Teaching Down Memory Lane

Distance and time make the heart grow fonder, they say. And that’s quite true. Today I remembered out of the blue a time back in the late 80s and early 90s, yimagees, not even cellphones were around back then. Which meant that I had to call in the school every day (at the time we didn’t have a landline at home – they were expensive and distributed in a very limited area. You could wait for years until the state phone company – Telesp – installed your phone or buy it on the black market). So I’d go to a pay phone some 4 blocks up my street to make a call and if the school wanted to contact me there was my next door neighbor’s phone who graciously would take down any messages. And if a student cancelled the class some 2 or 3 hours before the set time, I would have wasted my trip to that company. No flowers on the way, huh?

I was teaching for 2 language schools in São Paulo specialized in In-House Teaching. They’d hire a teacher, “train” them for 1 week and place them in different companies – usually multinationals like Unilever, DuPont, etc and the teacher would work with small groups of 4 to 5 people or 1-1 lessons. Little has changed in this industry regarding how teachers are selected – 1st – can you speak English? … 31st – can you teach?image

One of the schools, I can’t remember their name, let’s call it “Hello Brazil”, was located on Vanderlei street in Perdizes, a rather hilly area of São Paulo. Since I didn’t have a car at that time, I can assure you I was in very good shape going up and down those hills.

The school followed the “communicative approach” – a typical mantra in language teaching for the past 30 years – just talk and if possible throw in some grammar points. But with a twist: since teacher turnover was and still is pretty high in the language industry – many people choose teaching because they’re between jobs (if Brazilians), or need to fund their travels (if foreigners)- the school had come up with an interesting method – The students would keep a folder for the teacher in their office and teachers would be assigned to specific students on a daily basis – so that students would not be attached to any single teacher (the reason given was that in that way, students would be exposed to different accents, really?). Of course the system had its holes, some students liked my classes more and demanded I should be their regular teacher. They could tell the difference between a TEACHER and a person who teaches. The teacher at the end of every class would write a brief comment on what had been covered that day so the next teacher would have an idea. Of course, some teachers, need I say that?,  would forget to jot down any input or wrote in a secret code no one could understand.

Sao Paulo was already a gigantic city at that time and the offices of many corporations were based in the southern part of the city. Centro Empresarial de São Paulo – was oimagene of those office complexes located far from the school office or my home. Classes started at 12 noon so in order not to be late I’d make plans to arrive at least 30 minutes early. When the winds were in my favor I could even get there 1 hour earlier but what would I do while waiting? The “ground floor” contains stores and restaurants and some couches where I’d sit for a while and doze off. Security was already an issue back then. I guess it’s always been a biggie in São Paulo, it’s just gotten worse. So they had security guards walking around the corridors and hallways keeping an eye on anything or anyone suspicious. More than once they would wake me up asking if I was feeling ok. I don’t recall any drooling nor nightmare fits in my sleep (which doesn’t exclude their occurrence). The fact is that the guards were instructed not to allow any “loitering” in the premises. Basically you had to keep walking or they’d invite you to leave. At the right time I’d go upstairs to meet the students for their class and immediately vacate the building as soon as classes had finished.

Those days helped me build  and improve my teaching skills which no university would have been able to do.

Cheers and Teach well,

Mo

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Prêt-à-porter lessons rock

new-years-resolutions

The New Year is finally here and getting old by the second. Preparing my first set of lessons for this coming week. The Idealistic Teacher (or dreamer) will make a resolution to prepare individual lessons customized to every single student. The Awful Teacher will teach whatever the textbook he has been told to use presents. The Realistic Teacher will create some lessons but will also take advantage of the abundance of material available online and adapt to his or her students’ needs. Ready-to-use lessons are a real blessing for every busy and tired teacher.

Take for example the lesson on New Year’s Resolutions from BreakingNewsEnglish.com (http://breakingnewsenglish.com/). The lessons always present excellent material for my classes. And they’re always free. Ok, sometimes students complain the audio recording is a little flat and monotonous but for this price… . As I said yesterday to another student – I was giving away some 200 CDs I’d had in my car which I don’t use any more thanks to bluetooth. (Spring cleaning fever in the middle of summer, go figure). And I told the students – feel free to get as many CDs as you wish. Then a student came up to me and asked – “but is it music or lessons? what sort of music? Will I like the songs?” I turned to him and replied: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. No CDs for you”. I instantly became a CD Nazi. Doh.

