Teaching young learners young learners course

Young Learners Workshop

Have you completed your TEFL course and you are now feeling that you want a bit more hands-on experience, but still with some supervision? Do you want to improve your techniques or learn new ones, in a specialized area? Or, are you simply feeling stuck with the activities you have been using? If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be interested in either the specialty courses run by International TEFL Academy or one of the workshops that we run, here in Barcelona.

As part of our efforts to help ITA alumni enhance their teaching skills and techniques, we have been working with different local academies in Barcelona in order to offer hands-on workshops, that may lead to future jobs in these areas (there is even the possibility to obtain work with the academies we collaborate with!).

At the end of last term, two of our ITA Barcelona trainers (Chris Buffey-organizer and Tom Flaherty- presenter from the Universitat de Barcelona) ran a successful workshop on Task-based learning, which we are planning to follow-up sometime this term. So, please stay tuned, if you would be interested in that! The focus was on how to use tasks in the sector of Business English. Our next workshop will be focusing on teaching young learners. We have teamed up with a local language academy (Kids Speak English) that has just recently expanded its premises in order to meet the high demand of the neighborhood kids! The school offer lots of fun activities for kids to learn in a motivating and supportive environment. 

The objective or the workshop would be to learn how to create and adapt materials for different age groups, and to put these ideas into practice with real- life students!

Furthermore, you would get feedback on your teaching and you will receive a certificate at the end of the course, as well.

If you are interested in learning more about this or other workshops, please contact us

Keep fit in Barcelona

How to Fight the TEFL Stress, Meet People, and Stay Active in Barcelona

Perhaps the most valuable skill that I came to love and hate during my TEFL course in Barcelona, Spain, was time management. It was obvious after the first day of class that I would need to refine this skill and, for me, having active things to do outside of the classroom was absolutely crucial to this task.
Over this one month TEFL course you will put a lot of time and effort into lesson plans,homework assignments, personal essays and other teaching related tasks, weekdays and weekends alike. Compound this with the everyday challenges of learning to live in a new city and things can start to get pretty stressful. For me, one of the first and best things that I did to alleviate this stress was to buy a bike.

Barcelona is an extremely biker-friendly city (except for the reckless taxi drivers, watch out for them!). And by that, I mean almost every other street has a bike lane. Also, because the city’s grid is dissected by major thoroughfares, it’s fairly easy to find your way around once you know a few major streets. In my case, biking 20 minutes to class everyday was not only a form of exercise, but also a way to discover more parts of the city that I would have otherwise missed had I taken the metro.

TIP: look for used bikes on the application Wallapop before going to a bike store (they seem to be more expensive here). Or if you happen to have citizenship or obtain your NIE, checkout Barcelona’s bike share service, called Bicing (this will run you about 50 euros for the year).

The second thing I invested in to help alleviate my TEFL stress was a gym membership. Barcelona has an overwhelming amount of gyms, yoga studios, fitness centers, and even outdoor workout spaces. I chose to join Reebok Crossfit BCN, which is conveniently located right in the heart of the city center. Not only was this a great location, but it provided me a community of people to get to know and learn from right from the start, which is important when moving anywhere new.

Also, Crossfit gyms are notorious for networking, so it was no surprise that I found my first few private lesson students through this gym. Another great membership to look into is through the application GymForLess, which gives you access to literally hundreds of different kinds of gyms in the city. Depending on how many you want access to, the cost will range from 50 to 100 euros a month.
TIP: Don’t rush signing up for any one particular gym; a lot of gyms in Barcelona will allow you a free trial day if you explain to them you are new to the area and want to try out the gym for a day.
The last, but definitely not least, helpful thing that I invested in was time to meet people through various sport groups. For me, this started before I arrived in Spain when I decided to pack my tennis racquet for two reasons: one, I love tennis; two, I knew it would be an easy way to meet people. And this proved to be true. No matter where you go, people doing fun and active things are always more approachable. Plus, you immediately know you have one thing in common, and that, I think, makes it easier for you to approach people as well.

TIP: if you have Facebook, search for Facebook groups for your favorite sport or activity—you’re more than likely to find at least one. If this fails, there’s an amazing application (shocker!) called Meetup where people post group activities for literally anything and everything. And the best thing is, if they still don’t have what you’re looking for, you can make your own Meetup activity (mind explosion).

No matter how you go about your time in Barcelona, make sure to take some time to do the things you love. For me this happened to be staying physically active, which in itself is a phenomenal way to relieve stress. However, I encourage anyone reading this to pursue new activities, because, well, you’re in freaking Barcelona! I took this chance when I asked a group of people on the beach if I could play volleyball with them, and now they’re some of my best friends here. So take the time to get out and play a little—you never know who you’ll meet or where it might lead you.

