vaughan’s old book, we were set loose on a new set of classes, all of which went considerably better than Tuesday due to us actually knowing what the funt we were doing. I had a tapa for lunch that day, so that’s done, OK. Oh, and we had to go see a lawyer regarding getting social security numbers. For homework, we had to come up with 80 action verbs we would be able to demonstrate in class, plus make a bunch of new lesson plans and come up with a bunch of ideas for students to talk to us about..

On Thursday, there was more feedback. This time, organisation and dynamism had improved, but were still subprime. There was also a problem with advanced students not understanding our accents, apparently because we think they’re so good there’s no need to modulate our speech. We also got nifty translation sheets to use in our classes, and were once again told to dump our carefully-crafted lesson plans in favour of untried and untested new methods, but which actually worked quite well in the end.

For homework today, I’ve had to define every single tense in English, and man do things get complicated. The conditional tenses (yes, there’s more than one) are in particular utterly broken. I think we were encouraged to make lesson plans as well – however, since I’m already literally lugging around a small tree worth of modular material, I can generate literally billions of lesson plans on the fly (granted, 99.999% of them will differ in utterly negligible ways, but still, that’s a couple of million of distinct ones at least). Plus, tomorrow is taken up with individual meetings, so we have most of the day to spend on planning. As a result, I reason that there is no pressing reason for me to make any new plans right now, as I will have all the time in the world tomorrow. However, tomorrow’s day starts half an hour early, which means I’ll have to be up at 07:00. I should really get to bed.

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