Okay, I’m a little behind on “teacher tales,” but don’t worry, I’m taking notes. (It’s the end of Week 7 when I’m writing this.)
But Week 3 brought a new schedule. Three weeks, three schedules, three befuddled conversation assistants: widespread chaos throughout the school, teachers arguing over who gets us or if they need us, and my personal favorite, nonexistent classes. But most affected were the little children in the early years of primary school, who were very distraught when I got removed from their class. I was bombarded by little herds of six-year-olds painfully inquiring why I wasn’t in class; they weren’t the only ones who were disappointed! I did a little negotiating and got my spot back in their classroom.
After being in school for a few weeks, I have become a familiar face. Even the ladies in the cafeteria have begun to recognize me as the auxiliar who speaks Spanish, doesn’t like fish, and loves to eat melon at lunch. The cafeteria was out of melon for two agonizing days, making for one distraught Courtney. However, on the day when the cafeteria received a new stash of melon, one of the cafeteria ladies saved the juiciest and biggest slice of melon especially for me. That definitely brought a smile to my face!
Lunch is a great time to rejuvenate because my entrance into the cafeteria is always greeted by a chorus of little voices shouting my name. Sometimes, though, teaching English in Spain is like trying to push a cart with a broken wheel: you can have great intentions and strength and still not make it that far. The broken wheel is the whole way that English is taught here. Students rarely speak in class, instead doing grammar exercises out of books. My host dad and his sister-in-law are both teachers, and they agree that languages are vivos, alive: they don’t just exist as still words on a page, and such a theoretical and stagnant method of teaching is hardly the way to go about it. This is why when we get students for conversation lessons, the first few weeks are spent pulling the students out of their shells and making them to stop fretting over little mistakes and work on their fluency.
Because none of the teachers are native English speakers, I have suddenly become an Authority of the English Language and Explainer of All American Culture. I have had to elucidate the health care crisis, why people have guns, and apologize on behalf of my government for spying on Spain. I watch everything I say, doubt the spelling every word that I write down, and speak much more slowly. This all is complicated by the fact that the students are taught British English, not American English. Favorite is favourite, color is colour, pants are trousers, French fries are chips, and ladybugs are ladybirds. I don’t even know what to believe in anymore. I mean… ladybird? Sometimes I have to ask Becca, the English conversation assistant, if real people actually use the vocabulary in the book. She usually looks at me strangely, responds yes, shifts her eyes, and then warily asks, “Why? What would you say?”
But the students listen and believe in my “authority,” which is terrifying and beautiful all at the same time. For my oldest students, I’m not just an excuse to get out of the classroom; I show them what language can do, how learning English can be fun, useful, and beneficial. The older students are amusing to work with: many of them are terrifically humorous and others are so endearingly interested in learning.
The baxtillerat students are still navigating boundaries in their treatment of me, but they have their redeeming moments. After the first week of school, I told the head English tutor that the students were making comments about my appearance in the hallway. She apparently relayed the message onto the batxillerat English teacher, who told them to knock it off. One batxillerat student felt genuinely bad about the whole thing and wanted to make sure that the comments had stopped. When I told him that the comments had ceased, he seemed relieved and added in the most genuinely innocent and earnest way possible, “We weren’t saying anything bad about you, you know. Only that you are pretty.” Thanks, Pau. I then had to explain to him that those sorts of comments were the problem because it was inappropriate. “So you don’t want people to think that you are pretty?” he asked, quite confused. After that I just gave up trying to explain.
Despite all the change that has happened in the first four weeks of school, our one constant was Cels, the IT guy, whom we loving call “Father Christmas.” The man vaguely resembles Santa Clause and every time we talk with him, he gives us presents: codes to the copy machine, accounts on the school computer, etc. The nickname “Father Christmas” finally got to be a mouthful, so we started calling him “Father,” which just ended being “Dad.” The poor man has no idea that we hold such strange affection—and even stranger nicknames—for him.
More “Teacher Tales” to come soon!