Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Perdona the Interruption

One of my personal goals this year was that I wanted to try to “roll with the punches” of my job/work environment. Why?  Well, with some reflection I realized that in almost all of my previous jobs, I spent a lot of time focused on what goes wrong and how I think things would work better.  It's true that some of my former places of employment did need a lot of improvement (such as South Shore...which closed down before the summer even ended)That’s not to say that I haven’t liked things about those jobs, but it just seemed that I spent more time focused on the negative than the positive. So I thought ‘This year let’s try something new…’

Well.. I tried...but I'm freely admitting there's one thing that I am really struggling to take a positive spin on.

But I will get to that in a second.  First, I want to talk about how great things are!  I’m enjoying being at school more than I ever imagined I would, despite feeling like I’m living the life of an old woman when the thought of staying up until 11pm on a weekday makes me want to cry.  The kids are great and I’m shocked to admit that my favorite class is the equivalent to a 6th or 7th grade class in the US (*GASP* after I’ve practically sworn on my life that if I were ever a teacher the middle school classroom would be my living nightmare). 
This week I was given my SEVENTH revised schedule, but I think the 7th time’s the charm; hopefully there won’t be any more changes.  I can't keep them straight anymore and I've grabbed the wrong schedule at least three times when I head out of my apartment and end up going to all the wrong classes!  I’m working with 3 of the 4 high school grades (basically ages 12 – 17) and then 3, 4, and 5 year olds, with one or two primary classes thrown in the middle.  It’s kind of funny having to switch from high school students to preschool, but then I realized that a 17 yr old’s brain isn’t that much different from the 3 year old’s…

So the kids are great, the other auxiliaries and I are getting along splendidly, and I like the teachers I’m paired with…what could I possibly have to complain about?  Two main things: Interruptions and Nuns.  Or... maybe it can be consolidated into one – a nun who interrupts a lot.
Let’s clear something up though: Interrupting ain’t no thang here.  What I mean is that it’s as normal as the morning announcements or recess or socializing in the hallway before school starts (all things I associate with my US school experience).   
Students from other classes will interrupt a different class just to ask someone in the room for a ruler or a pencil.  I mean they literally open the door while the teacher is in the middle of the lesson and say “Perdon!…Does anyone have a ruler??”  Other teachers interrupt for any number of reasons: to ask a student a question, to give a book back to someone, to ask the teacher they are interrupting a question, etc., etc.  And yes, they do knock. However, a knock in this case doesn’t mean “Can I come in?” it means “I’M COMING IN!!” Oh, but they are always courteous enough to say “Perdon” when they interrupt.  They are really sorry and haven’t realized that they would be such a disturbance, so the fact that they have said ‘excuse me’ makes it all just dandy.
Now the Nun, well she is actually the headmistress of the school.  And being the headmistress AND a nun I guess gives her the right to interrupt and do whatever she pleases.  Two weeks ago she interrupted a class I was in with 10 minutes left to make the students clean up papers off the floor and take signs off from the wall that they had made for their class elections because it was the “parents’ meeting” that evening.  God forbid parents see that anything fun might be happening in these classrooms!  Then last week she interrupted a class I have in the most awkward classroom in the history of classrooms (it doubles as a short cut to the teachers’ lounge and a classroom, so when the doors are shut that means you cannot walk through because there is class going on, but when they are open then it is basically an extra wide hallway. I don’t think I even have to say at this point that the door being shut doesn’t stop anyone from continuing to use it as a hallway).  She came in with a man who looked like a sales person of some kind, said “Perdona” and then went to the back of the room and began to open cabinets and closets and talk to the man about whatever it was they so urgently needed to discuss while 8 year olds were attempting to have English class.  She also interrupted one of the other assistants and I the other day when we were talking during our break in the teachers' lounge. She stared at us while we talked and then just suddenly said “No te entiendo!!” [I don’t understand you!] in a tone that suggested we should have been speaking in Spanish.  It was a pretty confusing situation considering that 1) we weren’t having a conversation with her and 2) we are ENGLISH LANGUAGE ASSISTANTS, hired by the school and paid for by the parents to SPEAK AND TEACH IN ENGLISH! 

So anyway, that’s that.  We will see how long I last but my patience is already paper thin at this point and I will soon be slamming doors in people’s faces when they try to interrupt me, whether they be nuns or not. 

School Stories
I’ve already shared a few anecdotes on my facebook, but for those who don’t check their Facebook or don’t have one or just missed out completely (and also so that in 5 years I can look back and laugh), I’d like to share them here as well.

Working in the Pre-K one day, a 4-year-old boy would not put his shoe back on. So, the teacher took his shoe and put it in the garbage (yeah I don’t know why either, must be a Spanish thing?).  He said to her “If you throw my shoe away, my grandma’s going to hit you!”

After school, I saw Stevie, a 3-year-old going on 30. I was teasing him a little bit when he turned his back, walked away without a word and stood behind his older brother. He looked at me and said “No tengo tiempo para tus tonterĂ­as”[I don’t have time for your foolishness].

The middle school girls are obsessed with Justin Bieber and Robert Pattinson. I was not surprised, obviously. But they get quite offended when they ask me what to them I’m sure is the most important question in the world: “What kind of music do you like?… JUSTIN BIEBER???” and I have to bring their world crashing down around them when I answer no.  Or an even sillier question: “Justin Bieber or Brad Pitt?” The fact that I even have to answer that is an insult to the beauty of the male form.  Ah, but then I remind myself:
This generation’s Bieber is my Timberlake, their Pattinson my DiCaprio.

Yesterday I gave awesome nicknames to 2 boys in my 7th grade class who are both named Nacho (short for Ignacio): Nacho Cheese and Guacamole.  Needless to say, they’ve caught on pretty well.

