Week 9 brought Thanksgiving, a holiday only known to Spaniards as that day when Americans eat turkey. For me, however, it is the second most important holiday of the entire year, and it’s very strange to be away from home. To make the students understand the importance of the holiday, I explained the history of Thanksgiving and also some traditions that many families have. Talking about these personal and familial details made me miss home, but waves of emotional nostalgia mid-lesson do not make for a good teacher. I found myself having to take a deep breath before my Thanksgiving lessons to keep a level head.
By the two month mark of being abroad, it is normal to feel homesickness: from experience, I knew that it is difficult to feel like you should be celebrating something but instead live a mundane day. Only a few students fully understood. “But Courtney, why you not in your country with your family?” Excellent question, students. Excellent question.
However, Thanksgiving made for some fun lessons and entertaining vocabulary. I am an English babysitter for two little girls, Chloe and Olivia, and during Thanksgiving week, they learned the word “potato.”
Back and forth we went, but at last, the word stuck. Then, everything became potato. A pencil falls on the ground: “POTATO!” The girls don’t want to take a bath: “POTATO!” I ask the girls what the name of an object is: “POTATO!” Well, who can blame them? Potatoes are a most exemplary vegetable.
And then the school went topsy-turvy. One of the batxillerat teachers had to take a medical leave, which meant that the students would be without a teacher for at least three weeks. I went to the head English teacher and suggested hiring me. Everyone in administration was thrilled with the prospect, but after making a few calls, we got held up on a legal snag: I have only a student visa, and I don’t have the proper certification to teach in a public school. Bummer. However, it was nice to know that the teachers and staff had faith in my abilities enough to even consider hiring me as a first option.
Luckily, the school found a substitute by Week 10. The students already had a week of vacation from English, so they were not too keen to get back to learning and were dismissive of the substitute at first. I gave the class a little lecture about how lucky they were to have a new teacher so soon, grabbed four boys for conversation, and then went outside to speak English.
“You are a good person,” said one of my students.
“Thank you, why?”
“Because you support the teacher.”
“Well, teenagers are scary. It is very scary to walk into a classroom full of teenagers and have no lesson plan and have to teach anyway.”
“But we are good! Most times.”
“Yes, most of the time.”
It was a short week at school. That Friday was a holiday, and I had requested for Thursday off as well to take a long weekend in Lyon, France. Even though I was still sick that week, this time with a nasty head cold, I was still eager for a little break to refresh myself from school life.
Over that week, I had a breakthrough moment with the head English teacher. She always used to joke around and make fun of me, and I finally realized that it was a sign that she liked me. So, I started dishing it back.
“Courtney, sitting in the teachers room, doing nothing again!”
“Just trying to make your life difficult. What else am I supposed to do? After all, your students have an exam today, so it’s not like I can do anything anyway.”
“Yes, 1r ESO has an exam today…”
“An exam? An exam! I have an exam! I have to go!”
The students were quite confused. They saw the head English teacher and I banter and thought that we were fighting, their heads swiveling back and forth during each rebuttal.
“But Courtney, is Sonia mad?”
“No, it’s a joke. Es broma.”
I’m catching onto the Spanish sass!