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How to Apply to the Meddeas Language Assistant Program

So you want to live the dream? You want to teach English in a school in Spain and you want to do so legally.

Well good news for you, there are a few great programs here in Spain that actually allow you to do so by teaching as an “English Language Assistant”. These programs allow native-English speakers to legally live and work in schools across Spain on a student visa. One of the more coveted programs and a program that ITA Barcelona encourages its alumni to apply for is the Meddeas program. The application for this process can be lengthy, but very much worth it once you receive your school placement offer.

Participants in the Meddeas program essentially work in a Spanish private school for a full or half an academic year. You can be teaching a wide range of ages, anywhere from 1-18 years old. The students’ levels of English vary based on their ages. Throughout your participation in the program, you receive a monthly stipend and free teacher training through an online course provided by the accredited Universitat Internacional de Catalunya. There are three different levels of the program that participants can choose from based on their education, experience, and background.

No matter which program you apply for, you will be teaching a minimum of 20 hours a week for 5 days a week (you can teach up to 24 hours a week and your stipend will reflect the hours you teach and the program you are in). 

Here is a breakdown of the different programs offered:

  • Advanced Program: for candidates who hold a degree in Education or a degree in English Language or any degree + a TEFL certificate (perfect for most ITA alumni!)
    • Teach up to 15 students
    • Monthly stipend of €932 OR accommodation with host family + €482.
  • Graduate Program: for candidates who hold any degree
    • Teach up to 8 students
    • Monthly stipend of €882 OR accommodation wit host family + €432.
  • Speakers Program: for candidates who hold any degree/ university students/ gap years
    • Teach up to 3 students
    • Monthly stipend of €860 OR  accommodation with host family + €332.

To apply to the Meddeas program, click here. You will be asked to enter your name and email. Once entered, you will immediately receive an email that includes a brochure of frequently asked questions about the program as well as the application form. You will be asked to complete the application form and send your CV. If you are eligible, Meddeas will contact you inviting you to a first interview via Skype. If you are successful, you will have a second interview via Skype with one of the Meddeas delegates. This second interview is typically conducted in person with a Meddeas representative who lives in a city near you (the US, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Germany – or via Skype for candidates outside these regions), however, as of May 2020, these interviews are taking place via Skype due to COVID-19. 

Here is a more detailed breakdown of the application process:

> Request detailed information and the application form here.

> Complete the application form and submit your CV/resume via email. In the application form you will identify which program you are applying for and list your preferences of student ages and locations in Spain.

> If eligible, you will complete your first Skype interview. This interview can be anywhere between 30 – 50 minutes long. 

This first interview will include the following:

  • A short “quiz” on the Meddeas FAQ that will be sent to you beforehand.
  • Questions about you and your teaching experience, experience with kids, level of Spanish (no level is required), etc.
  • Your program preferences (which program you would like to participate in, your school and location preferences, etc.)
  • A short lesson planning activity.

If you are successful with the first interview, you will be invited to a second Skype interview. This interview can also be anywhere between 30 – 50 minutes long. A different person from your first interview will conduct this interview. The interviewer will not have access to your first interview, so some questions may be repetitive.

This second interview is more in-depth and will include the following:

  • Another short “quiz” on the Meddeas FAQ.
  • More questions about you and your teaching experience.
  • More detailed questions about your program preferences, what ages you would like to teach, and exactly where you would prefer to teach. One of the goals of this interview is to match you with the perfect school based on your preferences.
  • Activity component to test your level of English, fluency, and ability to think on your feet.

Finally, your Placement Offer!

Upon successful completion of the above, Meddeas will offer you a school placement that matches your profile. You can either accept or reject the placement, however, if you choose to reject, it is not guaranteed that you will receive another offer. If you accept, you will be asked to submit a program deposit of 850€ that you will receive back upon the successful completion of the program. You will then begin the process of applying for your student visa. Meddeas will provide you with detailed instructions on how to go about this and are there to answer any questions you may have and provide you with the documents you will need such as your official enrollment in your UIC course, your contract with your school, etc. You will be responsible for scheduling an appointment to apply for the visa at your closest Spanish consulate and collecting other documents needed such as a background check, medical certificate, proof of private health insurance, etc.

So when should you apply? Meddeas is always accepting applications so there is necessarily no concrete deadline you will need to apply by. If you would like to begin teaching in September/October, you should aim to apply during February/March of the previous school year. This will give you enough time to complete the interview process, which can take about a month, and then complete the lengthy process of applying for your student visa. It is also possible to begin your placement during January and teach for half of the academic year.

