Transmitting a spark

I’ve written in this blog before about how I never planned on becoming a teacher, and I know I complain a lot about workload, but overwhelmingly I feel so excited and grateful that I get to do what I do every day, for as long as I want. I remember one day in my first semester of adjuncting when I was driving from one university to another, having already taught 2 classes and preparing to teach 3 more, which probably should have been an overwhelming or possibly depressing experience. But what I really remember from that drive is joy. I think it’s because my students’ enthusiasm reminds me of the first time I learned whatever it was – for me, teaching is a way to continually relive the best moments of my past. Probably my favorite lectures to give deal with culture because I get to use my own work and experiences to relate the excitement of being in another country and culture.

It’s even better now that I have significant travel experience because I get to share my own photos, tours, and stories about missing the bus and walking across the Mexican countryside. The textbook that we use at my school, apart from being pretty darn good, also just happens to feature the countries I have already visited right in the first 4 chapters, so when we do cultural lectures I get to go to town.

It’s so interesting to me how the act of telling someone else about an experience makes me feel more connected to the event. I find that even though I am ostensibly teaching other people about Guatemala or Spain, I end the lecture feeling more excited and passionate about the concepts I’m teaching than my students. Granted, the teacher usually has much more passion for their subject matter than the student, but the act of teaching seems to be a manner of remembering and reminiscing.  It also serves the purpose of organizing and laying out themes and ideas, almost like when I research and outline. It becomes much easier to see recurring topics when you are going through 500 pictures post-trip.

This clarity only really comes with time. I only just got back from Ecuador and I don’t really feel like I understand how to present it to my students. I don’t yet feel the flow and structure of this country in which I spent 2 weeks. I don’t know that I’m even going to begin to put together an Ecuador lecture yet, although I know I can’t delay that forever since I will be presenting to the college community sometime this fall. But right now I don’t feel that spark, so I don’t feel confident that I can pass it on to others.

But once I get that lecture going, man, Ecuador is going to be THE BEST TRIP I HAVE EVER TAKEN. I guarantee it.


Fall 2012

What we’re experiencing here is a brief slowdown in blog posts due to the fall semester starting up again. I am totally swamped with planning and things to do to get ready for this school year, so I haven’t been blogging as much as I would have liked to.

One thing I did do was sign up for the Returning Auxiliares conference, which is actually a series of meetings all over the US and Canada, set up by the Spanish government for all new and returning language assistants. I think this is a great idea; this program and its participants have SO much untapped networking potential. I know I met a lot of auxiliares while I was in Spain, but I’d love to keep up those connections outside of just Facebook. It’s also going to be fun to see who is in my immediate area who went through the program just like me. I’ll be going to the Raleigh meeting on September 7th – I wanted to do the DC meeting too, but it is on the same day as Raleigh, and Raleigh is closer.

So, any other language assistants reading this blog who are planning on going? I hope everyone goes to one, even if it’s not the same one as me. And, if you are coming to Raleigh on the 7th, let me know!

Online learning

I know I spent the last post outlining the differences between children and adults, and how that results in different methods for teaching, and also how I was slightly struggling to adapt my teaching to those methods. But this weekend I had 3 friends come visit me to go hiking, and as all 3 were auxiliares as well, we inevitably began discussing our jobs. We got into a conversation about science classes (every single one of us seems to be teaching science!) and my friend was telling the rest of us how she needed to think of a good lesson plan to review the English vocabulary for their unit on levers and pulleys. My immediate reaction was to say, “Oh hey, you could get a bunch of wood blocks and strings and then you put them into teams and call out the name of a lever or pulley and then they have to build it!” Her immediate reaction was to say, “I think you are spoiled teaching elementary school. We don’t have those kind of materials at the instituto and we don’t really . . . build things.” It just made me laugh because maybe I am adapting after all!


