Why I love teaching high schoolers

Today was my first day actually being in the classroom. My final class, right after recess, was with 15-year-olds. Most of them were students of mine from last year, but a new dude named Rahid asked me: “Teacher, are teacher in USA so pretty as you are?”

This was, of course, after coaxing the English out of him. Que precioso!

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!

Adventures in babysitting

So, I like to think of my job as glorified babysitting. I have kids as young as 11 who have no concept of discipline. They’re a bit like monkeys sometimes. Because most of the kids aren’t encouraged by their parents, most don’t want to learn and prefer to talk or sleep. Despite this, I’ve had some really good discussions (like about Physician Assisted Suicide) or kids who are really interested in what they’re learning.

**After I showed kids pictures of Chicago, one of my younger students went out and bought a Chicago Bulls backpack. I smile everytime I see him toting it through the hall.

**We planted trees in one of my classes, and the students invited me along. I got to be the pne who held the tree in the ground as two other students covered it in dirt, and the tree will apparently have my name associated with it. That’s pretty kick ass.

**On Valentine’s Day, I was talking about conversation hearts and the kids had to come up with their own in English. On the board, I wrote “xoxo” meaning hugs and kisses. Apparently that shorthand means “pus$y” Well done.

Hard to believe they let me be alone with young minds, eh?

Spain and (a lack of) Discipline

I love my job. I really do. Even when it’s a pain  to plan lessons that teachers won’t let you give and you waste an afternoon looking for an internet cafe that’s actually open, I look forward to taking the bus in the morning with the students and arriving to class late (as the buses, like everything here, are quite unreliable) and getting poked in the hallway so students can say, “Hello, CAT!” to me. It’s fantastic. Really, really fantastic.But things in Spain are so different. Yesterday, in IBach, which is like junior year of high school age-wise, we talked about the students’ favorite subject. Naturally, none of the students liked English best, but when I asked them why (an ESL’s teachers favorite question), they said they have no choice – they have to take it. They could care less, which makes me feel like I’ve been failing IES Heliche because I can’t finish lessons. I spend a lot of my time going over directions several times or waiting for replies. I’ve resorted to using the attendance sheet to just call on people so I don’t stand up front looking like an idiot all the time. Most of the time I can’t understand them due to the echo anyway, but I think they probably make fun of me a lot, too.Today, no one bothered to inform me that the 4ºESO, aka the only level I teach today, has some kind of field trip to Sevilla to see a museum or a play or whatever. So, in my first class, half the alumnosgot up and left. And the teacher didn’t tell me until afterward that they had some activity planned. Apparently half the teachers didn’t know the activities department had been planning this trip for 4ºESO kids with good behavior (though I think walking out on a teacher while she’s in the middle of a lesson is NOT good behavior and rather rude). I had another class later with no students, so Angela took me along to her 2ºESO class. I hadn’t prepared anything, but she wanted me to teach them requests. Ok, fine, but I need some kind of prompt or at least a three-minute review of what I have to do. I may have a journalism degree, but I know NOTHING about grammar. At least not how to introduce it. I know Spanish grammar rules because they were actually taught to me, whereas English I just…learned. But it was impossible for me to teach anyway because the kids in the class are like monkeys. I tried to teach them a sign that would tell them to be quiet, and they loved it. The first time. After that, it was hopeless. Kids were fighting and hitting and calling each other names and walking out of class, and Angela didn’t do anything. I don’t think that she’s necessarily apathetic, but she knows it’s a cultural thing. In Spain, children are revered and thus able to do anything they want. Angela has been called out several times for raising her voice in class to calm the kids down, but this is outside the teacher’s code she says. Rosario, a girl who should really be in 4ºESO but hasn’t passed her classes two years in a row, came up to the chalkboard and banged the hard, wooden side of the erased against the board several times. The noise was obnoxious, but it shut the kids up for a while. It was then that I heard at least the same noise in at least one more classroom. I’m not the only one with this problem. Stupid hormonal 14 year olds.Thank goodness for Halloween lessons next week and a long weekend (aka IRELAND!!!!)

Instituto Carcel Olivares

I think my school looks like a gigantic jail. Ok, so the school only has 1000 kids, and it’s not scary or unsafe and there aren’t any gangs, but it seriously looks like a penitentiary, Martin and I decided during the longest bus ride home ever. The first things you see is a low wall full of graffiti, followed by a seven-foot wrought iron gate. Since Andalucía is so hot and dry, there’s hardly any vegetation inside the gates. You have to be buzzed in after school hours to both the school grounds AND the school door. No one has keys but the grounds keepers and the lady who works in the cantina. Nieves, my boss, assures me that this is for security so no one breaks into the school (to what, steal the 12 computers that are inside?) or vandalizes the property.

IES Heliche draws in students from three different towns, like Olivares and Albaida, and some other one I can’t pronounce. There are 1000 kids, aged 12-16, then some in the bachillerato program up to 18. Eighty teachers, then Martin and myself. They’re all quite nice, including the administration class. Martin and I were done after out 11:55 department meeting, but we stayed another two hours introducing ourselves to everyone, from the art teacher to the man who writes our checks, Paco. The English department is wonderful: Charo and Asun speak brilliant English with British accents, Nieves is so sweet, Sylvia is very beautiful, Angela is funky, Miguel is fascinated with the United States, Valle is nice enough to offer me rides, Rocio is quiet but always smiling. Martin and I round out the bunch.

Today, like yesterday, I didn’t know what to expect. I had to get up super early to be at work by 830 since there was no direct bus. I didn’t bother to look at the times until about 20 minutes before the bus came, so I ran part of the way to get there on time. Like all things in Spain, the bus was late. And because I didn’t know where to get off since I took the wrong bus, I was nervous about missing the stop since it was still dark out. Luckily, I quickly realized that all of my fellow passengers were students and Rocio. Success. I was able to make it in time to my first class with Angela, a second year group.

