5 Weeks – I Know Nothing

This post has since been edited after the “Great Fallout of 2018” 

I work in a completely different school than last year. My school last year was an elementary school (1st through 6th grade [6-12 years old], with about 2 classes per grade). It was also a publicly funded school. This year I’m in half public-half private funded Catholic school. Because it’s half and half there are no uniforms (except for PE uniforms). And because it’s half and half there aren’t any more than the usual Catholic classes present in every Spanish school. We don’t have morning mass or nuns walking around. My coteachers are all decidedly not nuns. Also it’s not an elementary school. It is everything – preschool, elementary, middle and high school. So ages 2 to about 17/18. There is only one class per grade so it’s not a very big school in the end. 14 classes and under 400 students.

This is probably the smallest school I’ve been in. My elementary school last year was close to 400 students and had 13 classes, in Korea I taught 830 students with 24 classes. Also I’ve never taught such a huge range of students. I do teach all of them (well, no, I negotiated never doing 2 and 3 year olds because just no. No.). So I teach 4 to 17/18 year olds. Practically the whole school.

The title of this blog is “I know nothing:” and yet I know those things. But those things are easy to find out on the website. Everything else I don’t know.

The week before school started I asked if I could come into my school to see

a) where I should go

b) who my coteacher is

c) what my schedule would look like

My coteacher said to come in on Friday to meet “them”. Turns out I have 3 co-teachers who I will work with in English and art (no science like last year, yay!). I only met two of them, though. We met during recess and it was chaos. We stood in the teacher’s room which is made up of a table and three doors. We just stood in the path of all three doors. The 20 or so staff were wildly flying through all three doors in front of us and between us. It was completely impossible to talk or hear my new coteachers. Even if I could have heard them over the noise of 400 students’s recess – I would’ve learned nothing. I said there are only 14 classes in the whole school yet the school thinks they need a second teacher like me. I worked completely alone in Korea (with 24 classes) and have never heard of a school needing more than one foreign teacher.

They already have me (on a government student visa grant) working 11 hours then they personally hired a different foreign English teacher to work about 11 more hours to cover all 14 classes (again, I could work my 11 and still see almost every class). But they don’t care, they like having 2 foreign teachers to cover all the classes throughout the week.

The problem is that 3 days before school the other person up and quit. So instead of me a) getting a tour of my school b) meeting my coteachers and c) seeing my schedule – my coteachers spent the whole meeting flipping out about that other teacher quitting. I was told a) we’ll give you a tour of the school later (5 weeks later I have yet to get a tour). b) I didn’t meet my other coteacher and had to just figure her name out in context and c) there wasn’t a schedule because the other girl quitting nullified my schedule. Somehow.

Instead of talking about how we were going to work together my school spent my whole first-meeting pressuring me to take her hours. “Well other people have taken the hours.” “Our teacher last year worked over the hours we’ll give you.”

Yeah. But I worked 11 hours last year and lesson planned for 22 hours at home. Given I was working 33 hours a week and only being paid for 11 hours … well basically if you converted it I made 4.90 and hour. I was stressed and hated my school and every staff member in it. I felt bad for the kids (and rightly so, it turns out, as a study just came out that Andalucian students are 2 years behind educationally from other regions “). I worked way too hard last year to single-handedly prop up a podunk village-school’s science/English education. Not again. I was looking forward to living life this year like the way last-year-should’ve-been. Working peanuts for peanuts.

If I took the extra hours and lesson planned 2 hours-per-class like last year well that’s 52 hours. Oh, and I still don’t know how much more I’m going to make.

Well everyone pressured me money this, hours that, the last teacher this, the last teacher that. They said Chris could take half the hours so it would be easier but then they didn’t have any time slots he could take (he works at a different school, too hard to coordinate hours). We don’t exactly need the money. But somehow I ended up taking the extra job.

I don’t know the schedule, I don’t know the hours, I don’t know the money. I sign the contract next Monday. How much will I get paid? “More or less the same as you already get paid” Hmmm that’s good and vague.

Which is the theme of this blog post. Everyone is super vague about everything. And “vague” is a generous word. No one tells me anything at all.

For the first 3 weeks I had to text my coteachers every night at about 6-8 pm and ask them what time to come in the next morning. They always forgot to tell me. Then I didn’t know where the classes are so I would have to try to figure that over text. But about 2 days a week I would wake up to an early morning (6:30) text or voicemail saying “schedule changed! Don’t come in!” Or there are surprise additions. One day I was about to go home and everyone was like “nope! Surprise preschool classes! Get in there, go! Go! Go!” You don’t have a plan for preschool? It doesn’t matter- it’s only two different classes, 25 minutes each. But 25 minutes is at least a year in a 4-year-old’s brain so I needed at least 25 different activities to keep their attention.