But when I think about it, it’s true that my teaching style has always been to try to jazz up a lesson. I don’t like worksheets (well, I don’t like dry, boring worksheets that teach you to fill in blanks) and I call on everyone in the class. I like my students to listen when I give a lecture and then I like to let them loose to create. And I especially like using technology in the classroom. I took a lot of free workshops when I was working in America because, hey, they were free. I didn’t know of any other time I would be able to do professional development and have it cost nothing but my time. While working for a community college and a university, I took every class on Blackboard offered by my community college, plus a class on using Google Apps in Blackboard. I also took classes on Adobe Connect, Audacity, uploading to ITunes U, and using Facebook to deliver course materials offered by my university. I took 2 rounds of a course preparing me to teach online (and I actually taught Spanish online for 3 semesters) and I got about halfway through a training course meant to encourage me to apply the Quality Matters rubric to my online courses (I had to stop when I moved here due to lack of Internet, missed the deadline to turn in work, and failed the class. Sigh. I’ll fix that one of these days).


So right now I am reading through a course intended to teach me how to create activities for online course delivery using a Java platform. Any other auxiliares interested in this, the website is JClic. You don’t have to be like me and learn how to make the activities . . . there are many activities online made by other teachers for you to use free. They work great with a SmartBoard. I am just getting really excited about this and the implications for my teaching, both here and back in the US. And I’m not going to apologize for it either. :-) This blog IS called “An Academic in Spain”, after all.


Oh, and I guess I mentioned that I hiked. I bet you want to see some pictures. Here they are. I promise my next post will be about food or wine or something.

No more Mr. Nice Guy

As a teacher of adults, there are probably about a million differences in moving to teaching children. Some of these differences are good, some bad, some neutral, but even after almost 2 months at this job, I am still discovering more every day.

For example, I’ve learned that children have absolutely NO patience. Whatever they are thinking, whatever they want, it has to be said or done IMMEDIATELY. I can’t tell you how many times I have been speaking with a student, or teaching a class, only to have another student come up and say “Teacher!!!!! Teacher!!!!!” to me right in the middle of my sentence. I’ve become convinced that the greater part of the point of elementary school is to teach children to have patience, to delay their wants, and to persevere until the end of a task. As with all things, some kids have mostly gotten it by 5th or 6th grade . . . and some haven’t.

Children also don’t have any sense of how they are perceived by others. This makes elementary school both an exciting and frustrating place. Exciting because most kids won’t balk at doing the most outlandish activities; the auxiliar from last year made a movie with her after school class called “Zombie Attack in Alcalá City”, in which 2 boys played the parts of “Superfly” and “Super Bee”. These boys are TERRIBLY proud of their movie, and they talk about it all the time. It doesn’t even occur to them that it might be silly to dress in Spandex and pretend to be superheroes for a school project. However, kids don’t think about their actions in relation to others in normal, everyday situations either. I have one student who CONSTANTLY talks with his voice at a volume that I would call ear-shattering. Every time I tell him “Jorge! Baja el volumen de la voz, que todavía no soy sorda!” (Jorge! Lower your voice, I’m not deaf yet!) he is always surprised that I am having to say this again.

Kids don’t think you can see them if they are wishing really hard that you won’t. (As a matter of fact, I have noticed this with my adult students and texting . . .). In class the other day, we were doing a listening exercise, the answers of which were in their textbook. One girl had her textbook open, and the English teacher asked her to close it, since copying the answers would completely defeat the purpose of the exercise. She closed the book, but kept her thumb in the book at the page with the answers. I gave her the Look that said, “You’d better not be thinking of copying the answers”, and she focused over enthusiastically on her workbook and hid her textbook, with her thumb still in it, under her workbook!!! So I went over and took the textbook from her. She spent the rest of the class looking at me with a mixture of sullenness and surprise, as if to say, “How did you know I was going to copy???”

