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Best Flight from Minneapolis to Hong Kong

August 13, 2009

If I were to picture the headquarters of United Airlines, I would picture a dank metal fortress on a mountain top or the Arctic.  Inside, a United executives meeting would go like this:

CEO: “Greetings!  I am pleased to announce that our policy of squeezing and screwing customers for the most money and least service is making excellent progress!”

All: Cheers and robot cheers (half of the United execs are evil cyborg robots sent from the future to make flying really unpleasant.)

Executive 1: “Yes, no one even noticed that we reduced international baggage allowance to a pathetically small amount and now charge $200 for every sucker who shows up with a 51 pound bag.  In fact, I’m pleased to announce that Chad Johnson of Fargo showed up with a 54 pound bag, 65 linear inches, and we were able to wring $400 out of his pathetic wallet.”


Executive 2: “We’ve also started a program to match people’s elite status from other airlines.  However, between the time it takes to….’PROCESS’….and the requirement to fly 7,500 miles within 90 days, almost no one hits the tiny window of eligibility that would allow them to get such perks as being able to take on a realistic amount of baggage.”

CEO: “Excellent work, gentlemen!  Any problems on the horizon for our glorious empire?”

Evil Cyborg Executive: “In the distant future, people will grow weary of watching one tiny movie screen overhead that just shows ‘Phat Girlz’ seven times on the 16-hour flight to Hong Kong.  Almost all other airlines will introduce personal entertainment systems in every seat with a wide range of music and movies.”

CEO: “What a terrifying thought!  Thank God that we’re eternally trapped in the early 90s and will never have to have such crazy things like personal entertainment devices and power plugs on our planes!”

I hate United.  They have a monopoly on flights to Hong Kong and China out of the Midwest, and they certainly know it.  I understand the reduced baggage size; almost all US flights went from 70 to 50 pounds as a union concession, but it’s typical of United to charge $200 for even a small extra bag.  They will go out of their way to extract money and deceive at every step, but that’s not the worst.  Hello, United, this is the year 2009 calling: get personal entertainment and power plugs on your long-haul flights, for the love of all that is holy. 

I was actually so enraged with United that I got them  to cancel my ticket and look for another flight.  Sites like Kayak and Orbitz are remarkably bad at finding cheap alternatives to the United death star., however, is the best.  It found me a number of evening flights to San Francisco, and then I shelled out an extra $50 to fly glorious Singapore Airlines.  SA is famous among travellers for being simply the best in customer service and amenities, so I’m looking forward to the experience.  Especially when I’ll have come so terrifyingly close to being another victim of the evil empire.


CELTA Week 4 and beyond

August 7, 2009

There’s a perception that our CELTA folks encouraged with all their might, that CELTA is really, really, really hard and you should be losing sleep and working countless hours.

Yes and no.

Remember week 3, when I thought I might fail and all was lost?  A lot of people told me that I had failed the LTR because I was overthinking.  I also noticed that probably one of the biggest things other people seemed to be doing was writing a lot: huge lesson plans, multi-page grammar analyses, and assignments right up to the 1000 word limit.  For that and a couple other reasons, I decided that I would do as little work as possible on my 7th lesson and 3rd assignment, and cover it up with piles of paperwork (and about 19 billion footnotes).

And it worked.

If I had any advice to new people doing the CELTA it would be this:

1. Write multiple potential answers in assignments, as long as you get one right, they don’t care.
2. Copy and paste long grammar analyses and vocab definitions into your prep
3. Don’t give yourself multiple days to do assignments, just make sure you fulfill every requirement of the assignments.
4. I had a couple lessons that I thought I tanked halfway, but I just kept standing at the board and talking and writing things, and not only did I pass all the lessons, I often got praised for them.  Conversely, I had a couple lessons that went perfectly according to any objective marker you could apply (timing, covering material, variety of activities, students engaged and understanding), and I never got an above average marker.  In the end, I just figured as long as I didn’t teach a lesson pants-less or take a nap in the middle, I’d pass, but conversely, I could send Jaime Escalante in to teach my lesson and he’d probably still just get an average rating, so I definitely would have prepared a lot less for lessons if I were to do it again.

