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The Art of Derek Dohren

painting, writing, photography



What I know about teaching

Posted on February 10, 2010 at 4:51 PM

There's little point in me trying to persuade anyone I'm a fount of knowledge on the subject but having given my first real life teaching lesson tonight I feel I learned a couple of interesting lessons myself.


Of course it's way too soon for me to be expecting to have all the technical aspects of preparing, planning and delivering a lesson nailed and running on auto-pilot. That's not going to happen for years, and further assumes I stick at it long enough, but there are plenty of other facets to becoming a good teacher that deserve equal attention.


I got to my student's address promptly and thankfully didn't feel too many nerves. I had planned a decent enough lesson and as an introduction was giving this one free. So, how could any reasonable person complain? That said, a lot did hinge on how well this hour and a half went, not least the prospect of payed lessons springing from this tutorial, so I was glad I was not feeling crippled with tension.


Once inside the house though the old nerves took over and I thought it was an awkward first 10 minutes. The lesson felt clunky and a little misjudged - and I remembered the exact same situation occuring on the training course where what you had planned and expected to happen somehow didn't actually pan out. I ploughed on, and my trainee gamely battled on too. We seemed to reach what I thought was the nadir about 50 minutes in. There had been no real flow or rapport, the lesson hadn't really caught fire, and I was meandering worryingly to a part of the plan I had low confidence in.


That brings me to the second lesson I took away - but I'll leave that for the moment.


The final 10 minutes were as different from the first as it was possible to be. I had relaxed, and more importantly so had my student, and she was speaking English as best she could in a seemingly inhindered fashion. I stopped her to point this out. Her stated aim at the start of our meeting was to become a better conversationalist and here she was, albeit it with some severe pronunciation issues and a limited vocabulary (but that's the teccie stuff I have to deal with for her), doing just what she thought she couldn't do! She was delighted with herself and from that moment on the labouring that had gone before all felt worth it.


For me the lesson was clear. Once the student had relaxed and had begun to feel confidence, in both me and in herself, she got really stuck into things and was far more willing to chance her arm. That skill of being able to make someone feel comfortable and confident is as important as all the technical knowledge you may learn to use. It reinforced what I had learned on the course, but had temporarily forgotten, when I had seen the same thing demonstrated in our training classes. Win the hearts and minds first and you are nearly there.


That second lesson? Well, when we got to the cringe-making part of the lesson I hadn't been looking forward to my student rose easily to the challenge. Far from finding the section difficult she excelled - the main reason why she ended up feeling much more relaxed. The section required her to write some poetry, then read it out, something I'd have found incredibly tough to do in my own language never mind a foreign one. Not so my student. Clear evidence of something I'd have understood as perfectly obvious if someone had tried to tell me beforehand, that the things we may find difficult aren't necessarily going to be the same things the students struggle with - and vice versa. Sometimes you don't see the wood for the trees though do you?

William Wallace - hero of Andalucia

Posted on February 9, 2010 at 5:47 PM

Ok, so the apartment in downtown Ogijares fell through. All that speculation I posted in the last blog entry about being able to share an apartment with Ricardo never got off first base, so I carried on looking elsewhere.


I liked the look of La Zubia. It's a large village or small town (I don't know how you draw the distinction) pretty much adjacent to Ogijares but perhaps a mile or two nearer Granada. There were some nice looking apartments up for rent so Chris and I made appointments to see a few of them and took the opportunity to check out the nearby amenities.


We found it to be a nicely quaint yet unpretentious place. Plenty of shops, public spaces and good bus routes into Granada. We found a pub, astonishingly called The William Wallace. Is there no getting away from the man? If I'd stopped to think about it I'd not have put much faith in a Scottish themed pub in this part of Spain and as we walked in I was prepared to be faced with some ghastly faux plaid wearing bagpipe playing local, with a face covered in blue woad who would immediately detect my Englishness and run me out of town. Chris had no such reservations. Inexplicably 'Braveheart' is his favourite film and how delighted was he to discover a bar owner (very much an Andalucian) shared the same exhalted view of this Hollywood piece of tripe. His photograph, showing him resplendent in his tartan kilt, stood proudly behind the bar.