Interested in learning more about Meddeas?

Feel free to reach out to ITA Barcelona alumna Casey (and author of this lovely blog post) over at @case_ofbrooks! Personally, I had a great experience with this program and would recommend it to anyone seriously interested in not only teaching in Spain but gaining valuable teaching experience in a classroom setting. Meddeas was extremely helpful throughout the visa application process and was always there to answer any questions I had throughout the year. However, this program is not for anyone looking just to get a visa to Spain and to be able to freely travel around Europe, Meddeas is very clear about this and you will need to be committed to the program as you are expected to be in the classroom 5 days a week. With that being said, you will still be able to travel on weekends and will have 2 weeks of vacation for Christmas and Easter, so it is a win-win!

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Spain Lockdown Not All Zoom and Gloom

Despite the rising worldwide concern about coronavirus, I, as many other students, started the TEFL course in Barcelona without so much as a second thought about how the virus could get out of hand and consequently affect my life (in Barcelona or otherwise). Two weeks into my course and – surprise! – the country went into lockdown.

Switching to classes on Zoom

With the quarantine coming into full effect we were unable to continue attending our in-person classes at the school. So, with (literally) nowhere left to go, we switched to an online format, spending at least a few hours a day on Zoom. While this might seem like the ideal learning situation, being able to show up on screen in pyjamas with breakfast and a hot cup of coffee every morning, the transition was not as easy as it might seem.

The way I see it, the morning sessions online worked fine, though it did take some time to adjust to the platform (Zoom). Of course, it was easy to switch my computer on and join an online class in the morning, but actually maintaining attention and participating was a bit more difficult, especially given the unsupervised access to all sorts of online distractions. Personally, I focus better in a face-to-face environment, so trying to learn over Zoom took more effort on my part than I originally anticipated. Once I figured out how to leave my phone out of reach, my brain actually started focusing on whatever was going on. Additionally, having classes over Zoom also meant that we, the students, interacted less with each other than in the classroom setting which we had become accustomed to in the first two weeks. Pair and/or group work on Zoom, with the trainer joining the different groups during tasks, was something we gradually adjusted to over time. However, this ensured we were kept on task, and if we had any questions, we could easily raise our electronic hand for help. Personally, being forever scarred by the terrible group work experiences of my youth, I didn’t mind working in our smaller breakout groups without anyone else around to listen in (apart from the trainer), but I assume preferences in this regard vary from person to person.

Staying productive

One of the most difficult adjustments, at least for me, was staying productive while stuck inside. Even if you manage to absorb the information from the morning sessions, what do you do afterwards? Hopefully, the answer is “start working and tackle the steadily increasing pile of assignments due the following week.” Unfortunately, without the time restraints and reward associated with having a social life, the prospect of staying motivated decreased by the day.
So, even with the luxury of limitless free time, lesson planning became more arduous than ever. The process hadn’t changed at all – after all, I was still planning on my own at home – but the psychological impact of the “I have so much time, I can start later” mentality made starting the process much harder. Luckily, the teaching practice sessions in the afternoon, though online, still imposed a very palpable deadline. Furthermore, the lesson plan feedback sessions with the trainer were always available a few hours before I had to teach; I certainly didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to find out if my lesson plan was actually going to work or not (or to just iron out a few things). So that’s what usually kicked my tush into gear…eventually.

How did I stay productive then?

Well, being stuck inside also meant that there were only so many hours of Netflix I could watch before getting bored of that as well. Luckily, procrastination is one of my most problematic vices and I have battled it for years. I’ve therefore developed a certain level of mindfulness around it. To be clear, getting to the point of being mindful about this issue took time and will power, as well as numerous nights of observing my hyper-productive friend with envy. This trick (if mindfulness can really be called that) came in handy when deadlines started to appear, and it became even more effective when being bored all the time. So, before moving on to the next episode of Tiger King, or whatever it is I was binging at the time, I would take a second to consider just doing the tiniest bit of work. It didn’t have to be anything major or definitive – just a dent, a plan, a sentence. I’d think: “Hey, I can brainstorm some ideas now and edit it later; it’s still better than nothing”. To avoid misleading you, my dear reader, I’ll admit, the procrastination didn’t stop. But at least I started taking occasional breaks from procrastinating. It’s amazing the amount of work that gets done with enough of those breaks. The other problem with being stuck inside, one that pairs very well with endless movie or TV show marathons, is the unlimited access to food. And boy, do I snack a lot – especially when bored. One way I helped turn that around was to use food as a reward system. I’m not sure whether that’s a healthy mentality to have (I’m not a psychologist or nutritionist), but it helped cut down how often I ate and increased how much work I got done. So unless I was actually hungry, I would set goals for myself – write a paragraph, figure out half of the lesson plan, finish researching a topic, whatever – and then indulge in the reward that were my leftovers. The key here is to exert some self-control (difficult, I know), but it was worth it in the end. This tactic was especially fun and rewarding after a successful teaching practice session. The well-deserved treat (and glass of wine) paired exquisitely with the entertainment that was my groupmate’s class – that’s also why I preferred teaching first.

