Questions/Comments?Contact Us

24 posts categorized "Penny Savryn"

Fun Can Always Be Free

Last weekend was a fun example of how you can do so many wonderful things in Madrid for free! 

We made a plato of delicious rice (ingredients had already been purchased, no money spent) and packed it in a tupperware for a picnic in Casa de Campo.  I figured it’d be fun to take the metro to a stop near the park that I’d never been to before and just see what we could find.  We got off and found tons of restaurants surrounding a (dried up) lake.  It looked beautiful.  We’ll definitely return when it’s warmer.


Just a bit further in we found a lovely picnic spot atop a hill with views overlooking rows and rows of trees.  Casa de Campo is a magical mystery.  You never know what kind of landscape you’ll encounter, and you’re always bound to be pleasantly surprised.  We ate at a wooden picnic table while a family played soccer nearby.


After eating, we wandered up and over hills and on dirt roads until we found space to play frisbee.  It was nice to get in some kind of physical activity in a wide open space in a city.  The field was beautifully lit just before sundown.  The sun cut through the trees yielding lines of light and lines of less light alternating on the ground.  How fulfilling it is to be amongst natural beauty!  (Insert appropriate Walt Whitman quote here).


We exited Casa de Campo at a spot that would lead us to a special church in Madrid.  I had been there once before with a class during my semester here a few years ago.  Francisco de Goya--one of Spain’s most beloved and well-known painter--painted the frescoes that decorate the walls and ceiling of San Antonio de la Florida.  The imagery is dedicated to the story of a man who came back from the dead in order to clear the name of his father who had been wrongly accused of murdering him.  It’s a wild story with a wild depiction; Goya includes all sorts of madrileño social types (specifically, ones that San Antonio is supposed to represent) in the crowds witnessing the event, mixing the modern with the traditional (I’ll be giving a presentation on Goya this week, more on that to come…).  The main event of the story is situated around the inside of the dome at the top of the church.  The entire scene takes place behind a fence that circles around with the dome.


One major part of the church is how the city has gone about conserving the artwork.  According to a plaque in the church, the building was bombed during the Spanish Civil War, and serious restoration was needed.  At some point, whoever was in charge of the church did not take care of the frescoes, and so more restoration was needed.  Now the pamphlet at the entrance to the church makes a point of noting that the frescoes are being taken care of, and stands with information in the corners of the church have photographs of what that entails (fixing up some cracks, not being able to fix up other cracks, etc.).  

I must say, one of the most fun parts of the visit was the statue of Goya across the street from the church.  Erected in the 1980s, it is in perfect condition, unlike so many other statues wanderers come across in historic places.  The dedication on the statue is legible and at eye-level.  Goya sits in a chair, brush and palette in hand.  It’s puzzlingly placed on a street with not much pedestrian-traffic, but I’m sure that statue is in tons of selfies (if the large tour bus next to it was any indication…).  Of course, I got my picture too!  

Tips For Teaching

This week I’ll switch it up and devote my post to some tips I have for future auxiliares.


One week a teacher told me she wouldn’t be in for our class the following week.  Instead of class, she told me she’d send me instructions for a game I could create for the class in two weeks.  Now, I’m pretty sure this is not the norm.  I was given a heads-up.  I’ve heard from other teachers that they’ll show up to their class only to find a substitute teacher or no teacher at all.  Others have said they’ll arrive to class only to be told they’re not needed.  While this can be frustrating, ultimately you’re still getting paid for these class periods you “don’t work.”  You can use this time to prepare for other classes that week or read that book you’ve been dying to read.  Ideally the teacher will tell you ahead of time and give you something to prepare during that period.  But maybe not!  Who knows!  The hustle and bustle of some other work cultures is not prioritized here.



In a slightly different way…  I graduated from college with a BA in art history.  I spend one-third of my school-week in biology classes.  ‘Nuff said.  Initially I was concerned.  Science was always my least favorite class.  I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t connect with it the way many other students did and do.  It’s definitely one of the most exciting classes I’m in here.  The teacher is a powerhouse.  She has the most command over the classroom of all the teachers with whom I work.  The students have a lot of respect for her and it shows; they pay more attention in these classes than in my other ones.  I’ve already learned a lot from this teacher’s style of teaching--lead-by-example teaching.  She rolls along with the subject matter with an almost frenetic energy.

On top of all that, the biology classes reinforce lessons that are important.  The teacher devotes class time to relevant information such as global warming, nutrition, and general hygiene.  Just last week I gave a presentation created by a fellow auxiliar on illnesses related to the digestive system and respiratory system.  Some slides talked of the dangers of smoking, of not brushing your teeth, of not flossing, of drinking alcohol, and so on and so on.  Needless to say, you only have to be a human being to connect with these lessons.  I’m currently creating a presentation on genetic mutations.  Not my forte, but I try to have fun with the formatting (font, font size, color, images, animation).

Moral of the story:  you may be in classes that don’t particularly excite you.  This may not matter at all.  All classes are an opportunity to learn as long as you keep an open mind.



