A Visit to the School

This was originally written September 30th and posted October 12th. After having gone to school for two weeks I’ve added updates to things that were misunderstood/have changed. 

My co-teacher was initially extremely friendly over the internet. I offered to do a lot more than my responsibility with classes (foolishly, already) but asked in return that I could have the same day off as Chris so we could enjoy our contractually-bound-extra-day-off together (hopefully a Monday or Friday). Since I’ve asked about this it seemed he got a little short with me. “It’s not possible for you to have a Monday or Friday off” and by the way “Classes are 45 minutes. Do your introduction powerpoint then ask the students questions (to fill the rest of the time).”

Things seemed not great (spoiler alert: it’s a wild ride of great-not-great) so I was looking forward to clearing some things up when we met. I’m not doing the Korea thing again. I’m not going to get swindled into doing the work of 7 co-teachers, spend 10 hours per powerpoint, then lay awake every night worrying if it’s good enough. I needed to not do this to myself again, so I wanted to talk to him face to face about expectations.

He made it clear I would be getting no help on the first day so I had to go in on my own to prepare for Monday and see where I needed to go. He agreed to meet up on Friday during the break time. There is only a 30 minute break between 11:15 and 11:45 so we would have to be somewhat quick.
At 11:20 We texted him that we were waiting at the locked gate. Soon he texted back “So am I. Come in.”
Nope. What?
Within a few minutes he came and found us.
“I was at the teacher’s entrance. This is only for students. Don’t worry, I did it the first time, too” In all the texts and emails lately he had sounded upset. Now he was all smiles and friendliness.

Immediately through the door I went through a cheek kissing assembly line. Spain does the double kiss where you press cheeks together and air kiss both sides as a greeting. I’ve only done it once so this was a cultural crash course. Kiss those cheeks! New person! Kiss those cheeks! Next!  Air kiss those cheeks!
I can’t even tell you who I met since I was mostly focused on 2 things
1) kissing the air really well, either audibly or not
2) not buggering up the transfer. Between one cheek and the next you have to pull your face back to get to the other cheek. And if you don’t pull back good you might accidentally end up brushing lips with the other person. Basically actually kissing a stranger full on the lips. Obviously no one wants that.

So while I was air-cheek-kissing, ACK for ease of typing, which is loud in the ears, too, I didn’t catch anyone’s names.
I met the principal, the head of teachers, maybe the head of students (Update: No such person. Not sure who I thought I met), the secretary of the school (who is in charge of supplies), 2 English teachers and maybe some other people.

“This building is terrible” my coordinator, Pedro told me, starting the tour. He was right.

Use your imagination to just picture this and I’ll do my best to explain it.
There is a small secret little door to the side of the main entrance that leads directly into the staff office. This is the staff’s entrance. The principal’s office is basically part of this room so you almost walk directly into his office. Forget about being late or doing anything because this the only way in or out of the school unless it’s 9:45 or 2 pm and the big gate is open. He seems okay but maybe annoyed that his office has become an ACK powerhouse, and general area for the teachers. It’s not like he can shut the door.

Directly outside of this poor man’s office is an entire staircase. You have left the quarantine adult zone and have entered common areas. Kids are everywhere. It’s the only break of the day so there is running, snacking, teasing and of course about a hundred games of soccer (it’s Spain!). You walk up these stairs and you’re finally in a normal school hallway. There’s a music room and another auxiliary room but no classrooms. That’s because you have to walk down a step and ramp to get to the classrooms. The doors are even on the ramp so it’s awkward to step off the ramp onto solid straight classroom. Clearly the classrooms were put in later and the ramp was just a fun accident.

There are only 3 classrooms here. 2 out of the 3 6th grade classrooms and one of the 5th grade classrooms are here (don’t ask me where the 3rd 6th grade room is, or the other 5th grade rooms are. Maybe no one knows and the kids just materialize there). 4th grade rooms are around the other side of this building with less ramps but way more false entryways. Classrooms seem to be through closets or behind bathrooms. So that’s 4th-6th, where are the rest of the classrooms? In an entirely different building.

