My second year in Valencia

I realise this post might not go down very well with everyone. After all, I know a lot of people have been struggling this year. It’s only natural. And let’s be honest, even when you’re living somewhere amazing and doing a job you love, things aren’t always rosy, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. But I have to say that the last year has been remarkably good to me.

Let’s look at the evidence. I moved house at the end of November 2019 into a fantastic new room in a great flat in a terrific location. A year ago today, on the first anniversary of my arrival in the city, I wrote:

What do I love about living here? I love the weather. I love the fact that it’s winter (or nearly winter, depending on your definition) but the evenings don’t draw in anything like as soon as in the UK, the sun is still shining, and some days it’s even 20º or more […] I love the relaxed pace of life. I love my job and my colleagues. I love my friends and social network. I love the food. I love the beach and the parks. I love the city.

And so I started this second year in a pretty good frame of mind. Indeed, I started 2020 feeling positive too. At the start of the year, I wrote:

I am so happy and contented right now. I just want more of the same.

All I really wanted at that time was to speak more Spanish, as I wrote in my 4th January post.

Ask and you shall receive.

Have I spoken more Spanish this year? Yes, thanks in large part to the lovely young man I met on the night before my birthday.

Celebrating my birthday with friends in March

It wasn’t all plain sailing at first as we were locked down and couldn’t see each other for the first 9 weeks, but we stayed in touch via WhatsApp messages and video chat until we were finally able to meet, by which time it already felt like I knew him quite well. We’ve come a long way since then. I wonder now whether lockdown actually did us a favour in a funny way. It’s hard to know what would have happened if things had been different.

Having our weekly (and later twice-weekly) video conversations over WhatsApp certainly kept me going through lockdown, as did playing the ukulele, Houseparty and being able to continue teaching online. And let’s be honest, I’m pretty well disposed psychologically to being locked away indoors on my own for an extended period of time. There are worse things that could happen to me, but now that we’ve come out the other side I’d rather not have to go back into that situation again. And although there are still restrictions in place (with new ones being introduced next week), currently a further full lockdown doesn’t look likely.

But it hasn’t been all about COVID and the different phases of preventative measures we’ve been through. There have been other changes.

I was only supposed to live in the flat for four months, but obviously couldn’t move in March due to lockdown, so I was given a temporary reprieve. Then my friend and landlady decided that she was going to sell the flat, which initially put me into a bit of a spin. Finding a room in the midst of lockdown would not have been easy at all. But soon it became apparent that selling wasn’t going to be so easy either, and so she decided to rent it out instead, and gave me first refusal. I ummed and ahhed a little bit as to whether taking the whole flat on was the right decision – financially it would be a stretch on a 10-month work contract with my hours reduced at that time – but I quickly decided to go ahead, especially when my friend Jess expressed an interest in renting the small bedroom. She moved in this summer and I haven’t looked back.

As for languages, it’s not just my Spanish that’s improved. (And it has. I already considered my listening skills to be pretty good but now I’m confident that I can understand almost anything said in normal conversation, given the right conditions. As for speaking, that’s still a bit hit and miss but definitely on the up. And it’s mainly a matter of confidence.) No review of the year would be complete without mentioning my Duolingo success, completing Catalan and making progress in Norwegian and Italian (as well as the odd French lesson, just to show that I’ve still got the accent if nothing else).

Another success this summer, of course, was publishing my book. I received my first revenue payment yesterday. It may only be enough to buy a small round of drinks, but it’s something. And at the end of the day, it’s not about the money. It’s all about getting my stories out into the world, just as I always wanted to. I worked hard this summer and I finally did it. I’m proud of that.

Image by Nenad Maric from Pixabay 

Finding work as a teacher through the summer this year was pretty tricky due to there being no residential summer schools. But again, perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. I took the time out to edit the book, go to the beach and on excursions, play the ukulele and do BeBalanced classes, both at home and with Belinda. To be honest, I don’t know what else I did, but I ended the summer feeling pretty chilled out.

