Teaching in Prague – the experience

As part of the course the students in the language school get to practice what they are learning on some actual (though nonpaying) students.  As I already mentioned we have the 3 sets of students that come to our school on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week, additionally we worked with a business student one on one usually at their place of business or location of their choosing and then we also work with an elementary school classroom to get experience with young children as well.  Most of the people in my class did the elementary school and private clients on Friday.  I was lucky and got to work in the elementary school at 8:00 am on Thursdays (nope, I’m still not a morning person), head over to our class for our normal 10:00 am – 2:00 pm Thursday class and then head to my private client at the bank for a 3:30-5:00 pm lesson with him.  Okay Thursdays were tiring but it did mean I had a three day weekend every single week I was there – which really did make up for it.

I mean when you live with two other people and spend all day with them too it’s kind of nice to once in a while get the apartment to yourself, sleep late, do laundry and walk around in your underwear if you so choose, you know normal stuff you do at home.  So Fridays were great, but Thursday were a bit draining.  The kids were kind of a piece of cake for me; I’ve taught that age group before and lesson planning is so easy I never spent too much time worrying about it.  My private client at the bank actually was tons of fun – so while it was an easy day that always ended on a good note, it was a long day.    

My third day of class I sent David an email asking what time and where to meet.  He sent his reply very professionally that we would meet at the bank offices.  I should go to reception, announce myself to the receptionist and she would send me up.  So that is exactly what I did.  David works for a bank in Prague.  I always thought bankers were kind of boring stuffed shirt types.  Not David.

I arrived for my first lesson and went up to the first floor to reception.  Since there was one girl at the desk who spoke English (answered the phones, directed people around and generally did all the work) and two men who sat there looking bored and glum I approached the girl and told her I was there to see David, showing her his name on a sheet of paper.  She called up and told me to go to the elevator to floor 13th.  I had to go through a security gate to get to the elevator and past a large floor stand with a panel on top with numbers on it.  I ignored the panel and pressed the up button and an elevator arrived promptly.  A man and women got in before me and I followed.  I tried to push the button for my floor but nothing happened.  I tried again and the man pointed out of the elevator to the elevator across from us and said something in Czech that I totally didn’t understand.

Being a New Yorker I remembered that in the city there are some elevators that go to floor 1-10, 20-30, 30-40 etc. and figured he was telling me that this elevator didn’t go to my floor and I should use one on the other side.  I got out.  Again pressed the up arrow and waited.  Another elevator came (on the opposite side) so i got in and pressed my floor number again.  I was followed in by a few other people so I moved to the back before I realized my floor still had not lit up – the doors had already closed and we were on our way up.  So I took a ride and when they got out I tired again to push the button.  This was really odd to me and I sort of stopped paying attention to where I was and trying to figure out how to get where I wanted to go.  I stopped at another floor but didn’t notice it was mine when a woman got on and we continued down back to the lobby where I figured I would try again????  The woman said, “Dobry Den” (good day) as they all do and I answered her in English (as I did a lot forgetting what to say when I got nervous) and she knew I wasn’t Czech.  She asked me in English if I needed help and I told her I was trying to get to floor 13 but couldn’t figure out the Elevator.

She asked if I was the English teacher and then said David was her boyfriend and he was waiting for me.  She took me to the lobby and showed me that you call for the elevator with the floor panel by floor number.  When the elevator came your floor would already be illuminated so you just got in and went up.  OOOOHHHHHH, DUH.  Wow I felt dumb.  She phoned David and told him I was on my way up again.  When I got to 13, this time without incident, David was waiting to buzz me in with a huge grin on his face.  He laughed at me for at least 5 minutes making me feel even stupider than before.  But I liked him.  He had a sense of humor (though even then I didn’t realize how warped it was at that point).  He was at least 6’8″ and skinny.  Probably about my age but he looked really fit and tall; I mean really tall.

