One of the most challenging things about teaching for SIDAS Language School is that the nature of the Active English Weeks Program makes any classroom activity that relies on extensive worksheets, readings, or individual materials in general a bit of a problem. Of course, in my experience, any lesson plan that relies excessively on worksheets is a bit of a problem anyway, but teaching engaging and focused lessons with minimal materials is definitely one way to challenge everything you think you know about teaching English.
So, after two years in the ESL classroom, and my few months teaching on the road for SIDAS Language School, I’d just like to share some fundamental approaches for teaching English (or any language really) without relying on extensive pre-designed and individually-printed materials.
At this point, I’m not sure that I will ever quite understand the coldness that so many Czechs and Slovaks have toward…well, basically everyone.
It’s safe to say that I have just survived the most ridiculous two days in my ESL career so far.
So, a couple things you need to know about SIDAS Language School: our boss is pretty straightforward about what he expects from us, and he’s pretty up front about the challenges of the job. Before even being able to apply for SIDAS, I was sent a long, detailed email emphasizing exactly how… unluxurious traveling while working for SIDAS can be. Of course, I was never looking for an all-expenses-paid vacation, and when it comes to travel, I’m pretty flexible. Pretty much my only requirements for a decent place to stay are 1) a lack of bedbugs, and 2) hot running water. As far as I’m concerned, hot water can make up for just about anything.
That said, as flexible as I am, there’s only so much I can do effectively when I’m operating on a lack of information.
Cue my mission to Brno.
While in Czech, the word tabor generally means “camp,” visiting this charming town won’t require anything close to roughing it. Situated about an hour and a half south of Prague by train, Tábor, a historically Hussite town established in the 15th century, boasts some great sights and enough pleasant attractions to fulfill a day passing through–no tents required.
This week was spent in Vel’ky Meder, a spa town about an hour south of Bratislava. Aside from the obvious perks (yes, we did score free tickets to the spa, which featured a diving pool, outdoor thermal baths that make winter swimming worth it, and, sure enough, a waterslide), our accomodation–a private teacher’s apartment on the actual school grounds–was far more comfortable than usual, and our students, a mixture of Hungarian and Slovak speakers, turned out to be extraordinarily enthusiastic.
Our last evening in Tábor, a couple of our Active English Weeks students treated us to an afternoon at a traditional Czech-style tea house or Cajovna, where we drank red tea with caramel and had these green matcha coconut balls that were absolutely delicious. It turned out that the place also did water pipes, and so, after successfully cooking a dinner that did not blow the fuses out, Jack, Clara and I went back to finish off our week with shisha smoke and war stories.
Today, we said goodbye to our classes, gave our kids their certificates, and posed for the requisite selfies. So now, waiting on the train to take me to Bratislava, I can definitely say I’m going to miss Tábor. It’s been the best week on this journey so far–and even considering that my last two weeks involved Povazska Bystrica and Holic (by which I mean, there’s no competition), I’m not sure it’ll be an easy place to beat.
That said, I have been informed that next week I’ll be going to a spa town on the Hungarian border. So we’ll see. Thermal swimming pools, here I come!
Well. It’s dark.
This week sees me venturing into the Czech Republic, through Prague and south, to a town called Tábor, where I’ll be teaching kids in the last year of primary school along with three other co-teachers: Jack, Clara, and a newcomer, Robin. Aside from the fact that we got lost following Jack’s map to the hostel, things are going pretty well: the kids are great, the hostel rooms are comfortable and have internet (though I spent a good half hour trying to convert that internet into actual wi-fi for our device users), and, at last, we’re staying in a place with a kitchen–which means all the vegetarian meals and egg breakfasts you could possibly want–
Well, except for one problem. Did I mention that it’s dark? That’s because turning on the hob in the kitchen just blew the power out. We’re pretty sure it’s just a fuse problem, but with no way of knowing where the fuse box is, Jack and Clara have gone on a quest to notify the hostel staff. They’ve been gone… fifteen minutes now?
I hope they haven’t been eaten by some kind of monster. Though I wouldn’t blame the monster. I mean, if I lived in a place where the power went out every time I tried to cook something, I’d be hungry enough to eat a couple English teachers myself.
It turns out that “coffee” is pretty much the only English word Peter knows, though within a few minutes of him setting the water on boil, we’ve established that “sugar” means cukor (tsuu-kohr) and “milk” means mlieko (mm-lee-koh), and that instant coffee is the only thing Peter’s got in his cabinet, which is a little bit tragický (trah-gits-kee).
Oh, and also that the word vodka is pretty universal.
Well, I managed to get to Holič, and I’m still in one piece, though the prize for Most Difficult Accommodation to Find definitely goes to the Turisticka Ubytovna Holič, Nam. Sv. Martina 9. Getting off the bus, I type the address into Google Maps and heft my backpack for what Google predicts will be a twelve minute walk, but when I get to the area where the Ubytovna should be, it’s nowhere in sight.