But soon enough, September came around and with it the return to work. Since then, there have been ups and downs as there always are in teaching. The exams have been stressful (again), the young learners challenge me every single week, the class of teenagers that refuse to speak drives me crazy, the adult classes can be challenging for an entirely different reason, and teaching a 16 1/2 week term straight is utterly exhausting. But all that said, I love it. The bond with some of the kids is unlike any relationship I’ve ever formed with an adult learner. Seeing the kids and teenagers make progress is amazing (all credit to them). And the intensive advanced courses keep me on my toes. I can’t imagine myself ever being bored at work.

Finally, I have to acknowledge the Brexit situation. And yes, it does still get me down and yes, I do feel appalled at the prospect of a no-deal outcome (even if some people who actually live in the UK don’t feel the same) but from a very personal point of view, at least I know that I have my residency all sewn up. All I need to do is remain here legally for a further 3 1/2 years (it took me six months to get my original residency card) and I can exchange my temporary TIE for a permanent one. And then – finally – I can relax.

Right now I’m preparing for my third Christmas here and the first to be spent with a very special someone. These are strange times but – for me at least – they are also happy ones.

And so starts the third year. Time flies when you’re having fun.

It’s Complicated…

Time for a little self-promotion. This isn’t something that comes very naturally to me, perhaps as a result of being British, or perhaps just as a result of being me, but occasionally it’s necessary, and this is one of those occasions. Drum-roll please…

It’s Complicated, out now!

So, I’m pleased to announce that my short story collection, It’s Complicated, is now available to purchase as a paperback from Amazon in several countries (I know! International stardom awaits!) and also from Lulu:

Amazon Spain

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Lulu

It’s also available as an ebook from Lulu if you prefer to do your reading on screen.

As if that wasn’t enough, this week has also seen the launch of our writing group’s online magazine, Blue Sea Writers on Medium.com. Not only does this feature fantastic stories from some of the group’s other writers, but it also gives you the opportunity to get a sneak preview of Stronger, one of my more recent stories from the collection. Who says you don’t get anything for free these days?

Look out for more of my pieces over the next couple of months – and hopefully thereafter if I manage to get my finger out and start writing again! Publishing the book has been great but between that and the amount of time my teaching is taking up right now, there’s not been much time left for writing – or headspace for inspiration to strike. Roll on Christmas!

Ooh, and what better Christmas present for your loved ones than a copy of It’s Complicated?

Too much? OK, I’ll stop now. But do check out the magazine. What have you got to lose?

It’s a wonderful life!

So, today has been a rather weird and, quite frankly, wonderful day.

I got up super early this morning (well, at 7.30, don’t judge me, this is Spain!) and left home at 8.00, a time of day I’ve only rarely seen since my CELTA days. Why did I do this? Well, because my TIE card was ready for collection and I wanted to beat the crowds.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay 

Perhaps I would have done a better job of beating them if I’d gone the right way. It’s not that I didn’t know where I was going or that I got lost, just that I was on autopilot and headed out by the same route I took last time. Only there were reasons I went that way last time – namely needing to call in at the station for photos and not knowing the best cycle route. But having scouted out the cycle route on the way home last time, I really should have taken it to get there this morning. I can only blame the fact that I didn’t on morning fogginess.

Anyway, so I got there at pretty much bang on 9.00 and joined the queue, which was longer than I might have liked, but also moved faster than it initially appeared to be. There was no special treatment for UK citizens this time, no special queue and no special room. But soon enough I was ushered in and this time I was attended to by a uniformed officer. He took my receipt, my passport and my green card. Then he took my fingerprints again to check it really was me and that was it. Passport back, card handed over. I was in and out in less than five minutes.

And so I’m now the proud owner of a Permiso de Residencia with rights to live and work in Spain. Yes, sure, the fact it confirms my status as a foreigner isn’t great, but at the end of the day, that’s what I am.