Ha ha.  I crack myself up.  Something that’s not so funny?  Commuting over an hour and a half to work.  Personally, I don’t mind my hour-and-fifteen-minutes commute.  It gives me time to wake up and prepare mentally for the day.  This manifests in my listening to music the entire time.  When the program talks of placement in Madrid, that does not mean the city center (though it could!).  Madrid is one of seventeen autonomous regions/communities of Spain, so there’s Madrid the City and Madrid the Region.  Keep this in mind when putting down your suburb preferences.  Research them in order to make an informed choice.


I never liked stretching.  Some people call me go-with-the-flow, others call me rigid.  Regardless of your own malleability-status as you read this right now, being an auxiliar can do for you whatever it is that you need it to do for you--including forcing you to stretch yourself to be the best auxiliar you can be.  “Ask not what your auxiliar-position can do for you………..” -- that’s how the quote goes, right?

Another Week: The Nitty-Gritties of Teaching

This was an interesting week at school.  I feel much more integrated into my classes.  A geography/history teacher assigned a group project to make more use of me in the classroom, which is very nice.  In one of the classes, however, some students were clearly incapable of working independently in a group.  This group of boys was laughing and joking around the entire class period.  I have been focused already on one of the students in that group because he has trouble remaining silent.  He calls out, he has to comment on everything, he interrupts his classmates, and often he talks back to the teacher.  I have this class twice a week with two different teachers, one of whom, luckily, is their tutor (each class has a tutor, a teacher that devotes one period a week to talking with the students--kind of like group therapy, I presume).  This teacher and I are always talking about the behavioral issues in her class.  With her, they act appropriately, but without her, they get a bit out of hand.  While they have improved as a whole, there are still some students who are struggling.

Recently another teacher mentioned that all of the students in 1º ESO were just last year in Primary School.  This struck me.  And made sense of a lot of the issues some of my 1º ESO classes have.  This is why I feel more like a babysitter or a police officer than a teacher with some of the classes.  Constantly I have to direct a razor-beam of light with my eyes directly into the eyes of a student.  This signals: “Stop, now.”  If that doesn’t work, I may have to walk over to the student so they sense my physical presence.  If that doesn’t work, I may ask them directly what’s going on, even if the class is in the middle of doing something else.  I’m testing out different tactics, taking advantage of my role as an assistant (we don't call parents, but we can talk to the teachers who do).  Classroom management is clearly a skill.

Back to the disruptive student:  one particular moment from the week was during the geography/history class.  His group didn’t seem to be doing any work relevant to their project.  This student, A, had written down two bullet-points on a piece of paper about his climate, but was kneeling on his chair facing a classmate behind him.  I asked A to “sit like a normal person.”  I regret this phrasing, but he understood I meant I wanted him to sit down on his chair.  Then we lightly joked about his inability to behave properly.  He joked that he is “homosapien-sapien-sapien.”  When I moved slightly away from their group, he immediately perched back up on his knees on the chair.  I signaled this was not okay, but he was laughing.  At the end of the class, I managed to indicate to all the boys in that group that I was writing all of their names down.  T-r-o-u-b-l-e.

I talked to the teacher about this group and she told me that she gave them the hardest climate to present because they like to think they know everything.  And to address their behavior she walked around telling them all she was marking down how they were acting in class.  This spooked the group out a bit, thankfully.  I don’t blame this teacher for not wanting to get too involved in all of the hullabaloo surrounding disciplinary procedures, though.  I was happy that she told them she was grading them for this class period.  I told her how they had been playfully fighting, how one boy had tried to pull down the pants of another one, how one boy had taken another boy’s papers and put them under his chair.  Needless to say, this was a MESS.    

During another class, I was talking in the hall with a student about his Science Fair project.  The door to the class next door, the struggle-bus, opened and a group of students walked out with another assistant teacher.  That student, A, suddenly put his hands on the student I was speaking with and yelled in his face in a weird and joking way.  I said, “excuse me, are you in this class right now?” or something like that.  He looked a bit startled, but didn’t seem to really register what had happened and walked away with his group.  I spoke to this class’ tutor about both events because she really appreciates when I give her updates on their behavior without her.  And because I needed to vent to someone who knows the situation firsthand.  She told me she was going to call parents.

A day or so later when I arrived at school, A was next to the English Department.  He came over to me and apologized.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t know that was you in the hallway,” he said.  He seemed upset and I thought for sure his parent had laced into him.  I also, though, had my guard up, because a teacher once told me he is a bit of a suck-up.  So, I reminded him of how I also told him to sit down in his chair and he didn’t listen.  He nodded and understood.  I said, “thank you for your apology, but now I want to see you behave better.”  We shall see…

As for the older students:  in my bachillerato classes, the teacher and I worked out a lesson plan dedicated to MLK Day.  The older class knew a bit about him, but the younger class didn’t know much.  In the first class, we went over some of the “I Have a Dream” speech.  I had prepared an essay prompt for them based on one a professor I worked with in the past had assigned.  They have to respond to the question “Has Dr. King’s dream come true?  Why or why not?”  I am SO looking forward to their essays.  It has been really interesting to hear the perspectives of students here on topics in American culture and history.  Funny side-note:  on my assignment sheet, I got so carried away with the writing process I forgot to include a note about how they had to read and internalize the text before writing.  I was able to add “YOU MUST SPEND TIME WITH THE TEXT FIRST” at the bottom of the paper before copies were made.  To be continued…

In the younger class, I gave each student a personalized assignment for the blog.  The topics are as follows:  a motorbike culture two students are obsessed with, thoughts on royal families, Beyoncé, the negative effects of Netflix, avocados, and some series of videos a student is into right now.  To be continued...