Doing our teaching practicum on Zoom

I wouldn’t say teaching via Zoom was particularly stressful, it just took some effort and plenty of preparation; not only was it unfamiliar at first, especially after we had already taught a couple of classes in person, there was also always the potential for technical malfunction and the loss of precious time. Additionally, teaching some of the more senior learners who were not used to online learning could be somewhat frustrating: all rules of common decency would suddenly go out the window. Of course, that wasn’t always the case, but there are always a few classes that don’t go quite as expected. There’s the case of the latecomer who starts participating despite being completely unfamiliar with the activity; there’s the unreliable who phases in and out of class at the mercy of the internet gods; and then there’s the unknown spouse who decides to tag along and then unexpectedly quit the call to do something else. I’m just kidding, the last one was an isolated incident, but very entertaining nonetheless.

The point is, even though teaching online comes with its own set of stress-inducing qualities, with practice and patience, lessons become smoother and more enjoyable, and you begin to see the benefits. For one, teaching behind a screen means that you can check your notes or your lesson plan
whenever you want without looking too unprofessional. And you know that annoying student who keeps asking questions completely unrelated to the class? Easily solved with Google, though I don’t necessarily recommend answering every random question thrown at you in class. And finally –
sweatpants. The whole experience of doing our teaching practicum on Zoom has certainly equipped us to better deal with teaching online in our future work. Personally, I found teaching online easier than face-to-face, especially after I figured out how to use Zoom. Still, treating myself to a good snack after the ordeal felt like the pat on the back that I really needed.

With all of this in mind, all I can say is that learning and teaching online is very doable and can be fun despite the gloom of being stuck inside. As for procrastination, it is a perfectly acceptable way to react to the circumstances…at least I think so. But when the urge, or rather the need, to be productive comes knocking on your door, reflecting on your daily routine and simple pleasures can be surprisingly helpful (especially if that pleasure is wine). That’s it guys, I’m on my third glass and fresh out of motivation.

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Learn To Teach! Travel And Make Friends For Life!

What started out as a course to learn how to teach English, later turned into 33 shared countries and a friendship of a lifetime.  Rewind to January 2014, Alli and I met in our  International TEFL Academy class in Barcelona, and became instant friends.  We had both left behind successful careers in the U.S., sold all of our belongings, and ventured out alone and excited to experience a different part of the world. First stop was Barcelona.

After completing our ITA Barcelona TEFL course, we both got various jobs teaching English in and around Barcelona and, with our hard-earned cash, decided that we really wanted to explore another country.  My birthday was approaching in March so we found the cheapest flight from Barcelona and it was to Casablanca, Morocco. We loved the mint tea, tasty food and unique culture.

Since we were teachers of English and had spring break off, we had to figure out where to travel next. So, we decided to rent a car and spent nine days driving up the coast of Spain into France and through the French Riviera to Nice and Monte Carlo, Monaco. That drive along the curvy roads next to the sea was gorgeous! We had the most surreal moment when crossing the border from Spain into France when we pulled over to take a photo next to the sign welcoming us into France. Picture this: we were standing on the side of the road, posing next to the sign along a windy road overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with the wind blowing in our hair when a group of bikers (peddling, not motor) from Poland decided to stop and take photos with us.  We were laughing, talking about where we were from and about their long journey along the coast. Such a cool moment!

We spent the next six months or so hiking and exploring in Spain, France and even Andorra…a tiny country between Spain and France.  Alli’s birthday was approaching in November and of course she wanted to see another country. So, where did we go? Budapest, Hungary! Oh and since it was her 30th birthday, she had 30 different tasks which she had to do 30 times. A couple examples: spin in circles 30 times, salute in front of a guard for 30 seconds, dance for 30 seconds (after giving 30 cents to the man playing an instrument). 

My birthday came again in March, so I had to (yes, had to) pick a new country.  We had heard great things about Porto, Portugal, so that is where we went with a group of six friends.  Porto is known for the bright, colorful tiles that decorate the outsides of buildings. Oh and to not forget the main thing Porto is known for: the port wines.  Which are WAY stronger than your average wine so when we said we wanted to do tastings at a couple different places, we only made it to one before we were giggling and falling over each other next to the river bank trying to pose for pictures. 