For now, it does at least confirm that – foreigner or not – I have a place here in Spain. It’s my home. It’s where I belong.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of belonging lately. Maybe I’m getting slightly ahead of myself, but I am starting to feel much more settled here and that I am, in my own small way, a cog in the wheel of the local community.

I mean, firstly there’s work. And boy, is there work! I’m now teaching 25 hours a week, which may not sound a lot but trust me, with prep, marking, set-up and cleaning time, it occupies a good 40 hours a week. But the thing is, I love it. Sure, there are things I don’t enjoy so much, like when a group of students absolutely refuses to speak to one another despite every trick I can possibly think of to make them do so. But there are so many things that I love, like the groups that you can barely stop speaking to each other (in English!). And yes, it really does help that the job pays the bills, but seeing my students progress is a huge reward in itself and it helps make me feel that I’m making a difference.

Secondly, I’ve finally finished studying Catalan on Duolingo. (Cue cursing from certain locals who will tell me I’ve learnt the wrong language. Fortunately, while there certainly are differences between Valencian and Catalan, they’re not so great that I’ve wasted my time. And indeed there are others who happily say they’re two branches of the same language. Either way, as long as I understand what’s going on around me, it doesn’t really matter.)

I say ‘finally’, but it’s only actually taken about a year, and less than eight months of studying every day. But despite me joking that finishing Duolingo makes me fluent, clearly I have a lot more to learn. Fortunately, I already have the resources to help me do that – plus access to a whole community of Valencian natives, thanks to the lovely young man who continues to brighten my life. And perhaps that’s what I mean more than anything about fitting in.

OK, so they’re not really my group of friends, they’re his. But they’ve pretty much accepted me hanging around and that makes me feel much more integrated too. As does the fact that communication between us is largely in Spanish. It’s not that I don’t like speaking English, or that I don’t love my British and international friends – I really do – but it is great to feel that I’m getting to know the locals too. And although some of his friends speak English, and some of them do speak to me in English, they speak to each other in Valencian and Spanish, and if I want to be part of those conversations, I have to damn well do my best to understand and be understood. And by and large, I do. I’m not confident enough to actually speak to them in Valencian yet, but that doesn’t matter. Maybe with time it’ll come.

Anyway, back to today. I was pretty tired by the time I got home (I’d only had about six hours’ sleep after all) but I decided to postpone falling back into bed to a more respectable siesta time and head to the supermarket. And while I was sitting making my shopping list (yes, I really do do that – although I subsequently forgot to take it with me!) the doorbell went – and it was the postwoman with the latest copy of my book. It looks pretty much good to go, so watch this space – it should soon be for sale in an online bookstore near you!

I did set aside an hour and twenty minutes for a siesta after I’d done my shopping, but with all the excitement of the day I didn’t manage to sleep at all. Oh well. At least it’s Friday and that means the weekend starts here. And as the clocks change on Saturday night, we get to spend an extra hour in bed… and what could be more wonderful than that?

Applying for the TIE

Today, I have been to apply for my new TIE identity card (tarjeta de identidad de extranjero). 

Strictly speaking, Brits in Spain who already hold the green “certificado de registro de ciudadano de la Unión” don’t need to exchange it for the TIE just yet. However, as I changed address at the end of last year, and for one reason and another (Spanish bureaucracy and COVID) have only just been able to update it on the official register, the next step was to update my residency document, which, given that we’re no longer EU citizens, meant applying for the TIE.

It also seemed like a good idea to do it sooner rather than later anyway, given the political situation – not that I think having or not having the card will make a blind bit of difference to my rights, but perhaps it was better to do it now while there is still some goodwill to be had.

Anyway, it was all pretty straightforward. I’d been worried that I needed to wait for my new work contract (which I do now have) but actually, as an existing resident, it was less of an application for residency and more of a bureaucratic exercise in exchanging one document for another. All I needed to show was proof it was me in the form of my passport, proof I was already resident in the form of the green card, and proof of my change of address in the form of the certificado de empadronamiento.