It's Next Year!

It’s Next Year!  Happy 2018.

We meet again, blog.  How does it feel to be back, you ask?  Good.  And overwhelming.  Mostly good.  It was wonderful to see family and over a gazillion works of art in approximately 16 museums in 3 cities.  I am, however, tired.  Grateful and tired.  Transitions are always difficult.  And the weather in Madrid has not been its usually wondrous self!

I desperately have to get the students’ papers together so I can get back on track with them.  It’s hard, though, when every student is on a different page.  I’m still getting some to sign up for the blog, some are still giving me drafts of their short stories, some are already revising drafts I’ve given back with comments.  My appreciation for teachers just grows and grows…

Back to vacation.  Here are a few (really not a substantial list at all...) highlight artworks/art-places seen:

Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère (drooled, my mom and I photographed our own stellar interpretation of the painting in front of the painting)

Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe

Delacroix’s July 28: Liberty Leading the People (I heard the people sing)

David’s Oath of the Horatii

David’s Napoleon Crowning Himself Emperor (such a big painting)

van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait (Als Ich Can ;) )

Chaim Soutine exhibition at London’s Courtauld Gallery

Museo Cerralbo (dripping with luxury, a must-see in Madrid)

Sir John Soane's Museum (why, a London townhouse filled with antiquities from ancient Greece, Rome, etc. of course!)

The furniture floor at the V&A in London (speechless)

The Morris Room at V&A cafe in London (spent more time with the Pre-Raphaelites)

Happy to see you again, blog!  More next week…  [not pictured: photos of my face, both with expression and expressionless, in front of treasured paintings]

Edouard Manet (1832 – 1883), A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882, Copyright: © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Jacques-Louis David, The Coronation of the Emperor Napoleon I and the Crowning of the Empress Joséphine in Notre-Dame Cathedral on December 2, 1804, 1806-07, Louvre, Paris
Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434, National Gallery, London

Until Next Year...!

Here it is, my last post before winter vacation.  How does one conclude a year?  Well, in Spain, you put 12 grapes in your mouth, one for each ding of the clock at midnight.  

This semester has been quite something.  It’s too soon to make sense of it, to process it all.  But I can say I am thoroughly happy with how my last week of school went.  A teacher I hadn’t been clicking with (read: I just stood during her classes while she lectured, sometimes being asked to define words) even sent me an email outlining her plans to incorporate me more into her classes.  Another teacher sent me a nice little holiday card via email.  I gave the biology teacher I work with postcards from a series devoted to women in science.  Roots have been planted in the school, I can certainly say that.

The plan for my bachillerato students’ short stories kind of fell apart, though.  I only see them once a week, so it’s hard to keep them on track.  I keep meaning to send them personal emails but just haven’t yet.  So, that’s on me.  I was able to go through the stories that had been given to me and write edits and responses to the writers.  I’m very curious to see how and if they incorporate my comments into their final drafts, which I’ll be collecting upon return in January.  I hope to get more organized for next semester!  But I’m also wondering how organized I am capable of being…  Mess fuels me.  It suits me.  I could be better, though, I could.

The most fun part of the last week of school was going tapas-hopping (tapopping, I tried…) with my fellow assistant teachers.  We had a grand time, walking from place to place, chatting over drinks and tapas.  I was thrilled to practice my Spanish.  Two of the assistants are fluent; they have spent either all or most of their lives in Spain.  When it was just the three of us at the end, I felt like I was really engaging with the language that I so desperately want to speak perfectly.  It’s a process.  A never-ending one.  And I’m trying to get used to that.

I caught the Fortuny exhibit at the Prado the other day (and then ended up on Calle Fortuny thinking how incredible it is that some of the streets are named after artists, the kind of mental and probably literal googly-eyeing one does when in a new and exciting city).  I feel like you know you’re truly living in Spain when you go to the Prado and end up not seeing Las Meninas…  At first I was distraught upon having this realization: how could I have been in the Prado and not seen it!  But then, I felt okay, because that means I must be a real resident now.  And I’ll see it next time : )

Well, that’s it for me!  I’ll be back in 2018 with more (more videos and pictures!).  Have a wonderful vacation everybody!

I Left My Heart in Andalucía: Pueblos Blancos (and one blue town!)

I had a incredible puente.  Rented a car.  Drove on tiny streets of stone.  Saw a blue town.  Ate paella.  Caught a flamenco show.  Stood on the stage…  “Stood,” no, not “danced.”  Posed on it, too.  981 miles and a week of school later, I miss the trip.

It all began a Tuesday evening at an airport Enterprise office with a white car.  Every story at a car-rental office for me begins with a white car!  This time, though, I wouldn’t be driving/riding in Fletcher from Texas.  No.  In Spain?  Júzcar from Madrid--a name dedicated to one special stop on the trip.  