In all fairness it's a great boozer. Magnificent tapas, easy going atmosphere and encouragingly packed with locals on what was otherwise a quiet day in town. There's a huge downstairs nightclub area the manager was very proud of but it was shut and he was unable to show it to us.


Well, I really liked La Zubia and I quickly identified the apartment I wanted. A top floor 'piso' with amazing views over to Granada, three bedrooms, and some (admittedly dodgy) furniture. The asking price was within budget. In addition, I discovered an English language school at the bottom of the street so I felt incredibly upbeat about things.


So, all of that was on Saturday.


On Monday we returned to the town to view a final apartment. It was in the same street as my favoured one, in a similar block, but was on the ground floor. It was slightly bigger and had yard space out the back. The furniture was better and it had air con which I can imagine to be a life saver out here through July and August. The owner of the property is a real character. He is a joiner and told us proudly that he had 'built' the William Wallace. He then showed us his right hand which was missing a finger sawn off with a chainsaw during the WW construction.


Ok, the apartment's a tad more expensive than I'd have liked but I bit the bullet tonight and put an offer in via a crudely typed Spanish text message. I knocked 15 Euros a month off the asking price and my offer was accepted! In a couple of days time I'll be a La Zubian. How cool is that?


In other news I almost got my bank account sorted out today (you wouldn't believe the nonsense that has to be waded through) and I give my first private lesson tomorrow at 17:00. It's to a lady in Granada and I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes. I go from giving the lesson to going over the contract of the apartment. Should be a fun evening.

On the outside looking in

Posted on February 5, 2010 at 12:15 PM

They say the more you know, the more you know you don't know. Ten days into my emigration and I'm beginning to catch glimpses of how vast the cultural chasm I've exposed myself to really is.�

I'm lucky. I have a few friends here to get me started, to help get me 'up and running'. Without friends I can see how pretty nigh on impossible it must be for anyone to settle themselves into a foreign country.

This morning I was entrusted into the hands of friends of my friends, people I didn't know at all. They are Dutch and are colleagues of my hosts Chris and Nicia. They in turn, know a local man Nacho, who has a friend who is an estate agent (also Spanish). There are apartments aplenty in Ogijares and the surrounding area but of course many of them do not appear of official estate agency lists, or on the relevant internet web sites (something to do with extortionate official fees that have to be paid). It's been pointed out to me on several occasions that information on the ground is ten times more valuable than anything else you might pick up via offical channels. I understand the sentiment that here in Spain, certainly in this neck of the woods, it's not what you know that's important, but who you know.

The Dutch couple I met, Martin and Nelliga know a young Brazilian family. Through unfortunate circumstances they have to travel back to Brazil and as they do not have all of the correct and appropriate documentation they will not get back into Spain. I was left to put two and two together over that scenario while in the meantime my Spanish and Dutch contacts showed me around some properties.

Estate agents - gotta love them have you not? I was assured at one small house that the vicious looking dog next door only barked at people he didn't know; at another apartment the disgraceful smell emanating from the kitchen was nothing more than still water in the kitchen sink pipes; and in a final apartment that the north facing window overlooking a busy road below ensured the living room would stay cooler in the summer. For a small one-off fee, reductions in monthly rent could be obtained. If I wanted to take a deal on the rather expensive but unfurnished new apartment I saw they could arrange for some nice curtains and maybe a tv to be put in - if I say yes to Nacho before Monday.

But I'm getting ahead of the story. Before the property viewing I took a car trip with Martin to the Brazilian family's apartment. We were to take Daniella (Brazilian lady) into Zaidin (an area of Granada) to try and get two of her propane gas bottles changed. The local gas bottle man who tours the area had irritatingly ignored repeated calls from the family to replace the empty bottles. Hmm.

On the way to Zaidin Martin pulled the car into a dealership to try and get a refund on a dodgy windscreen wiper blade they had sold him. Yesterday whilst driving in heavy rain the wiper had flown off. I stood and watched as Martin, a gentle and unassuming Northern European, button-holed a mechanic and launched into a passionate arm waving tirade using his best Spanish. Daniella, standing aside with me, translated the gist of the argument. Fifteen minutes later we returned to the car, now complete with a new wiper blade, handed over at half price, and continued the journey.

I noted the lesson. The Spanish like an argument. They like to see some passion, some 'cojones', and if it's not in your nature to stand up for yourself you'll be trampled on, particularly if you are foreign.

