I haven’t posted in a while about my job – you know the legal reason why I’m here. I think pictures from trips are much more exciting, but I’m sure some of you are curious about how things are going at my school. I’ve had some frustrating days recently while teaching, but I’m going to try to make this post less about venting and complaining and more of an objective (or as close as I can get) and constructive criticism of what I’ve experienced and observed. And don’t worry! I’ll share some funny moments too.
It’s May, and the kids in 2nd, 4th, and 6th grade are preparing to take their English language exams (through Trinity and Cambridge if you’re interested). Oh, and we just found out they will be the 17th, 18th, and 19th of June. Absolutely horrible timing considering the last day of school for the kids is the 19th, and that’s normally a party day. Apparently this year has been really disorganized regarding the exams as the students usually take them in May. Anyway, I work with mostly 1st and 5th, so I’ve avoided these exams a lot more than my coworkers, but I’m still stuck asking typical questions to students (Where are you from? What’s your favorite sport? Tell me about your house…). It can be difficult to make these activities exciting. With my 5th grade students I’m supposed to be practicing for the Cambridge exam they will take NEXT year. Let’s just say I’ve started playing games with them (in English!) in the hall. With 1st grade, you never know what to expect. Behavior has been a major problem as you’ll soon read…
Anyway, here are some of my recent observations and funny stories.
1) Routine and pattern are not stressed enough. 1st grade classrooms can be a nightmare. Teachers are constantly going in and out of classrooms, distractions are all over the place, and any order that is created is quickly dismantled by a student who wants to be the center of attention, a joke, or ANY MENTION OF FOOTBALL (soccer). In elementary school, I remember there being a routine to my class. Things like how a student is in charge of recording the weather, another student writes the date on the board, a quick journal activity begins Language Arts. Simple things like this make a huge difference. While routine may seem really boring, kids respond really well to it. They enjoy having jobs to do and knowing what to expect. And it makes any surprises even more exciting. The classroom here seems like a free-for-all. As discipline is such a problem, establishing any sort of routine and then maintaining it is a massive obstacle. Art class can be extremely hectic because the kids are given very mundane activities (e.g. color this picture), which drives me mad. And I’m not sure they know what an “inside voice” is.
2) Things would be a lot easier if I had a man’s voice (and if I was allowed to speak in Spanish to the kids). Disciplining the kids is really a struggle when they either shrug at my English they don’t understand or barely hear me because my pitch is about the same as theirs. The only punishment they’ve been able to understand and is temporarily effective is when I say, “Get out of the classroom.” Having a loud, booming voice is a great way to get kids to be quiet, and sadly, I don’t think I’ll ever have that ability. Working on my glares though.
3) Is not listening a cultural phenomenon here? A bit harsh, but some days this point is really validated. I’ve noticed this with both the students and teachers. And Spanish people in general. *DISCLAIMER* Yes, I am stereotyping. No, this is not true of all Spanish people. Surely, there are Americans who act this way. In fact, I know some. During the break, it sometimes seems like the teachers are all talking over each other, and I wonder if anyone is actually listening. The kids seem to do the same thing, though there are plenty of Americans kids who don’t listen either. But as a kid, I remember listening to an authority figure as different though. Teachers and adults in general were to be given respect and were never called by their first name. It’s different here, and while it may seem inconsequential whether or not a student calls the teacher by his/her first or last name, I think it makes a difference in terms of children learning that you don’t talk to an adult exactly as you do to your best friend. A bit of that social distance is good for maintaining order in the classroom. That doesn’t mean that teachers or any adult for that matter have the right to disrespect children. Simply that students should understand when is and isn’t an appropriate time to talk.
4) Phew, that got a bit negative! Time for something a bit more lighthearted. Kids say the darndest things.
- “You look like a witch with that hair.” Not said to me, luckily. Also, said by one of the sweetest students I know, so it was definitely unexpected (but kinda true).
- “My teachers are married to each other!” One of the practicum students I worked with and I both had rings on our ring fingers one day. In Spain, wedding rings can be worn on the left or right hand and are much simpler. So obviously, we were married. After the practicum students left, I told the students we were separating.
- “I want to visit her money.” Her money = Germany. I love the speaking mistakes students make. Though I try to make sure they know I’m laughing with them so they continue to speak despite mistakes.
- “She said Guille. She spoke Spanish!” I say all of their names, but apparently “Guille” is the only Spanish one?
- “Where’s my comecocos?” “Comecocos” is the Spanish word for “PacMan” and also what the kids call “cootie catchers” or “fortune tellers” that I remember being obsessed with as a kid. Well all of the students wanted one after I made one.
- “Today, Paula L. and Paula M. hold your hand. Marta the water bottle. And I carry the bag. We’re Club Lauren.” I have this little entourage that thinks holding my bag is quite the honor. I’ve taken this as an opportunity to teach about sharing and taking turns. It’s sorta working.
- “Your dog is older than me.” Very true. My dog is older than any of my students. Weird.
- “My mom said your name is actually Lorena.” Well your mom would know best, right?
- “I am very boring.” “I played football, and it was very funny.” Some very common mistakes.
- “Dear Stephen Hawking, I am visiting my alien friend in Mars.” The best “write a postcard to your friend about your trip” essay.
5) “Why would you want to be a teacher? It’s impossible.” I get this reaction from several teachers I work with, which is certainly discouraging. I have no illusions about the strenuousness of the job, but I also know that how many classrooms are run here is not how I would run my classroom. I know there are cultural differences that play into the discipline of students and the attitudes towards teaching and fostering an environment for student’s curiosity. And I know I’ve had positive experiences with teachers and in the classroom in the U.S. So I maintain hope. Also, I don’t intend to teach really young kids.
6) I’m not being utilized to my full ability. Either the teachers are not flexible enough about the lesson plan or there’s “just not enough time” for any activity I might like to do. I try to make the most of the very few chances when I do get some free rein. At times I feel like I’m not respected or valued enough to give my opinion or offer a suggestion. I also happen to be one of the youngest teachers at the school, so I think that factors into how some of the teachers view me (e.g. inexperienced and/or unintelligent). But shout-out to the teachers who I really do appreciate because they seem open to my views and thank me for my help.
7) There is either a lot of dislike or or a lot of shame about English with the non-bilingual teachers. At first, I took their attitude as pure hate. Certain teachers give a sort of glare when they hear me and the other auxiliares speaking English to each other. Others completely ignore us. It’s been a daily frustration since day one. All of us try to speak some Spanish, and we certainly always greet in Spanish. Most of the bilingual teachers want to practice English, so that’s what I speak with them. But with the Spanish speaking teachers, I always make an effort to speak in Spanish. Sadly, sometimes I feel ignored or that they’ve given up on me as soon as I start making mistakes. Later, I learned from some Spaniards and some Americans who have lived here awhile, that those who can’t speak English feel a certain level of shame that is then manifested into perceived “hate.” The bottom line is, EVERYONE should try to learn a second language. It doesn’t have to be English, though I would certainly recommend it, but give it a shot. You don’t have to aim to be fluent. Just try. It’s definitely a humbling experience. Sure there’s embarrassment, sure there are mistakes, but there’s progress too. You start to think in a different way, appreciate how much you can articulate in your first language, and learn to laugh at yourself.
So all of these comments may have come off a bit more negative than I intended… There have been a lot of frustrations this year that have overshadowed some of the better moments. As most anything in life, it’s a learning experience. I’m grateful to have this opportunity, and if anything, to learn what NOT to do!