I'm a full month into teaching primary school English language classes in the south of Spain. Who saw that coming?
Pros: I'm finally comfortable being alone with classes and tackling lesson plans.
Cons: I still haven't learned all of my students names. Shocking, right? There’s only 325. I’ve asked around for a yearbook, fingers crossed.
To celebrate, here are my favorite memories so far:
Our school has a vegetable garden, and each day students till the garden at lunch. This garden is amazing. We have rosemary, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli, and you guessed it, full heads of lettuce!
At the end of last year, Oscar, the teacher who runs the garden gave every single teacher their own head of lettuce. I was so touched and impressed, that when I get back to Boston, I am 100% getting involved with community gardens. @Greenway let’s go.
Later during lunch while talking with another group of students, one of my fourth graders runs over with none other than a head of lettuce! I couldn’t believe it. I have never felt so appreciative, yet so unworthy of a gift. Their hard work, and they gave it to me. Well, it’s now a few weeks later, and the lettuce made about 12 delectable salads. I love my students, Oscar, and the relaxed, progressive style of Spanish teaching.
Check out me, walking down the boulevard with my cool produce. Goofy smile not pictured.
El Día de Paz
Spain has a National Day of Peace. I repeat, Spain has a day every year where they celebrate peace, both in their country, and across the world. Spaniards greet one another with peace signs, sing, dance, participate in charity events, and all is well. Coming from America, I couldn’t process this. We’ve been at war since I was 5. There were 82 school shootings last year in the United States. Our public education and healthcare systems were ranked 27th in the world last I checked, and here I am 3,000 miles away watching students sing and dance together to celebrate harmony.
I wasn’t just watching, I was videotaping from the roof. Before leaving for Spain, the number one piece of advice I got was to say yes to everything, and figure out logistics later. Therefore, when el Jefe de Estudios asked if I wanted to videotape the whole school while they danced, I said of course! When he asked if I would like to do it from the roof, I don’t think I said anything because I was in such shock. Here are some photos from the event, and a link to the video. Looking back now, I'm so thankful for the opportunity to be our videographer, and so so sorry about my lack of videography skills.
“Winter”. If you can call an average low of 50, and a low of 49 on your worst day “winter”, then yes, I’m spending winter here right now. A few weeks into school, I arrived in class only to learn that my first graders would be performing a poetry recital for their parents (and me!). Did I understand a word of what they were saying? No, but I saw a completely different side of my students. The way they lit up when they saw their parents walk in is something I'll never forget. The love was infectious, and I wondered at the time whether it was a tighter bond because this is smaller town. You hate to say it, but with less time commuting, there’s more time together.
Also, when your job is to teach a specific subject, you forget that your students are people outside of the classroom just like you. They have to go to school every day, so it’s your job to make every day fun, and learning easy because you’ve planned thoughtful, dynamic classes with their interests in mind.
Cocodrilos en los pantanos
Last week in science we learned about natural landscapes, like mountains, rivers and gulfs. I created a slideshow of the United States showcasing our different landscapes, highlighting our mountain ranges (the Rockies, the Sierra Nevadas, and the Appalachians if you didn’t know - I didn’t know), the Mississippi river, the Great Lakes, the Great Plains, our islands, and because all students seem to love gulfs, the Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast includes the areas of land surrounding the Gulf of Mexico (where the Mississippi River empties out!) and the following states: Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida.
The region is known for its historic neighborhoods, beaches, and wildlife tours. When I mentioned the wildlife tours, I started talking about the crocodiles that exist in swamps near New Orleans. A student asked (in Spanish) if the area of beach in my photo was where the crocodiles lived. I had heard “Is that area to the back of the beach in the photo where the crocodiles live?” I said yes, the back of the beach was an aerial shot of swampland, and the class lost their minds.
I had just told 25 eight-year-olds that there are crocodiles ravaging our touristy beaches and didn’t even know it. I asked why they were so concerned, and the teacher re-asked me in English if it was really true. It took nearly all of my life's energy to quiet the class to tell them no, cocodrilos estan en el pantano, no la playa.
For Valentine’s Day we made cards for our family and friends. We learned about the history of Bishop Saint Valentine, how he fought to keep marriage alive even when it was illegal in Rome in 270AD, and was killed on February 14th as a result. St. Valentine was a martyr, and because of him we now shower each other in expensive dinners and flowers and giant stuffed bears, and gorge ourselves on chocolates (some of us the week after because of the sales$$).
Celebrating Valentine’s Day in Spain was insightful, because while they celebrate the holiday, when I asked how they celebrated, they usually mentioned spending time with their family. The couples didn’t feel obligated to go out, and the students weren’t obligated to give cards to everyone they knew. I do like the tradition we have in the United States of everyone buying a pack of punny pop-culture cards to give to their entire class, but it's expected love rather than spontaneous, and there was something special about asking students only make one card. When that card went to myself or the other teacher, my heart swelled. In a few classes, many of the cards went to their homeroom teacher, and it was one of those moments where you realize teachers are heros.
Pictured: The giant kinder chocolate palmier for the teachers on San Valentin; she takes my breath away.
Over the past month here in Andalucia, I’ve flexed my creative muscles in ways I haven’t really been able to since I graduated college. School is designed to keep us interested by mixing up the classes we take each day, and the ways in which we learn and share the information in each class. Teachers take into account the different ways people learn (back to the multiple intelligences TEFL module), something the corporate world doesn’t always do.
One of the largest reasons I chose to make this job change is because sometimes jobs in the United States aren't dynamic. Here, you’re allowed to be the designer and the social media marketer (a few teachers here have blogs dedicated to their classes) and the game show host and the formal lecturer and the videographer and the choreographer. More industries should be as flexible in recognizing and utilizing talents, because even though it can be scary to plan a day’s worth of lessons at the drop of a hat, each time it gets easier as the unknown becomes a place of calm.
What’s up next? Tackling how to use TEFL skills to thrive outside the classroom.