The next country was to Holland in April to see the tulip fields in bloom. Imagine rows and rows of various bright colors of tulips. Another gorgeous site!  We frolicked in the tulip fields and also went up inside a 400-year-old Dutch windmill that was made of all wood – including the nails.  The two older Dutch men were so proud to explain to us how the windmill operated and even let us turn it on/off by pulling a rope to move the giant lever. 

One of my friends had visited from the states and I wanted to surprise her with weekend trip to Italy.  Alli and I both had been to Italy before but since Florence is one of our favorite European cities and I had raved on and on about Cinque Terre, five little fisherman villages along the coast, Alli wanted to join too!  So we made the trip and our highlight was hiking along the coast of Cinque Terre, taking the boat back to the first village and drinking wine while watching the sunset into the Mediterranean Sea.

That summer, Alli had decided to do a work-away on an organic farm in the Czech Republic so I had to stop by and see it as well.  Keep in mind that a work-away means you stay for free, but you have to work in exchange of your lodging.  At first, I thought the organic farm was really cool because I helped the farmer pick our salad from the garden for our dinner my first night.  Thought maybe I wanted my own organic garden too until the next day when I was shoveling horse shit into a wheel barrel, rolling it up a hill and putting it into the planters where the next day I helped plant strawberry bushes. Um…no thanks and I no longer wanted my own garden. On that visit, we also went to the spot on the map where Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all meet.  A large stone was at the spot and we were able to be in three countries at one time! For different reasons after the summer, Alli and I both returned back to the states.  This, however, did not stop our travels. Since becoming best friends and travel buddies, we have been to 33 total countries together.  To date, Alli has been to 49 total counties and Jen to 43.

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How To Obtain A Long-term Student Visa To Study In Spain

About two years ago, my partner and I decided we wanted to live in Spain for one year.  We both love Spain and have always wanted to spend at least a year here to learn the language and be immersed in the culture.  The trick was finding out how to do it legally, and thankfully we managed to figure it out.

My partner was able to apply for a non-lucrative visa because she has income from the United States.  I, on the other hand, do not have income from the United States, so I decided to apply for a long term student visa. I knew I wanted to do a TEFL program so that I could teach English while living in Spain.  After doing some research and reading lots of reviews, I decided ITA was where I wanted to do my TEFL course.

I spoke with Stephen Halden who informed me that I could enroll in Spanish courses at BCN Lip after I completed my TEFL course.  I opted to study for 9 months after the TEFL program which allowed me to apply for a 10-month student visa.

What are the steps?

The first step was applying to the TEFL program, and then to the Spanish language program. Once I was accepted into both, I asked them to send my acceptance letter via snail mail because you need the original stamped letter when applying for the visa (they sent it by DHS and it arrived within a week).  Fortunately BCN Lip sent all of my enrollment paperwork (including the TEFL course start date) in Spanish so I didn’t need to have it translated. Next, I went online to make an appointment with the Spanish consulate in San Francisco. I made the appointment in mid July, and the first available appointment was October 16th. This is something to keep in mind when planning your trip as it usually takes about 3 months to get an appointment with the consulate (depending on where you live).  Below is a list of the steps I had to take and the documents needed to obtain my student visa:

  1. Get a live scan to get fingerprinted and photos for the visa (same as U.S. Passport photos)  
  2. Fill out the National student visa application form (on the consulate website)
  3. Original up to date passport
  4. Two copies of your passport
  5. Two U.S. passport size photos
  6. Two copies of the acceptance letter from ITA and BCN Lip
  7. A copy of an intended flight itinerary (they suggest you don’t book your flight until your visa is approved, but they need to know when you intend to leave for Spain).  
  8. An official bank statement (you need to go into your bank and ask for this, you cannot print an online statement).  The statement must show that you have at least $750 for each month you will be studying in Spain, or you can get a notarized and translated letter from your parents or someone who intends to provide for you financially while you are in Spain.  
  9. Criminal records clearance verified by fingerprints and the Apostille of the Hague (both need to be officially translated).  In the United States, the Secretary of State of each state and his or her deputies are authorized to affix an Apostille (an International certification comparable to a notarization in domestic law) to documents issued or certified by an officer recognized by the state.  You must contact the Apostille of the Hague in your state to complete this process.
  10. Medical certificate from your doctor (you must print the one on the consulate’s website, go to your doctor for a physical exam and have them sign and stamp it with their official stamp).  My doctor signed both the English and Spanish portions because she speaks Spanish, but if your doctor won’t sign the Spanish portion of the certificate, you may have to have it officially translated.  You should check with your consulate about this.
  11. Proof of health and repatriation insurance.  I used DKV Seguros for my insurance, but there are others out there that may be less expensive.  You must purchase insurance and have proof of it before going to your visa appointment. I would recommend beginning this process right away as it took a while to actually get in touch with an insurance agent.  One of the catch 22’s with the insurance is that you have to have an address in Spain in order to purchase the insurance. We had the help of a friend in Spain who we were staying with upon arrival, but I believe you may be able to use the address of the school you enroll in.  You can check with them before you apply to the program.
  12. At the time of writing this, $161 cash or money order for the visa application fee (I would suggest bringing cash).
  13. Driver’s license and photocopy of it.

