Friday, May 27, 2011

The Junta says...

On Monday I strolled into work about 10:35. My first lesson started at 10:30. I was going to go to the staffroom, put my stuff down, maybe grab a drink, and then head upstairs to my class, and probably still arrive before anything really got underway. On the way to the staffroom I passed my bilingual coordinator. I gave him the standard "Buenas días" and a smile, but he responded with "¡Amy! Hay una carta para ti. Está en mi oficina." "¿De la Junta?" I asked. "Sí" he replied, and ran off to his class.

The auxiliar's magic eight ball, and my employer

¡Por fin! My placement for next year had come! I turned around and did my best not to run all the way to his office, fumbled with the key to let myself in, and there it was, glowing on the desk (At least it was to me, and there was no else there to refute it, so yes, it was glowing).

I ripped open the envelope as I locked back up and headed to the staffroom. I yanked the letter out and looked straight to the middle of the page where an address was written. Actually I just looked at the bottom line of the address:

29640 Fuengirola (Málaga)

My first response was an expletive. Fuengi?! Really? I then looked to see what type of school I got. A primary school. Again. Slightly weaker expletive.

I requested a secondary school in either Sevilla or Granada. I was excited and ready to set up a life in a new city and get experience teaching a different level. What does the Junta give me? Another primary school about 25 km from where I currently am. Of course.

I had imagined an extension of the month I spent in Sevilla last summer, full of late nights roaming about Triana or barrio Santa Cruz with la Giralda as the backdrop. Or eating enormous tapas in Granada in el Albayzín, looking up at the Alhambra. But instead I get this little town I haven't even visited because its reputation for being overrun by tourists and old retired English people frying on the beach didn't exactly tempt me.

I go teach for an hour and a half with this weighing on my mind. But during recreo I finally had time to let it sink in and think about it. I had said if I got a placement I didn't like I wouldn't come back to Spain. I'd follow up with one of the other jobs I've applied for. I was actually recently offered one teaching in the Dominican Republic. I had some analyzing to do.

Loads of people commute from Málaga to Fuengirola thanks to the Cercanías train. I could stay in Málaga. I really wanted something new, but coming back here wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. The more I thought about it, the longer my pros list got. I'll be able to come back to my apartment, many of my friends, and most likely my roommate and my private lessons, all of which are good things. I'll still be on the beach. Even better, I'll work a short walk away from a new, supposedly prettier beach. Sure, I'll have a 45 minute train ride to work, but just think of all the reading I can do during that time! I won't get the high school experience I wanted, but the next hug I got from a six year old later that afternoon quickly gave me ganas to work with little niños again. Commuting will be more expensive than my zero transportation costs this year, but coming back to a city I know I'll have ample opportunity to do more (and charge more for) private classes. I'm going to miss my little trouble makers dearly, and now I'll be able to stop in to visit any time next year.

To summarize, I decided that returning to Málaga is not just acceptable, it's fantastic. I'm going to the Oficina de Extranjeros tomorrow to renew my resident card another year and make it official.

Málaga, get ready. I'll be back.
Many more days in the sun with these people to come

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Go, Dog. Go!

There are two big wet slobbery kisses that I can’t wait for when I go home in a month. They will be from these two adorable creatures:

Meet Homer and Duke (Named after the Simpson and the university, respectfully). They are, and always will be, my babies, even though both are starting to get grey beards.

My pets are definitely at the top of the list of things I miss from home. One would think that the plethora of dogs I see in the city everyday would help ease my sorrows of being pet-less, but that is far from the truth. I see dozens and dozens of dogs on walks with their owners, which is fantastic. Dogs need to be walked and exercised. But they need a lot more than what they get here.

The average dog’s life here, from what I’ve gathered, goes something like this: Sit around in an apartment all day, moping around, howling if lonely. Owner comes home for lunch, takes dog outside. Owner stands around, leash in one hand (if dog is even on a leash), cell phone in other, waiting for dog to find a nice place on the sidewalk to poop. Dog poops, promptly goes back upstairs. Owner does not clean up the poop. Dog spends rest of evening cramped up in small apartment. If necessary, dog gets to go outside later to poop again. Dog goes to sleep (or howls all night annoying neighbors downstairs, ahem), starts routine again.