Children don’t really understand fairness completely yet, but the smallest things have enormous ethical import to them. If it was their turn to write the date on the board, you’d better not skip them by accident. If you are doing an in-class activity, bet on half the class tattling on the other half of the class for copying their answers. Same goes for students who are talking when they are not supposed to; they will be tattled on almost immediately, followed by angry recriminations from the talking student, and general chaos. Most teachers I have talked to actually find this quirk of children to be the most difficult to deal with, and if the Internet is any indication, there are as many strategies for dealing with this issue as there are schools.

Another way that teaching kids is different from teaching adults is in the realm of punishment. With adults, if they don’t study, or if they don’t do their homework, or if they fall asleep in class, you just give them the F and move on. It is different with kids. Not only are their reasons for not studying/not doing HW/sleeping in class completely different from adults’, part of your job is to help the student grow, learn, and change. This means that misbehavior has to be met with some sort of consequences, immediately, and in a way so as to teach them. Which brings me to the title of my post.

During the school day, we have “The Box” in English class, where your name goes if you are talking out of turn, didn’t do your homework, aren’t paying attention, etc. After putting your name there and getting 2 tick marks next to it, you lose recess time. But I have been hesitant to use this method in my after school classes, partly because I don’t have any recess to take away from them, and partly because I don’t want to make my voluntary classes seem like just another chore. But today I punished my first student. Now, know that I really do love this student, but every class it seems like she can’t sit still, won’t participate appropriately, doesn’t listen . . . Today I told her she had one more chance before I kicked her out, and then when she got up out of her chair again I sent her downstairs. Of course she didn’t go, but I ignored her knocking on the door, and when she was brave enough to open it and try to talk to me, I just said, “You need to go sit downstairs and wait for your mom. You can’t come back in today.” and closed the door again. She got tired of the game soon enough and went and sat on the bench. Success!


No more Mr. Nice Guy! I may be taken aback by children’s behavior every day, but, like them, I can learn too.

Teaching en otro idioma

I started the actual job part of this Spain experience a week ago, on Monday the 3rd. Basically what I do is aid the classroom teacher in the English lesson, but that can vary wildly depending on the class. For example, to illustrate a typical week, let’s quickly review my first week of teaching.



9:30 am -> Bilingual meeting. Inma, Jose, and I get together to discuss what it is we will do with the littlest kids this week. Besides beginning things like the alphabet and colors, the theme this week is body parts. Inma and Jose review the activities and materials they have used in the past, then ask me if I have any input. Feeling dumb, I sing them the “Mi Cuerpo” song. They like it, and have me sing it about 4 more times so they can write it down and learn it.

10:30 am -> 4 year olds. They come up to the English classroom so that we can use the SmartBoard. Jose already has the songs up, which focus on the ABCs. There are 2 songs, and the 2nd one gives English words after each letter. Jose has me say the words out loud and the kids repeat them. This only works because I am a novelty and the kids are fascinated by me. After that, it has been 30 minutes and thats all that 4 year olds can take. We take the kids downstairs for snack for the other 30 minutes of class.

11:30 am -> Break. The kids go outside.

12:00 noon -> 4th grade. Inma and I pick them up from the playground and they are SO EXCITED. Class is a bit of pandemonium because everyone is falling all over themselves to talk. We review numbers and talk about the date and the weather.



I have to go into Jerez for orientation. More on that in a non-teaching post.



9:30 am -> 2nd grade. This was easily the best and most productive class of the school. They knew all their numbers up to 20, although they weren’t as good on how to spell them in English. We did a few group activites and a worksheet on this.

10:30 am -> I have a free period.

11:30 am -> Break. The kids go outside.

12:00 noon -> 3rd grade. Surprisingly this class does not do as well with the numbers. They do know all their months in English though. There is also a kid in the class who speaks only Chinese. I try to speak to him in Chinese but he is too shy to answer. Later I hear from his classroom teacher that he had told her in the limited Spanish he has how he spoke Chinese with the new teacher. I’ll get him to talk to me one of these days . . .

