Chris’ Situation

The main entrance. To get through the gate, you have to ring a bell and hope that the front office will let you in.

Basically, I am in the nicest school in the city. The school itself is old, some of my co-workers were students here, but everything was rebuilt recently and is still very new still. The classrooms all have smart boards and computers, the walls are clean, and best yet… the teachers break room has a coin operated coffee machine.

I don’t really have many pictures of my school yet, so here’s the aforementioned coffee machine.

That doesn’t mean that the computers or the WiFi work all the time, or that the lights don’t randomly flick on and off every now and then, but hey, it’s Spain.

And, interestingly, I am not really an English teacher. Instead, I work entirely with the bilingual program. I will never teach “English”, even though some of the English teachers (of which there are 4) keep asking me to put in extra hours to teach some of their classes.

Instead, I work with History and Math teachers in an attempt to create a bilingual learning environment. The routine that seems to have developed looks like this: The teacher and I talk a week in advance about what he or she wants from me. They usually fail to set clear goals, so I just sort of attempt to fill in some gaps to make things more interesting, or to introduce some words that I think are relevant/important.

Also, as a fun bonus, I get to work with some vocational training classes. These students are adults that are spending two years in classes that act as a sort of apprentice program for the giant factory in Martos that manufactures headlights for most of the cars sold in Europe.

Why does this factory located DEEP in the Spanish countryside want it’s employees to learn English? It is run by Valeo, which is a French company, with offices and factories all throughout Europe. English is how they generally communicate with all the Polish, German, Spanish, French etc employees. This is also how they presumably communicate with the German, Italian, British, and Czech car producers spread throughout Europe. Your average employee probably doesn’t need English, but knowing it is the best way to advance in the company or to transfer to a more desirable position. So far, I have participated in teaching about contracts (the specific language used and the different parts), and how to professionally introduce yourself.

ALL of my classes are supposed to be taught entirely in English. And from what I can tell, the teachers I work with seem to have been “volunteered” for the bilingual program for various reasons. “Oh, you have a certification in English from three years ago? Welcome!” “Oh, you aren’t a fully licensed teacher yet? Want to work at our school? SURPRISE, welcome to the bilingual team!!”

All my co-teachers were nervous as hell to teach in English, and they do it really well, I just worry that the students might have trouble learning about complex historical, mathematical, and vocational topics in a second language.

I came into this knowing absolutely nothing about how Spain educates their kids. What I have learned so far is that the classes (at least in my school) are separated by level. So level A is very high in every subject, and C is the lowest.

The C level students are C for a reason. They are typically behaviorally challenged, there are numerous kids with ADHD, and they all have a general disrespect for authority. They aren’t just bad at English, they are bad at everything else school related. That being said, I like them, they have been generally nice (if a bit out of control) so far. 

Their English level is ALMOST as low as can be, but they get really happy when they say something in English AND I understand them. The regular teacher typically doesn’t understand them when they try to speak English, and I think it’s discouraged them a bit,  but after living abroad for 4 years, and traveling to all those different countries, K and I can understand pretty much anyone with any accent no matter how bad their English is.

In the A level,  the average student is pretty capable of understanding almost everything I say, but not so good at speaking.

The adults are a mixed bag. Generally, only about 25% of them seem to understand more than half of what I say. I don’t blame them, the 18-19 year olds stopped learning English a few years ago, and the 45-55 year olds stopped a LONG time ago, if they ever started.

Nobody at my school knew anything about Colorado (no way!) other than that it means “something red”, so they were full of questions.

My favorite line of questioning came when I mentioned that Colorado has history with Indians, Spanish explorers, cowboys etc. They had no idea that the native tribes in Western America are still around, when I said that I had native friends in school, they instantly wanted to know, “what do they dress like? Where do they live? Do they speak English?” And so on. They really wanted to know if they were “domesticated” (best translation available at that moment), or if they were like the uncontacted Amazonian tribes. Also popular, “what is the local food in Colorado?” In Spain, each region has is traditional soup, ham, liquor, or sauce with a history of local production stretching back before the Romans showed up. In America, not so much. Sure, some broad regional specialities like lobster in Maine, and Grits in the south, but I am not sure about Colorado. Southwestern food, sure, but it isn’t Colorado specific which is what they were asking about. I just said that we all eat pizza, just like they do in Spain, and left it at that. Maybe I forgot something, let me know in the comments!

The adults did appreciate that my hometown (which is smaller than Martos by 6 thousand people or so) has like 6 breweries and 1 distillery though.

Also, when I showed them a picture from our wedding, they couldn’t understand how we could get married outside (¿En un campo?), and not in a church.

My fellow teachers are all really neat, the one I taught with was telling me all about her village, and how her husband is the mayor of it, and another was telling me about a Medieval festival happening in HER village this weekend. My handler (the guy in charge of helping me) has been such a great help, his name is Eduardo and probably about 57 years old. I’ve personally witnessed him chastise the school principal when he referred to me as “that guy”. And, I originally had Fridays off, but when Kaeti’s school screwed her over and made her take Mondays off, my co-workers all banded together, and changed the schedule so I could have my extra day off with her. They didn’t have to do this.

Basically, my school has been everything I had hoped for. After Korea using and abusing us, I was hesitant to expect better here. But it’s really been great so far.

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