Discipline, Spanish Style

Last year, Nancy Bielski came to visit me. Since she’s in school to be an English teacher, I brought her along one day so that she could see what Spanish schools are like. Her reaction went something like this: “OH. MY. GODDDD.” Followed by, “I have never seen such poorly behaved kids in my whole life.”

While I wouldn’t liken teaching in a Spanish village to teaching in inner-city Chicago, we definitely have our share of discipline problems. Kids hit each other in the hallways, destroy our new computers and mouth off to teachers. I’ve had to yell quite a few times, and often end up tuckered out after a four-hour day. Teachers blame the lax education system and the reverence that Spanish kids receive. “Well, if my son/daughter doesn’t want to learn, I won’t force them” and “Well, if my son/daughter doesn’t want to learn, you should be a better teacher” are as common as teachers handing out partes, which are like demerits. I’ve given out just two in the 12 months I’ve taught at IES Heliche. In fact, students get partes just for not turning in homework! Most of them rack up several in a term and could care less if a teacher has to call home once or twice. To me, it’s totally unuseful.

Every other Wednesday, I’d like to jump off the highest building in Olivares (which is maybe 2 floors, unless you count a church) because I not only have five hours of class, but I also have 1D. For some reason, this class is always cursed. Year after year, teachers tell me, the students in 1D have the worst behavioral problems and the most partes, almost like being in the lead for the school food drive or something. When I came into class a little late (actually on time since the teacher has to go there immediately to prevent the kids from throwing the desks out the windows or something), the teacher was screaming at everyone to sit down and demanding to know what happened to the eraser for the chalkboard. Clearly, none of the kids fessed up, and my attempts to get them to behave and focus on the language village were futile. The teacher, a very calm woman, finally went to the equivalent of the dean for help. Fernando is tall and unnerving and in charge of all of the discipline in the school. He’s pretty good for the job, in my opinion, because he’s scary.

I tried my best to at least correct the worksheet we’d done last week before Fernando came. The whole room got SILENT and I thought some of the kids would have liked to crawl under their desks from the looks on their faces. “It’s been called to my attention that someone has spit gum onto the blackboard (oops, missed that one!) and a second person has hidden the eraser. Who would like to confess to doing it?” No one, clearly. He asked a second time. And a third, adding that now the crime had gone from bad but excusable to bad and not-so-excuseable. Finally, he asked the kids to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of the students who had committed the acts. After counting them, he announced the names of two kids – both huge troublemakers and smartasses. He interrupted me twice more to call out two other students before giving the students more partes and threatening expulsion. The whole class was quiet and not even one of them asked what kind of punishments they’d be getting.

That lasted a whole two minutes until I was back to, “CAAAAALLLLLAAAARRRROOOOSSSS!”

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

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