2016/2017 Posted by Kati S.
On my first night with my new flat mates in Zaragoza, I was taught the phrase “poco a poco” (little by little). They were referencing my progress with the Spanish language, and how it will come in time, but I find this phrase to be particularly applicable to many of my daily experiences teaching English in Spain. Little by little, I am adjusting to the culture of my new home. Poco a poco, I am finding my footing at my lovely school (Sagrado Corazón de Jesus). Little by little, I am learning the names of all 500 hundred of my students, and poco a poco I am letting go of my excessively American need for control. Things will happen in Spain, whenever Spain wants them to happen, and the joy of being alone for the ride is more exhilarating, boundary-shattering, and eye opening than I can possibly articulate with something as simple as words.
Of course there are rough days teaching English in Spain (hey we have them in the good old US of A too), but for every moment of doubt or sadness, I realize that pushing out of my comfort zone and experiencing life from a different perspective is exactly what I signed up for. School can be chaotic, between finding exactly where I fit in with the teachers, trying to communicate with all children (because their levels of English are extremely varied), and always being “on” with a humongous smile across my face no matter what. But the truth of the matter is: 99% of the time that smile is completely genuine, and this is the most fun I have ever had from a work experience.
On an average day, I begin school at 9:00 and finish at 17:00 (5 PM for all you Americans), with a three-hour break from 12:30-15:30. This break allows time for planning lessons, socializing with colleagues and students, and even the occasional workout. I teach at a completely multi-lingual school (why isn’t this a more prevalent concept back home?!), which includes Arts and Physical Education support in English. The lessons run for 45 minutes with primary students (ages 6-12), and usually revolve around a weekly theme. During the month of October, there were a variety of celebrations in Zaragoza including “Fiestas de Pilar” and Halloween. Halloween is a very stereo typically American holiday, which meant that I could share my own cultural traditions (i.e. trick or treating, carving a pumpkin, and dressing up) with the students, while Pilar is a Zaragoza tradition that I was able to learn all about. In both cases, lessons about the holidays were cross-referenced in Art, English, and even PE class (monster freeze tag is one of my favorites). The school is very connected, from infantile all the way through secondary, which makes it feel more like a well-rounded community than a school.
Everyday hundreds of optimistic and completely genuine children make eye contact with me and shout “HELLO KATI!” with a sincerity that would intimidate the average American. They want to know me, talk to me, and literally hang (they tend to cling to my arms and legs on the playground) on every word I say. The fact that I am from America fascinates them, and fascination is a wonderful tool for teaching and learning. The eagerness from every one of those faces makes every single struggle (like the complete lack of personal space, excessively late dinner times, and lack of a strong yoga community) easy to overcome.
I am making a difference by teaching English in Spain. I am changing my little corner of the world, with every child who learns at least one word from me. I am impacting students in a way that I yearned for, but doubted the existence of in the States. I have the autonomy to be creative with my lesson plans, and interact with the children on such a human level. In return I see them blossoming with the freedom to learn and express themselves in ways I only dreamed of during my own primary school experience.
I feel humbled and honored to be a part of the development of my students, and realize that I am learning just as much from them, as they are from me. So as I sip this “café con leche” at a quintessential Spanish café and reflect back on my first months here in Zaragoza, I can’t help but smile and realize that maybe, just maybe I am falling in love with this place, “poco a poco”.