“Where is the parking brake?”  After being shown the car, I knew we needed to know the answer to that question.  Images of the car drifting down a mountain in Andalucía flashed through my mind.  All ready to go, I was hesitant to delay our trip even more.  We had to get 4 hours south to Córdoba for the night.  But this was worthy of delay.  A button with “P” on it next to the driver’s seat.  Great!  Let’s go.

Intimidated as I was by Spain’s highways, everything went rather smoothly.  We stopped once on the way to Córdoba at a Repsol gas station.  There we found cheese samples and cheese blocks for purchase.  We left empty-handed and empty-bladdered.  It was probably best that it was dark, we weren’t missing out on anything by hustling past everything in between Madrid and Córdoba.

The hotel in Cordoba was great.  It had lots of artwork around, a chandelier, grand old pieces of furniture, and tons of hot water.  And another free breakfast!  The breakfast was in a beautiful room with decorated bowls and plates all over the walls.  We sat by the window while enjoying una tostada con tomate, an assortment of meats and pastries, and most importantly, un cafe con leche.  We needed to fuel up for the rest of the day’s travels.  Next stop:  Arcos de la Frontera.

BUT, because I was doing research on the spot, I saw that Medina-Sidonia was south of Arcos and suggested we go there first and then make our way back up north to Arcos.  I read the GPS wrong when we were 20 minutes away and we ended up en route to the southern end of Spain--the ocean.  In an effort to turn error into impromptu exploration, we said “why not go down and see the ocean if we’re only another 15 minutes away!”  So we saw the ocean.  How wonderful it was to breathe in the open, blue air.

In Medina-Sidonia an odd and brusquely-speaking man came over to us upon parking and we gathered he was saying we had to pay 2 euros to park there.  And for a guidebook.  I tried to give back the book but he said it’s 2 euros anyways.  That raised some flags.  What raised them even higher was spotting him walking outside of a bar with a beer 10 minutes later.  Oh well.  I had to get over this betrayal, this person who had taken advantage of our tourist-selves.  Angry as I was, it was only 2 euros and considering the horror scam stories you hear of…  We left unscathed.  Not to mention the views from Medina-Sidonia are beautiful.

We headed north to Arcos de la Frontera with the intention of arriving in time for sunset.  Luckily we got there just in time.  After a gas station purchase of...gas...and jamón-flavored chips, we parked the car in an underground lot and walked up the hill to the old town.  By chance we were walking on a road along the edge of town with breathtaking views of Spanish landscapes at sunset.

We stayed in a family-owned home and were greeted with sangria on the roof.  The prime owner is an artist and her work is all over the entrance.  We were well-located and wandered the streets coming across white walls with potted plants hanging on them and many souvenir shops chock-full of trinkets.  

The next day we had a perfect breakfast of toast and jamón and headed out to our next stay in Zahara de la Sierra.  This drive would take us directly into the mountains.  Stops along the way included El Bosque, Benaocaz, Villaluenga del Rosario, and Grazalema.  We just drove through some towns, but stopped in Villaluenga del Rosario where there’s an award-winning cheese factory.  The local cheese is queso payoyo and it is delicious.  Walking through the town we also saw their small bullfighting ring.  The town was so small and so quiet and the door to the ring was open.  We were not in Kansas anymore (but for us Kansas = cosmopolitan city).  I wondered about local law enforcement.  Where was it?  Did it exist?  Did everyone coexist peacefully?  Questions left unanswered.  

Next stop Grazalema.  By this time, I was fairly knocked out.  We hadn’t eaten much and so deciding on a place was tough.  How does one choose what to finally consume after consuming nothing for so long?  We had wandered into a place with the door open only to be told they weren’t serving anymore.  Then why was the door open?!  At this point I started to feel like such an outsider.  That feeling weighs on you.  Everyone stares at you, everyone waits to see how you are going to speak when you are about to open your mouth, some speak abruptly to you indicating they have no patience for the tourist-thing.  I must say overall I’ve encountered nothing but kindness.  But the amount of driving had taken a toll and so had the stares of people in the small towns.  We saw the main square, purchased some souvenirs, and had some tapas at a family-owned restaurant.  

The next day, after being barked at for parking in a spot designated for taxis, we managed to get up the tiny streets of Zahara de la Sierra to a parking lot at the bottom of the lookout point.  We hiked up to the top for an incredible view of a turquoise lake and the surrounding mountains.  It was quite something to imagine this spot in the time it was created.  It was a lookout point to watch for invaders and was particularly important during the war for Granada.  What good vision older generations must have had!  No phones!  Distance a requirement for survival!  

After the great photo-op we headed to an olive mill I had found out was open.  The man on the phone said we could stop by and it just so happened a tour arrived at that moment.  We joined the tour in the room where the olive oil is produced.  What timing.  Juan, the owner of the mill, looks like a movie-star.  He gave us a taste of the olive oil and we couldn’t believe he lived on this small road in a mountain with very little to no traffic.