Today a different 7th grader from the other section presented me with a bracelet he made for me out of soda can tabs and blue ribbon.  Not to be outdone, another boy said that now he has a great idea for a gift for me on my birthday.  Yes! Shower me with gifts, young ones. 

Photo Updates
I also haven't posted any pictures here yet which I usually try to do.  I know a lot of the very few who read this probably could look at the pictures on Facebook if they want, or maybe already have, but it makes for a more lively blog this way I think :) 

My Casa
Hallway-ish area - one bedroom is to the left, other two to the right and then the bathrooms there in front
Bathroom 1
Bathroom 2 - The Forgotten Bathroom (we hardly use it)
Living room
My very orange bedroom

With some friends at the very first international Rock the Vote event

A protest at the end of September

Hanging out at the park
'El Rastro' - Huge market on Sundays

Monday, October 1, 2012

Planet of the [Toddler] Apes

Time is absolutely flying by! I can hardly believe today is the first day of October. I'm so used to noticing the change of the seasons by the colors of the trees and that crispy cool walk across the Bridge to class that it's hard to grasp that Fall is here.  The weather here is a little like home -- in the fact that one minute I'm huddling inside a warm jacket and the next I'm sweating so much I'm practically a stripper as I walk down the street.
So I have conquered the first week and a half in my school, and it is definitely safe to say that other than teachers and students, there's not a whole lot the same about La Inmaculada (the name of the school I'm working in) and the schools I grew up in.  Today was the first day of the "full schedule". Hey Scottie Walker, are you listening? I have a wonderful budget cut idea for you for that "expensive" little gnat buzzing around your head (AKA the thing the rest of us call education).  The schools here started on September 10th(ish) and the first 3 weeks of school are on "summer schedule" which basically means they start at 9am and the day ends at 1:30, just in time for lunch.  In other words, it is just incredibly silly to expect anyone to complete a full day of school coming right off of summer vacation. Genius?!
Maybe it's the uptight, schedule-obsessed American in me, but from what I saw in a week and a half, it's basically a waste of time the first 3 weeks of school.  But it also seems like Spaniards need a little more time than us Americans to get organized and on track.

Speaking of getting organized...
I am still waiting for a complete and accurate schedule of the classes I'm supposed to help with.  It's been a chaotic mess.  It seems like no one really wants to take the responsibility to organize the 3 Language Assistants (me and 2 others) and no one communicates with each other, just complains that things are unorganized.
I also spent the first 7 days like a lost little lamb in my school. My first day, I met the director of the school, Carmen Jesus (a nun), who asked me some awkward interview-like questions about who I am and then dropped me off in a classroom with one of the English teachers.  From there it was a giant question mark.  I didn't know where any classrooms were, who to talk to about what, and I wasn't introduced to any of the other faculty, and actually if it wasn't for the fact that the students have to wear uniforms I almost wouldn't know if a few of the other teachers were part of the high school classes or not.  There is no dress code.  Basically it's casual Friday everyday, only not even as dressy as that.  And forget about trying to figure out who the gym teacher is since so many people wear track suits.
I have been going to 2 classes pretty consistently: Infantil, which is Preschool ages 3-5, and one of the high school English classes.  The preschool is interesting.  I've been in all three classes, 3, 4 and 5 year olds, and they are all doing the same thing.  Repeating the types of weather and seasons, the days of the week, and vocabulary of the classroom (pencil, chair, table, and schoolbag).  Here's a link to "The Weather Song" that we've been singing everyday:

The 4 and 5 year olds are a little more attentive to what they're repeating, but the 3 year olds are just parrots.  They repeat everything the teacher says, even in Spanish.  Today she dropped something and made a noise to herself like "Ohohohh!" and it was like a wave through the classroom starting with the kiddie closest to her mimicking the sound until the whole room was filled with "OhOhOHHH!".  They haven't quite figured out what "Kate" means yet either since when she says "Who is Kate??" they all repeat "HOOESKAE".  And the recess. Ohh my the recess.  In the classroom they are fairly calm. Obviously they have the attention span of a fish and spend most of the time gaping at me trying to figure out who this strange new person is speaking in this weird language in this odd accent ("PERO quien es ESA!?" 'But who is SHE!?")... but when it comes time for recess they go absolutely insane.  The first day I experienced it I wasn't sure what I was witnessing. The play yard is pretty small, but there is a fake grass area for "soccer" (or rolling around on the ground which is what I've mostly seen), a slide and monkey bars set in sand, and then cement all closed in by a metal gate.  The minute they exited the classroom half of them ran for the gate, started climbing up, screaming and shaking the bars like they were a bunch of monkeys that had just escaped the lab.  Others climbed onto the windows outside the classroom and started banging on the glass.  Basically like a scene from Rise of the Planet of the Apes...the one where James Franco plays the hot monkey scientist.  I'm like the female James Franco in this school of Monkey Children... minus the genius part and the dashing good looks

I'm enjoying the high school class for the most part because I can joke around with them and have actual conversations, even though today they were so awful and I was reminded that they are a bunch of immature teenagers.
Overall I really like being at the school and getting to know the teachers and all the kids at all the grade levels. I think once things FINALLY get organized and I am consistently with the same teachers and the same kids, it can only get even better.  Who knew I would enjoy the classroom?  Scary. 
Next I'll have to update everyone on my first protest experience over the weekend (Me, at a protest? Never!) as well as my new reality show obsession 'Quien Quiere Casarse con Mi Hijo?' 'Who Wants To Marry My Son?' which is the most perfect combination of The Bachelor and that stupid MTV 20 minute long scripted show Date My Son or Date My Daughter or whatever it was where the parents comment on everything.  It's so terrible, but so hilarious.  I'll be sure to let you all know who gets kicked off next week!