Another thing we wondered about was whether the workload lightened by the last week.  The answer is a big yes!  You’ll be glad to know that it’s only three solid weeks of torment and not four.  And if you keep it simple, write a ton, and try to not overthink or overprepare, you’ll probably be quite a success in your CELTA group.

CELTA Week 3: Why so serious?

August 7, 2009

Note from Rose: I wrote this during my third week and even though it has a crazed/bitter tone to it, I thought it might be informative.  Keep in mind that I wrote this in extreme stress, so take it all with a grain of salt.

If there were ever a nervous breakdown week, three is it.  The stress even seems to be getting to the tutors, which is awesome, because it’s not like the very fate of whether we pass or not rests solely in their hands, or anything.

I thought I should write a little bit about the very structure of the course, since there seems very little written about the nuts and bolts of CELTA online.

As I mentioned before, there are three tutors, and 6 students per each tutor.  For us, every morning we teach a class of foreigners willing to pay very little money to be experimented on by us.  I think we teach a total of 9 classes: two 20 minute classes (including the first week!), five 40 minute classes, and two 60 minute classes.  For most of week two and three, you alternate days: three people go Monday, the other on Tuesday and so on and so forth.

In the afternoon, we have classes in methodology, taught CELTA-style.  That means that there’s no homework, no lectures, no textbooks, no exams.  There’s a lot of “eliciting” and pairwork.  Now, I love unorthodox learning methods as much as the next guy, but when you’re cramming the amount of knowledge needed for CELTA, some textbooks and rote memorization would be really nice.  Or to put it another way, by week three, when a tutor asks about something that was casually mentioned in week one, you’d just about like to throw a desk out a window.

We also have four assignments, though the last one is pretty fluffy.  You have a chance to resubmit each paper once, and at the beginning of week 3, I had two resubmits to do.  You’re only allowed to completely fail one assignment, so it was really stressful for me.

The killer for me was the second one, which is where you have to fill out these grammar and vocabulary analysis forms.  You’re supposed to fill one or both of the forms for every class anyway, so I think this assignment is designed to get us to be masters at this analysis.

The problem I had was basically that I didn’t understand that the “form” part of the forms had to do strictly with technical problems in the structure of a sentence, like people using has/had instead of was/were, using the past participle instead of the infinitive+ing, or making contractions where you’re not supposed to.  Now, the confusing part was that if students made a mistake in form, they might also get the wrong meaning, as in one example where students might mistake the past continuous is actually the present continuous, and therefore they might not know when the event happened.

Confused?  I was too.  Fortunately I got a pass on the first assignment and a pass on my first try with my third assignment, so it seems that at this point, unless I terribly injure a student in one of my last lessons, I’m pretty much home free.  In fact, week four seems like an afterthought to week three.

But more on that in my week four post!

New York Unemployment Resolution

August 7, 2009

A comment from Rita got me to update my unemployment situation.   I called on Monday and after 10 minute of prompts, and a fifteen minute wait time, I actually got a person who seemed genuinely shocked by my situation.  Which isn’t to say that the people at unemployment are ever jerks or mean in any way when you call them.  They just seem well aware that they ‘re tiny cogs in a hopelessly bureaucratic, red-tape-clogged machine.

The man put me on hold and went to talk with his supervisor.  He explained to me that there was a separate department that dealt with 1099, and since I’d been paid as a contractor during my “base period”, they had to approve my payments before they went through.  He said, “it look like they dropped the ball on this since it’s been pending since March.”  No kidding!  So, his supervisor called their department and he said it would go through by Friday.

The next morning, I actually got a call from a real live person at that department, and she said that she’d authorized my payments to go through.  She said it was silly that it was held up, because if they decided to pay me for my work as a contractor, which is unlikely, I made so little that it would be probably a $5 difference a week.

