Erin Explores

by Erin Elaine

The First Week

It’s been about a week since I began my second year teaching in Spain. Some things are different than last year, and some things are similar.

First, I’ll explain what my job is like, for those who don’t know. I work in a public school teaching students from 7th to 9th grade. Because it’s a bilingual school, the students have the option to take all of their classes in English, with the exception of Math and Spanish Language, which are taught in Spanish. So they learn History, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Music, PE, etc, all in English. Imagine how challenging that would be! So, this is where I come in. They need native speakers to help the students learn. So I am paired with a Spanish teacher that has a high English level, and together we co-teach the lessons. Most of my classes are Social Studies or English.

This year, it was much easier to hit the ground running. I already knew the layout of my school, some of the teachers, and most of the students. My Spanish has also improved considerably, so I’m able to communicate with administrators and support staff who have lower (or non-existant) levels of English. I am able to attend meetings and understand more without having to ask someone to translate for me. And knowing a lot of the students helps me customize my teaching style. I don’t have my schedule set in stone yet, because the Spanish school system (or govt in general) is not the most efficient thing in the world. But soon I will have a schedule, and in the meantime I’ve still been able to do a lot of teaching. Today I taught a lesson about Geography and it went really well. The students participated and listened. I think my teaching has improved since last year. And I already have a favorite class! (Shh, don’t tell the other students).

The technology situation is not ideal, but it’s workable. This is due to the current economic crisis in Spain. Budgets have dried up, and even though bilingual schools like ours receive more money, it is still not enough. In addition to classes of wildly varying sizes (18-40 students), the resources are limited. I would estimate that less than half of the classrooms have computers and projectors. And I think there are about 4-5 smartboards in the whole school.

The classroom I’ve been primarily working in so far has nothing but a chalkboard – no computer, no projector, no pull-down maps. There are the obvious drawbacks – it is difficult to draw a 3D globe, it is difficult to take the time to draw a complex diagram, we can’t show animations or videos. But we will make do. There are maps we can unroll and hang from a nail above the chalkboard. And there is free colored chalk available! It makes population charts or geographic maps a lot clearer and easier to understand. I think my artwork will improve a lot this year! I will be a pro. I can already draw a map of Spain much better than I could a year ago, due to my experience in a few chalkboard-only rooms last year.

I think it also makes me a lot more aware and present as a teacher. I have to think about every single thing I write, and I have to think about the best way to draw something on the board. Sometimes googling images can make me lazy – I assume that the images or the diagrams can do the teaching for me, and I spend less time actually explaining something step by step. The chalkboard really forces me to explain the minute details that can be the difference between someone fully grasping a concept vs not grasping it. In addition, it makes my lessons infinitely more flexible. I don’t have to use the same Powerpoint for 3 classes in a row if I don’t think it’s good. I can adjust my lesson a lot easier this way. It’s more time-consuming, but I think it can be rewarding. This is my attempt to say “There are some limitations, but I’m going to make the best of them, and use this opportunity as a chance to improve my teaching skills.”

Tune in for my next picture post, with pictures from the beautiful Amalfi Coast of Italy! Adiós!

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This entry was posted on September 19, 2013 by in Madrid, Spain, Teaching and tagged , , .
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