The Spanish Government has a Sworn Translators-Interpreters web page where you can find a link to a Spanish language list of approved translators and interpreters.  You must use a translator who is officially recognized and certified by the Spanish government. We had a few people tell us they were certified by the Spanish government, but luckily we found out they were not before using them.  If you check the “Lista actualizadade traductores/as-interpretes” document on the consulate’s website, you will find the approved Spanish/English translators located in the United States.

All the documents that you present at the consulate must be dated within three months of your appointment date.  That means you have to procure things like background checks and financial documentation, and then get them notarized and translated and Apostilled and returned to you within that three-month window.

After your appointment date, if you submit all the correct documents and paperwork and are approved, you should receive your visa in about one month.  You must physically go to the consulate to pick up your visa, you cannot have someone else pick it up on your behalf (at least this was the case in San Francisco, but it might be different in other consulates).  If you don’t live in a city that has a consulate, you will have to travel to the closest city that does have one. Each region’s consulate has slightly different requirements so be sure to check the requirements for your specific region.  

The process sounds a bit daunting, but if give you give yourself enough time to gather all of your documents and you go to your visa appointment well prepared, it is not that bad.  Also, the whole process is well worth it once you arrive in Spain and get to experience all the beauty and wonders of this country!

Strange Catalan Christmas Traditions

Two Strange Catalan Christmas Traditions

Tió de Nadal («Poo Log»)

The Tio de Nadal (which is Catalan for ‘Christmas log’) is a character that plays a big role during Christmas in Catalunya. In the context of Christmas, ‘tio’ refers to a log or tree trunk. In Castellano (the Spanish dialect spoken in Spain) tío means ‘uncle’ but is also used colloquially as ‘dude’ or ‘mate.’ Tio de Nadal means ‘Chrismas log’ or ‘Christmas tree trunk,’ as opposed to Uncle Christmas.

Tió de Nadal is one of the most bizarre and amusing Christmas traditions in Catalunya. Also known as Tio Caga (pooping log), this tree trunk poops out presents for children during Christmas. Caga Tio wears a traditional Catalan red hat and is basically the Catalan equivalent of Santa Clause.

Every Christmas in Catalunya, families get a smiley little hollow wooden block, with two front sticks acting as legs and is the favourite Christmas tradition in Barcelona of children. The friendly Caga Tió arrives Catalan homes in the beginning of December, and children are supposed to take care of him every single day. The children feed him sweets every day until Christmas. This includes watering him, leaving small pieces of candy and even cover him with a blanket for the cold nights. They believe that the more they feed Tió Caga, the more presents he will give them on Christmas day. When Christmas Day comes along, the children take Tio de Nadal to the fireplace and begin to hit it with sticks while singing the Caga Tió song that roughly translates to:

Poop log

Poop sweet confections

Hazelnuts and cheese

If you don’t poop well

I’ll hit you with a stick.

Poop log.

After hitting Tio de Nadal as much as they can, the children go to another room to pray for presents. When they return to the fireplace, they will find all sorts of sweets and turrónes, which Tio de Nadal has apparently pooped out.

El Caganer (Pooping Christmas Man)

Still sticking to the poop tradition of Catalunya is the «Caganer». This cheeky little person often can be found squatting somewhere in the holy Nativity Scene, relieving himself with his trosuers down right in front of newborn Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! El Caganer is normally dressed like a peasant, an ode to Catalunya’s working class. The act of pooping is seen as good luck because it fertilizes the soil.

In addition to the traditional peasant version of El Caganer, you’ll find lots of pooping figurines of famous people. You’ll find statuettes of Donald Trump, the Pope, Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo,  Prince William, Queen Elizabeth, and loads of other celebrities. Maybe you could buy a couple of them as a silly present for your friends.

