This weekend was the first weekend in 6 weeks where I haven’t had visitors or been at home celebrating my birthday, and it has been wonderful. In addition to catching up with friends and being treated to belated birthday dinners and breakfasts by some incredibly kind friends, I also participated in two events run by ELTABB, the English Language Teachers’ Association for Berlin-Brandenburg. You may remember that I was asked to become the Social Media Ambassador for the organisation just over a month ago, and I have been doing some #ELT tweeting on behalf of everyone teaching here in Berlin. However, I felt like I didn’t know the organisation itself well enough, so I thought getting involved in some more of the events would be a good idea.
The first was a Web Development workshop. I used to work in a digital publishing team at Routledge (an academic publishing house in Oxfordshire back in England) and often dealt with web designers and developers, but was never able to fully converse with them in their techy language. When I saw that ELTABB was offering a web development course for the steal of €50, I thought it would be rude not to give it a go! So I signed up, paid my fee from my shiny new German bank account, and then promptly forgot all about it for a while. I had a stream of visitors over lots of weekends, and very little time to myself. All of a sudden, it was ten days or so until the main workshop day and I hadn’t really made any progress on the self-study section of the course, so I thought I should probably knuckle down to it!
Our trainer, Kai, had designed the whole pre-course herself, and it was brilliantly clear and easy to follow, even for technologically challenged people like me. The HTML/CSS-focused tutorial was even tailored to suit our exact needs: teaching us how to create our own teaching services websites from scratch, with the aim of helping us attract new clients in Berlin. I did, however, massively underestimate how long it would take me, given that a large proportion of the new terminology had to be Googled alongside the course itself, and that coding from scratch is obviously a totally alien skill to me. I therefore spent the 10 days or so in advance of the course living at the school where I teach from 7/8am when I started teaching, to around 10 o’clock in the evening. I was teaching my four or five classes a day, and then staying at school to use the fast WiFi to try and make as much headway on the pre-course material as possible, in order to be able to get as much out of the final workshop as possible. My colleagues started making jokes about me sleeping at school, and I was having tragic dinners from Tupperware boxes every evening.
On the Wednesday before the course on Saturday, we received a message asking us to have got through as much of the course as possible by Saturday, which I was realising was going to be impossible for me because I was doing everything so slowly. However, I gave it a very good go and had some semblance of my own, purple website, with one functional link and even a photo of my ugly mug on it.
Saturday rolled around and seven of us met in Betahaus in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. It’s a painfully hipster ‘coworking space’ with good coffee and fast WiFi (once we managed to get it to work!) so it was the ideal location for some group coding.
After lots of initial teething problems with technology, we were all online and Kai showed us how to upload our files to an FTP site to actually get them online, which was rather exciting! They’re on such an obscure URL that nobody would ever really find them, but it still felt like quite an accomplishment, even for a website as rudimentary as mine!
I felt bad for Kai, as she had asked that we all try to finish the tutorial for Saturday, so we could work through her second part together. However, we had all ended up at totally different points, so in the end, we just spent the workshop working on our own websites and then receiving one-to-one help from Kai the expert, who would whizz our code into shape in no time at all on her MacBook! I didn’t achieve loads in the five hours we were together, as it ended up being a very interesting forum for talking about our various teaching experiences as much as a coding workshop (again, I felt sorry for Kai with all our chitter chat as well!) but I was quite happy with the small changes I made to my site by the end of the workshop.
It was a fantastic experience: seeing how creative everyone else had been, and how we had all interpreted the same set of instructions so differently. Being seven teachers, we are all slightly perfectionist in our wishes for how our websites should look, I think, so it’s very hard to let go of those objectives in the light of our minimal knowledge of HTML and CSS. Kai was inordinately patient, though, particularly with some of our slightly more ‘special’ questions, some of which are below as collated in our secret Facebook discussion group:
“Is there a plugin to create a child?”
“How do I pad my divs?”
“It’s the body stuff…”
“I’ll just have to create a child the old-fashioned way…”
Some of the comparisons we made were that learning HTML and CSS is like learning German: you think it’s OK until you get to the German cases, and you think coding isn’t too bad until you get to CSS classes and IDs…
After five hours, my brain was still pretty frazzled, even with our delicious pizza break at 2pm. My laptop was also concerningly warm, so Katerina and I called it a day and I went off to my birthday surprise dinner with my brain full of and dots and hashtags and IDs and classes…
I’m hoping I can find the time and motivation to keep going with the rest of the tutorial and achieve as much with my website as one of the other teachers, Sherri, achieved with hers by persevering with the tutorial until 2am on the morning of the course! We have already arranged to attend a MeetUp group in just over a week where experienced front-end developers help no-hopers like us with their questions…so I guess I had better get coding!
Then, today I enjoyed my second dose of ELTABBers for the weekend, and attended the annual Pot Luck picnic. The wonderful ELTABB Events Coordinator Mandy had arranged for us to meet in the new Park Gleisdreieck in Kreuzberg so I toddled along with my accidentally large cous cous salad and joined Mandy on her blanket. After a while, our numbers had grown to seven, and so had our food spread. We had quite a feast and enjoyed it over some amusing conversations ranging from the America/Canada differences; to things we love and hate about Germany (a classic) and back to the delicious food we were enjoying and how it was all created.
The morning had started rather grey and overcast, so we were very grateful that the sun appeared and graced us with its presence. It ended up being quite a lovely afternoon, and I really enjoyed whiling away a few hours in the sun with other language teachers.
I really don’t understand why more people don’t come along to these fantastic events, though – we reckon there must be more than 500 English teachers in Berlin, between those who teach in schools, for agencies and directly in companies. Over two hundred of them are ELTABB members, but yet I have yet to see more than 30 people at any given ELTABB event. With my annoying Tweeting, I am determined to encourage more of them out of the Berlin woodwork! Watch this space…