08 October 2013

Little Miss Teacher

It happened y'all. My first week of teaching is now complete.

How do I feel? Excited, nervous, frustrated?


But let's roll back a bit.

All auxiliares started teaching on Tuesday, 1 October. Many people were in the same boat as me, as in, we've never once taught a class before, much less multiple ones. So I did what most control freaks would do, and I went to visit my school the Friday before I started. Good thing too because (surprise surprise) I started walking in the wrong direction for ten minutes when I got off the metro.

The administrative building (and main entrance) to my cole.
My school is located in the Puente de Vallecas area of Madrid, south east of the city center. It's a solidly working class neighborhood, and you can tell just from walking around that it's predominantly populated by immigrants. I took three wrong turns and ended up on the opposite of the highway in a shopping center. Good work. When I finally made it to my school, I found myself with three separate buildings so I kind of just hoped for the best and knocked on the door nearest me. The school angel of God decided to bless me this time and lo and behold the school secretary opened the door. She immediately knew who I was and she took me in to me the rest of the administrative staff and the school director. From there she took me to meet Lourdes, the coordinator of the bilingual program at my school. 

You know that scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where Lockhart releases the pixies and it's chaos? That's basically what the 6o of primaria class (equivalent to the American 6th grade) looked like when I got there to meet Lourdes. Despite their general rowdiness, the kids were all really excited to meet me...they had even taken bets earlier in the day on whether their new teacher was male or female. I hope not too many kids lost money...

It wasn't my first day yet, so Lourdes just gave me the basic run-down of what my time at the school would look like:

  • Work schedule: Monday - Thursday, from 10-2, for a grand total of 16 hours a week (the maximum allowed by the government of the Comunidad de Madrid). What a difficult life I lead.
  • Students: primarily 1st and 2nd year primary, which corresponds to ages 6-7. Once a week for 45 minutes I would be with the very oldest (sexto...about age 11) and then with the very youngest ("los cinco años"). 
  • Subjects: English (duh), science, and art with the 1st years. I can't even draw a stick person, but considering the kids are 6...
  • Other random thoughts:
    • Most of the kids come from really rough backgrounds (broken homes, abusive parents, etc)
    • The vast majority of the kids are the children of immigrants (mostly from Northern Africa and South America). There's also quite a lot of Gypsies.
    • The level of English is all over the place. Kind of like Spanish classes in college.
    • The 2nd years have their Cambridge exam (essentially an English proficiency exam) at the end of the year. Come February, we will be doing mock exams with them to prepare. Anyone else getting flashbacks to the IB French exam?
Oh woe is me.

And then...


The cinco años classroom
So in I came with my hot pink pants because ¿por que no? My very first class was with Lourdes and the 2o class. I'm not going to lie, the entire first day was overwhelming. My classes are not very big, so I have less than 100 names to learn (I actually only have about 85 students total), but let me tell you, it ain't easy to learn a bunch of traditionally Islamic names of which many sound essentially the same. And then there's the repeats across classes and the strange pronunciations and boom, crazy Nic.

The teachers were all SO nice. I work primarily with Lourdes and Maria (the teacher in 1o), but I see all the others at lunch. The greatest thing about being placed in such a small school is the family-like atmosphere: all the teachers get together for lunch for 30 minutes of just random but entertaining conversation. They all took the time to introduce themselves and were so welcoming; you can tell they were genuinely pleased to meet their new auxiliar.

I could honestly sit here and recount every single brilliant moment of the first week but here are the highlights:

  • I used a globe to show the 2o class where I'm from and where it is in relation to Madrid. They all got so excited about finding where they were from and showing me as well. One girl in particular is from Georgia, a country she has no recollection of since she left as a baby. I helped her find Georgia on the globe, and she kept coming back to look at it again with such wonder in her eyes. 
  • One of the girls in my 2o class asked to go to the bathroom. When she came back, I realized she had used toilet paper to give herself a headband. 
  • My 1o class is a complete riot, but they never fail to flood me with hugs and high-fives when they go home for the afternoon.
  • Truth be told, I was not looking forward to working with the 6o kids. However, they were so excited with my class and so many of them came up to me afterwards asking if I could come back more than just once a week. 
  • My 1o kids now know all their colors, all because I bribed them with candy. 
  • Stickers aren't a thing here. Whaaaaaaa...?

