Thursday, October 3, 2013

Anticlockwise: The First Few Days of Work

I have officially started my job as an Cultural and Language Assistant at CEIP Valdebernardo in Vicálvaro, Madrid, Spain. I've only been there three days, but I absolutely love it! The kids, the other language assistants, the teachers. It's great. I feel so welcome there!

The first day, the other language assistants and I sat in the English lab and kids would either come by and say "Hello, what's your name?" or come by to look at us and hurriedly leave, giggling as they skipped down the hall with their friends. 

That day, we started to work on posters about ourselves and where we were from that we will hang in the halls for parents to see and such. There is a whole board in the hallway dedicated to us and we can decorate it however we like. We decided we would make posters about ourselves about where we were from. I decided to decorate my poster with pictures of beautiful Northern California. I also decided to go with Chico over my actual hometown (Roseville, which is really close to Chico) because the name makes Spaniards, children and adults alike, laugh and because I feel like Chico is the place where I really did my growing up. 

I put a picture of my campus, Mount Shasta covered with snow, the highway going to Lake Tahoe, my siblings and myself. I will put a picture of the final result of the assistant's board when it is finished.

Here is my poster:

We got to have breakfast with the rest of the teachers. I felt immediately welcome into their world even though with quite a few of them there is a language barrier. They all respected me and accepted me as one of their own.

The next day I got to attend classes. The students go to class at 9, switch classes at 10, have a half hour break at 11, class for an hour at 11:30, then a two-hour lunch and then two 45-minute classes. Even the little ones switch classes. They are always with the same students though and some teachers teach more than one subject. It's quite an interesting concept.

The first two hours, I was with a fourth level class for both their English and Science hours. The teacher spoke perfect English with a flawless Scottish accent (which even has our British language assistant thinking he had to have been raised for a while in Scotland) and immediately made me feel welcome. The imagination that guy has while interacting with his students is incredible and reminded me of Johnny Depp's portrayal of J.M. Barrie (okay, it might have been the Scottish accent, but I was waiting for this guy to say, "Write about the whale that's stuck in your head and dying to get out"). He let me jump right into his class. The students asked me questions and then he quizzed them about the answers I gave, which prompted them to ask more questions ("How many siblings does Brittany have?" "Three." "What do they do?" "She didn't say." "Well, then ask her!"). He really got the kids to use their imagination, which was awesome. It was so like watching Johnny Depp talk to Freddie Highmore in "Finding Neverland." They were upset to hear that I hadn't gotten the proper amount of sleep the night before (They asked me how long I had slept and I responded 6 hours without knowing they had gone over the sleep cycle in science). We then went over some English grammar and he told them that next time I visited, we would get to work from their favorite workbook (Spellbound) and that every Wednesday while I was there, we would work from it. Then we moved into Science and talked about nutrition. It was a great class, but the same four girls were repeatedly raising their hands and not allowing the other students to answer, which made me reflect on my own days as one of teacher's pets.

Next, I had sixth level with a female teacher. Boy, was that different. The first question they asked me was "Do you speak Spanish?" which I had to reply "No" to, and they immediately started talking about me in Spanish (most of which I at least got the gist of). They were immediately more difficult. They asked me similar questions about myself as the class before had. This teacher had a different teaching style, but it was interesting to obseve. She was a lot more strict and a lot more concerned with her students staying on task. They went over careers that had difficult vocabulary, like underwater photographers and sideshow performers. I stayed after class to talk with her for a little bit in which she explained to me her struggle with some of the students and their problems with the English language. She explained to me that there was a small population of gypsies at the school who don't have a lot of support and aren't really motivated to do well. 

My next class of the day was third level, with a teacher who I absolutely love (okay, I love all of them!). The students also asked me questions in this class, but they were younger and didn't quite grasp a lot of things, like that I was an American, so, they were concerned about where I slept at night. They were relieved to hear that I had an apartment. One girl then raised her hand to tell me I was very beautiful. It was sweet and a much needed compliment. An interesting observation I made was how forward this teacher was with her students. (The teacher before was quite blunt with her students as well). She kept telling her students that they were being disrespectful and that it was probably making me not want to come back to their class (which wasn't at all true). She was saying that she was really frustrated that they didn't do their work (only a quarter of the class had done their homework) and kept making threats to them about having to copy whole paragraphs out of the textbooks. The students who were actively participating were really awesome at English and super excited to have me there. I got to read them a story about the Unfriendly Giant and then they had to explain to me what happened. When I had to leave, they wouldn't let me go and kept asking if I was coming back next week for sure. They kept giving me hugs and thanking me. It was very sweet. 

The next day (today), I had different classes. My first class was actually in the class of the coordinator of us language assistants. It was a sixth level English class and it was a much easier and quieter environment than the sixth level class I had before. Since my coordinator knew that I was really into poetry and had studied Creative Writing in college, we did poetry in class. Next week, she said she might even let me teach a lesson on rhymes and couplets! They had learned about cinquain and diamond poems. However, when it came time to share, they were silent. The same people kept answering, but it was reluctantly, and probably only because they were annoyed that no one else was raising their hand (because I've been that annoyed person, multiple times). The teacher eventually got very annoyed and asked every student who hadn't participated (which was all of them but 6 or 7) to stand up. They were not to sit down until they participated. At the end of it, there were still five students standing and she asked them, one by one, why they weren't participating. There was this one boy who wouldn't respond to her question, wouldn't even look her in the eye and she eventually gave up and let him sit down. Then they got to work silently on revising poems. I walked around the room to read what they had written and help them brainstorm ideas and proof their grammar and was shocked when the boy who wouldn't even look the teacher in the eye asked me question after question about how he could improve his poem. That made me happy. I also read a really impressive diamond poem about superheros, which used some hard vocabulary. The teacher then taught them about alliteration. I was definitely in my element in that class. 

Then I had fifth level science, in which I got to read the lesson and present it to the kids. It was on the different levels of the atmosphere. I learned what the ionosphere was. He kept telling me that if I knew anything that wasn't in the text book, I could add it into the lecture. He overestimates my knowledge on the ionosphere. This teacher was great (but a bit impatient), but his confidence level with his English was quite shaky. He kept asking me if he was saying things right when he was saying them perfectly and it made me realize just how much of our own worst critic we actually are. (Maybe my Spanish is a little better than I think). This class was a lot more active and willing to participate, although maybe a little to talkative, which was testing his patience. One student even got moved to a different seat because she was being too talkative. Before science, they did get a few minutes to ask me some questions about myself. They asked me if I spoke Spanish and, since I said I didn't, they asked me if I would say "Hola!" so they could hear my American accent. 

My last class of the day (and the week) was another 4th level science class (not with J.M. Barrie, but with someone equally as cool). This one had an exam today, so, I didn't do much. He had me work with students who were at a lower level and, therefore, not taking the exam. They were quite difficult to work with, so, I slipped and used Spanish and then they were completely responsive and did everything I asked. They were able to do the entire exam in English with very little help, which loops back around to the "own worst critic" thing. This isn't always true, I guess. Sometimes, it's fueled by those who don't believe in you. That's a lesson I have learned over and over again working with "remedial" students (who don't deserve the title of "remedial" by any means) in the United States.

Overall, it was a great way to start the school year.


  1. Thank you Brittany! You don't know how happy I was to read all of your details - keep them coming! So glad you are happy and living your life!