I made my appointment for 11.45 – I would have preferred a little earlier, but you take what you can get. Unfortunately, as we’re no longer EU citizens, we don’t get to go to the police station in the city centre any more, so I had to trek out to the one in Patraix, about an hour’s walk away from home.

So, off I set. I grabbed a Valenbisi as far as the station, where I got some more ID photos taken (long story, but basically if you’re applying in Valencia don’t worry about getting the 26 x 32mm size pictures you’ll see everyone banging on about – normal Spanish passport size photos are the order of the day!) and then walked the rest of the way.

I arrived at 11.20 and had to hang around for ten minutes before I was allowed to join the queue, although actually, as a UK citizen, I was given a special queue all of my own! They called a few people forward before me and I was starting to wonder why I’d been made to stand to one side, but then I was called in and sent in to an office all of my own. I guess the process is different for us Brits than for other non-EU applicants.

Image by ar130405 from Pixabay 

There was no chair (perhaps as a precaution due to COVID?) so I had to stand throughout, which struck me as a little odd, but no harm done. I handed over my application form, proof that I’d paid the fee, my passport, green card, Padrón certificate and photo and waited while the woman did her business. She asked me to take my mask off briefly so she could check my appearance against my passport – logical, but it felt weird to be taking it off in a police station of all places! – and then I had to have my fingerprints scanned into the system. All in all, it probably took 15 minutes, and I was out again, blinking in the sunshine.

I’ve been told to phone in 20 days’ time to find out which batch number they’re up to. If it’s mine or above, I can go in to collect my card – no appointment necessary.

And that’s that.

How do I feel? A bit sad that I had to do it, that I’ll be carrying the non-EU identity card instead of the EU one, even though as photo ID it is much more practical. Sad that it will say on it ‘extranjero’ rather than ‘ciudadano de la unión’ which sounds much friendlier and more inclusive. But also relieved that my application is in the system and once I get the card, it will be proof of my rights under the withdrawal agreement. And I am assured that whatever happens with the NI protocol, citizens rights are untouchable. 

So, life can go on. 

Two weeks of school… and a book

Well, we’re now almost two weeks into the new term. It’s taken a bit of adjusting, but so far, so good.

Not all of the students are yet attending. Some seem not to start back at the academy until they start back at school – and as I understand it, some kids only went back to school yesterday (even if their teachers have been there all week with different groups). Others seem to opt out of September completely and start in October. It doesn’t make my life particularly easy – I had a Movers class with one young student on his own on Wednesday and suspect I might have just one student in my Flyers class this afternoon – but in a way it has made for a more relaxed start to the year. 

We were advised to focus on games and fun activities for the first two weeks, rather than launching straight into the course books, so that’s just what I’ve done.

In week one I played variations of two games with most of my groups – Find Someone Who Bingo (using bingo cards from this fabulous website) – and Battleships. 

At first I was a bit dubious as to how Battleships could be used as an English language practice activity, but my friend Thom explained how he’d used it and then the more I thought about it, the more ideas I had.

For the youngest learners, I got them to hide vocab items in a grid. Their partner had to find the words (as per regular battleships) and then each time they found a word they were asked to spell it for an additional point.

I used Thom’s version with the pre-intermediate kids – they wrote subject pronouns / names along the top of the grid and verbs down the side, so instead of using grid references like A1 or C4, they made sentences, like ‘I ride an elephant’ or ‘my mum bakes chocolate cookies’. (Thanks Thom!)

As for the intermediate (B1) students, I asked them to hide (carefully chosen) verbs in their grids and when they found a verb, they had to give the past participle. With some groups, I got really ambitious and combined the game with Minesweeper – so if they gave the correct past participle, their opponent had to tell them how many other verbs were hidden in the surrounding cells. (This was a little harder for the learners to grasp at first but really sped things up!)

The only group that didn’t play either game was my B2 speaking group. They were my guinea pigs for an End of the World decision-making exercise (for which I have to thank my friend Jess). This went so well I’ve repeated it with all of my B1 groups this week!