So David led me to a conference room in the middle of his office suite with glass walls like a fishbowl and told me to take a seat.  Then he went around the room and closed all the blinds so nobody would see in.  And he said I’m closing these so nobody can see all the inappropriate things we will be doing in here.  In the next breath he asked if I’d like a glass of water.  Then he laughed and went to get the water.  He returned on the phone and talked in rapid Czech for 10 minutes.  Then hung up and said shall we get started?

I had a sheet of questions for him to see what skills he wanted to work on; why and when he used English and other stuff of that nature.  He stared out answering them, said he mostly used English for work; his bosses were Italian and it was their common language.  Nobody ever understood each other so he just wanted to work on conversational English – no specific grammar skills etc, he also wanted as much correction as possible.  So no lessons, just conversation.  I could do that and so I let him begin talking, because well honestly there was no way for me to stop him anyway.  David has more stories then any 10 people and for 4 weeks we met once a week for 90 minutes while he told me the stories, I corrected his grammar and laughed through most of our sessions.

Here is one of the stories he told me on that first day – retold without grammatical inconsistencies, a Czech accent and the need to occasionally draw pictures to illicit the correct word.  A few years back David was an IT guy.  People from the office would call to have a computer problem fixed and he would be sent down to their desk to help them.  They did have remote access to the computers, however, most employees didn’t know this.  So one lady called about a problem on her computer and David went down to her office to help.  While he and the woman were engaged in a conversation about the problem his counterpart in the IT office had already logged into her computer, taken control and fixed the problem.  David could see all of this happening on her computer from where he stood facing the screen, the woman could not.  She finally got up to let him sit and work on the problem, but instead of sitting at the computer he remained standing and began to chant and do some kind of crazy voodoo dance in front of the computer.  He performed his act for about 2-3 minutes with his eyes closed and the woman standing there watching incredulously not really sure what to think or do.

Then he stepped back and said “ok, try it now”.  She just stared.  He said he was serious that it was all fixed because of the voodoo chants and the spell he cast on it.  He insisted that she sit down and try it.  Finally she did and it worked!  She was shocked and started explaining that should couldn’t believe his magic worked and as she talked he put his hand to his head, closed his eyes and then told her he could sense he was needed back in his office.  Then he turne and left the stunned woman just sitting there.  He said that after that he and his friend pulled that stunt a bunch of times whenever the problem was fixable remotely.

Another story he told me that day was about bankers and how they have no sense of humor and don’t do well at making decisions.  He explained that they always had meetings to discuss problems, then meetings to discuss possible solutions, then meetings to choose a solution, then another to implement it.  So one time he thought he would prompt them into making a quick decision about something.  He came into the meeting with a Hand Grenade.  It wasn’t live but they weren’t aware as he was screaming and shouting and jumping up and down with it yelling “If we can’t decide this right now I’m going to pull the pin.  Then we won’t need to ever decide anything ever again.”  The people in the room started to panic and quickly arrived at a decision and even implementation right then and there.  David smiled, tossed the grenade up and down in the air like a ball and said “thank you everybody we can all rest easy now.”  Then he pulled the pin and left the room.

Over the next few weeks we talked about cars, movies, music, kids, communism, travel,  his weekend cottage and food.  He told me places to see in Prague and around it.  He told me about gypsies and dog shit. I tried to correct him where I could but political correctness was NEVER what he had in mind.  He told dirty jokes, said bad words (though in good grammatical context) and in the end I was sad to leave him behind in Prague.  He truly was very entertaining to have around.  Especially if you didn’t mind being the butt of his jokes!

2 thoughts on “Teaching in Prague – the experience

  1. Regina 17 Aug 2012 / 22:43

    Hey Leslie – For you to say he is tall he must have been a giant being that Patrick seems to be pretty healthy in the height department! Looking forward to the next installment! Regina

    • ldmerry 17 Aug 2012 / 22:53

      Patrick is tall but only like normal tall 6’2″ or so. My son Billy is 6’5″ so I do know tall. I’m telling you this was a tall man. As a matter of fact I think most people in the Czech Republic are tall compared to Americans even the women. I can definitely say at times I felt like I had drank Alice’s potion and had become very, very small in comparison to everyone else around me.

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