Maybe it’s just me, but this is no life for a dog, no matter what size or breed. Maybe my dogs are spoiled having a yard to run around in and people who play with them, walk them, and take them to the park. I won’t ever consider getting a dog of my own until I live in a house rather than an apartment.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some more responsible dog owners who do the best they can having a dog in a city. Walking to work across the city at the same times each day has shown me a few who take their dog to the same open courtyard (not grass, that doesn’t exist in Málaga) each day to throw a toy for him/her for a while. On Tuesday mornings I see a beautiful golden retriever chasing a rope, Wednesdays and Thursdays I see a weimaraner chasing a tennis ball, and depending on what time I come home I sometimes pass a terrier who is quite good at estimating the bounce and catching the ball mid leap. But as I’ve demonstrated, I can count on one hand the number of dogs I see each week doing what I think all dogs should be able to do: play!

Having completely scrutinized how Spain treats their dogs, I have to acknowledge one other stark contrast between dogs here and in the U.S. Here, hardly anyone puts their dogs on leashes. Ever. When you take your dog outside, he/she simply stays by your side, or however far away he/she knows you allow. If I ever took my dogs out without leashes they would say, “See ya!” Duke would go make some new friends and Homer would follow his nose to the end of the earth doing what hounds do best.

If dogs were off leashes in the U.S., parents would be snatching up their small children threatening the owners with lawsuits. But the verb “to sue” in the legal sense doesn’t even exist in Spanish, so no pase nada.

Leashes or not, I can’t wait to take Homer and Duke out to play this summer.

Friday, May 6, 2011

On being a teaching ASSISTANT

I started teaching in formal and informal settings probably as far back as junior high when I was helping the neighbor's daughter with fractions and decimals. But the first time I walked into a classroom full of faces waiting for me, the teacher, was during college when I started teaching SAT prep courses. I was teaching high school students barely three years younger than I was. I was incredibly nervous, but I knew my material and knew that I wanted to help those kids. So I set my nerves aside and got straight to work.

I found that I fell right into place in front of a classroom, and it soon felt comfortable and natural, as it still does today. It's a unique experience. All eyes are on you, and ears are tuned in to every your every word (in a world of perfect classroom management). You have information that they want, need, or someone else decided they should have. You, as the teacher, need to communicate this information to them and make sure they understand it. You orchestrate activities to make sure they learn, understand, and know how to use this knowledge. When behavior problems arise, you communicate firmly, but not harshly, that that will not be tolerated, and you put an end to it before it escalates. The classroom is your domain and you make all decisions about how it will operate.

Unfortunately my current job title is not "teacher," per se. I'm a teaching assistant, meaning that someone else runs the classroom and I am there to help with certain activities. Fantastic! Less work for me, right? Yes, I do no grading and I seldom have to plan lessons in advance. Most of the time I just show up and learn at the same time as the students what we're doing that day.

But I've learned a thing or two about being a teaching assistant this year. Every teacher has a slightly different teaching style, and as an assistant I have significantly less freedom to use my own. I have to mold and adapt mine to fit in to that of the lead teacher. If he or she says we're doing this activity and we're doing it this way, but I would prefer to do it a different way, there's only so much I can do. Having said that, I have a great relationship with most of the teachers I work with. They respect me as a teacher and we can discuss which steps do do first, which to eliminate, which to modify, how to modify them, and which one of us should do which parts. We teach as a team, and it works well.

Other classes don't go quite as smoothly. With one teacher in particular, the relationship is a bit rough. Her idea of teaching (to eight and nine year olds) is pretty much just talking at them and occasionally writing things on the board for them to copy. For her it works better than it sounds like it would, but for my lessons with her she expects me to do the same. So to teach children a foreign language I just stand there and speak in that language, and they listen? Does not compute.

If they really focus they will understand a few words here and there, but they're eight years old, so I lose their attention after about ten seconds. I have explained to her time and time again that they need organized activities, but games don't exist in her classroom. I have succumbed to completely disobeying her and making up my own games on the spot with whatever topic she gave to me to "talk to them" about. They love coming to the board to fill in gaps of sentences I've written and label pictures I've drawn. They ask at the end of every lesson if we can play hangman, but the scowl on their teacher's face usually provides the answer.

Am I a good teaching assistant? I guess it depends on who you ask. I'd like to think that for good teachers, I'm a great assistant. Where the relationship is rocky I place my priority in using my time with the students efficiently, teaching them the way that I know how to get through to them.