Part of the task was to convince the mechanic that not only was the wiper blade the wrong make but that it had been incorrectly fitted. The dealership in turn insisted it had been fitted properly but had probably been damaged in a car wash or by someone leaning against it (?). Martin's passionate argument won the day though he then cheerfully admitted to us in the car that he had fitted the original himself.

Back to Daniella and her apartment. If I was to be a potential beneficiary of the family's misfortune I was at least determined to remain emotionally detached and impassive over the situation. Not a bit of it. Her husband Ricardo was pleased to meet me and I saw immediately that they were the most charming and delightful couple. Their apartment, the cheapest of all the properties I saw, was easily the prettiest and best aspected too. We drank tea and ate chocolate muffins while Martin did his best to meld my Spanglish and their Engluese into some form of agreement (whatever happened to Esperanto?).

Things change rapidly. Now it seems Daniella and their young daughter will go home in a couple of weeks and Ricardo will stay to try and earn some more money over the summer months. At the end of the summer he will then go back to Brazil - but in the meantime it's now being floated that I could share the apartment with him for the summer then possibly take it on myself in six months time. It would certainly enable me to live cheaply and get a feel for things with someone who knows the ropes before taking sole possession myself. The only problem? This is Martin's idea and no one has run it past Ricardo.

I've discovered so much this past week, a fair chunk of it today. I know the importance of making contact with locals, of discovering the person Chris terms the 'local knowledge source'. Get in amongst the community and make an effort but don't make the mistake of expecting people to be openly friendly. You won't get invited to the house of a Spanish family until you are firm friends. Be respectful and make sure you too are respectable. What else? I'd already heard about the hard edge of racism that thrives in Spain and now I've heard first hand accounts of those at the wrong end. Not nice.

None of this fast track education would have been possible without knowing people beforehand. Though for the time being I remain on the outside of this strange world looking in I can at least see one or two paths through the maze. The more I'm learning the more complicated I see it all is.

A lot of this mirrors my experiences in looking for teaching work too. Who I know is proving far more invaluable than having a CV or a qualification. I have picked up a student through a contact and have four more potential clients through Nicia my hostess here in Ogijares. And did I mention too that Daniella is an English teacher? She'll be leaving Ogijares within a fortnight. Perhaps my arrival could not have been better timed?

Some photographs

Posted on February 5, 2010 at 8:59 AM

A small set of snaps taken during the past 10 days.

This is the village of Gojar lying in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Gojar is the neighbouring village of Ogijares where I am staying.

A view of part of the Saromonte, Granada.

The Alhambra from the Sacromonte

Life in Granada

Posted on February 4, 2010 at 1:17 PM

Extracts from David Attenborough's new BBC 1 series, Life in Granada, filmed exclusively on location.

"As the light fades to the west, and the sun sets on another day, large herds of TEFLbeast make their way to the watering holes of the Plaza Nueva. From the high ground of the Albaicin and from the low plains of the Camino De Ronda hundreds of these majestic creatures meander their way towards the promise of a good drink and some much needed tapas.

Though the tapas is plentiful the large male TEFLbeast cannot seem to get enough. He gorges for hours on end as if each night may be his last. The females busy themselves with idle chatter. In between gulps of life giving Tinto De Verano, their screaching cries pierce the chill night air as they try pitifully to attract the attention of the starving males.�

It is no use. The male has become dull and stupid on the over abundant nutrients. The females now follow suit and soon the Plaza is awash with regurgitated vomit.

Hours pass and a flashing sliver of pink and orange sky signals the start of another day. Many of the TEFLbeast lie strewn in the Plaza. They will scuttle into nearby tobacconists or coffee bars to nurse heavy wounds. By the time the midday sun beats down again the TEFLbeast has returned to his favourite haunt to spend the remainder of the afternoon. Soon he will begin the build up to another night's bingeing for the constant to-ing and fro-ing across the harsh terrain burns his fat reserves as quickly as he replenishes it.

But tonight it will be different. There will be fierce competiton for scraps at the watering hole. A new herd of TEFLbeast has wondered onto the plain..."