This week’s activities have been a little more varied. In addition to the End of the World scenario, I’ve had my B1 students drawing pictures described to them by their partners and playing ‘Who’s Telling the Truth’ (essentially ‘Would I Lie to You’ but adapted according to the number of students), which has been quite revealing! And the younger kids have played games, sung songs and watched short video stories. There have been hiccups and technical blips, but all in all, it seems to have gone well.

Next week, it’s back to the book. Although the games etc. have been a lot of fun – and have hopefully helped to build rapport in the classes – I am looking forward to getting back to more ‘normal’ classes. That isn’t to say that I follow the book blindly, but it is useful to provide some structure. The good news is that I’ve taught two of my current five levels before, so I have a head-start on planning for them, and I’ve discovered some useful websites with resources for my speaking class. 

As for getting back to normal in terms of Covid, I don’t see that happening any time soon. It is weird teaching the whole time with a mask on, and weird having all of my students wear masks too. It is surprising how much harder it makes it for us to understand each other, but we do what we must.

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay 

It’s also strange to have to clean all of the desks and chairs between lessons, but it doesn’t take long and if it helps protect me and my students, that has to be a good thing. What’s harder is ensuring that nothing gets passed between students without coming via me for disinfecting first. I complained that teaching online required you to be alert all the time – well, multiply that by ten!

The problem is that the youngest students just don’t have any concept of why they shouldn’t leave their seat to show their friend something or lend him a pencil or rubber. I’m sure the older students have a better understanding of what we’re asking of them and why, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re inclined to comply, or that they don’t just hand each other things without thinking. But we’ll get there.

In other news, I have (finally!) received the first proof copy of my book! It is very exciting and more than a little strange to have a copy of my book in my hand. It’s not quite the first time I’ve seen my writing in print because I have submitted work to anthologies previously, but this is the first time I’ve seen my name on the cover and the first time the whole book has been mine.

Coming soon!

There are a couple of minor changes to be made (if I weren’t such a perfectionist I’d almost be tempted to approve it as it is, but I’m resisting the temptation). I’m planning to submit the revised file and order a second proof this weekend. And then – hopefully – I just have to wait for that to arrive before approving its release. I’m still hoping to have it out for the end of September, but if it takes a week or two longer – or even a month – so be it.

It’s been a long road to get the book to this point. It’s hard to believe I’m so nearly there. And then I need to put it behind me and move on to the next. Hopefully it won’t take 8 years this time.

Back to school

So, it’s back to work on Monday after 9 weeks of holidays. I’m not quite sure where the summer has gone. We spent a lovely week away relaxing by the pool at the beginning of August but other than that I’ve been at home. The time has just flown.

I suppose I have spent quite a lot of time working on my collection of short stories, It’s Complicated and it was fantastic to finally see the finished e-book. I can’t wait to see the printed proof, currently on its way over to me from the US.

I’ve also enjoyed regular trips to the beach, done a lot of BeBalanced sessions, both in the Rio with Belinda and at home, and enjoyed lazy mornings and regular film nights in bed. I’ve baked a lot (despite the heat) and I’ve spent a lot of time on Duolingo. I’ve read books and I’ve listened to music. I’ve even been to karaoke a couple of times, although it’s sadly had to close again. But just like school, it’ll be back.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay 

Anyway, this morning I went in to the academy for a meeting and to find out how we’re going to approach teaching in the classroom in the face of coronavirus. The answer is this: with a great deal of forethought and planning!

I have to say that the owners have done a great job with the new protocol and it is good to know that they are taking things so seriously. Class sizes have been reduced to allow for desks to be spaced throughout classrooms, lesson times have been adjusted to allow time for students to arrive and leave safely, hand sanitisers are being provided, masks are to be worn by all staff and students, no sharing of materials is to be allowed, and so on. And if anyone gets ill, there are plans for dealing with that too.

