I guess I should write about my job…
I think it is about time I write about my job here in Spain. In case you didn’t know, I am here in Spain teaching English in a public bilingual elementary school. This is a program between the local government of Castilla y Leon and the University of Central Florida. We were told before we came that every school experience would be different so don’t generalize this to every American teaching in Spain (in my program or not).
I am only here for three months (sob). I am working under a tourist visa but I can also private tutor. I do private tutor and I also give private conversation classes. At this point, I am only working 3-4 hours a week outside of my time in the school.
School is 9:30-2:30 for me except for Tuesdays when I leave at 2 and return from 4-5. Each day is different. In my school there are two classes for each grade (1st-6th). I teach every class for at least a 1/2 hour each week. I also visit the Infantil once a week to work with 3, 4, or 5 year olds. Just as every day is different, every class is different too. In some classes I am coming up with my own curriculum rather independently; in other classes I am following a book and working very closely with the teacher. I work with a total of 7 teachers (all of whom speak English). Depending on the age, I teach PE, science, art, or just plain English.
I am loving my experience but at times I find it a bit overwhelming. Writing worksheets and coming up with art projects is something that sometimes stresses me out because I really want my students to learn and enjoy the process. The internet has been my best friend (and all my tutor training has helped a lot too). I am also drawing from my experiences in learning Spanish. I had a wonderful teacher and the things she taught me have served me well here.
I have been wondering, what is the best way to learn a language? The obvious answer is move to a country that only speaks that language and have no other choice. I thought I was fluent in Spanish and it took me 3-4 weeks in Spain for me to be able to communicate in what I would consider close to fluency. Learning another language is difficult and I would say English is especially hard. For someone whose first language is Spanish, our vowels are a mystery. We have a lot of sounds (and phonetic variations) that Spanish doesn’t have. This makes it more difficult for the students in all ways: reading, speaking, and understanding.
This is an example of what I encounter in class. In 2nd grade science we were talking about air. We were going through a worksheet together and I was confused that students kept guessing “from”. Then I realized, they were reading “form” (because air has no form) as “from”. To me, the difference between these words is glaringly obvious but it isn’t as clear for someone who hasn’t grown up speaking English.
Another thing I ALWAYS encounter is our wicked “v”. In Castilian Spanish, the “v” and the “b” are pronounced almost exactly the same (I haven’t figured out if it really is exact or not – I think it may depend on the speaker – I need to ask). “Volume”, “very”, and “have” are pronounced “bolume”, “bery”, and “habe”. All the teachers tell me that they have taught the students how to make the “v” sound but that the students always forget.
Please don’t take this as a commentary on how terrible English classes are here. These kids definitely know more of a second language than most kids in the United States. I am simply saying that learning another language is hard and I definitely don’t have a good method figured out. Some days, I teach an entire lesson in English about the Earth’s atmosphere and the entire class understands and participates. Other days, I read a simple play about a donkey and everyone stares at me blankly. I’m not always sure why one thing works and another doesn’t. I am learning along the way and hopefully my students are too.
The picture inserted into this post is a perfect representation of a not so perfect class here. I was giving instructions on how to make a paper alligator. I had demonstrated with my own piece of paper, explained to the whole class in words and also explained to each student individually. I waited in between each step to make sure that no students were confused or lost. You were supposed to fold the template I gave them, cut it out and draw an eye and mouth on both sides. Then you were supposed to color it, cut along the lines at the top and fold the little triangles that the slits made so that your alligator had a bumpy scale-like back. About 15 minutes in, I was handed this alligator. The kid who gave it to me solemnly presented it like it was a piece of art that I was supposed to praise and cherish. I just had to laugh. I took his home as a keepsake and gave him a new piece of paper to start over while I kept a closer eye on him.
Even though they sometimes don’t listen, the kids are great. They have crept into my heart and I really love them all. It most of the time seems to be a trade-off: if a kid is especially disruptive, he is also adorable and sweet. Many of my students greet me with hugs and all of them yell hello every time they see me, even around town.