For next year's Burns Night

Posted on February 2, 2010 at 4:02 AM

Consulting my phrasebook I chanced upon this translation of the word 'haggis' under the food and drink section:


plato escoces a base de higado y corazon de cordero, avena y otros condimentos, hervidos en una bolsa formada por el estomago de animal.


So, something to bear in mind if you ever go to a restaurant and fancy ordering one.


A Scottish dish based on lamb's liver and heart, oats and other seasonings, boiled in a bag made from the animal's stomach.


'Haggis' is so much easier to say.



Spanish - for dummies

Posted on February 1, 2010 at 1:39 PM

I don't imagine for one minute that six days is long enough to properly assess how my move to Spain is panning out but already I have detected a subtle yet positive change in my feelings about the whole venture.


When I arrived I guess I was a little frazzled by my elongated departure from the UK, and still very much in 'Brit abroad' mode. Ok, things are not a whole lot different barely a week on but the frenzy of those first few days are beginning to subside and I am more in touch with the ebb and flow of life here in Granada.


Already we're into a new month. I feel a certain familiarity with my surroundings and I've seen something of the realities of making a living out here. I'm full of admiration for my TEFL colleagues who are cleverly balancing their time between the lesson planning and teaching assignments they have to do and their freer leisure activities. It's not all party time - far from it.


I felt a certain reluctance to plunge into looking for work, relieved in some ways that teaching opportunities seem plentiful here, but am now gripped with a greater sense of urgency that I need to get on with things. I began in earnest today looking for some teaching hours and will see what transpires. Yes there is a lot of potential here for TEFL work but it has to be sought for and winkled out. No one hands you anything.


The requirements of a lengthy stay here in Spain mean I simply must improve my Spanish. It's very weak at present - no more than the annual two weeks in Majorca requires - but it's a different ball game now. I was encouraged today with some fledgling efforts in town as I handed out my CV to employment agencies but I also see it's going to be a bumpy ride.


But rather than feel discouraged I feel empowered by the changes. When I look at where I've come and what's been achieved thus far I can only plough on forwards. I have genuine friends here I can rely on, and they've helped me enormously to settle, but I have the confidence that I can eventually strike out on my own. I haven't really seen anything that tells me I'm out of my depth. It's down to having and maintaining a positive outlook and I need to stay focused on that.


One thing I've noticed is a tendency to refer to my life in the UK with a 'back home' comment. This is my home now and the enormity of that is shocking at times.


But I'm already making mental notes of the cultural areas I want to get myself involved with. There's an art group that meets on Wednesday near the city centre, the local football team are going great guns in their division, and there are bars in town that run 'Intercambio' evenings, where Spaniards get to practice their English and foreigners get to try out their Spanish in return, all over a few drinks in a relaxed atmosphere. In addition I can't wait for the summer and the string of festivals that will take place throughout the area.


Some things are scary to contemplate. Being in my own flat and having to speak to the electricity supplier or telephone company for instance is something that still awaits, but receiving text messages to my mobile phone via a tidal wave of Spanish is already happening. Being sent on a teaching job to an unknown area of town is something else I'll need to deal with pretty soon I suppose.


But hey, bring it on!

Anthropological Insights for Missionaries

Posted on January 29, 2010 at 6:25 PM

It's the little things in life that make all the difference.


Today I took the bus from Ogijares to Granada like I have done twice already in my short time back in Andalucia. I met with friends in the town. We laughed, swapped stories, had a drink and some food, and finally bade each other farewell.


Unremarkable in many ways.


Except for the lady on the Avenida de Dilar who patently sits behind one of the bus stops every day with her clothes and skin painted silver grey, like some gilded statue. The traffic grinds relentlessly by as she quietly yet fiercely begs for money. I guess the odd embarrassed pedestrian drops her a coin now and then.


And there too, on the Reyes Catolicos, an artist sat painting the Iglesia San Anton while thousands of pairs of feet carried indifferent Granardinos about their business. His face was a study in concentration. His painting was important to him, to someone.


In Plaza Nueva a boy blew a clarinet. A man shot by on a Segway.


Some Americans don't know the difference between England and Britain. Some of my Scottish friends tell me the English don't know either.


The Spanish word 'taller' means 'workshop'.


In Spain it is considered largely unecessary to say please and thank you all the time.


In the Mercadona was I the only person to be fascinated by the sight of a dead octopus astride a tray of chipped ice?