Setenil de las Bodegas was next.  WHAT a sight.  The main street is directly under a large rock.  This is the image of the town--streets with homes and restaurants below a giant rock jutting out of the mountain.  Here we had a great success:  sitting on a terraza overlooking the main street.

Júzcar and Ronda were our last two stops.  Júzcar is painted blue for a Smurfs film that either was to be filmed there or just advertised there.  When I asked a local shop-owner if everyone wanted the town to be painted, she replied, “yes, more or less.”  I can’t imagine living in a town of white homes and deciding along with my neighbors to paint it blue.  What a place!  Smurfs references are everywhere, in stores and on homes.  Some pitufos (Smurfs) are painted onto buildings and there also seem to be rides and attractions for children such as a small zipline and trampolines.  They were deserted, however, and contributed to an eerie, empty feeling on some of the streets.  It was most interesting to see a group of young kids clearly getting ready to do something for their weekend evening.  What do they do?  What’s it like to grow up here?  More questions unanswered…  There are a few giant statues of Smurfs for photoshoots.  Did I mention the town is on the edge of a mountain and to get there, one must drive along the edge on a small two-way road?  The town is on the edge of a mountain and to get there we had to drive along the edge on a small two-way road.

Ronda was where we spent two nights.  They have the biggest bullfighting ring in Spain, I believe.  It was quite something to walk in it and see the different collections they have.  They have weapons and toreador suits and all sorts of visual art.  There's more to say about Ronda, but this post is too long. 

It is also so listy!  But I really wanted to simply post some descriptions.  This was a trip to remember.

Hoy lo mejor: Blog Post #8

When I went to title this blog post, I could not believe that it’s number eight.  EIGHT.  That means I’ve been here for 8+ weeks.  Two months.  Wow.  It feels simultaneously like I’ve been here for forever and for no time at all.

I’m pushing myself to write weekly, and so sometimes substance suffers for the sake of (hello alliteration!!!!!) timeliness.  A good learning experience nonetheless--routine writing, time management, all those lessons that one never really stops learning.  I had a really nice class with my 2nd Bachillerato Advanced English students this week, so I will write about it.  

Their teacher warned me that they were not thrilled with their grades for the first trimester, but noted that because of this, they would all be quiet and attentive.  Ecstatic to report that they were!  I also handpicked the group of students I would have, assuring a quiet and attentive bunch.  Last week I had a student hang around and tell me about poems she had written in a class the year before.  This was after I introduced the short story project they would all be doing for me (written about in a previous post).  She was obviously excited and I realized in that moment that this had been another one of my dreams.  I always wanted to be the teacher whose students hung around after class to talk to.  I used to do that with teachers/professors that I loved and wanted to experience the other end of the exchange.  It’s almost always a sign the students are enjoying the class.

I told this student to bring in her poems so I could read them.  Needless to say she brought them in and is one of the most engaged students I have.  This past week the bachillerato classes had to turn in the first drafts of their stories to me.  While the turnout wasn’t wonderful, I’m happy there was a turnout at all.  I have about 6 drafts and while I could focus on the fact that I have only 6, I’ve chosen instead to focus on the fact that I have 6!  I am very excited to read them and write notes to the students about my experience reading them and also thoughts on how they could improve their writing/English.

That lovely class though…  I prepared a lesson on the NFL players who are protesting violence against and oppression of Blacks by kneeling or raising a fist during the national anthem.  I thought they’d welcome insight into some major topics of conversation in American culture right now.  I also know some are interested in politics, history, law, etc. and so I figured they’d be intrigued by the “controversial” topic.

I had copies made of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Washington Post article, “Insulting Colin Kaepernick says more about our patriotism than his” from summer 2016 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/08/30/insulting-colin-kaepernick-says-more-about-our-patriotism-than-his/?utm_term=.add82fddfdca).  I instructed the students to each read aloud one of the paragraphs of the article so they could practice pronunciation/speaking, etc.  Then I told them to take a few minutes to circle or underline words or phrases they don’t understand, and also to familiarize themselves with the article, summarize it and determine Abdul-Jabbar’s argument.

I had initially intended on preparing two articles for them, one by an author who doesn’t agree with or like the NFL players’ protest and one by an author who supports the players’ protest.  But due to time constraints and typical teaching-improv, I decided to just focus on the WaPo article.  To bring in the other stance, I found a page on the New York Times website where they have listed comments sent in by readers on the NFL situation.  So after I clarified the meaning of some words and phrases, we had a discussion.  I asked them to tell me what the article is about, their thoughts etc.  They all agreed with Abdul-Jabbar, and so to spark thought and play that advocate game that academia loves so much, I showed them a comment by a reader who says the players shouldn’t be invoking their right to free speech on the field.  I could hear their brains moving, as cliche as that is, and as cliche as it is to say “as cliche as that is.”  

Lastly, I showed them Trevor Noah’s segment on The Daily Show, “When Is the Right Time for Black People to Protest?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-Gx23vH0CE).  They LOVED it.  How do I know?  Because the bell rang signaling class was over and NO ONE, NO. ONE., moved.  They all stayed put until the end of the video.