When you look on Google Maps of my school you see just a huge playground. Not anymore, there is a whole new building right in the middle of it. This is where the littles go. All the 1st and 2nd grade (don’t ask me about the 3rd grade. No one told me where they are). So probably all the little kids go to this building. And sure enough you cross this imaginary border between the upper and lower grades. Going from just-on-the-cusp-of-puberty kids running and playing soccer to tiny little human beings playing little kids games, tugging on teachers and someone is always crying in the background. The big kids don’t go over to this side of the playground and the littles are probably too scared to go to the big kids side.

All the teachers here were standing in the shade playing on their phones. It’s their break-time, too, but they have to be physically present as recess monitors. So it was a meet-and-greet of just pointing at the teachers like a police line up. “That’s Juan Pedro, Emanuel, Carla, Sara, Cuancie (not sure what this spelling is he kept saying “Qwan-see” guessing the spelling). No ACK this time.
My head was spinning with names.

“I don’t really know this building” Pedro said by way of a tour. So we didn’t go to this building. He pointed in a general direction “You’ll go there for your first class on Monday.”
Oh. Okay.

I asked about the schedule. He stopped right in the middle of the playground and thus in the middle of a soccer game to show it to me.

I was working every single day.
“Oh. Oh. Okay. Well, uh.” I didn’t want to rock the boat on our first meeting but my contract does give me one day off. He wasn’t joking that I couldn’t have Monday or Friday off. I couldn’t have any day off.
“My contract says I have one day off a week.” I said in a sympathetic tone.
“I know but it doesn’t work any other way. We have to do this.”
“Um, well. My… my contract… it … ??”
“Right but the scheduling guy gave us this. We can’t make it work….. (painfully long pause) …. yet. This schedule is only for this week. It will change next week and we’ll probably get you Monday and Friday off. We did that for the last teacher so she could travel more in Spain. We like to do that.” (Update: No.)

He took us up to his homeroom classroom and gave me some good information about class sizes and showed me what to expect in a classroom.
“What should I prepare for next week? The 45 minute lesson about myself (like he had said) and the other teacher will assist me?”
“What?!” he asked
“Not 45 minutes? I’ll assist the other teacher?”
“Of course! Just do 20 minutes, 10 at the most for the little kids”
So the email was a misunderstanding as well. (Update: No misunderstandings he just says things and then it changes next day.) They’re not completely throwing me to the dogs. (Update 3 weeks later: They absolutely are. I’m just leaving it alone to show what was said/understood at the time).

Next week I’ll do my introduction lesson, the next week I’ll have an all new schedule and I will observe these classes (to know how they teach the subjects), then in 3 weeks I’ll start acting as an assistant. (Update: This also changed)

Because they want to give me a 3-day workweek I’m going to have to teach subjects. Which I’m glad and excited to do. He said I’ll probably be doing Music and PE, and with all of the 6th graders (which thankfully I’ll see a bit more) I’ll do science classes. (Update: none of this happened).
“You can do whichever you prefer. If you like teaching Natural Sciences over Social sciences we can do those ones more” he told me. (Update: do I even need to say?)

He concluded almost every sentence with “don’t worry about it” which was a great attitude. (Update: More like don’t even listen to it. Everything changes. Whatever the school says they mean in that exact minute. Another minute later and it might change. Don’t worry about it is basically just submit to the ever-changing sea of school bureaucracy. Which is not only a great attitude, but the only attitude you can have without going insane with “but you said…!” “but what about that…?”)
He also finished up our whirlwind 30 minute tour with “If you need anything, anything at all, please call or text or email me. Anything, if you have a question about the country or the culture or you need help with something. I don’t even live in Martos but if you need help with something or where to go in Martos call me and I’ll ask another teacher. Please, if you need anything just ask me.”

Wow. This had turned out 120% better than I had expected. (Given the updates no …. but at the time things felt 120% better. Things could turn around again. Things are very, very changeable).

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