Erin Explores

by Erin Elaine

My experience teaching in Madrid… so far

I have been at my school for just over 3 weeks now. My schedule has changed many times trying to get the specific classes I´m supposed to be with, but I believe it is now finalized. Now that I´m sure which classes I´ll have on which days, I can begin really collaborating with the other teachers and perhaps planning more lessons and teaching more lessons. Out of 23 hours, I have 4 History, 2 Citizenship, 2 Music, 2 Natural Sciences, 2 Art, 11 English. It is more English than I was expecting, but I am enjoying the classes and I think they will be very useful later in my career.

My school is only in the 2nd year of transitioning to a Bilingual School, so the 1st and 2nd year students are either fully or partially bilingual, while the older students are not. 1st and 2nd year correlates to 7th and 8th grade as we think of it in the US. These are the students I will be teaching this year. Next year, 1st through 3rd years will be bilingual, so I will have more options for what to teach.

In addition, the students are ¨tracked¨ based on their scores on standardized tests. They have tested into either A, B, or C, with A being the students who tested most highly. Keep in mind that the tracks are almost solely based on the standardized tests, not classroom performance, unless the classroom performance is exceptionally high or exceptionally low. So students that perform well on standardized tests, but might not necessarily have a full understanding of the content, will be in the A group. Also, the students are kept with the same group for several years in a row, regardless of whether or not that group is still the best fit for them. Another aspect that makes these tracks unqiue is that the students will have every single class every single day with the same group of students. It makes for very tight-knit groups of students, which has its positives and negatives, depending on the situation.

1A and 2A take almost every class in English, everything except Math and Spanish. 1B and 2B have some classes in English, usually English and 2 electives. For instance 2B has Citizenship and Music in English but History in Spanish. 1C and 2C only have English and PE taught in English. My classes are a mix of all 6 of these groups. I spend the most time with the A groups, and the least amount of time with the C groups.

It is interesting to see the differences between some of the groups. The A groups are the ones that everyone assumes to be the ¨smartest¨, but sometimes that isn´t true. I´ve found they sometimes have trouble listening and staying on task in class. Making them stay focused on the task at hand can sometimes be extremely difficult. They also don´t seem to have much enthusiasm for learning. The B and C groups, on the other hand, tend to be easier to keep on task, and tend to have more enthusiasm for learning English. Students in the B and C groups will run up to me in the hallways saying “Erin! Erin!” and asking for high fives. Students in the A groups might say hello if I´m lucky. Last Friday I taught a Citizenship lesson to an A group and they seemed very disinterested and didn´t get very far in the lesson. I figured it was because the subject matter was very advanced. But the next period I taught the same lesson to a B group, and they were very dedicated, on task, and got a lot further in the lesson than the other group. I´m not sure why exactly these differences exist, but it is interesting.

The teaching style in Spain seems to be right on the cusp between the “old style” (bookwork, memorization, etc) and the “new style” (critical thinking, understanding, etc). On the one hand, the curriculum is standardizd and if an inspector comes in to observe your class and you´re veering too far away from the approved curriculum, there will be negative consequences. On the other hand, the teachers do realize that the students learn better when they are engaged, interested, and challenged. Memorization is boring. Most of the teachers seem to be very open to alternate pedagogy methods, they just aren´t sure how to go about implementing them in a way that would meet the approval of the national administration. This is my challenge! I have two main advantages: 1. I´m not bound quite as tightly to the curriculum requirements as the Spanish teachers are. 2. I have received teacher training, while many of the Spanish teachers have not. So, my goal this year is to bring in some new teaching methods and try to show the students that learning can be fun.

I am definitely enjoying my time here so far. It is unique, and challenging, and I believe it will be very rewarding.

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3 comments on “My experience teaching in Madrid… so far

  1. EmilyAnne
    October 10, 2012

    Your blog looks great! It is really interesting to read about your struggles with Group A. I had similar experiences with my students that tested the highest. I came to the conclusion that it is a mixture of two things. One being ego – especially in the ultra competitive educational environment in Korea. All day they are told they are the best. They get complacent and stop pushing themselves. And the other is boredom. From what you describe, they are obviously great at memorizing and acing the “old style” type tests. I don’t know how easy it will be for you to teach outside the box or different materials to different levels, but you might want to try different projects with Group A. Let them be creative with their curriculum. Again, not sure if that is possible in your school. I just find it so intriguing that you are facing the same hurdles with your Group As in Spain that I faced with my higher level students in Korea.

    • Erin Elaine
      October 10, 2012

      That definitely sounds right! They are definitely complacent. It’s pretty interesting because I’m not completely certain how the testing is weighted. What if a student is good in English but bad in Math, or good at Math but bad at History? Once they get placed in the A group, it doesn’t really matter how they got there or what their weaknesses are, they definitely get cocky and complacent. It’s interesting to hear that it is similar even halfway around the world!

      • EmilyAnne
        October 11, 2012

        Try to speak to a Spanish teacher about the testing procedures. It might help you plan lessons to the levels easier and just understand the workings of the school/education system on a bigger level. There are questions I wish I would have asked about Korean education in my first month that I waited six months to ask, especially about testing and how important teaching to the test was/is there. Knowledge is power. So interesting to hear about your experiences. Keep writing! Keep traveling! And keep enjoying!

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This entry was posted on October 8, 2012 by in Madrid, Teaching and tagged .
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