I think that maybe I was.


I took the reverse bus journey home. A rude full moon sat bare and naked in a dark clear sky illuminating the snow caked Sierra Nevadas. In truth, I've never seen anything quite like it.


Back at my friend Chris' house we ate pizza and talked about our day. I took my washing out of the machine. The cat sat transfixed in front of the tv watching a reality show about dwarfs.


The bookshelves in my room have some oddly titled books on them.


On Monday, I shall try and find a job. See if I don't.





Temptation, thy name is tapas

Posted on January 28, 2010 at 3:37 AM

Thurs Jan 28


I went into town yesterday to try and set up a bank account and get myself a new mobile phone. I met up with two of my TEFL colleagues and went for a beer and some tapas, a move that resulted in neither of my two tasks getting done. We sat in a bar for 7 hours and moved on only when we had got bored with the tapas and fancied a change. So we went to the Chinese noodle bar.


Right, I'm off into town again, to open a bank account and to buy a mobile phone. I shall dress warmer today as well. I spent most of yesterday shivering (in between all the eating and drinking bits).




Out of the freezer and into the fridge

Posted on January 26, 2010 at 12:18 PM

To badly misquote JFK - "Yo soy un Granardino."


I've arrived and they even laid the weather on specially for me. It's dreich, mingin and drookit. At least the snow they had last week has gone.




Should've stayed at home then...


Still, at least I feel I've contributed to the government's improved unemployment figures by coming off the jobseekers allowance. I mean the UK is now officially not in recession (aye, right) and I'm glad I'm not letting the side down.


Incidentally, I wish all you UK readers the best with Fuhrer Cameron and his goose stepping goons. Shouldn't be too long now. Not my problem fortunately.



Zero Hour - 7:40am.

Posted on January 25, 2010 at 9:29 AM

I emigrate tomorrow.


It's an odd feeling that. I look at the clock on the wall and think 'this time tomorrow...' Back in September when I booked myself onto a TEFL course I had no idea of just how far reaching the chain of events I had set in motion would stretch out. About 1500 miles as it happens.


Now, as the clock ticks down and I wrestle with the full ramifications of what it is I'm doing two rather irritating catch-phrases from characters I worked alongside in past years have crept to the forefront of my brain.


To the sniggers of his colleagues in the big open plan office we shared in Glasgow one of my old workmates was fond of positing theories on how various IT projects were going to pan out with the rider 'With a bit of luck and a fair wind ...' On reflection, it was a splendidly cavalier and artistic approach from a man who was after all entrusted with a fair chunk of a well known utility supplier's IT budget. Oh how we all used to laugh when things went wrong.


Amusingly, I find myself now using the phrase a lot as I weigh up my chances of falling flat on my face and having to flee back to Scotland before the schools are out for summer.


The second wince inducing catch-phrase was uttered on a regular basis by someone else entirely and speaks of a more pragmatic man, a man much more inured to seeing IT projects blown off course by ill winds and bad luck. He used to say 'We are where we are'. I'm now ashamed to admit my reaction to each utterance was always annoyance. Only with the passage of time have I come to see the true magnificence and power of what on the face of it seems such a trite and banal thing to say.


If you don't know what I'm talking about then next time you have an office disagreement, or even a full on marital bust up, simply trot out 'we are where we are' and you'll see. At once all blame is absolved, all responsibility thrown off, and with a line in the sand everyone agrees to move on. No matter what you've done this rather terse statement somehow gets you off the hook. The other protagonist in the argument is forced to accept your 'apology' (such as it is) and risks becoming the jerk if he/she doesn't then agree to forget what's happened and start over.


So I am where I am. If it all goes pear shaped from now on then clearly it's not my fault. It's someone else's. Even though that's not necessarily true. Or something. With a bit of luck and a fair wind I'll survive the coming months. Hell, I might even land a job then who knows what could happen after that?


And anyway, it's not as if the past 24 months have been a doddle. A collapsed marriage, redundancy, the loss of home, car, friends, cats, and Sky telly have left me staring into an abyss. I survived it though and am now due a benign change of weather. Surely.


Zero hour fast approaches and I'll soon discover whether or not my ill fortune has bottomed out. Light at the end of a long tunnel or an oncoming train? I actually think it's going to be fun finding out.