THEN I even had a couple of students who stayed behind to chat about various things.  To the student interested in poetry I recommended she look up Adrienne Rich.  Another student wanted to ask me if he could write on our class blog about the Barcelona soccer matches.  I told him he could.  Then he told me he likes these sorts of videos and he watches similar shows here in Spain.  He also helped me put the desks back in rows (I have them in a circle for the class and then usually am putting them back into place by myself, barring the help of some thoughtful students).

Later in the day, the 2nd Bachillerato teacher told me that the students came back to her after our class and said “hoy lo mejor, lo mejor.”  That means “today was the best” : )

From Salamanca, With Love


This past weekend I found myself in a beautiful place -- Salamanca.  Where to even begin?  


My birthday trip was initially supposed to be to Granada.  But when Granada felt like too much for just a weekend, we had to regroup.  Where to go that was not too far and could be accomplished in a weekend?  Enter Rick Steves, or Ricky S, as I like to call him.  I’ve never been one to search through travel guides.  I’m not opposed to them, I think they’re quite fun actually.  And my dad usually manages to slip an Eyewitness sights-to-see book in my bag upon departure.  I guess I just rely on the internet.  This time I chanced upon Ricky S’ pages on Salamanca.  After “university town,” “Art Deco museum in a building from the same period,” and “perfect for a weekend,” I was sold.  Salamanca, ahoy!

There is a train to Salamanca that only takes 1 hour and 30 minutes from Madrid, but none of those train times worked with our schedules.  Instead we booked the train that takes just about 3 hours.  En route during sunset, outside the window we could see large, beautiful fields turning orange and purple as the sun descended.  Arriving in the dark in the US would probably bring people anxiety and empty streets.  In Spain?  No way.  We got off the train at around 9 and as we walked the streets towards our hotel, bars were packed, stores were open, and children were playing outside.  I love Spain.

We stayed at Microtel Placentinos, another Ricky S recommendation.  It was perfect: perfect location, perfect decor, perfect people.  It is behind the university and in a peaceful spot.  The breakfast included was also muy bueno: meats, cheeses, breads, croissants, yogurts, coffee, etc. etc.  I’ve grown to be slightly obsessed with these “free” breakfasts.  They save stress and money and take two seconds to get to!  Though one day I learned of Croissanteria Paris, and upon reading that one should go first thing in the morning to get the freshest croissants, I fled.  I returned with one croissant filled with spinach and cheese, one with milk chocolate, and another with raspberry jam and queso fresco.  This was pre-breakfast breakfast of course. 


I digress!  I skipped to the croissants on Saturday morning.  Let’s go back to Friday night.  At check-in, the concierge cheerfully showed us a map of town and recommended a few places to go for tapas.  We dropped our stuff and trotted over to Bambú--apparently this is also a Ricky S recommendation, but I didn’t know it at the time!!!

No no no wow I’ve gone too far.  Let me go back to the walk from the train station to the hotel.  About 15 minutes in we hit one of the most amazing spots: the Plaza Mayor.  I was speechless at the time and I’m speechless now.  At night it is quite something, brightly lit and filled with people.  It feels like the place to be.  Will stop here and insert a photo below. 


So, check-in, luggage left, Bambú.  The restaurant was crowded and everyone behind the counter was moving fast.  I felt we had two options: 1) we could take a seat, as most tourists might, to avoid the scary situation of having to stick out in the crowd of standing locals and fumble through asking what the display dishes are, or 2) we could conquer our fears, dive into the crowd of standing locals and own our tourist-selves.  I’m excited to say that we chose option 2.  And it wasn’t that bad!  In fact, it was wonderful.  We tried 7 various tapas and had 6 cañas (claras con limón).  The most delicious was an hojaldre of bacon and cheese.  Photos below.  Feast your eyes.

IMG_4719 IMG_4722


Everyone was nice to us and we left feeling great.  We decided to walk on over to Cafe Novelty, a 1920s joint where I read they have special ice cream.  “We finished with the ice cream,” said the waiter.  Oops.  We left.  No problem!  Bambú had been a perfect first night adventure.

The next day we went first thing (after the Croissanteria Paris event and hotel breakfast) to the Oficina del Turismo in Plaza Mayor to collect our 4€ passes to both the Museo de Historia de la Automoción and Casa Lis--the Art Deco/Art Nouveau museum.  Easy peezy.  At this point I was feeling energized by my ability to go to a city in Spain and deal with tourist office things in Spanish.  We set off for the museums.

The car museum was fun--3 floors of automobiles from the late 19th century up until present day.  The Hispano Suizas were fun to see, as were the classic Rolls Royce, Ford Model-T, and Cadillac.  This museum is nice because the labels are simple, if you want to read them, and the point is really just to walk around and look at the cars.  After, we headed over to Casa Lis.

IMG_4808Casa Lis really is something to see.  Perched above the burnt orange rocks of Salamanca lies a facade of an Art Deco building, red flowers lining the multicolored stained glass windows.  Inside there are more stained glass windows that are fun to see.  The rooms hold everything from glass objects to mini-figurines to dolls to paintings.  It’s a mish-mash of things to explore.  I found the room with dolls fairly terrifying, but still interesting!  One of the nicest parts of the museum, though, is the cafe.  I sat in the cafe with a Viennese coffee while the sun shone through the windows and highlighted all of the vibrant colors of the room.  Surrounded by reproductions of paintings and objects in the museum, I sipped my coffee in what felt like a 1920s cafe.  I highly recommend this spot to anyone who finds their self in Salamanca.  Like, literally, not figuratively.  If figuratively, that’s awesome too!


