Hello! My name is Katharine and I am studying secondary education and Hispanic studies at Boston College, with hopes of becoming a high school Spanish teacher. This fall, I am spending my semester abroad in Madrid, Spain and am using this blog to highlight some of my student teaching experiences during my time here! Although I want to teach Spanish, this semester I am student teaching in an English language classroom at Colegio San Rafael in Madrid.
Throughout my first two weeks at San Rafael, I have noticed several similarities and differences between teaching abroad and teaching in the United States in terms of teaching styles, class structure and size, and student/teacher interaction. To begin, the teaching style that I have observed at school is very different than that of the US. This semester I am working with two CT’s in different English classes, and I have noticed that the style of teaching is very laid back and the lesson plans are less structured causing class work or activities to change or be altered during the class. In contrast to the United States, the teaching style I have observed in Spain is one in which the teachers and students are not focused on a final assessment or an end result, rather they are focused on what they are learning that moment in the class and why it is important to them. I think since there is not much emphasis on a final grade or exam, students are more willing to work in the classroom solely because they want to learn, not in order to pass a final or get a good mark at the end of the year. Thus, although the laid back attitude of the teachers and classroom structure is very different from that of many teachers and classrooms in the US, it seems to have a positive influence on the students’ learning.
Additionally, I pay particular attention in observing the students at my placement and how the class size and teacher interaction influence their learning. The average class size of the English classes is about 20 students or less per class. In a language class, I think it is very important to maintain small class sizes so that all the students feel comfortable with each other and are willing to participate without anxiety or fear of making a mistake. From taking 6 years of Spanish, I know that speaking out during class in a different language can be very frightening for fear of pronouncing a word wrong or completely misinterpreting a question, but I observed that my CT’s have worked hard to make the classroom as comfortable as possible for the students. Additionally, in some of the younger grades, the classrooms are organized in groups of 3 or 4 students in a new cooperative learning approach. As a foreign language teacher, it is vital to create a supportive classroom that meets the needs of the mixed class, and I believe having smaller groups of cooperative learning communities is a great way to do that. In my past pre-pracs, I would arrange the classroom in groups or circles when doing language-learning activities because it gives students the chance to learn from and with their peers, while creating a comfortable environment necessary for learning. Thus, it is interesting to see the approach the teachers at San Rafael take in terms of class structure.
Finally, the teacher to student interaction in Spain is very different than in the United States, which affects the way the classroom functions. All of the students call their teachers by their first name, which creates an informal relationship between the teacher and the student. Also, many students do not raise their hand when asking a question, and treat the teacher as a peer. This is not to say that the students are disrespectful of the teachers, however the interaction is much more relaxed and informal than in schools in the United States. This affects how the classroom functions both positively and negatively. First, the informality of the classroom can make classroom management difficult. My CT expressed to me that she has a hard time controlling some of the students in her class because they do not think it is necessary to bring their materials to class, to do their homework, or to participate in classroom discussion. On the other hand, that same idea of a laid-back classroom setting is reflected in the informality between teachers and students, which brings positive results. I have observed that many students level of comfort with their teachers allows them to participate more freely in the classroom (especially important in a language class!) as well as feel comfortable asking the teacher questions or for help.
Overall, there are both similarities and differences between teaching abroad and in the United States in terms of teaching styles, class structure and size, and student/teacher interaction. For me, it is very interesting and educational to observe these similarities and differences and see how different techniques and approaches either positively or negatively influence student learning in the classroom.