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ITTP asked Kyla Piper, ITTP Online international TEFL/TESOL grad, to write a journal for a typical teaching week’s events. Kyla is currently teaching English in N.Poland, Europe. The idea behind this blog is to provide applicants with a clearer insight into the social and professional aspect of teaching English abroad. Kyla’s blog is published here unedited.

Sunday, April 29

One of the best things about living in Europe is my close proximity to everything! It is a traveler’s paradise. Yesterday I finally was able to take advantage of this and travel down from Northern Poland, where I have been teaching for a couple months, to Krakow. The trip itself was a bit exhausting, but didn’t really take long. Luckily I was able to travel with some teacher friends. Thus far it has been exhilarating. The entire journey down was filled with great conversation, beautiful scenes from the train windows, and relaxation. I can’t wait to use these two days off from teaching to satisfy some of my travel bug.

Krakow is amazing. I can totally understand why it is an EU cultural capital. You can sense the history everywhere you go, and in everything you see. We were a bit overwhelmed once we arrived. To ease ourselves into the city, we decided to skip the guided tours for the day and go out on our own in the city centre. Only armed with an Eyewitness guidebook and a few maps we set out. Taking a city bus from the hotel, we got down to the city centre quite easily.

We walked through the old Market place and the cloth hall first. The place was bustling with people and small kiosks selling loads of handmade goods. The whole market place faces into a large pedestrianized square. Saint Mary’s historical Cathedral is on one side and Wawel hill and the Old Jewish district is just a short drive away. I went into more shops, museums, and historical buildings than I can count. I also took more than 300 photos of all the beautifully restored buildings. We ended the night eating at a small Mexican place (of all things) in the city square and visiting an outside beer garden before heading back to the hotel. All in all it was a very amazing and eventful day. It was just so nice to see a whole different part of Poland. I am completely able to see how different it is between North/South Poland – as well as – Big City/Small City Poland.

Monday, April 30

No trip to Krakow is complete without a trip to the Auschwitz Concentration camp. For this, I did choose to take a guided tour. Which was perfect. We were able to be picked up at our hotel, were driven to the sight (which was a couple of hours away), guided around the camp and museum, and brought back in the evening. It was a perfect, no hassle approach.

We arrived in Oswiecim (Auschwitz in Polish) around 10am. You could feel the weight of the history as soon as you stepped out of the tour bus. Our group was split into two different sections and set off for our multi-hour tour. The place was heartwrenching and amazing all in one go. There was a very heavy air around, and loads of quiet tourists walking all over. Pictures weren’t allowed in the museum areas of the camp. Which was probably a good thing. It really allowed you to pay attention and not get distracted by your own camera. But after a couple hours of talking about the Holocaust and seeing some pretty graphic artifacts, my friends and I were ready for our trip back.

It wasn’t long after our tour ended that we collected our things from our hotel and headed back up to Northern Poland. My short holiday ended so quickly, but it was more than worth it.

Today was a complete 180’ to my day yesterday. One day I got to see all the beauty that the city had to offer, and today I got to be reminded of the importance of historical memory (good and bad).

Tuesday, May 01

Today is a beautiful spring day! And I am grateful for it. This morning I was exhausted from all the travel that I had just finished, but happy to be back in my own flat. Tuesdays are my regular scheduled day off. I not only get to extend my school holiday by one day, but I am able to complete some errands before I go back to work tomorrow. Unfortunately for my other travel-buddy teachers, their workweek started back up early this morning. Having a non-flexible schedule can sometimes be a bummer when you get mixed up from a holiday break, but at least for me this time, it has worked in my favor.

It has been great to have one weekday and one weekend-day off a week. I am able to really get around and get a lot of small errands finished. Although it is a bit of a hassle not to have two consecutive days off in the week. It is nice to have some variety with free time - especially in a Catholic country. Here in Poland things shut down completely for the weekend. Starting at 2pm on Saturdays, everything is closed until Monday morning. That is, aside from pubs, McDonalds, and my local 24h Tesco. It is nice to have Tesco around on the weekend to go to (though it can often be very busy and crowed on the weekend). I have found the best time to do my shopping is either during the week (when most people are still at work or school) or late night on a weekend (but normally I am not thinking about grocery shopping then).

But I have come accustomed to short store hours on the weekends here. In comparison, I am able to get much more done now, than I was in China – where everything was crowed, regardless of the day of the week and time of the day. It is nice to experience some down time in the city. I really get a sense of personal space and time here. It is nice and peaceful. Having my own time during the weekends makes me feel uncluttered and relaxed. I love to use it for travel, catch-up R & R time, and hanging out with all my friends.

Wednesday, May 02

Today was a quick jump-start back into teaching! My first class started, bright and early, at 7am. While I have never chosen to have early classes, in both of my teaching English positions I seem to always be elected for the earliest lessons. But I am getting more used to it now, and luckily I have made a system where I can lesson plan days ahead so I don’t have to get up extra early to arrange anything. It works out well for me. And I get a few extra perks that I didn’t expect. Since there are only two teachers who teach early mornings (in comparison to the 14+ in late evening classes) I never have to fight over resources, good classrooms, or extras – like TVs, dvd players etc). I am able to plan a lot for my hour and half lesson on Wednesday mornings and my three adults are eager to learn.

My class went relatively quickly and I decide to stay a bit longer in the teachers’ lounge so that I can prepare for my week’s lessons.