Even though they can perceived as vulgar and gross by the unaccustomed, Caganers are mainly a symbol of humanity’s equality. The basis is there are no untouchables: everyone poops regardless of their power or social status.

Caganers are most visible in Barcelona in the Christmas markets held throughout the city. Nevertheless, they can now be found all-year round and have become a classy touristic souvenir of Barcelona.

A Day as a TEFL student

My Life As An ITA TEFL Student

Starting off the day

It’s Monday morning in week three of my Certificate in TEFL course at ITA Barcelona, and I wake up to my alarm at 9 a.m. in my very tiny studio. I open the tall balcony doors to let some fresh air in and turn off the AC, hoping that this is enough of an effort to keep my electricity costs down (it’s not!); I open the fridge to make myself breakfast and realize I didn’t meal prep or grocery shop for the week. I can’t believe I did this again! No problem, I will just grab an empanada on my way into class at the corner café and eat before going into class. And thank heavens for this instant coffee still in my pantry from the prior tenant.

Like all my weekends since I started my TEFL course, I have spent most of Saturday and Sunday working on my TEFL course work- reading and corresponding quizzes, a lesson-planning assignment which took ages to do as I needed to find my own materials. On top of all this, I had to plan my lesson for teaching practice today. Trying to juggle having as much fun as possible on the weekends as well as doing the numerous assignments we have to do at the w eekends during the course is not easy; I decide my course work comes first, I will have plenty of time to party after the course.

I do a quick 20 minute yoga class from an app on my phone because I know I need time to review my lesson plan for the class I teach later today. Hmm… reviewing it now makes me realize it doesn’t look super strong. I’m hearing my instructor’s voice in my head: “What is the main aim of this lesson that I’m going to teach advanced students? “. I don’t know! It’s all over the place! I am going to have to revise it at some point before my class this evening. Perhaps it will be smart to grab another coffee along with that empanada.

10:00 class start!

Enough of looking at the lesson plan, I have to be in class for the first input session by 10 a.m., otherwise it’s points deducted! I shower and get dressed in the least amount of clothing possible and pack my professional teaching attire in my back pack. I grab my bike and head out. Entering the school is the best, ahhhhh AC again. Everyone is sitting where they always do, in heaps of sweat, and I head to my spot near the window and say hi to everyone. My classmates are in good humor, although some have a nervous look on their face that says «I may not be prepared to teach my class tonight» and I nod at them in solidarity.

I think about the day ahead of me, because it’s going to be a long one! 10:00-13:30, we have two input sessions with a break in between them, then I’ll need to eat again; luckily, we have a couple of hours to work on my plan after lunch from 2:30-4:30, when I can sit down with an instructor who will be available to give me feedback on my plan.

The first session of the morning, A trainer is teaching us how to work with young learners. She already has on the board a big outline of a bag and what looks like a Mary Poppins bag on the floor next to her. I’m looking forward to this. She has a fun mischievous look on her face and asks us what we think is in the bag. I hope it’s candy (it’s not.) The lesson proceeds and I am enthralled like a little kid. Kerry and Stephen always have great hooks.

After that session and our thirty minute coffee break, we have a fun-packed grammar lesson, and great teacher takeaways which may even help me with my teaching practice later.


At 1:30, we finally break for lunch – I can work on my lesson plan! I go over it with my partner who agrees I don’t have a clear main aim for my students. I have three hours before my class starts. I can do this. But first, I get delicious Indian food in the neighborhood with my classmates, and wolf it down in 45 minutes so that I can get back for 2:30 to get some much-needed lesson planning advice from an ITA instructor.

Back at school, stuffed but reenergized, I grab the nearest instructor who luckily for us is always on hand to give advice. I speak to whoever that might be, and for the next two hours, I work relentlessly on my lesson plan to tweak, add, and basically rehearse it. I have until 4:30 to get my plan and materials in order, printed out, and be ready and waiting in class for the guinea pig students. These are the students who volunteer to be our students so that we can practice our newly-acquired teaching skills. They are a great bunch, always willing to put up with our lessons which do not always go according to plan.

Anyway, I get to the point I think the lesson plan is clear and has a good flow. Not much I can do now, class is about to start and I’m going on first. Confidence and big smiles, these advanced students will be a challenge if they get bored (advice from my classmates who already taught them).

Teaching my lesson!

So at 4:30, the students walk in and sit down eager to speak. I give my lesson as one of my classmates and the trainer looks on, both of whom are making copious notes on my performance. After 50 minutes, I finish and it’s my classmate’s turn to teach (and mine to take notes on his lesson).