1:00 pm -> Art class with the 1st graders. The idea behind this is that if subject classes are taught in English, the kids will get more vocabulary than through just an English class. It’s a good idea, but this 1st grade class is NUTS. There are 26 of them and they are all chatty. Apart from the drawing activity we practice body parts vocabulary by me showing a picture and saying the name in English. I am supposed to say an incorrect name once in a while and the kids are supposed to call me on it. I don’t like this activity because as often as not the kids do not call me on it, so they are learning the wrong words.



10:30 -> 6th grade. Except today I don’t have the 6th grade class because there is an assembly. Turns out that this assembly is Mass, like, Catholic Mass. Inma and I hang out in the English room with the 3 kids who are not Catholic, to keep them company Inma says, but I think she was trying to give me a way to not have to go to Mass. I wouldn’t have minded but it was nice of her. I planned some extracurricular lessons for next week.

11:30 -> Break. The kids go outside.

12:00 noon -> 5 year olds. Except when I go talk to Jose, he tells me that since they had to move the schedule around to accomodate my hours, he hadn’t arranged for the 5 year olds to have English at this slot, so no class.

1:00 pm -> Art with the 2nd graders. Once again, this class was totally on top of things. They remembered all of the art vocabulary they had been learning (draw, color, cut, paste) although they needed prompting.


This week I will have another day off, because Wednesday is a national holiday. But as you can see, my job is not super stressful, and I don’t worry much about it. However, starting this afternoon I will be teaching some extracurricular English classes, just me, so I am a little nervous about that. More on those in an upcoming post!


Public schools in Andalucía all get numbers, but not numbers like PS 9, numbers like the one in my title. In fact, that number is the one for the school I’ll be working at: CEIP Juan Armario. I know this because last night I finally stopped being lazy and emailed the school (in Spanish), asking some questions about my hours and which classes I will be aiding. I was expecting at least a week before I got a reply, but this morning I had a response (in English) in my mailbox!


The Head of the school was the one who responded, not the English teacher I’ll be working with, so the English was inadvertently amusing. For a few minutes I panicked and wondered if my Spanish sounded similar, but I figured, hey, who cares. He was very vague about my work schedule, saying only that I would work 12 hours a week (knew that already) and that I would be helping an English teacher (that was news). The kids range from 3 to 11 years old. Then he asked me some questions about myself, and there you go, my first contact with my Spanish school! I answered him in English since he emailed me in that language, although I am still not sure why he did so. Maybe he thought I’d be more comfortable typing in English.


Other than that, no new news. I am still waiting on the FBI background check. I think this one is going slower than the last one. I don’t have any new factoids about Spain to share because my Guatemala research has recently eaten my whole life. I am sort of in the middle of a book on Phillip II, so maybe soon I’ll have something fun to post about.


97 days until I am teaching in Spain!

No news is no news

I promise I haven’t forgotten about you all, readers of the Internet. I just don’t have anything to report. I am still (still!) waiting for my FBI background check to come back, and I am also still (still!) waiting on my renewed passport to come back.


The summer session for one of my classes is almost over. I am happy about this but as always I wish I had more time with these students. I feel like they are just getting the hang of concepts from weeks 1 and 2, which is normal, but also normal is getting 10 more weeks after this to progress. Instead we will be done by the end of June. I hope I’ve set them off on the right foot.


One of my former students lent me a DVD series by Rick Steves. I had never heard of him before, and he is kind of cheesy, but so far I have watched all the Spain and Portugal shows and everything he mentions, I want to go visit. There are 70 more shows covering the rest of Europe, so I’ll watch those and then I will have no choice but to travel more.


Last time I posted about visiting Monticello, which is up in a mountain-esque area. This past weekend I was at the beach with one of my best friends from college. I learned nothing of import to Spanish, Spain, El Quijote, or Thomas Jefferson, but boy did I get tan.