In a period of four days, I was asked by two students if I had a boyfriend. One was an eight-year-old boy; the other was thirteen. I have received catcalls down the halls of the high school and heard whispers of my appearance trailing behind me in the corridors. I walked into a classroom of eighteen-year-olds and the first row of boys took one look at me, smiled, and praised God.
Welcome to teaching English in Spain.
Fortunately, since Week 1 the novelty of two American girls and one English girl wandering the hallways of the school has faded. Boys still high-five each other after saying “Hello Courtney!” to me between classes, but on the whole they have come to recognize me as a less strict version of a teacher, despite the narrow age difference.
The youngest children I work with, however, hold onto the novelty like a blanket, but their admiration is purer. I have never felt more like a superstar than when I walk through the cafeteria and pass my first and second primària classes (ages 6 and 7)—I am greeted with gleeful little shouts of my name and frantic waving. On the way to physical education, I usually have four kids trying to hold my hand. They are darling, require excessive micromanaging, and I always walk away from lessons with them smiling and exhausted.
The older students are hit and miss. I pull out four students from the classroom for half hour to hour long conversation sessions, and every group is different. Each year is already divided into multiple levels, and within each class there is a large learning curve. Morning classes require waking up, shy students require encouraging, popular kids need to be reminded that if they think they are too cool to play charades that they can return to normal lecture, and most require the constant refrain “Let’s try to use a little more English.”
I have found myself respecting more and more the teachers I had between the ages of 12 and 18. Then again, I was a complete teacher’s pet, smarty-pants extraordinaire, but I recognize that not everyone was like me. Even I had days of petulance when I would barely keep my eyes open during lecture because I had actually done the homework like I was supposed to during the night before. Kids have off days and off-hours—mornings are always rough. Group dynamics are also important: one chatty kid with a keen sense of humor can brighten a whole group up and encourage bravery when testing the waters of a new language, one naughty youngster can dissolve a group into anarchy, and one inattentive and unmotivated teenager can turn a conversation into a monologue. Every half hour is the next track of the rollercoaster that I now call “teacher life.” It’s exhausting, it requires a lot of coffee, and I love it.
Now if only my class schedule could be finalized, that would be great. Then again, this is teaching English in Spain: after all, teachers are served wine at lunch.