For this lesson on New Year’s Resolution I’d start with the picture above (a picture’s worth 1000 words) as a warmer:

Do you have any resolutions for the new year? Then I could share with the students a list of the top new year’s resolutions for 2015. What’s the point in making resolutions? From previous years students are 50/50 – yes / no to resolutions.

Even though the lesson contains 26 pages I usually only print pages 4 and 7 (let’s be environmentally aware) and I can give them the listening activity from Breaking News English as a dictation (I can use the British or American/Canadian recording) and also have students fill in the gaps.

Comprehension Questions or True & False are also great tools to make students speak. Of course when a sentence is false – they must explain why.

Synonym Match is a good vocabulary practice and the Phrase Match is great for matching sentences that make sentence even if they’re not the same as in the original text.

To wrap up I give students some answers about the text and have them ask me the question. It’s my favorite exercise – because questions are a big challenge to most students. They forget word order, auxiliaries, etc. I call this exercise “Yes, No, Maybe so”, I tell them “45%” for example and they have to come up with a question based on the text. Some samples of what they would ask:

How much per cent of people make a New Year’s Resolution? There we have a good opportunity to clarify the difference between HOW MUCH and HOW MANY, for instance.

What I think is missing in the Breaking News English activities is a grammar point, if necessary I can quickly develop some activity related to the text, be it verb tenses, prepositions, phrasal verbs, etc.

As a final activity, if time allows, I can ask them questions on the matter studied and their own opinion. There. Now the teacher has a well-rounded lesson plan that will last at least 60 to 90 minutes and which mostly took him the time just to read the article. (Of course, some teachers will go to class without even having done that. Don’t get me started).

How about me? Will I make New Year’s Resolutions?

Well… I’ll try to be less anxious or afraid of new challenges or opportunities. Secondly, I’ll try not to lose my temper when I have to correct my students for the 10th time within a 10-minute frame.

Cheers and Teach Well,

Mo

Welcome 2015

Traditionally my wife and I spend New Year’s Day at home, sleep late and have lunch with a couple of friends – Jairo and Anete – who bring all the lunch – which consists mainly of sliced heart of palm baked in plenty of garlic, onions and swimming in olive oil. Awesome.

This year, however, all tradition has gone out of the window. My mother-in-law traveIMG_1244lled to the northwestern part of São Paulo state to spend a few days with her youngest son. She had to be at the airport at 7 am… we couldn’t find a taxi to pick her up, so we had to wake up early and surprise her – here’s her face – we hadn’t told her it would be us who’d be driving her to the airport or she’d have said: “Oh then I’ll go by bus, I’ll crawl to the aiport. Don’t you worry about me.”

Anete on Sunday, when leaving a restaurant, stepped into a hole on the sidewalk and broke her foot – so Jairo and Anete cancelled our traditional lunch. I thought, well… if Mohammed can’t come to the mountain so, let’s get this mountain moving. My Sweetheart prepared an awesome HEART OF PALM pie and brown rice. And we drove to their home and surprised them. It was a joy. Creating an event out of a non-event.

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Me and Sweetheart enjoying the honor of making friends feel special
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Jairo and Anete – really enjoying the surprise

A while ago Anete had mentioned she’d like to read “Pride and Prejudice” in English in order to develop her language skills. Guess what I gave her as a “belated” Christmas present. And now she’ll have time to read.

Last night during the New Year’s Service at church, the pastor said something that stayed with me. He said: “Forecasters, fortunetellers, and experts have been called to say that 2015 will be a difficult year for us: economically, maybe you will lose your job. What will happen to your health? Plans? All odds point to difficulties ahead. But these are all opportunities for you to do good to someone in 2015”.

So dear readers, that’s what I wish to y’all: A year full of good deeds thus making life a better experience.

Let’s all get aboard on this time journey.

Cheers,

Mo

A Restaurant Review: Veridiana Jardins

If you love pizza, you won’t be disappointed in São Paulo. There are all sorts of good to great pizzas and prices in every neighborhood. This time of year many São Paulo restaurants close down but if you’re patient you’ll find a good option.

