Shameless self promotion / Job search Fall 2016

Ah yes, that time again when one has to start thinking of finding a job. Since this will be (Insha’Allah) my last (academic) year at UNC. I have to start thinking of what I will be doing come September of 2016…

One of the few things I am certain of is that I am passionate about teaching, especially my language, my culture, my literature. I am hopeful that someone somewhere will need a Spanish teacher with over ten years teaching experience and a PhD in Spanish Literature for next year.

Narrowing down my job options, I would love to be the coordinator of an American university’s study abroad program in Spain – ideally in Spain, near my family. But I know I will thrive teaching at a small liberal arts college or at a secondary school where I can also be a “dorm parent” and coach, what they call in the business a “triple threat”.

Where? You ask. Well I must confess I have fallen in love with the South – who wouldn’t? and I do love the East coast, its history, culture, and relative proximity to Europe. But I would love to explore new grounds: Asia, Korea or Japan, the Middle East, Africa, Oceania, and of course old Europe, make me an offer!!

Experience? In my first job I was in charge of training / coaching / herding? the summer interns that came to Grantham Mayo and Van Otterloo in Boston. From then on in the late 80s I have always enjoyed the training and mentoring part of my jobs. During my stint as a stockbroker in Madrid since I was not doing much in the teaching/coaching/mentoring realm I volunteered to teach English at the Colegio de Huerfanos de la Guardia Civil in Madrid  As a sales manager I was in charge of team training and later as consultant I would do the same around Latin America. Once I had my own company from ´94 to ´04 I loved all the training that happened for new employees. We even organized yearly retreats with a coach to help us improve. In 2005 I started my professional teaching career teaching at public schools, private schools and at UNC for the last three years.

They say in Spain “el movimiento se demuestra andando” (something like movement is proven by walking) so here are a couple of videos of me trying to teach. One at Walnut Hill, the oldest private arts school in the US and my first semester at UNC. In case you are really interested I have also included my abridged CV, feel free to ask for any more info!!

Antonio Balsón CV Academic -abridged-

Romance Studies Department Graduate Student Soccer!!

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Last year a couple of our classmates organized a very informal indoor soccer scrimmage on Friday evenings. For some reason I took up the responsibility this year. I booked one of the outdoor fields and had a great time every Friday evening. We were blessed with great weather all through the Fall semester. Basically we allowed anyone who showed up to play. We had a 59 year old Colombian fellow, middle school kids, undergrads and grad students from other departments play, so we re-named our scrimmage: Romance Studies Community Soccer. By opening it up to the community we hope to provide and give back a little bit.

In the winter we moved our games indoor to one of the courts, and by the end of the year, we received official acknowledgement from the department’s Graduate Student Government to legitimize the position and I have passed the baton to a young fellow in the department who did not miss a single game!

On being a Graduate Research Consultant

This Spring, I was my Thesis Director’s Graduate Research Consultant for her undergraduate Spanish Literature since 1700 survey class!

Prof. Gómez Castellano and I had to apply for this position to the undergrad College of Arts and Sciences, and we got approved. The job entails being a resource to help the students with their research. But since Irene and I were both very excited about this, we took it to the next level. I did a presentation on Goya… at the Ackland museum, who pulled a bunch of their Caprichos prints to show us in their special viewing room. I organized a visit to our specialist librarian, superstar Teresa Chapa to whom I should devote a whole blog post to – and her equally awesome partner in crime Becka, sometimes the three of us just chat in their hidden away office, deep in the inner sanctum of the library, and chat books and gossip. But back to this Graduate Research Consultant business. Basically it is a great opportunity for me to be immersed in an undergrad lit class. I was there to help, but at the same time I learnt a lot from the experience.

The class was a full 19 students, which is a lot for a higher level lit. class, but the more the merrier!, a big class at this level is also a very healthy sign for the department, and for the major and minor in general.

Technically there is no need for me to go to class – the pay is very low and I am only payed to work X amount of hours (I don’t even know how many), but I love the class and I learn so much from my Thesis Director that I went to all the classes anyway. Of course some of the students did use me as a research resource and met with me to go over their work, which was very interesting and fun work.

The experience is highly recommended, I hope to do it again.

On teaching French

Since I arrived at UNC, every time I bumped into the Director of French Studies – which was often because she is a keen supporter of the North Carolina Symphony which I also follow (although not as keenly), I would always offer my services to her as a French teacher. Little did I know that one day she would offer me to teach a section of French 105, French for High Beginners, i.e. students that have had previous exposure to French but are too rusty to go into intermediate level.

I cannot lie, my French grammar – which was never my strong suit to begin with – was, was, hmm, rusty. But my course coordinator who also happens to be my desk neighbor in our office had fantastic Power Point presentations covering the grammar.

