A typical day at Maristas begins at 9 am. The students usually arrive in the classroom before the teachers and myself, and are expected to begin their morning work of handwriting. This surprised me at first, because at all my previous placements the teacher always arrived before school started to prepare for the day. After ten or fifteen minutes of handwriting, the students usually move on to math where they have been focusing on story problems involving addition, subtraction and multiplication. First the students solve three problems individually, and then the class reviews and corrects them together on the chalkboard. After math, the students usually move on to reading where they take turns reading aloud from their current chapter book. This is usually when I do my morning routine with the students to help them practice their English and/or read them a story in English. Having been in their desks for two hours, the students then go to gym class which is followed by recess. After recess they have two more hours of class however I leave to attend my own afternoon classes.
Throughout the past weeks, what I have been struck by routinely is the advanced level at which these 7 year olds work at. It is especially interesting when I compare them to the first graders I worked with in a Boston Public school last semester. As I said, the students at Maristas are working on story problems in math that have to do with addition, subtraction and multiplication. The majority of my students from last semester, while one or two could do simple multiplication, were working with mastering subtraction. The students at Maristas also seem advanced in reading; currently they are reading their third novel since I started teaching there. My students from last semester read leveled texts that were no longer than 10-15 pages and with little text. While there is certainly a range of achievement, the class as whole is able to comprehend what they are reading and strategies to solving math problems. When I asked my CT about the students’ advanced level, she commented on how students at Maristas (a private, Catholic school) are more advanced than other schools and how at other schools she has taught at she had to move at a slower pace and, for example, would still be working with students on learning to read. This sounded more similar to the level at which I worked with students last semester, leading me to think the discrepancy has mostly to do with the individual schools and economic backgrounds, and not that all Spanish 7 year olds are more advanced.
Working at Maristas the most challenging aspect has been discipline. Although discipline is something I have always worked on throughout my pre-pracs it has been a particular challenge to discipline in Spanish. Going through elementary school in the U.S. exposed me to the language of discipline in the classroom; I was surprised when I realized that discipline doesn’t translate as easily as I expected. Disciplining in Spanish involves a whole set of vocabulary that I wasn’t familiar with, in addition to cultural factors which involve how students are managed. It has taken awhile to get used to but I am finding it much easier now to manage the classroom. At the advice of another teacher who had a similar experience with teaching in English, I found that sometimes not saying anything at all is more affective. Today the teacher stepped out of the room for a few minutes and left the students doing work “silently”. I watched as a particularly chatting boy started playing with his friends. After a few seconds he noticed me watching him, and with only the raising of my eyebrows he blushed, embarrassed to be caught off task, and went back to work silently.