The issue is that obviously this raises new challenges for us as teachers. No more ball games. No more games of ‘consequences’ or ‘whose story is it?’, which require papers to be passed between students. No more ‘mingle’ activities. Students are expected to arrive and sit in their seats for the duration of the lesson, except if they are invited up to write on the board (with board markers being cleaned as appropriate, naturally). After teaching online and the challenges that presented, this is going to provide us with a whole new set of challenges to be overcome.

So, how do I feel about the whole thing? Excited. Slightly trepidatious. But actually pretty calm. We adapted to online classes. We’ll adapt to this too. And it will be good to see my students again. When I was given the register today and saw their names again, it made me smile.

I know there will be challenges. I know that getting 8 year-olds to sit still for an hour and a half will be interesting. But I know that we’ll face these challenges together as a team. And I know that we’ll overcome them.

I’ve had a fantastic summer. I really have. I’ve loved every minute. But it’s time to go back to work now.

I’m looking forward to getting started.

Editing

Today, I have finished editing the stories for my collection.

I had planned on selecting and editing twenty stories. In the end, I’ve selected twenty-one. I’ve gone through them time and again, looking at characterisation, exposition, proportion, point of view and dialogue, and as I’ve finished with each one, I’ve marked it final and moved it into a ‘final versions’ folder.

Twenty-one final versions, all ready to be put into a book and published. There’s plenty of work still to do. I know that, but it already feels like a small win.

Image by Daniel Friesenecker from Pixabay 

This is the point at which I usually get cold feet and decide that all the work I’ve done is good for nothing. This is the point at which I usually lose confidence and grind to a halt.

Not this time.

This time I am determined to push on through.

The question is whether I should go with the momentum or allow myself to stop and celebrate this milestone.

I have just two weeks left of my summer holidays. I’d quite like to relax and enjoy the time I have left, but I desperately don’t want to lose focus, to lose momentum and let this drift. I want to feel that book in my hand.

Let’s be honest, even when I was on holiday, I couldn’t allow myself to enjoy time by the pool without balancing it out with some editing.

Perhaps it’s time to accept that I will never be someone who can completely switch off.

Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

Summer starts here

So, almost two weeks of the summer holidays have gone by already (where does the time go?) and what have I done?

Actually, I’ve done quite a lot. I’ve edited five stories for my collection, although ‘edited’ might be a little generous. I’ve looked at them, made a few minor changes and basically decided that I did a good enough job the last time I edited them. If I gave them to my writing group to look at, they might have some ideas for further improvements, but then they all tend to have different ideas, and that doesn’t always make my job any easier! So I’ve declared them ready, labelled them final and moved them into my ‘completed’ folder. And that’s that. It feels good.

I’ve picked the easier ones to begin with, of course. There are a couple I’m still working on that need more work, but I’m so tied up in them that I need a bit of space to be able to figure out a way forward. And then there’s another that I’ve been working on and have nearly, nearly finished. So I’m making pretty good progress. I’m happy.

And I am happy, by the way. Sorry to keep going on about it but life is good right now. 

What else have I done? Well, Duolingo, of course. I was trying to demonstrate that you could skip sections by doing a checkpoint review and accidentally ended up getting my golden owl in Catalan, which is hilarious as there are whole tenses I haven’t studied yet, but it has also made me feel optimistic that if I keep it up, I could actually complete the whole Catalan course on Duolingo by the end of the year. (I could potentially do it sooner, but I don’t want to put additional pressure on myself.) Although of course, that wouldn’t be the end of my learning it by any stretch of the imagination! But still, it would be an achievement.

The daft thing is that now I’ve got the golden owl (which, in my opinion, Duolingo should not have awarded me), it assumes I know it all. If I try to do one of the XP multiplier challenges, it asks me all sorts of things in imperfect subjunctive, which I can just about understand but there’s no way I can type it without looking it up, so I’ve made a bit of a rod for my own back. There’s a lesson in there – don’t claim credit for things you can’t really do. 

