The Difference Between Niños and Niñas

Yesterday, relieved that both Santiago and Nuria were sick, I took the three little ones to the kitchen for a lesson in likes and dislikes. I let little Ramoncito, who is four, color a picture of Santa and a Christmas tree while the older two, Clara and Paloma were given two magazines each to cut out and paste three things they like and three things they dislike.

The girls chose things like babies, purses and chocolate to add to the “likes” column. Ramon sat at the end of the table farting.

They learn these gender roles so early in life, don’t they?

La Vuelta al Cole

I woke up yesterday morning peeing in my pants, both from drinking a few beers before bed and from sheer excitement. It was finally October and I could finally go back to school in Olivares and start working.

I initially hesitated about returning to school before this date, mainly because I didn’t want to get attacked. I can get a little awkward with my Spanish and with forgetting people’s names (hello, we have 85 teachers in my center) and not even being a teacher. Moreover, I knew the kids would ask me about my dog and my boyfriend and my summer and, honestly, I wasn’t ready for it.

I sat on bus M-270 with a student from Valencina to Olivares, passing the same things I used to stare at four mornings and four afternoons a week. Nothing has really changed about the campo, which is actually refreshing. Even though Olivares is close to Sevilla (just about 10 miles west of the city), it seems a million worlds away. I remember bringing in postcards as a writing activity and having my students tell me most of them had never been out of Andalucia! Many of them only go to school until age 16, then drop out of school to become farmers, plumbers, bricklayers or gardeners. Their parents see no practical use for English, so many of them just tune out in class.

As soon as I walked in the door with Alejandro, I thought I was going to pee again. I was immediately welcomed by the Consejeria staff, which make the photocopies and dole out pieces of chalk. Emilio was poking fun at me as always and Meleni hugged me really tight, as she usually did on Thursday afternoons when I left last year. I snuck into the teacher’s lounge before any students could see me. I was greeted with lots of kisses and questions about Kike, of course! I have to say, I really felt like they consider me a colleague, not just some American kid who dicks around in class for 12 hours every week. Last year, I was twice as young as the other auxiliar, meaning I got on with the kids well, but didn’t relate to the teachers like Martin did.

But this year, I’m the only auxiliar. Nieves learned late last week that the other girl would not be coming to Heliche, so she called me to tell me she’d need to change my schedule. She didn’t want to make too many changes, so she was able to keep me working just three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday). She also put me in classes with the best-behaved kids who would benefit most from having a language assistant. I offered to go half the period or alternate weeks to accommodate more classes, but we’ll see. I’ll be teaching the bilingual group of kids, who receive 40% of their coursework in English, in their language classes, one hour of music and two of art each week. Then, I’ll be in English classes for 6 hours and have an hour for conversation and one for planning. Doesn’t sound too bad, but I’ll be the only music teacher. I won’t have to give grades other than participation and use of English.

I wished we had another person to help cover the classes, mainly because my director works so hard. She;s put in a lot of time to making the bilingual program successful and has had a lot of disappointment in just one month. Emilio, the music teacher, has left to finish his masters (leaving me with his lesson plans! YIKES me alone with 12 year olds!). Carmen, the history teacher, didn’t pass her English exam and cannot teach in the program until next year (which gives me incentive to stay again!) and now we have one less assistant. She can’t comply to everyone who wants to have one-on-one conversation hour, or even to kids who have asked if I can cover a class. It was hard seeing them and having to tell them I wasn’t teaching their class.

There are two new teachers in the English department, both younger males. This is better for poor Miguel, who was the only one last year, save Martin. One is new to Sevilla, and I hope I can help him meet people because he’s really nice. I greatly missed Angela and Silvia, the two young teachers from last year, because it seems like there isn’t a single young teacher in the school this year! Regardless, Neme was ready to give me advice about Kike and Lucia told me to get oil and not butter with my tostada. Everyone had the same things to say: You’re skinnier and your Spanish is better. Because Spanish people are so blunt, I figured they were telling the truth!

We’ll see how it all goes. Nieves is really open to my suggestions, and I feel like they trust me. It’s so comforting to feel like I belong somewhere and that people appreciate the work I’m doing. I don’t know how much the kids learn, but da igual. They’re getting exposure to a native and learning that not all Americans have guns!