Last night we had scheduled to meet dear friends at Camelo Pizzaria in Itaim but when we got there it was closed, so we called and found out that Veridiana Jardins was open at regular hours.

We’ve been to Veridiana Pizzaria in Jardins many times, one of the reasons: the pizza is usually really good and light. The second reason: It’s just down the street from our 3745596297_6d58320505home. The place is really welcoming, with a lovely front garden and beautiful trees, high ceilings, good lighting, a gorgeous glass floor showing the wine cellar and a grand piano (which needs to be tuned, by the way). Talking about music, last night, a lady pianist was doing her best but the music you play in a noisy environment with 200+ people talking and laughing, must flow and not clash with the surrounding sound. I learned this from our dear pianist friend, Richard O. Kogima. Conclusion: the music was more like a car crash but that’s ok, because we had a table (after a 40 minute wait at the bar) in the front garden, outdoors- fortunately a quieter place.

Despite the wait, the waiter tried to do his best, but the restaurant’s electronic ordering system was freezing all the time. We had to repeat 3 times just what we were drinking. When we ordered the pizzas he asked the kind of crust VERIDIANA_TBF4547we wanted: thin, medium or thick, with or without borders. We wanted to order one pizza with a thin crust and another with a medium crust. The waiter who was rushing to and fro, said he’d already entered “thin crust” and there was no way to change that, otherwise he would have to cancel the entire order which had already taken some 15 minutes and start all over again. so, thin crust it was.

Veridiana prides itself in the originality of its pizzas so no chicken with catupiry cheese, corn with catupiry cheese are on their menu. These 2 are traditional favorites by “Paulistanos”.  They have fried zucchini with ricotta cheese, heart of palm and garlic with tomato sauce (no cheese). You get the gist right?

Last night the pizzas took so long to come and despite the hot weather – they were not hot – lukewarm at best. Honest to God, the heart of palm was hard and their “original” margherita pizza was tasteless.

To get the check was another way of sorrows – no waiter around. We had to hunt the manager inside. When the check finally came it was wrong -in addition to the drinks and pizzas they had charged us for peperroni snacks and beer – which we hadn’t either eaten or drunk.

Finally we asked the waiter why such a lame service – not in those words, of course, and he said half of the staff hadn’t showed up. So there were only 5 waiters to take care of more than 200 PAYING guests.

Would I recommend this pizzeria? Hell, yes. Because of its location and nice ambiance. For the quality of the pizza and service. No.

2 Stars out 5. And I’m trying to be fair. 2489393-2stars

New Year’s in Brazil

Brazilians usually use the French “Réveillon” to refer to our New Year’s Eve celebration. We also say “Festa de Ano Novo” (New Year’s Party) – but not as common as “Réveillon” – usually I hear it pronounced in the French way – /reveion/ but sometimes I hear the word pronounced with the Brazilian phonetics with the L /reveiLon/ this latter sound always tickles me.

To start off, by many Brazilians, I mean São Paulo city dwellers. Brazil is MG_3159-Praia-Grande-Outeirosuch a big and diversified country that even clichés are regional. As I was saying, many people living in São Paulo make plans to go to the beach for New Year’s celebrations. They may travel to Rio or Guarapari; the northern or southern coasts of São Paulo state – São Sebastião or Itanhaém, for example; Florianópolis (further south), but the destination of choice tends to be the seashore with or without seashells or jellyfish but most certainly with loads of people.

Unfortunately, summer – December through March in Brazil – tends to be the rainy season, and despite recent droughts, it usually pours this time of year, so flooding and mudslides are not unheard of. Sometimes roads can be blocked for hours (if you’re lucky) or days (if you’re still lucky)… meaning, you could be under all that mud, rocks and debris. Let’s not forget lightning strikes.  Just this week in just one fell swoop a thunderbolt killed 4 members of a single family seeking shelter under a parasol on the beach in Praia Grande. A sad tragedy indeed.