Everyday feels like jumping out of a helicopter without a parachute into enemy territory where you don’t know what language anyone speaks (Catalan) or what class this even is (English? Art?), or why you’re actually in the library, or why you don’t work Mondays and Fridays, or where any of the classes are. Or what they’re even doing. You think I’m exaggerating?  I’m not.


At 12 my coteacher texted me 4 rapid-fire texts in a 1 minute period saying “I had a meeting. I couldn’t send you (information about tomorrow). I’ll do it later. Okay?”

Then at almost 7 pm she hadn’t gotten back to me so I asked “What time am I going in tomorrow?”

“9. You’ll take 8-10 students into a different room (illegal) and just teach them a separate lesson.” Okay, about what? “Descriptions” oh. Okay. If I took about half the students and did a different lesson it would make sense that we would switch about halfway through so everyone had the same opportunities.

“You don’t switch classes.” Was all she said. She didn’t explain what I should do with them or how anything worked, she just said “You don’t switch.” So I asked if I helped them with an existing lesson or created a new lesson – should I create a lesson for 5th grade?

Her response: “Yes! It’s more or less as you said.”Yes? Yes to which one? More or less like which thing I said?!

Super. It was more or less. As everyday I illegally take a random grouping of 8 to 16-year-olds to the library where I teach a separate lesson. The super catch (why I compared it to jumping from a helicopter) is I have literally no idea what they’re learning about until they come into the room. A child brings me a scrap paper that has the day’s lesson written on it. I then have a 50 minute class and only seconds to prepare for it.


Pro: I’ll never lesson plan at home again. Now I can’t overwork.

Con: It’s like improvisational acting while also testing your creativity (how can I make a lesson or activity about “can” in 12 seconds). I had to google what a  is – first of all I can’t spell that on a phone because ʃ isn’t a letter. Then I learned it was a “Voiceless postalveolar affricate” and then I had to make a lesson about that in 12 seconds.

Con: It’s, uh, still illegal. I shouldn’t be alone with any number of students. What if there was a fire? What if one of them said I touched them inappropriately?

Pro: I could do anything I want. If I just play hangman for 50 minutes (I won’t. But I could) no one would know except the 8 kids who happily played hangman for 50 minutes.

Pro: No one can judge any lessons that fall apart because no one else is there. I won’t have coteachers texting in the background who later complain about games-they-didn’t-help-with being too loud.

Con: I have no control over them because sometimes I’m in the library and other times literally in the cafeteria with one old blackboard. I can’t make a seating assignments because it’s a random group of kids each time. I can’t talk to them about rules or anything. They just show up and we start.

Con: Some are too young. My 3rd graders needed a lesson about animal descriptions and the book’s vocabulary was “fluffy” and “lively” As much as I drew fluffy and showed them pictures and compared it to having a lot of hair they didn’t understand. Try explaining “lively” with only your body and a whiteboard. (Runs, jumps, skips, hops frantically. The kids are like, uh, conniption fit? Sometimes with young learners you just need someone to step in and say the word in their native language. That’s the point of a co-teacher.

What does all of this boil down to?

I’ve worked at my school for 5 weeks and have no idea whats going on – ever. And I’ve signed up for 11 more hours of not understanding anything -ever. 22 hours spread across the week like an explosion. Basically from 8 am to 5 pm I’ll be walking back and forth from school to home because, yeah, school actually goes from 8-5 pm with random breaks for different grades. I’ll be spending over an hour in commuting times. And when I’m at school I have no idea what’s going on. And when I’m at home I’ll be texting everyone frantically to figure out what’s going on but they don’t know, either.

I’m used to this in Spain but it just blows my mind schools can possibly operate like this. Like one day they completely changed the whole schedule – kids used to go to school until 2 pm then they changed it to 12 but they come back from 3-5. Huh? But only some grades do this. The older kids start earlier and leave later but only sometimes? How do parents even manage to pick their kids up or find their kids? If the teachers don’t even know what’s going on how does anyone know what’s going on?

I’m looking forward to having a routine but I don’t think the sensation of security and understanding will occur until May 31st, the last day of school. Only then will I have a clear idea of what is happening every day.

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