In an effort to not make this post into a novel, I’ll move on to some other Salamanca moments.  We took a 30-minute mini tourist train through the city and saw the Puente Romano from afar.  We searched for the frog and astronaut on the outside relief of the University building and Cathedral (upon renovation, fun images were added to the facades including an astronaut, a dragon eating ice cream, and more).  The frog is the symbol of the city, every type of frog is sold as every type of souvenir: snowglobes, shot glasses, figurines, fans, t-shirts, plates, this list could go on forever.  The university is from 1230, by the way.  The year 1230.  There’s something magical about the commitment to education that’s been there for so long.  And they hammer this point home for sure.  At the Convento de San Esteban, religious words are mixed with quotes that express a commitment to learning.  It’s cool, though kind of hard to accept, considering how many were excluded from educational opportunities over the centuries.  Or how many were thought to be “civilized” by this learning.  As a woman it can often be hard to see lines constantly talking of “a man’s spirit,” “a man’s this,” “a man’s that.”  But this certainly did not dull the magic of Salamanca the city.


One highlight was taking funny photos with statues of the architects of Plaza Mayor.  Another was a band of students with horns playing Beatles tunes.  Just like these two moments the city is an amalgamation of old and new, history and present.  One minute you see Zara and Carrefour, the next you see a Gothic Cathedral built between 1513 and 1733 hovering high over the city.  Walking through the old, small streets of Salamanca, I felt alive.  It was a great place to spend the anniversary of another year of life.    


Blog For Birthday Week


This post will be the written manifestation of what my daily life is like here: the first half devoted to life at school, the second half to life outside of school. It will include the same emotional swings as a day in the life here does. And I don't mean that dramatically!

In my Advanced English Bachillerato classes I gave them yet another assignment.  I’m really enjoying creating these assignment sheets.  Probably also am taking some pleasure in knowing I’m not on the receiving end for a change.  For the rest of the year--2017--they're going to develop short stories! My lesson plan (adapted from a creative writing teacher in the US): bring in about 10-12 books, preferably fiction, have each student look through a book to find a word, preferably one they don't know too well, write it down, pass the book to the next person.  In the first group, they wrote 10 words down. The rest of the groups progressively diminished their word count. I felt 10 was a bit much, a bit too difficult, so 5 sufficed.

After writing their words down, they had to stand up (keep them energized however I can) and pick the opening sentence of one of the books. They had to take a picture of it or write it down (some students actually did not have their phones! miracles can happen).  I didn't specify preface, introduction, first chapter, didn't matter. I then asked them what think is a story. Then what they think is a short story. Did not do the genre-explaining justice oops. I'm learning. Then I told them that the opening sentence they chose is the opening sentence of their story and they have to incorporate the 10 (or 5 or 4 or 7) words they have written down into their story. To soften the blow I said “those of you who wrote about wanting to expand your vocabulary on the blog, here you go, take this opportunity to not only learn new words, but also work on incorporating them into sentences.”    

I think they found the task a bit daunting, but I stressed that this isn't "write a story in a week, go!" In one week they have to just have ideas for their stories or some sort of plan. In another week they should have a first draft (they thought this meant a chart or storyboard maybe? That was interesting.  I gave them my definition of a first draft and said it means it can be rough, very rough). In two weeks (another vacation) they'll turn in their revised story. On the assignment sheet I emphasized that what they're practicing is revision: writing, revising, writing revising, etc. I wrote the words over and over so that they'd get the point. At the bottom of the assignment sheet I included my definition of revision: going over something with the intention of making it better. That definition certainly needs revision (I crack myself up!!!!).  

When two students were laughing I asked them what was funny, not as a challenge. They said they'll have trouble STOPPING themselves when writing. Another student stayed after the bell rang to tell me her ideas and chat a bit. I'm pretty lucky with this group of students.

Week after week it becomes more and more clear to me that effusing passion is the most engaging way to teach. When I'm excited, they perk up; if I'm just plowing ahead, trekking through the mud, and avoiding quicksand, they feel the tense, rough road ahead. What a performance teaching is. Very funny to experience as someone who never liked the spotlight, kind of :)

As for the second half here, it was my birthday this week.  Did I give that away already?  I had a wonderful birthday even though I'm far away from most people I love.

I went to see Cyrille Aimee as part of the Madrid Jazz Festival. Aimee is a French jazz vocalist who won a Montreal vocal competition that put her on the map. Her set was awesome and the venue was awesome. Sala Clamores felt just like a jazz nightclub should: dark lighting, red lighting, a bar with overpriced cocktails that take a long time to make, the logo of the place in bright lights behind the stage, a middle-aged male owner running around in a t-shirt that says "give all" or something motivational like that.