The good thing is that, although there’s no way I’d feel confident having a ‘proper’ conversation in Catalan yet, I do understand a reasonable amount when I listen in on conversations in Valencian, which – without getting too many backs up, I hope – is very similar. (I’ve managed to upset a couple of people so far by saying it’s ‘basically the same’ so I won’t say that. But it’s close enough that I can pretty much understand the same amount of both.) It feels like something of a secret weapon – everyone (half-) expects foreign residents to understand conversations in (Castilian) Spanish, but not so for Catalan / Valencian!

What else? Well, I’ve also been to the beach several times – although only once here in the city. The beach here is nice and sandy and good for swimming (if a little dull as there’s absolutely nothing to see in the water) but the beaches outside the city are much quieter and it’s nice to get out and about, see the mountains and breathe some fresh air. And it feels great to put music on in the car, turn up the volume and let rip with the singing. We haven’t made it to karaoke yet, but for now, singing in the car will do.

Other than that, I’ve settled into a pretty relaxed way of life. My diary is still pretty much full (there are just so many things to do!) but there are plenty of leisure activities in there too, including picnics with friends and an upcoming trip to the Botanical Gardens. Lockdown feels like a lifetime ago. 

I’m trying not to read the news, and to take things on the Valencia Facebook groups with a pinch of salt. I may have quite enjoyed my time in lockdown but that was then. I really don’t want to think about having to do it all over again. 

All in all, so far, the summer is treating me well. It’s hot – oh, is it ever hot! – but that’s not such a bad thing, as long as we can get out and about and enjoy the breeze. 

So far, we can. Fingers crossed it remains that way.

Time to breathe

You’d think, with term ending tomorrow, and yesterday and today being holidays, that I’d be feeling quite chilled right now. The truth is that I’m not.

I mean, I feel really happy. There’s so much good stuff in my life right now. But maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still feel like I don’t deserve it, or maybe I’m just worried that I’m going to lose it.

For example, some of my friends are leaving Valencia. I have to keep reminding myself that doesn’t mean we have to stop being friends. And I’m also meeting new people all the time. Change doesn’t have to be bad. I know all this, but I still have to remind myself.

Time for a deep breath. 

Time to remind myself to hold things lightly.

Time to remember that everything is always working out for me. (I can see proof of that in my life here in Valencia. I could never have imagined the series of events that led to me being where I am now. But that didn’t stop them happening.)

This I can do.

The other thing is that for me, routine – or more than routine, timetables – help to make me feel secure. I put everything in my calendar: when I’m going to prepare my classes, when I’m going to do Duolingo, when I’m going to write, when I’m going to go to the supermarket, or clean the flat, or do exercise classes… I don’t always stick to it precisely, but the act of making a schedule helps things feel more manageable, helps reassure me that I know what the plan is, that there is, in fact, time and I don’t have to worry that I’ll forget to do something. Or perhaps it’s not as rational as that. But one way or another, it makes me feel secure.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay 

And now, suddenly, with the end of term looming, a big part of my timetable is being ripped out from under me. And I don’t quite know how to cope with that.

People say to me, ‘But surely you don’t schedule your time during your holidays?’ Well actually, yes, yes, sometimes I do. I’ve been known to take a week off work and then schedule in time for everything from cleaning to writing to reading to watching television. (Yes, really.) 

It’s weird. It’s not like I want to plan every moment. I like the thought of being flexible, of being responsive, of meeting up with friends and going to the beach or the park, but I also find it quite unsettling to have absolutely no timetable to adhere to – or perhaps to break.

I’ve also put myself under pressure by giving myself the challenge of editing my short story collection this summer (and by telling everyone I’m planning to do it). It should be manageable in the 9 weeks available, it really should. But I’ve been going at it on and off since before I came to Valencia and now that I’ve been studying editing techniques in my writing workshops, I feel that some of the pieces might need bigger rewrites than I’d previously thought. Or maybe not.

