The differences between the Spanish school and the American school are quite parallel to the differences between the Spanish language and the American language – sure, you might find some similarities here and there but when you get down to it, they don’t have much in common. Outside of my own experiences attending an American school, I have spent a lot of time at several other schools, so I am pulling this comparison from many different schools in different states.
Below is a comparison of my secondary school in Andalucía and what I know about schools in the U.S.
THE ACTUAL CLASSROOM
One of the biggest differences is the actual classroom. At my school the students are assigned one classroom and that is where they have all their classes. The teachers rotate rooms each period. For me in the States, in both middle school and high school, the teachers stayed in one room (my dad literally taught in the SAME classroom for 35+ years) and the students changed classrooms each period, according to their schedule.
This difference provides an interesting dynamic. First, the decorations and style are that of the students’ interests and not the teachers’ interests. I would say that has potential to be a great thing but there is very little ornamentation and the classrooms definitely lack personality (at least on the walls). Second, I think this lends to a lack of control the teachers have over their classes (the students, not the room). It seems to me that some things get lost when the teacher needs to shuffle to another classroom after the bell rings.
There are pros and cons to how the classroom operates here but overall, I think the cons outweigh the pros.
Almost every single day one of my coworkers asks me, “is this how students behave in America?” And I respond, “no, absolutely not.” I will be the first to admit that I was a troublemaker during my K-12 years and that my friends and I loved to create chaos, with the definition of chaos evolving into a different form every new school year but WOW – the Spaniards make us look like angels sent from heaven gift wrapped in layers of patience, attention, and obedience. The majority of my classes are loud and challenging to control. They sit wherever they want on any given day, and they enjoy talking back. How much work gets done depends completely on the specific class. By about week four I was well aware of which classes wanted to learn and which classes wanted to try and goof off the entire time. I felt that although we were talkative and disruptive in classes growing up, we knew when the line was drawn. There is not much of a line here.
All that said, I love it. Each class provides a different trial and once I figured out what works best for which class, moves could be made with the education.
Lockers were a big deal to me and my friends in middle school and high school. In a way the locker felt like a second home – a place that belonged to you, that you could design or decorate the way you wanted, make a huge mess out of, and most importantly a focal point of social activity. At my school here, lockers are basically nonexistent, so this is wildly different for the students. There is a small stretch of locker rooms at the entrance of the school, but I honestly do not even know how or in what manner they are assigned because it is the strangest assortment of students who have them. The students use their home rooms as their lockers and the whole day is basically social hour so despite not having an actual locker, the students aren’t missing out on what they provided us American students.
There is not a traditional student cafeteria at my school and that is primarily because of the difference in meal schedule here in Andalucía. The students have a snack break at 11:30am. During that 30-minute timeframe they can stay at school or go home. When they stay at school, they scatter across the school grounds. Lunch in Andalucía starts around 2:30/3:00pm. Class ends at 3:00pm so once the final bell rings, the students rush home for their lunch. With this schedule there is no need for the classic American cafeteria that serves stock food but creates another social opportunity for American students. Personally, I miss the American cafeteria.
The comparison between schools in the States and here in Andalucía is fun. When it is all boiled down, I do not believe there is a right or wrong way in how they operate; however, I am having a fantastic time learning the differences and adjusting myself accordingly. Que guay!