I went to the bar to order cocktails and they were delicious. Aimee's set was a lot of fun. It was the first stop of this tour for her and this band (a female pianist!).  They started with a great rumba version of “I Could've Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady.  Perfect opening number for a set. Later on, Aimee showed some serious vocal and arranging chops on a solo number where she looped her voice using that machine that I don't know the name of. Ed Sheeran uses it too... You sing or play a phrase of music that the machine records and can play aloud while you record the next part you want to play with that first part.  Even more people took out their phones for this number; everyone perked up and realized they were witnessing something special.


Other fairly well-known songs performed: “Whatever Lola Wants,” “Off The Wall” (Michael Jackson), and “Oye Como Va.”

I also, on my birthday, went to one of my favorite cafes. This is part of wonderful life in Madrid: I get home with enough time to turn the day into something totally different if I so choose. On the Monday of Birthday Week, the second half of my day involved cappuccino, truffle mortadella, manchego cheese, churros y chocolate (birthday week, bear with me here).


Only in Madrid.

An Assortment

I have no idea what to write this week.  A lot has been happening.  I’m getting into the swing of teaching, realizing how important it is to be organized (laughing), etc.   I felt good after I paper-clipped sheets of paper together -- that’s me getting organized (still laughing).

It’s been a lot of fun reading the students’ posts on the blogs I created for them.  They all seem to be very open to learning and they all sincerely desire to speak and know English “better.”  I push them by assigning them articles to read that could be read in a US college course, I think.  For this week, they can choose between two articles in The New York Times to read and respond to.  One is about the recent race for Governor of Virginia.  One is about First Amendment rights.  So far the students who have read and completed the assignment have all chosen the second article about a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay male couple.  They also had to pick out 5-10 words they didn't recognize and define them, as well as pick out two sentences they enjoyed reading and write why.  In this way I hope I'm helping them to expand their vocabulary and take ownership over their thoughts and feelings about writing/reading.  Feel empowered, if I may go that far...

One student in particular let loose and wrote that it’s not okay to discriminate against anyone period.  They wrote that anyone who discriminates, according to their standards, should not be allowed to talk, essentially.  I felt like this was a perfect opportunity for me to engage as a teacher and impart the knowledge I have on this particular subject, thanks in large part to my astute, legal-minded lawyer of a father.  I asked this student where to draw the line on free speech.  I wrote that if we suppress one kind of protest, that same argument can be used to suppress a different protest, one that they may support.  I included in my comment links where they could read briefly about the Nazi rally planned for Skokie, Illinois in the late 1970s.  One link led to an essay in a 1986 issue of the California Law Review, in case this student would like some background information or insight into legal-speak (wouldn't we all).  I should have also included a link to an article about students who stopped a university president from speaking because they felt the university was not acting the way they wanted it to.  The university president -- who wrote the article -- pointed out the irony of the students’ protesting to block his (free) speech.  Anyways, I hope this student finds this topic interesting as I do.  Makes one wonder, what’s the root of it all anyway?

In other classes, some lessons have gone over better than others.  My presentation on Neoclassicism was a lot of fun because at the end, I showed a picture of Beyoncé that related to my college thesis and it sparked an interesting discussion.  It was awesome to hear the perspectives of young students in Spain on the subject.  This past week, because the class was about to study the American Revolution, I decided to tell them about Hamilton (the musical), Lin-Manuel Miranda, and In The Heights.  I thought they would enjoy In The Heights because of the Spanish that is spoken throughout and the setting of Washington Heights.  I thought it’d be cool for them to see an important aspect of my New York culture too.  When I played a clip of the Hamilton performance at the Tony Awards, they seemed a bit bewildered by lots of people on stage dressed in old-timey costumes dancing around and singing.  I don’t know, it was hard to gauge how that one went over.  I saw some lit up faces, others laughing (perhaps making fun of it), and others half asleep yadda yadda.  Always a mixture, I guess.

Now I’m going to write about some of the many wonderful things in Madrid.  I saw some very interesting films thanks to LesGaiCine Madrid taking place this past month.  Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? is about a gay Israeli man who flees his family kibbutz to go to London where he contracts HIV.  The movie moved a bit slowly, but was both upsetting and enjoyable to watch.  The main character is resilient and thoughtful and admirable.  The director (in attendance) afterwards explained that Saar, the main character, was the first person he’d ever met with HIV who didn’t blame anyone for it.  He said usually other men he had met with HIV were angry with the person they had gotten it from, but that Saar wasn’t because he knew why and knew he was responsible.  Haven’t fully processed the takeaways of that film yet, but I recommend other people see it too.

And for the cherry on top of this post:  I went to the Prado for the first time since returning to Madrid.  I was struck by the Velázquez room with Las Meninas, as usual.  I’m not sure if these two other paintings in particular were in that room the last time I went, but they were remarkable: women on horseback with long, sparkly, beautiful garments laying over the horse’s side.  The detail with which Velázquez painted is truly something.  Remarkable.  I’m always struck by his work.  I think it has something to do with knowing I’m in the place where he created.  And because he’s such an art historian’s artist, so to speak.  He clearly loves and is obsessed with art (yes, present tense), and that passion just jumps out of the artwork and into my soul.  As cliché as that sounds.  I love it.

Keep Me Updated