The first time I was introduced to the beach was when I was 9 or 10… never had seen the sea and rushed away from the waves. Of course, mom didn’t think of using any sunscreen lotion, the protection was the parasol. Got some blisters but survived. Never however liked very much being exposed to the sun – being fair skinned and all, but in my early 20s i started getting more sun tanned. I was already an English teacher teaching at different companies some 25 years ago and I had classes let’s say from 12 -2JDSCpm at company A and then the next class would be at 6pm in another part of town. I had 4 hours to kill. At that time, I lived in the western outskirts of São Paulo near Jaraguá peak – to get from and to my home would take me 90 minutes on average either way, so no point in going home. Had to “kill time” somewhere. There still are very few places you can safely stay free of charge for a few hours in São Paulo – Starbucks hadn’t arrived here yet. The only place I could think of was the campus of my university (USP) – off I’d go. I’d lie down on a bench surrounded by greenery and read or listen to music until the time was up for me to move to my next class. On rainy days I’d have to seek shelter in one of the campus’ libraries. Well… I said all that, because during those years, I developed a healthy sheen and my students would think I was either going quite often to the beach or was a member at some fancy club (nothing further from the truth).

But back to New Year’s in Brazil, since some 2 million people vacate the city, it is possible for you to breathe more freely and find a parking space. Of course, thousands come to São Paulo to visit family or run in the São Silvestre (St. Sylvester) Race. A tradition that takes place on New Year’s Eve. Originally it was held at midnight but TV interests pushed the race to late afternoon. Nowadays the race is held at 9a114805_ext_arquivom on December 31 and the new route has lost all its charm as a street race. Me thinks it’s lost much of its character and tradition, but what do those things matter compared to the money to be made by big media interests? Still many Brazilians enjoy participating in the race, many prepare all year round, young and old run together, many wearing costumes just for the fun and the opportunity to be seen on TV.

After the race, around 2 million (conservative figures) gather on Paulista Ave – formeReveillon paulistarly the business and financial heart of the city, now moving to districts further south) – for the Réveillon na Paulista – with concerts and fireworks at midnight.

Our personal New Year’s Celebration starts at around 7pm – when we go to the IMG_4445Christian Arab Open Community in Vila Mariana (http://comunidadearabe.org.br/) – the year starts not at midnight but at sunset – every family or person brings some fruit or Arab dishes and after a prayer and thanksgiving service we get together, eat and wish a Happy New Year to each other. It’s been our tradition for the past 15 years. We get home before 10pm and toast with a cold glass of white grape juice. Awesome by the way.

Salaam,

Mo

سنة جديدة سعيدة

Between the Old and the New

This time of the year usually leaves us with a taste of expectation. Christmas is gone and the New Year is not here yet. Classes are out. Many restaurants are closed. Beaches are crowded (we’re talking about December in Brazil, after all) and you find yourself wondering what to do. Prepare classes? Check. Prepare schedule? Check. Grocery shopping? Check. This morning the supermarket was empty, by the way, there were more members of the staff than actual shoppers. Believe you me. That’s not usual in the multiple anthills that form Streesão Paulo.

Last night we had a severe thunderstorm with strong winds – about 100km an hour.  Consequence:  more than 200 trees toppled in the city (a record) and more than 30 traffic lights down and out. Even Ibirapuera Park was closed today because of the after-storm cleanup.

This afternoon, my Student R emailed me checking if she could resume classes in the second week of January – I asked her if bie-57302_-_back_to_school_metallic_fringeMondays at 8am would be good for her and she said “Yes, that would be fine”. Now notice that her classes will be at her office. Previously she had classes at home and she managed to be late for classes and oversleep. Can you believe she’ll make it in time at her office? Let’s just hope this New Year’s Resolution will stick.

I whatsapped  my student A to confirm whether she’d resume classes Friday January 2nd or the following week. Her literal reply: “Nop (sic)! I’d like to schedule for next week – give me a brake (sic)!!!zzzzz” Sure, darling, with the English level you’ve got now you have all the time in the world.

Considering that all, but one, are upper intermediate or higher, usually for my first class in the new year I like to give them some article from the Economist or another newspaper about resolutions in order to explore vocabulary and encourage students to make their own resolutions regarding their language learning progress.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know most resolutions don’t stick but one can hope, right?