You might be thinking that’s the part where I go nuts on the lady, but I wasn’t mad.  New York City is the place where it takes years to get a streetlight fixed, buildings collapse onto the Metro-North railways because it takes years for the city to demolish a building after its been condemned, and you can pay $5000 in dental care to a place where the x-ray machine is kept together with electrical tape and you have to hold it in place with your hand.  In short, its a place wracked with injustice, terrible bureaucracy, and unbelievably expensive to boot.  The fact that you can do your unemployment online and don’t have to wait at some office in the Bronx is miracle enough.

So, to Rita, keep calling, over and over.  There’s no secret I discovered, you really have to wait 20-30 minutes everytime you call, and yes, sometimes the system will hang up on you.  Hopefully you’ll get someone actually sympathetic one time like I did and miraculously you’ll get paid for 4 months unemployment in one lump sum (hurray!)


July 22, 2009

I love Cake Wrecks so much.  We designed a cake wreck for my reception and dreamed it might make it on CW….


Thank you so much for making dreams come true.  By the way, the hovering head is Shaq!  Here’s the original image:


CELTA, Week 2: Bloodstorm

July 18, 2009

I didn’t even want to write this, because even the mention of CELTA makes me feel both exhausted and anxious beyond words.

It’s hard and I’m tired.  That’s all I’ve got!

CELTA in NY: Week 1

July 11, 2009

In preparation for my move to China, I’ve decided to get my CELTA certification.  CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, but we like to say that the C in CELTA stands for Cambridge.  One of the main reasons a CELTA is considered “the best” among English teaching certifications is because its monitored by the University of Cambridge.  There’s actually quite a lot of English teaching certificates out there that you can just get online, or don’t have anything practice or observation involved.

I’m doing my CELTA through Teaching House in New York, and one week in, here are my thoughts on the good and bad parts of the course (I’m sure they’ll change by week 2!):

The good:

  • The staff is really nice (most of them!)
  • It is good to just sit in a class and think about teaching English, watch English classes, and get some ideas for lessons.
  • I’m getting a good refresher on grammar, pronounciation (like a phenome chart), and the nitty-gritty of teaching (like learning styles).

The bad:

  • It’s extremely adult-centered, and a lot of it is just useless/overkill if you plan to teach kids.  Why isn’t there a CELTC?
  • There’s a lot of subtle differences between the CELTA method and the JET team-teaching method.  Not only are you not going to get any respect for your AET skills, you’ll have days where you feel like they’re not just criticizing your current practice teaching, but everything you’ve done in your time in JET.
  • There’s a lot of differences between teachers.  At Teaching House, we have 18 students, divided between three “tutors”.  They each have a class at different levels, and our 6 person “pod” rotates through all three.  My current teacher is extremely strict that we must never call on a student directly, just on their pairs or groups.  It was quite jarring to meet our next tutor, who said we MUST call on students individually.  It makes you wonder how much is made up, and how much is the CELTA standard.
  • The time management is not very strict, so your lunches get cut in half and you are sitting on the edge of your seat wanting to talk about your lesson tomorrow while spending and hour talking about your lesson in 4 days.  It adds to this weird boot camp mentality that makes everything seem life and death, when in reality, assignments are less than 1000 words and you have a week to complete them (this is on top of multiple lesson planning, but it’s a lot more prioritizing, than brutal overall amounts of work).
  • St. John’s University (where Teaching House is located) only has one copier and one printing card machine.  The prnting card machine is especially stupid, because there are tons of computers and printer, but you have to pay for printouts and the machine is in the library which is closed until 9am, when the class starts.  So if you run out of printing money before class starts, you’re screwed.

Those are my observations of the CELTA course so far.  Keep checking for future updates!

One week in, I wouldn’t advise it for JET alums.  As a teacher in Japan, I taught about 3-6 hours of lessons a week for two years.  In contrast, the students in my class have between zero to 6 months of teaching experience.  I wouldn’t have thought that would make a difference, but its really brutal.  I think it’s far easier to learn for scratch than to relearn what’s really become a habit.  If you bring any personal experience into the training lessons, they will break you in two, like a little child.

For now, I don’t know if it’s worth it.  Most of the schools I’m applying to in China are happy with my teaching experience and if anything, they only ask for one of those fake certificates.  I’ll keep you updated!