Perhaps the key really is to stop taking everything so seriously – to stop taking myself so seriously. Perhaps I have to accept that the editing thing is an aspiration, not a deadline. And perhaps I have to put together some sort of skeleton timetable, just to quiet that part of my brain that demands the security of dates and times, knowing full well that I’ll break it. Perhaps I even have to relish the breaking of it, to enjoy sticking two fingers up at the control freak inside of me.

And if that’s weird, so be it. I’m not perfect. 

I don’t need to be.

Exams

Well, the last few weeks have been a bit of a blur to be honest.

Online exams always sounded like they would be challenging and so it proved, although perhaps in a different way than I’d expected.

The academy decided (quite rightly in my opinion) not to go ahead with formal practice exams for the young learners, so we teachers were asked to come up with our own assessments using the materials already available to us. After an initial flap, we asked for and were provided with some clarification as to what was actually being asked of us and I discovered that it wasn’t so bad. We basically had to choose materials to use for the assessments for each level, write ‘can do’ statements relating to the skills covered by each assessment piece and then decide how we would get the learners to submit their answers to us.

And indeed, getting learners to submit their answers turned out to be the most challenging part. Perhaps I should have been clearer with them that they were being assessed, but having been told that we should avoid stressing them by using differentiated assessment tasks, I thought perhaps it was best not to stress them out by telling them it was an exam. But maybe I was wrong.

For some of the tasks I’d decided that the best thing to do was to ask the learners to send their answers to me via chat. Now, that might sound challenging for a 7 year-old but believe me, they know how to use the chat box when they want to. They also know that if they refuse to use it, there’s nothing I can do about it.

For other tasks, I’d decided it would be better to put them into breakout rooms and go and speak to them individually or in pairs. Some of the learners were very obliging and chatted away with me quite happily. Others claimed not to be able to see the big ‘join breakout room’ button that appeared in the middle of the screen and refused to press it. And yet others joined the breakout room and then said very little. I did what I could. I marked them on the skills they had demonstrated. I left blanks where I was unable to make an assessment. It was the best I could do.

All in all, the young learner assessments were challenging and took quite a lot of time, but at least we marked them pretty much in the moment. The teen exams were another matter altogether.

It started off OK. The first exams were listening and reading – both multiple choice, both quick and easy to mark (assuming the answer papers reached me, which is another long and rather dull story). Speaking was done in class and I managed to mark almost all of them in the moment this time, which felt like a victory. But then there was the writing exam.

I remember in December I spent about 18 hour marking writing exams. I’d told myself I wouldn’t do the same again, that I would be faster. I’d only spend 4 minutes per question, I told myself. 4 minutes x 2 questions x 60 students = 8 hours.

So, did I manage it? Er, no. Actually, I ended up printing off all the writing answers, as marking them on screen felt like hard work (and didn’t allow me to use my coloured pen technique!). Just printing them must have taken a couple of hours. And then I probably averaged 8 minutes per question – although I definitely got faster towards the end, with my cheerleader keeping me on track and bringing me cups of tea. So, all in all, I probably ended up taking about 18 hours again.

But it’s over now. I don’t have to mark any more writing exams until December. I can’t say I’m upset about that!

We have a week left to work – we finish on Friday 26th but 24th and 25th are days off. 

I’ve really enjoyed teaching my students this year and am looking forward to continuing to work with them next year, but I have to say I feel ready for a break. It’s been a long hard slog through since Christmas.

I don’t yet know whether I’ll be able to get any work over the summer. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of teaching work going this year, for obvious reasons, and of course, there are lots of temporarily unemployed teachers looking to pick up a few hours. If I can, I will. But I’ve plenty of other things to keep me busy – not least pulling together the collection of short stories I’ve been threatening to produce for the last few years.

And then in September we’ll – probably – be back in the academy. That’ll bring its own challenges (socially distanced group activities, anyone?) but I’m sure we’ll adapt, just as we did to the online teaching environment.

And in the meantime, I get to enjoy two months of Valencian sunshine. I can’t wait.