Phewf! Not too bad. They were intrigued and stayed focus, and seemed like they had fun. At 6 p.m. after my classmate’s lesson, the guinea pigs go home, happy by the look of things. Now we have the post-lesson feedback session in which the trainer tells us what we did well, and what we need to work on for our next lesson. This lasts until about 7pm. My notes are what I expected, which was I needed a stronger grammar take away. But overall, feedback was good on the lesson. Hurray! Now for wine!

Home at last!

And quizzes…that are due in two days, but I know the next two days I won’t have time to complete them. Wine and quizzes? Yes. Three of my classmates and I go to one of their apartments that has an amazing terrace with a view to tackle the quizzes that cover the chapters in our course book, drink wine, eat cheese and bread, and make silly English-teacher jokes.

Ok it’s now 1am. I need to sleep. I hop back on my bike and head home. The streets are wet from the street cleaning and it’s quiet, which is rare to see in the old city. It preps me for sleep. Got another 10 o’clock start tomorrow and the rest of the week, and need to finish that assignment for my one-on-one project. As I am not teaching tomorrow, I have all afternoon to start getting that in shape.  Reminding myself as well on the bike home that I need to schedule another meeting with my student for the project, as well as think about another lesson plan for my next lesson, which luckily for me is in two day’s time. My classmate has his next lesson observed tomorrow. More long days ahead!

Up the stairs with the bike, maybe I shower? Nah. I set my alarm for 9am and pass out. Dammit. I forgot to get groceries again.

Teach English Online in Barcelona

5 Things You Need To Successfully Teach English Online in Barcelona

The technical requirements:

1. A Laptop/Computer (or iPad) with a camera: You will need a computer with a camera in order to teach online. Be sure you have a camera, as you’ll need it to videoconference with your students.

2. Strong Internet Connection: Be sure you have a solid Internet connection, wherever you are. When I travel and teach online I often book Airbnb’s so I can teach from home, and I ask my hosts to check the Internet speed for me beforehand so I know its strong. You can check your speed for free at The company you apply for will tell you what the minimum speed requirement is.

3. Headphones: You will be required to use headphones or a headset to teach.

To think about:

4. Props: Online teaching requires A LOT of TPR (Total Physical Response). With that being said, I like to have a lot of props to help me in case I have a shy student. I made my own alphabet flashcards, reward system, and purchased animal puppets. Flying Tiger is a great and cheap store for props in Barcelona.

5. Quiet Location: I recommend having a quiet room to teach from. The less distractions/noise, the better for your student and your class.

Lastly, be sure to take it seriously. Teaching online may be fun, but it’s a job. The students and families take it very seriously and have high expectations and you should too. This means, never miss a class if you are booked (However, emergencies happen, each company has their own cancelation policy), and don’t show up late. Since I live in Barcelona, I sometimes stay out late, and will make sure I don’t give myself an early schedule the next day.

Now, be sure you do your research on companies; they all have different requirements/obligations for teachers, contracts for hours, Internet speed requirements, etc. But, once you get started, you won’t regret it!

A few companies to check out:

Teach English Online in Barcelona

6 Reasons Why You Should Teach English Online While Living in Barcelona

  1. Work from home:

    No commute, need I say more?

  2. Make your own schedule & No minimum hours:

    Now, I will say there are so many different companies to choose from, each have different requirements and contracts. Some give you a set schedule and require you work a minimum amount of hours a week- each company is different. I specifically chose my company because they have no requirements; I make my own schedule and work as much (or less) as I want. My classes are each 25 minutes, and I get paid $10 a class.

  1. Payment is in your local currency:

    I was very happy to hear that my company was going to pay me in American dollars, directly deposited into my American bank account each month.

  1. Can’t beat the working schedule:

    While there are many companies to choose from, they almost all have one thing in common: you are teaching Chinese kids (maybe adults) in the China time zone. But, living in Barcelona, this works out great for me.. I can start teaching as early as 6am (technically 3am if you want), and the last class of the day is at 3:30pm. This means you’re working mornings and early afternoons, done by 4:00pm latest. I love this schedule, and having the rest of the day off to do whatever I want.

  1. Now this one should be #1- TRAVEL:

    With my flexible schedule, I am able to travel and teach online! I recently went to SE Asia for three months, which meant I was in the same time zone as my students. I was able to teach from my Airbnb in the morning, and go explore for the rest of the day! I was making money while traveling abroad, and on travel days, I just closed my schedule.

  1. Minimal lesson planning:

    Most online teaching companies provide you with all the material and slides to teach. You are able to review them ahead of time and prepare, but this means minimal lesson planning (which we all know can be dreadful sometimes). Once you’ve taught the same lesson a few times, you know it like the back of your hand.