I always strive to use creative lesson plans in every class I have. But utilizing all the resources that I have available has sometimes taken the fun out of planning. I have found it much easier to plan all at once with all the course resources around me, rather than to do it bit by bit through the week. After a couple hours of working I am finally finished with my entire weeks worth of planning – and just in time. I was starving. Luckily one of my friends/co-workers, Magda, just came in and we decide to go out for a much-needed meal. While we are having lunch I told her all about my trip to Krakow. It is great to get her perspective. Magda is Polish and loves to hear how native speakers find her country. Also, she is great at teaching me Polish – phrase by phrase – even though I know I am not the best student.

Thursday, May 03

On Thursdays I have a mixed bag with teaching. Not only do I have a few adult classes, but I also have a teenager class and a one-on-one. In the beginning it was a really difficult day to plan for, both in lessons and mentally. I have found that a lot of teaching is performance. You have to present the language in an easy to understand, and enjoyable way. If the teacher sounds like a mono-toned bore, no one is really going to be focusing on what is being said or taught. But preparing for three very different performances can be very challenging, demanding and exhausting. It is not for the faint at heart – to say the least.

For my adult classes I have to have many resources available. Adults LOVE to look stuff up in dictionaries and ask questions about everything. Sometimes the complexity and volume of their questions shock me. But I like to mix up some of my classes with exercises that require them to ask each other questions – or have time limits with dictionaries. This way the teaching can be somewhat more game-like and less a formal lecture. It has taken sometime to break my adults into seeing English as fun, but after a while they really seemed to be enjoying what they are learning and not as worried about testing out their skills (mistakes or not).

Teaching teenagers is an entirely different experience. In fact, I would say teenagers act in a way entirely their own. Luckily I remember how it was to learn a foreign language as a teenager, and I can use some of my own personal experiences as a guide for my class time with them. We often incorporate laughter, role-play, and girls/boys competition. I have not had disciplinary problems that some teachers have with the same age/skill level. Some of my success I think can be contributed to not allowing myself to be too authoritarian but keeping a balance between fun and focus (though a lot of my success is just that they are good kids).

Lastly, I have a one-on-one. This, for me, is my hardest performance. While I believe it is an environment that harbors a better acquisition of skills. It does create a lot of personalized teaching, which can make more work for me. But all and all, it is really rewarding to see my student make progress every lesson. One-on-ones can be good and bad in the same way – you either see quickly how you excel as a teacher or where you have failed to adequately teach a lesson.

Friday, May 04

TGIF!! I love Fridays. Not only because it is the end of another long work week, but also because I have my favorite class on Fridays. I have four great kids in a pre-intermediate level class.

I have always favored teaching children and it is great to have a change of pace from my adult classes earlier in the week. I love the freedom that I have in this class. We are able to do more artistic and creative activities than in any other class. I find it not only the most fun to prepare for, but also my favorite class to take part in. I also love to see the excitement on their faces when they get to put new language skills to the test in a game, activity or craft project.

Kids have the best ability to express their knowledge of a language instantly. They either understand completely or don’t get it at all, but this is the beauty of teaching kids, social cues and worries about embarrassment do not distract them. I have found that kids will be the most honest and forthright students I will ever have – and they can be the most excitable ones too.

Yet, not every child class is the same. My current kid class is quite small, only four students, and they are aged between 10-12 years old. They are the same age as my oldest class in China. But they are greatly different socially, culturally, and linguistically. In China I was teaching in a public primary school during the school day. In Poland I am at a private after-school program. My class in Poland is a selectively joined class, which acts as a supplement to the English lessons that these kids have earlier in the day. While, in contrast, in China I was their only English teacher and their lessons were much more serious and focused. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have fun and games in the classrooms in China, but the students’ main aims were slightly different. Likewise the classroom dynamics created a far different atmosphere. In China I had 50 students for 45-minute lessons, six times a week. I had to give the same lesson to six different classes everyday, and no individualized variation was allowed. In Poland I only have 4 students for an hour and half, twice a week. I have a lot more time to be personalized and individually based with my current class than I ever would have in China. The difference has been a pleasant change.

Saturday, May 05

Finally my half-day Saturday!!! I only have two lessons today in the morning – but they can be exhausting. Every Saturday morning is a bit hectic. The Teachers’ lounge is swarming with Teachers running around looking for resources and finishing last minute planning. Every single teacher is called in on Saturdays, for either morning or afternoon teaching slots. I luckily have Saturday mornings. I enjoy them better because I am finished by noon and have the rest of the weekend off.

I also like it because I really enjoy my class. I have a mixed aged Intermediate level class. We meet for two sessions every Saturday. It can be intense for them to have two lessons worth of material in one, but every student seems to excel with the extra focus. I also greatly enjoy this class because we always find time to have a question and answer session. During this time the students can ask me any questions they want. Normally we focus on no-course material. This way their interest level is heightened. I can share some regional and cultural information with them in ways that are different than the book explains.

Also students get to explore their knowledge of the language and utilize skills without really thinking about them too much. It is great. Sometimes I even have requests for certain things, i.e. pub language, or American movie quotes. I have even, on occasion, brought stuff in the following week to share with them. Sometimes it can be magazine articles, or books. They seem to love it. Today we talked all about Cinco de Mayo. Although it a Mexican holiday, not an English or American one, we were able to tie in a very detailed discussion about ethnicity in America and the significance of cultural holidays. For an Intermediate level, this class clearly exceeds all my expectations and I am happy to wake up early on a weekend to teach them.

If only all my classes were as fun as my Friday and Saturday ones were! I’d be in heaven.

Kyla Piper
Massachusetts, USA

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