French came to me later in life. I started taking classes in high school in London, which were complemented with great summers at the International Teen Camp in Lausanne in French Switzerland. I continued taking classes during university and spent those summers working in Paris, Bordeaux, Lausanne and Geneva, taking classes in the evenings and immersing myself.

After that I worked for a stint for a French stockbroker in Madrid, and tried to practice as much as possible with friends and work colleagues.

More recently, for my studies I have loved revisiting Montesquieu, Voltaire and other 18th C French authors.

So my speaking and reading are fine, but I struggle with the writing, due to the grammar, so teaching was not a total shock, and I compensated with total immersion from the music video to welcome the class to using only French all the way to the end of the session. The mix of students was as good as anyone could ask for. From quiet and shy overachievers, to frat bros, (to continue perpetuating stereotypes) to the whole demographic. I believe this always makes for more enriching classes. Our classroom in the Urban Planning Department building was nice and cozy and coincidentally had a massive wall sized reproduction of an antique map of Paris!

French Class outdoors

French Class outdoors

Summer field research

Maria's First Communion!

Maria’s First Communion!

It's all their fault!!

It’s all their fault!!

Biblioteca Nacional Madrid

Biblioteca Nacional Madrid

18th C. Padre Isla manuscript

18th C. Padre Isla manuscript

"Uptown" Madrid

“Uptown” Madrid

Alfredo's Barbacoa

Alfredo’s Barbacoa

Niece and Nephew

Niece and Nephew

Home of 10 Champions leagues!!

Home of 10 Champions leagues!!

It has been a couple of weeks since I arrived in Madrid. It has been intense, full of family: my sister was here from Tenerife in the Canary Islands and my niece had her first communion. Being home also means that my way of life is totally different and I also have a physical and temporal distance from the end of the academic year at Carolina.

My way of life is different in that I go from living a fairly monastic life alone, dedicated to reading, to a life full of family and friends. The food is fortunately different and better, the coffee and the wine are far better, and I live in downtown Madrid as opposed to downtown Chapel Hill, which, as much as I love it, is a glorified village. Last Sunday was my niece (and goddaughter’s) first communion, and we had a very nice celebratory lunch with all the family. As I was at the buffet serving myself, a very nice lady in her horseback riding gear (the lunch was at a riding club) introduced herself. She was my ex-wife’s old massage therapist from when we used to live in Madrid ten years ago! It was a scene out of a Woody Allen movie, so I just chuckled to myself and carried on. I have also visited with family, taken my nieces and nephew out to lunch to Alfredo’s Barbacoa, my favorite burger joint. I have had lunch with dear friends and enjoyed some brief escapes around town, including my favorite bar Del Diego, and some favorite book stores.

Although my exams are over, I now have to prepare the prospectus for my thesis, which means… more reading, this time in my specialization area as I formulate the core of my thesis. When I arrived, I already had books waiting for me that I had ordered to be delivered here for the summer, I also had a chance to renew my library card. My library is a bit special as it is the National Library which is only a twenty-minute walk from here. It is the equivalent of the Library of Congress, only older. I have the privilege of walking over every morning and reading original 18th C manuscripts! Speaking of bumping into people, the other day at the library I shared a reading desk with Margaret Greer, a Professor of Golden Age Spanish Lit. at Duke. Unfortunately I was not wearing my Carolina blue, although we did have a nice chat – yes, we whispered. I am excited and looking forward to making some progress on the prospectus front so I can have a rough draft by the end of the summer…

Reviewing my teaching of this past year, (see previous blog post) my dear friend John Jenner: philosopher, connoisseur, MMA fighter, bon vivant, gourmet and gourmand explained it best when he valued my being pushed out of my comfort zone in order to do precisely this, to revisit my teaching. You gotta love friends that tell it like it is!

On teaching and learning

This has been a very difficult semester from a teaching standpoint. I feel that my teaching capacity, ability and integrity has been questioned. So looking over stuff that I have written about teaching, I found these thoughts that I wrote last year to apply for a teaching conference (I later found out it is basically only available to All But Dissertation candidates, so I have to wait). At any rate, here it is:

It took a mid-life crisis for me to realize that my true calling in life was teaching. That was nine years ago, and I have not looked back since. Teaching, I discovered, is my passion, my raison d’être. Although I recognized my enthusiasm for literature when I read Hemingway and Borges in high school, it took me twenty-two years to learn what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: To return to the classroom as a teacher and to devote myself to work in a field about which I feel so strongly.

