I realized that a post relating to my job, how I spend every morning, is long overdue. The problem is, I’ve been toying for a while with where exactly to begin.
Some random facts about my school/education system:
- Teachers here work for a number of years before getting a plaza, or a permanent position. It’s kind of like getting tenure. And everyone wants to be in the city, and not have to commute to a pueblo. But in the meantime, they are sent to different schools every couple of years, every year, or even every couple of months. They fill out a list with their top 300some odd choices and then keep their fingers crossed, which means they don’t actually apply to a specific school–they are placed at one. Most of the teachers with whom I spend my time fall into this semi-permanent category. It’s not a coincidence that they are also younger and have higher levels of English.
- I teach 3rd years exclusively, or 8 and 9 year olds. There are two classes-3A and 3B-and they have vastly different personalities. I have four hours a week of Science, four hours of P.E., and then a couple of random hours of meeting (or not meeting…) with teachers and watching over recess. One day a week I watch over the recess of the 3 year olds. I wipe their noses and make sure they run to the bathroom when they say they need to. In Spanish, to pee is hacer pipí. I never really get over how funny this is.
- The teacher’s lounge has a stash of hard alcohol, and recently some of the teachers have been mistaking “recess” for “happy hour.”
- The other day, one of the girls in my class told the teacher (not one I have class with), that a boy had cards with naked women. So the teacher called said boy up to the front of the class and asked to see the cards. He slid some under the pile, as secretly as an 8 year old can do, but she pulled them out. They are cards of WWF-style fighters, and the women are all in some sexual pose, preferably with whip and black patent leather, some wearing pasties. I was sure this kid with the cards was going to get in trouble for having them at school, especially seeing as how he’s 8 YEARS OLD. But nope, the girl got yelled at “for telling lies.” “Are these women naked?” the teacher yelled at her. “Tell me, are they wearing no clothes at all? No, they have on something. And if they want to show their bodies, they can. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to.” This to a 9 year old. I’m not sure how I feel about the whole exchange.
- The Spanish version of “shh” is “tssst.” The kids don’t listen when I try to get them to be quiet. Oh wait, they don’t really listen anyway.
So the thing is, the school was declared bilingual this year. Which is all well and good, except that the kids have had almost no English up to this point. Which means that in Science I am supposed to be teaching them the path of food/the digestive system–aka words like “esophagus,” “large intestine,” and “rectum,” but they don’t know how to say “I eat” or “I drink.” Prior to our “let’s make a supermarket” exercise this week, the only English food names they knew were “milk” “apple” “hamburger” and “lemonade,” mostly pronounced “limonade” and repeated endlessly by one specific child. When I asked them if they knew what “large” and “small” mean (you know, in the most natural context of intestines,) I was met with blank faces.
So. Sometimes it’s a little…challenging. So far my biggest hit is still “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” although I am still trying to break the “antos = feet” part. They have the same word for fingers and toes, so it’s very weird that we don’t. They also thought the “Hokey Pokey” was the most hilarious thing ever, and mostly I was singing it by myself, but they may know right and left thanks to that song. Time will tell. Parts of the body. Check. We’ve got those under control.
Lately a fair amount of time is wasted trying to get them to stop whining, stop fighting, stop pushing, and basically stop being brats/8 and 9 years old. There’s a lot of “she pushed me” “he doesn’t want to be my partner” “I was first in line” and my personal favorite from last week “He called me an asshole.” At least that one warranted a response from one of the teachers. Supposedly, I’m not responsible for discipline, but I quickly figured out that it benefited me to not just be a sitting duck, so I’ve got the stern look down pat and a number of other more effective techniques. Mwa ha ha. Mostly I just try to avoid the “let’s insult them to make them learn” tactic. Seems a little counterintuitive to me.
I’m really lucky in the fact that I have these two main classes with two teachers who care about me, the kids, and trying to get them to learn. One commutes by train everyday from Sevilla (for anyone counting, that’s about an hour each way, plus 30 min each walking to and from the station) and the other taught for a long time in a pueblo in Cádiz, in the southwest, but is here to help take care of her elderly parents. They are about as new to the colegio as I am, but not to the Spanish education system.
The thing is, I look forward to going to school most days. I (mostly) like teaching. Well, “teaching” is perhaps more like it in my case, seeing as how I work all of 12 hours a week. It’s sort of like being a camp counselor, but without the responsibility of dressing them, getting them places on time (no one does that), and feeding them. Of course, I also don’t see any overnights in my near future with these kids. Spending more than a few hours a day could be dangerous to my health, or at least my eardrums.
Sometimes I try to figure out why these kids are how they are. Spain went from being a 4, 5, 6, 7 kid per family country to having the lowest birthrate in Europe basically within one generation. So these kids get so much attention from their parents, their grandparents, and any random person they pass on the street, they are taught they are in control. That’s my theory anyway. They also don’t seem to get taught much at home–almost none of my kids know their addresses or even their parents’ phone numbers. This strikes me as odd, but maybe not. Really, I am not entirely certain what American kids of the same age are like. I do know they are more likely to have siblings, less likely to have such close relationships with their grandparents, and certainly less likely to be pushed around in a $500 stroller dressed like a doll from infancy. So it’s hard to say. But, like any good teacher, I have hope for them. I have hope that, at the very least, I am going to teach them some English, and maybe along the way some idea of how to treat one another. At this point, I’m not exactly sure which is the bigger challenge.
Now seems a good time to recommend that everyone read or reread Barthelme’s “The School.” It’s short, funny, one of my favorite stories, and strangely understanding of the otherworldly world of the elementary school.