Since I split my five hours over two days a week, I go to San Rafael on Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. after my own morning class and on Fridays from 9:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. However, there have been some random Wednesdays when my university classes have been cancelled and I have been able to go for some full days, which have been good to get a look at how a typical day of school runs at San Rafael. Generally, on Wednesdays I arrive at school while the kids are on their mid morning break which is from 11:10 a.m. until 11:40 p.m. Following the break I accompany one of my cooperating teachers to a series of classes that last until 2:30 p.m. and range in age from fourteen-years-old to eighteen-years-old. Most of the time the cooperating teacher will assign me a group to have a conversation class with students, since English class here in Spain resembles more of the equivalent to a foreign language class in the United States. The cooperating teacher usually advises me ahead of time some relevant lesson plan topics and I prepare some activities to facilitate conversation among the students and tailor the activity for each class I have, with the help of my cooperating teacher, based on the age and English language level of the students. Having back-to-back classes of varying ages makes it really interesting and educational for me to see the different English language levels and what types of activities do and do not work effectively for each level and each dynamic of the class.
I am fortunate enough to have to cooperating teachers and alternate weeks between them. For my other cooperating teacher, I usually have the opportunity to plan lessons about American culture by request of the cooperating teacher, for the entire class of students of eighteen years of age. This class has simultaneously yielded some of the most challenging and enriching experiences for me. For example, one of the first times I was in this particular class my cooperating teacher had me talk about myself and explain to the students what I was doing in Spain and tell them about my life back in the United States, about my family, what I study, etc. Afterwards, the students told me about themselves and were asking me all about the United States. Interestingly enough, the students were most curious about American politics and foreign affairs, which let to a challenging discussion for me and revealed to me a lot regarding the image of the United States abroad. I got asked questions such as why the United States is in Iraq, why the U.S. is in the Middle East and if they are there for only oil and money, why the U.S. spends more money on military arms than humanitarian aid, etc.
In addition, it was challenging to get the students to only speak in English, as is the purpose of the class. The students were extremely intelligent and well informed, but were struggling to say all they wanted to say in English, as their first language is Spanish. Thus, it was hard to keep them speaking English. At the same time, I could also recognize the frustrating feeling of having an observation or something to say in class but not being able to translate it well or spit out what I’m trying to say in Spanish because I feel this way all the time in my own classes, which are taught in Spanish. However, when a student would try and succeed in getting a whole question out in English with the meaning in tact and everyone else could understand what he/she was saying there was a common feeling of achievement and satisfaction, which was extremely exciting to see.
Equally enriching was when a student would ask a question about something in the United States that is different in Spain and I would explain how whatever it was works in the United States and then they would explain to me how it works in Spain and a kind of cultural exchange occurred. For example, a student asked me why there are so many flags in public in the United States, so I explained that hanging a flag is a sign of patriotism and a way to express it. The students then explained to me that people do not think of flags the same way in Spain because of the dictatorship and right wing political party of Franco, with which the national flag of Spain is associated. The party used the national flag as a symbol and marked fellow right wing houses and followers with the national flag. Thus, in Spain it is socially frowned upon to have a flag hanging in public, because it connotes association with the former dictatorship. In fact, one of the students had gotten in trouble once for bringing a flag to school. The only time that the national flag is generally seen is at athletic events.
Moreover, the class and I found this among many other differences very interesting and the whole discussion and exchange was very enriching. In fact, all my interaction with students and teachers and faculty thus far has been extremely positive as the teachers and faculty are very open to teaching and helping me and the students are open to learning. Thus, I look forward to the rest of my time and the interactions, both challenging and enriching, to come at San Rafael.