Olivares is a very traditional Andalusian town, and many parents don’t encourage their children in any subjects, much less English. I could tell this right away in the class because the students all had low marks on their diagnostic test, had to be told multiple times to sit down or be quiet or write down notes, and hardly spoke my language at all. They were so confused how I could live in Spain and not speak theirs (I was told not to tell them I spoke Spanish so they could practice more). Even though they are in the second year, we just reviewed possessive pronouns and how to form questions. The most confusing part to them was not having a question mark at the beginning of a sentence to mark it as a question. Or why the tu and vosotros form is the same. Either way, I wasn’t nervous (the students thought I looked bored, but I was really exhausted), and I’m looking forward to planning lessons and teaching. The difficult part is that some classes I will only be in every other week, or sometimes even every third week. This will inevitably make it difficult in some ways to be consistent, even within levels.

I had some “planning” time in which I had some coffee, paced around the box that serves as the English department office, leafed through some books and kind of just stared at the wall until Nieves and Martin joined me so we could talk more about the curriculum. After the recreo, we had a department meeting. It was actually hilarious how they would start talking in English, then switch to Spanish and the Charo, the department head, would make a random comment in English. But it was here that I learned how dire the education system is in Spain. These poor people deal with bureaucracy, students who aren’t motivated by parents, many whom fail year after year, and low pay. They’re expected to implement all kinds of new programs, but don’t have the money to make it happen or the time to plan it. It’s very frustrating to them, and I’m now happy to have the education that I have. Tomorrow we do get some reprieve and we have to go to a mandatory meeting right in Cartuja, about a 20 minute walk for me. Then it’s on to Huelva to see the girls for their housewarming party!!

First Day of Work at IES Heliche

The past few days were quite the adventure. After skipping out on orientation yesterday with my new friends to go explore and eat (seriously, I was ready to dive off the balcony head first, I was SO bored), I settled into my new apartment. Apparently my Spanish roommate is not here, the German girl has found a second job and is gone all day, and my apartment has been taken over by a smelly woman who is staying in Melissa’s room while her husband has surgery. After I moved all of my things in, I walked around the city. It was about 7 pm, so things were starting to get dark and the lights were coming on. Triana is amazing. This is where the gypsies and the poor fisherman once lived. It’s colorful and mysterious and almost magical. My apartment is in close proximity to a lot of things, and a walk to the bars on C/Betis takes 5 minutes. It started to rain as I walked home, but I loved getting drenched. Who said the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain? NOT TRUE!

I started my job as an auxiliar de conversation (language and conversation assistant) at IES Heliche today. I hopped on bus M270 just a few blocks from my place and rode the direct line into Olivares ( or so I thought). It’s incredible how much the city changes when you’re outside the center. The towns are all centered around a roundabout off the highway with no shoulder, and each one was a different hue – from white to yellow to burnt orange. The hills, covered in olive trees, spread out any direction, only broken by small, crumbling farmhouses. It made the trip go much faster. I asked the bus driver to let me off as close as possible to Heliche, and she slammed on the brakes (I was the only one aboard anyway) and told me, “BÁJATE, BAJATE!” So I got off and walked along the highway for a while like a campesino until I found an open cafeteria. I couldn’t understand a word the nearly toothless bartender was saying, but a very nice woman with a heavy accent was kind enough to tell me I was not even in Olivares anyway, but in Albaida. They’re next to one another, but I would need to walk a long way. So I set off, having 40 minutes to just walk up to the plaza, hang a left, wind around til I got to the health center, turn left again and go through some gates to the school. I wasn’t even two blocks away when a horn honked and the woman opened her car door and offerred to take me. She said it was obvious I was a foreigner.

I walked around the dead streets for a little while, just taking in the beautifully decorated exteriors of the white churches and the barred windows guarding “moda” inside that looked like it could have come from the 80s. I mistakenly wandered into the private gardens of some little house, thinking it was the other gate of the school since they have an extensive garden from what I’ve read. A man in a wheelchair with an even more thick accent told me I should leave, but then asked me how my day was going, so I don’t think he was mad.

At about half past 10, I followed a teacher past the gate and into the school. You’d think it was a penitentiary from the way there’s so much security! The woman had me sit on a bench next to an older man with wavy blond hair. As it turns out, Martin is the other auxiliar. He’s a forty-year old psychologist from Amsterdam, but his English and Spanish are impeccable. He’s on sabbatical until next June, kind of like myself. I just don’t know what I’m taking sabbatical from? Anyway, a wonderfully short, yet friendly lady named Nieves showed us to the English department office, a small room with just a little light and a broken computer near the school’s main entrance. Apparently our job is not what we expected (not like I went to orientation anyway…). Martin and I will be spending half of our time in the classroom helping the teachers and helping to establish an English curriculum, and the other half will be only in conversation with the teachers in a lounge. Some of the teachers will be teaching English, while the others just want to improve because the school will become bilingual in the future. I work every day but Tuesday, making travel difficult, but many of the teachers live in Sevilla and offered us rides. They’re all so nice. They make such an effort to test out their skills and are interesting in their own right. Thursdays will be my busiest day – I start at 830 am and teach/converse for three hours before the 30 minute break, then attend a teacher’s meeting. Very exciting.

As it turns out, Martin is very nice and bought me lunch in exchange for letting him use my Internet. I think we will be pals. Ok, out to explore. It’s beautiful out here, and I need to find out where I’m going on Friday!

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