Sharing is what motivates me. Sharing my knowledge, my culture, my language. My first full-time teaching experience was in a budget challenged district, where I confronted underperformance and violence. I had to press charges against one of my students for assault and battery (one of my dad’s journalist friends even wrote an article about the event – somewhat distorted, as journalists do), one of my best students was stabbed to death by her brother, who was then shot by the police instants before he tried to kill his other sister, dining room fights were de rigueur. Although I did not realize it at the time, these challenges, made me grow and mature. It was a baptism of fire of sorts and I was happy to pay my dues and earn my stripes. It also taught me what is really important as a teacher. From there I went to Walnut Hill, an independent upper school in suburban Boston (and the oldest independent arts high school in the US) where for five years I honed my craft and eventually led the Spanish Department. Before coming to UNC, seeking a challenge, I moved to Buckingham, Browne and Nichols, in Cambridge, an elite independent school with a rigorous curriculum. There I had the privilege of coaching soccer, fencing and tennis, of getting involved in Community Service, and even teaching a Senior Seminar on Spanish film.

In my first semester at UNC I found that teaching at the college level requires a more intense and in-depth approach. Due to their higher maturity and experience level, the students are more demanding academically. This calls for more preparation and sharp execution and delivery from the instructor. The students have a clear idea of what they want, they have been in school for over twelve years and our duty as educators is to deliver.

Hand in hand with good teaching, goes meaningful, practical, applied professional development. Ever since Walnut Hill sent me on a new teachers retreat organized by the Association of Independent Schools of New England (AISNE), I have been a strong supporter of learning and improving the craft. In this respect, my twenty years corporate and business experience came in handy, applying motivational techniques, mentoring and fostering teamwork. Another byproduct of my business experience is my devotion to Kaizen, the Japanese technique of continuous measurable improvement. In this vein, as a department in Walnut Hill, we mapped the full Modern Language curriculum, involved the students in year-end course improvement meetings, even held a Modern Language “Summit” inviting other academic and arts department heads as well as teachers from other schools to define and improve our department.

What little I know about being a good teacher I learnt from being a bad student. I was never a good student, so good teachers were very important in my schooldays. They marked my life, they made a difference. Going back to school as an adult for my Master’s and my PhD renewed my interest in teaching technique, what works and what does not.

Real learning happens from a place of wanting to learn, so a place of openness, of certain vulnerability. Getting the students to that place requires a relationship of trust, understanding and fairness, and that is what I build from day one in the classroom. First day of class I stand by the door – having memorized all students’ names from the roster photos – and greet by name and shake hands with every student. Then we go over the expectations for the class with a fine tooth comb, in English so there are no misunderstandings later. This avoids misunderstandings later on and sets the tone. From there comes a fine balance of fun and hard work. Showing up early to the classroom to chat with the students and set up a music video in Spanish for them as they walk into the room and settle down. At the end of the year when I informally ask them what they liked and disliked about the course, so many of them mention the Spanish music videos! Then there is the grammar. I always go over the grammar, which they should know by now, but just so I know that I have gone over it with them and they do not have the “oh I never learned that” line. And talking, everybody talks about what they are going to do over the weekends, and on Mondays everybody talks about what they did over the weekend. We talk and talk, about food, restaurants, sports, culture, whatever. Once we spent a whole class period talking about bullfighting, something that I am passionate about.

So basically, as much as we want to implement scientific approaches to language learning and teaching, and to a certain extent we can, the basis of teaching has to come from an organic need/want/desire to learn. Our jobs as teachers revolve around making that need happen. The motivated student must be kept motivated while the unmotivated student has to be inspired to want to learn. That is best done through building a relationship, it will rarely come from a book, or from a lecture, it will happen from a relationship.

Putting my money where my mouth (pen/keyboard) is, here is a video of me teaching Spanish 203 an intermediate level in the Fall of 2012, my first semester at UNC. (Yes, I do have a FERPA release form signed by every student.)

Three semesters down. (5 to go, but who is counting?)

Walking to class on a Fall morning

Walking to class on a Fall morning

I love my morning walk to class

I love my morning walk to class

I was so busy I only went to 1 game (and 2 of the players were my students!)

I was so busy I only went to 1 game (and 2 of the players were my students!)

Two of my favorite guys Ramses and Ronald!

Two of my favorite guys Ramses and Ronald!

my usual view

my usual view

The old well

Delicate Christmas decorations on a frat house!

Delicate Christmas decorations on a frat house!