There really hasn't been many negatives to speak of up till now. If anything the two hardest things are dealing with all the different levels of English and having to adapt myself to British English for many of their vocabulary words (rubber, the toilets, plait, etc.). And of course, I never seem to get enough sleep..these kids all need me to be high-energy and on the ball all day because they zone out as soon as it gets boring. My miming and dancing skills have improved dramatically in just a week, and I don't think I've ever spoken this slowly in my entire life.

Full steam ahead to week 2, amigos!

02 October 2013

La vida española

Ok, so I know I disappeared for quite some time, BUT I promise it's for a good reason...I didn't have wifi.


And then Blogger deleted my post and I had to write this entire post again so there's that.

I have now been in Spain for almost a full three weeks, and I'm going to attempt to summarize my first week here by breaking it down into sections. I'll write more on other stuff (namely, school!) in another post. Let's boogie.


On the morning of my departure from the States, I still couldn't quite wrap my head around leaving. I'm not really sure if it was denial or just a general numbness to avoid feeling anything too extreme. Saying bye to my little kitty was sad, since I so enjoy cuddling with her, but it was a bit easier to leave when she scratched my arm.
I was fine at the airport. Truly, I was. Until it came time to hug my mom goodbye. I don't really know how to describe it, but there's something different about a hug from your mom, and more so when you know it will be quite a long time before you can do it again. It was so incredibly hard to let go, turn my back on my family, and walk through security to catch my first flight to Boston. I'm not much of a public crier (though I do admit I cry a lot), but I couldn't help it on the three-hour flight. I was leaving behind almost every single person I love and hold dear, and as much as America drives me nuts sometimes, it's still home.
My flight overseas was much less tearful, especially once the tiredness set in. I arrived in Paris at 7:30 in the morning and used my broken French to cross what felt like the entire city of Paris just to get to the Air France terminal. Y'all, seriously, install some trams or something.
And then of course I went to the bathroom to put on some makeup because no way I was showing up in Madrid looking like something out of American Horror Story.


Going back to my point of being a cry-baby, the opening scene of Love, Actually always gets to me. There's just something so great about arriving at an airport and having someone there waiting for you with open arms and lots of love.
In a way, my arrival in Barajas was the closing of a giant circle. In the same spot where we said goodbye so many months ago, my Novio was waiting for me with a huge smile on his face. And yes, his hair was much longer and we were both dressed in summer clothes and we had individually been through so much in our time apart, but in that moment I swear I could have been in a movie. No photographs, please, paps.
My program provided us with accommodations in Moncloa, an affluent neighborhood in northwestern Madrid. I was really impressed with our hotel, namely the shower and bathroom were rocking. I was really lucky to have a great roommate who I got along really well with. After a brief chat, I strayed outside to explore my new home for the next 9 months. I took the metro directly into Sol, the dead center of Madrid, where I proceeded to get myself some cheap wine and a new SIM card. Spanish phone number, ca-ching!


CIEE provides us with four days of orientation while the government provides us one day after we're done with CIEE's. Even if at times the information was similar to things I heard before studying abroad or even just plain dull, orientation made me really thankful for choosing to go with CIEE rather than the Ministry program.
Topics we covered include:

  • Metro passes
  • the Spanish school system
  • Phones
  • Apartment hunting
  • Banking

I promise I'll write a post on all these to try to help fellow auxies out because...it's a lot.
As for the government orientation...well, I'm just glad I brought my phone and some pen and paper.

Moving abroad might seem extremely glamorous, especially moving to Europe (anyone else remember that That's So Raven episode where her cousin comes from Paris??). In a lot of ways, it is. Spain is a wonderful country and Madrid is a large city and it's always just bursting with life. But it's not always easy. I don't know anyone here, so I'm still trying to find my "group" of friends and even people for other things like a hairdresser, manicurist, etc. I'm terrified of screwing my students up or of being pick-pocketed on the metro. The transition hasn't been easy, but I think being off the internet for a while made it easier to sort of not hold on desperately to everything at home and try to find my own footing here.

I'll update y'all on whether I'm successful or not. Actually scratch that, you'll know if I'm successful based on whether or not I write. Ha.

Hasta luego!