You see, I’ve created a folder for holidays in my computer with subfolders for the different holidays of the year.  Under the New Year heading I can find listening activities from Voice of America or BBC, such as the use of calendars, resolutions for the physical exercise challenged, New Year’s Celebrations around the world, crossword puzzles with New Year’s related vocabulary. As for grammar, I often lead my students to Future Tense practice – going to / will/ Present Continuous, etc. A good activity that can be used as a warmer to get students talking is this one:

Future Tense
There are many ways to talk about the future. Here are some patterns that you can use. Write two sentences after each pattern.

I’m going to ~
I’m going to visit my Grandmother on the weekend.
_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________

I’ve decided to~
I’ve decided to buy a new computer.
I intend to~
I intend to move to Ireland.
I’m planning to ~
I’m planning on getting a part-time job.
I’m thinking of ~ ing.
I’m thinking of learning Japanese .
I might ~
I might go fishing.

future2

A cartoon is always a good icebreaker as well – the teacher may also erase the text and have students come up with their own captions. Then you may show them the original version.

You see… tons of things to do before the year comes to an end.

Cheers,

Mo

The Elephant in the Manger

Well, … the long-awaited, dreaded, expected Christmas has come and it’s almost gone; already getting ready for 2015. This late afternoon while I’m listening to Christmas carols on Ireland’s RTE1 http://www.rte.ie/radio1 I’m taking a quick balance of this year’s Christmas in Brazil for our families of course. Oh by the way, this morning we listened to a great African Christmas song on RTE1 – you gotta check it out on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pY_7RBn00Es

Well, Christmas eve started off even better than I expected – this year, my brother and sister-in-law decided to join her family in her sister’s home – so there were just the 4 of us – silence and opportunity to talk despite the continuous mumble of the TV (always on – see previous blog on Christmas). The latest news was that a burglar or burglars had climbed up their upstairs front window last Sunday afternoon – while everybody was gathered downstairs, my brother lives in a 2-story house. But thank God neither the burglars came downstairs nor the family went upstairs while they were stealing with their filthy hairy hands any fake or real jewellery, watches, notebook and anything else they thought of value.  Unfortunately their traditionally quiet neighborhood in São Paulo’s Ipiranga area has become a magnet to low-burning crime. IMG_1142

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But I had said that Christmas is all about family in Brazil – I should correct myself – Christmas in Brazil is all about FOOD. My sister-in-law had prepared a wonderful Christmas dinner for us. Lovely!

After dinner, we left at around 9.30pm – as scheduled – to go to my mother-in-law’s where my wife’s family would get together around the Elephant in the manger. Yes, let elephant-in-the-room-audialtempartemme explain: one of her brothers, Paul*, has quite often been cheating on Marilou*, his wife – she knows about it, but is always willing to forgive him. Detail, Paul* has never held a steady job so Marilou* has always been their family’s breadwinner.

This time, Paul has said that he has finally found a woman who understands him and he has decided to leave Marilou. Of course, he has not said it outloud, but whispered the idea to one of his sisters. However, Paul* does not have a place to stay IF and WHEN he leaves home, his dad has already told him he can’t check in at his home. So… last night, did I mention it was Christmas eve? – we got to my mother-in-law’s and Marilou* was there with their son, Tiny Mark*. Where was Paul? “Making company to his divorced dad who was alone” – actually, spending time with his new witch with a capital B. And the elephant continued sitting there right in front of the TV. Of course, Brazilians love their soap opera so Marilou* had to push the elephant a little aside so she could watch the latest episode of the 9pm soap. Presents were exchanged and we left at midnight.

Today we went back for lunch – at my mother-in-law’s – who was there among the family? Paul* – cooking a roastbeef and turkey, Marilou* – sitting with a little drool in the corner of her mouth and Tiny Mark – as a “happy family” – and the elephant? As the main decoration on the table, naturally.

Marilou* had prepared a delicious chocolate and coconut pudding for dessert – but my wife and I decided to pass – even though it looked delicious. But one never knows what one can get out of food prepared in anger, tears, grief, desperation, and a tad of madness.

Anyways, we left at 4pm and returned to our peaceful corner.

Hope you had a great holiday. And ready for the New Year’s celebrations?

Cheers,

Mo

*All names have been changed to protect the elephant in the manger