After another grueling, and hectic semester at UNC I can finally update my blog! I had not expected my third semester to be so crazy, but things got busy right from the start. I taught two classes: Intermediate Spanish, which I had already taught three times, so that was not a problem, and Spanish for Business which was my first time but it was a high performance class, I loved teaching that class. The students were sharp as tacks, fun and had excellent Spanish! Although I technically did not have to take any classes, I chose to take a Medieval Spanish literature class with the amazing Prof. Dominguez, what a blast! I am so happy I have taken three classes with Dominguez, I have learnt so much. What kept me on my toes all semester was getting my reading list approved for my Ph.D. exam. What I thought was going to be a one week deal turned out to take the full semester. The way it works is I have to prepare a list of books (and scholarly articles) with both primary, source readings and secondary, critique and theory for each of the three topics I have decided to study. My three reading “tutors” that are going to examine me pushed me hard to have the best list possible. In the process I learnt a lot about what and how I had to prepare. Although my list was not finally approved until December, that did not stop me from continuing reading and reading material that either had already been approved or that I knew would be on the list. I am happy to say that the semester is over and I am writing this from the boarding lounge at Philadelphia airport as I await my flight home to Madrid where I will spend ten short days visiting my family.

What have I been reading you ask? Well, besides material for the Medieval lit class, I have been reading 18th Century Spanish satire and colonial satire, all the while keeping in mind the Medieval cornerstones being laid… All good stuff, fascinating, and I love connecting the dots and being able to ask deeper questions and figure them out. It all reminds me of a summer night on the Greek Islands a long time ago when I asked my dear friend George Dangas why he was studying medicine. His answer “in order to be a student forever” is now my guiding light and what a pleasure it is to be a student again. To lose the “know it all” attitude that is needed in the business world where I spent all my previous life. To be open and vulnerable to learning is very rewarding as you are allowing all these waves – in the form of books, conversations and classes to wash up on your shore daily.

Hallowed Boards

Wollen GymOnly a bit intimidatingThe RockHallowed boardsIt only took me a year to build up the courage to go down to shoot some baskets at the old Woollen Gym. I go there often but I head straight for the swimming pool. This time, at the cage, instead of asking for a towel, I borrowed a basketball. First surprise: every ball has a name, it is written with a Sharpie marker. The one I got, “The Rock” just also happens to be the nickname I have for my little sister Rocio, Rocky, coincidence? I think not. Then into the huge gym. There are about 20 courts and most of them were full. I knew enough not to try to play with anyone, as I suck, and I have not played with any consistency since I left Spain in 2004. So I kept going until I got to the very far end where the last six courts were empty, enough for me to make a fool of myself without embarrassing myself – or the school, too much.

I played around for an hour, breaking into a sweat, thinking of and missing all the great people that have helped me and inspired me in this game, visualizing the UNC greats that might have played on that same court: Michael Jordan, Rasheed Wallace, et al. A great physical and emotional workout, or anabolic cardio as Stjepan would call it.

Year one Ph.D.: Check

Well, that wraps up the first year of my Ph.D. program and of my course work. Now I “only” have to read until my eyes bleed for my exams next Spring. This semester was overall much better than the Winter term. I took three courses: Early Modern Spanish Women Writers, with Rosa Perelmuter – a luminary in the field, and an Independent Study on Medieval Narratives with the iconic Prof. Domínguez. For my third course I took 18th Century Spanish Lit. with Irene Gómez-Castellano – and it has changed my life. Not only did I learn about the Enlightenment (something that had been in the back of my mind since I read Voltaire’s Candide at the American School in London, and then reread often) and the Romantics, but I discovered Padre Isla, a fairly unknown Jesuit writer who wrote the “best seller” of the 18th Century: Fray Gerundio de Campazas. I also taught two sections of Spanish 203, an intermediate level class. I loved it! I had great kids and we had a great time, including the cockroach that climbed up a girl’s dress. Pobre Raquel!
The end of the term was extremely stressful. One is normally 100% occupied with schoolwork during the year, so having to take two exams, write three twenty page essays, give and correct about forty exams, plus all the end of the year wrap up stuff was beyond hectic. For a week I did not work out or shave! I hope that the first year of the Ph.D. program is the baptism by fire test, that it is the hardest to juggle all the work, because the end was no fun.
But it is over and with very positive results. Most importantly my dissertation seems to be coming into focus, writing about Padre Isla. My secondary/complementary writing list will be about Medieval satire with Prof, Domínguez and my Transatlantic list will be Colonial lit. with Rosa Perelmuter. This means that I have to come up with six reading lists. A primary reading list of twenty books for each list and about thirty secondary/theoretical lists for each topic. Total: give or take 150 books that I have to learn by next Spring to pass my exams, Gadzooks! Yikes!
Taking only three classes, I had time to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill on Monday nights, and I worked at the Clinical Skills Center at the UNC Hospitals

teaching medical students Spanish. Both of these side ventures are a lot of fun and very rewarding and very much needed to clear my head and do something else for a while that is not just studying.
Conclusion: Overall it has been an incredible year and I have learnt much more than I ever expected or hoped. I’ve met some very interesting people, discovered a new town, been more culturally active than I expected, forged some nice relationships and I am slowly rebuilding my life. I’m very happy to be doing this, I love UNC and Chapel Hill.