End of the school year at IES Heliche

Things are starting to wind down at school. I can tell by the attitudes of my students and coworkers, as well as my own motivations in planning lessons. In a swirl of final exams, excursions and kids getting really tired and lazy, the last month has passed so quickly. I can’t believe how fast eight months at I.E.S. Heliche have gone by! I remember my first day, standing in front of 30 or so high schoolers, not having a clue about teaching or even a good handle on English grammar and not having a clue what to expect. I may not have gotten these kids to speak English like pros or even really like the class, but I’ve established a lot of really good relationships. I’m constantly being asked for my messenger form students, meaning I had to sign up for yet another email address! They take pictures with me on their mobile phones and remind me not to smile. Teachers know a little bit too much about my personal life. I’ve learned that I can’t get them to study or sometimes even pay attention in class, but what’s more important is the exposure they’re getting to English and to an American. And, being the youngest of the three assistants, I think I’ve been able to bond with them and make them feel more comfortable. As irritating as they sometimes are, I’m going to miss them, and I can hardly believe that I’ve only got four more days left of teaching till next year. (due to a strike tomorrow and a puente weekend for Corpus Christi).

Last week, I worked an extra day to help Martin, the 41-year old Dutch assistant, conduct his final exams. Rather than taking a written test, students worked on dialogues with Martin every week in preparation for a real-life test. I have to say, I was really impressed with his work and all of the preparation. He created backdrops of a hotel, tourism office, store and restaurant and loaded them with props and plants (my school has gardening classes. strange, i know). He also painted a British telephone cabin, made from two large boxes! When the kids arrived to “customs” they were no longer allowed to speak Spanish to answer questions about their name, age, birthday and nationality for their passports. Each passport stamp was given at each station, so long as they finished tasks. There were about 90 students involved. The ESO kids were really nervous – one little boy just pointed at things and I tried to elicit information from him. It was really hard for him. Others, like my most favorite student Vasco, could carry on a conversation. He invited me to be his date for lunch at the restaurant, then told me he didn’t have his wallet and had invited his two other girlfriends! It was a really long day, especially after working all week, but the kids were really excited to see English used in a real context. Kids in the Communications class videotaped for the website, Nieves’ friends traveled from other schools in the area to see the village, and all of my students were jealous. Martin treated us to a fantastic lunch, cooked by the woman who makes us coffee and snacks in the cantina. I ate a lot and met other assistants who came to help. I was originally supposed to sit by the headmistress, but Nieves switched spots with me, knowing how much Carmen scares me!! I arrived home exhausted and in a food coma, but the village was so much fun and a big success. A huge congratulations to Martin, who will make a wonderful English teacher back in Holland.

So what about next year? Ive already told my students they have to stay another year so they can see me, and given my email address to a lot of the older kids. Next year, my school will begin as a bilingual school. From what I can tell, this means one class will be taking music, art and geography classes once a week in English for more exposure. Since I already have a relationship with these teachers (Emilio, Felisabel and Carmen Moreno, who is like my therapist here!), I’ll be assisting in those classes, plus planning. This means I’ll be in just a few English classes, but I think I’ll enjoy my new role a lot. Many of the teachers who have a fixed position in the school have told me they’re happy to have me back, except for maybe Emilio from Consejería, who I try to run away from because we’ve just got that kind of relationship. Next year, I’ll be more prepared and know what to expect. I won’t get off the bus at the other side of town and have to rely on a stranger for a ride, either!

So, now, I’ve got a long weekend in the Canary Islands with Kike to enjoy, then one more week of teaching. 12 classes, one field trip and a whole lot of pictures. Below are a few of my kiddies and coworkers:

above: 1E and Isidoro, the adorable little guy in the glasses who chases me down the hall

Vasco, my absolute favorite kid in the whole wide world. I told him to stay in school.

4A, a class full of really silly kids who always ask me about my dog and about my boyfriend.

above and below: 2E and 2G. Lazy kids. I made one of the girls in the picture below cry.

iBachD. My absolute favorites. The girls above are all dolls, and I love teaching with Valle (in the blue shirt below). I get sad when I can’t go to class.

IIBachA, the smarties who have really imaginative minds.
Below is 2C, a noisy group that does a lot of speaking in English.

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