Coming to a close May 13, 2008Posted by Emily in moving, rants, Spain, teaching, working.
In my last post, I mentioned that my job is done at the end of May. For those not quite doing the math, that means I have about ten days of classes left, and the last three days I won’t even be in class, as it will be Culture Week at the school and I’ll be attempting to teach American culture to kids from 3-12 years old. Hello, Duck Duck Goose. Hello, Around the World. I might make paper snowflakes with some new classes as they were a big hit with my students. And yes, there may even be some line dancing mixed in there somewhere. Visions of middle school awkwardness in gym class spring to mind now. The question is, will I, like my middle school gym teachers, repeat “Achy Breaky Heart” over and over, apparently the only song worth line dancing to? Tempting. Oh, Billy Ray, how I loved your mullet.
When all is said and done, I’ll almost certainly write more about my experience, especially since I am given the idea I won’t be asked for any feedback on my experience from the authorities here. At the same time that we are entrusted with teaching Spanish kids without any training other than the ability to speak English, we auxiliares are never really treated like we have opinions that could enrich this still fairly new and very discombobulated program, despite having lived it for at least a year.
When the Erasmus girl who worked at the school for something like eight hours a week left at the end of February, she sobbed. She had been there only a few months and had no classes with the kids (she spent almost all of her time laminating. Good use of her language skills, right?) The other British auxiliar and I laughed, saying we’ll leave singing and dancing. But we both know now, even if we didn’t know then, that it won’t be true.
I’ve discovered that I like teaching, that it’s something I think I could be good at and enjoy for the long term. As before, I am fairly sure elementary school isn’t for me (too much “she hit me” “he pushed me” and nose picking). But I realized last week that if given the chance of being in another city, maybe lucking out with a school where more teachers seem to give a damn, I could do this another year. Like any job involving funcionarios (infamous Spanish government workers), it pays pretty well for working relatively few hours. Although I supposedly work 12 hours a week, I’m at the school about 18 hours a week, sometimes more, and the full timers are only there another 6 or 8. Some of the teachers have at least 7 hours a week of prep time, in which they sit in the teachers’ lounge, read the paper, play on their iPhones, and generally do little related to prepping for teaching. One guy leaves work an hour early a couple days a week, before the school day is even over, because his class is in art or music or something. Of course, he’s paid for this hour when he’s heading home, not to mention the half an hour he and everyone else are supposed to be there after the bell rings. At 2:10, the halls are dead and the doors are locked.
I should take a minute to repeat that I am personally lucky to teach with a couple teachers who actually seem to care if the kids learn. They are younger and hipper and more passionate and don’t yet have one foot on the shuffleboard court of retirement. (Here, domino table might be more appropriate for the metaphor.) There are some other teachers who do what they are supposed to do as far as obligations, who come on some Monday afternoons for their required class hours, often meeting with the mothers of their students. Some mothers here feel like parent-teacher conferences need to be a semi-weekly occurence. (another reason elementary school is not for me…) But there’s a certain old guard with their hands in their pockets (and the principal’s) who do the bare minimum in any given situation. If they can get out of it, they will. If they can pass off some of their classes on one of the younger substitute teachers, they will. If they can let their kids out to the playground and do Sudoku and call it P.E., they will. I realize this is how the working world works to some extent, people doing the minumum to get by, especially in Spain where there’s virtually no risk of ever getting fired. But then there are the kids.
There are the kids who are from a pretty poor working class neighborhood, the eight year old kids who spend their afternoons and evenings playing alone in the street. There are the kids whose parents are too busy or too lazy to send them to school with a breakfast/snack that isn’t chocolate and wrapped in plastic, if they have a merienda at all. We have money to tear out and completely renovate all of the bathrooms in the school over the course of months and months, we have a mirror that required three people to choose its style, we change the hallway decorations every ten days, and yet the gym floor, a patchwork of cement and peeling linoleum, sprouts serious puddles when it rains. Their parents don’t seem to teach them much–some of my third years don’t know how to tie their shoes, almost none know their phone numbers or addresses. It’s May and some of my students haven’t had certain books during the entire school year. They deserve better.
So although it will be really hard to say goodbye to some of my workmates, people with whom I’ve shared lots of classroom hours, lots of teachers’ lounge hours, some good times and some not so great times (the pencil tip a kid shoved into the back of my hand today comes to mind…), more than anything I will miss the kids. I will miss how they try to show me some new t-shirt or book or trinket or English word they looked up online every morning when I walk into class. I will miss how excited they always seem to see me and how often they tell me “You look nice today.” I will miss their misunderstandings of the rules in P.E., when one of them just takes off running to third base without considering first or second. I will miss the rare classes where everyone is sitting quietly and working and not having to be told to sit down. Hell, I will miss when they are hyper and giggling. I will miss the sense of achievement that comes when I ask a question and five or eight hands shoot up. A Sally Field moment: “They’re learning. They’re really learning!”