Admittedly, when I started applying for the opportunity to teach English in Spain almost a year ago, I was thinking less about the “teaching” part and more about the “living and traveling in Spain/Europe for 1 year” part. I knew I loved Spain, I knew I loved traveling, and I knew I loved to speak Spanish and wanted the chance to improve my skills. But teaching? What did I know about teaching? Nothing.
As you know, I started my job teaching at CEIP Antonio Gutierrez Mata at the beginning of October.
My school is known as a ‘bilingual school’ which basically means that about half of the classes are taught in English and the other half in Spanish. I work Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 9am-2pm. I teach 4 year olds and also 1st-5th grades. The 4 year old class is the most difficult because these kids barely speak Spanish…mostly we just sing songs and color.
Something that I really was not expecting from my teaching position is the fact that I am not really teaching English. Rather, I am teaching classes and lessons IN English. I teach mostly science which was SO difficult at first because everything is so technical. Can you imagine teaching (or trying to learn) about the layers of the Earth, the solar system, and why we have seasons in a foreign language? It was a terrible feeling to be speaking to a class and asking questions and knowing that there wasn’t a single child in the room that understood a word of what you said. How can this bilingual initiative work in Spanish schools if the children don’t even have basic knowledge of the English language? At first I was probably even more frustrated and confused than the kids were.
But then it happened. I think it was my biological fight or flight response. I could either give up, or I could fight and work harder and FIND A WAY to make a difference in this school.
I spend my free time scouring the internet for materials and/or lessons I can use to help my classes. I have become somewhat of an artist and draw pictures on the chalkboard daily just to illustrate what I mean. I’m even an actor. Sometimes the easiest way to explain things is to just act it out no matter how silly you feel. Hey, self-inflicted dizziness is a small price to pay for my science classes to understand the difference between “rotation” and “orbit”.
I’ve finally begun to find my purpose here. It took a lot longer than I anticipated but the sense of accomplishment and pride I feel when I know my students have understood, and more importantly learned something is indescribable. It feels great to help people, but it also feels good knowing that I am helping myself along the way. I am learning just as much, if not more, as these kids.
I’ll never forget what one of my most influential teachers from high school told me. He said, “If you ever get the chance to do something where you are going to feel uncomfortable, out of place, or awkward…DO IT”. Back then I had no way of understanding what this meant, but for some reason his words stuck with me. Now, I discover new meaning behind these words every day. I am uncomfortable in Spain sometimes, and most certainly out of place. I feel awkward speaking Spanish, and even being a “teacher” with no previous training or experience. But none of that stuff matters. The ways in which you learn and grow from these uncomfortable situations makes it all worth it in the end.