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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Spain/United States similarities and differences

Teaching in Spain is wonderful and I have been having an amazing time doing it. However, while I have seen many small differences between the education in Spain and ours, there are two things that have stood out. The primary difference that I have observed has had to do with student-teacher relations. In the United States, we are taught to call our teachers “Mr.” or “Mrs. /Miss” and only by their last names. This demonstrates respect and makes it clear from the beginning that teacher and student relationships have limits. Furthermore, most American students have also been taught, since childhood, that teachers are a major fountain of discipline away from home. This does not seem to be the case for students that go to public or charter schools in Spain (I do not include private schools because, from what I have seen, the teachers there are shown a great amount of respect from both students and parents). In these schools, the students call the teachers by their first name and treat them like friends. They make jokes at the teachers´ expense and make demands like they run the class and this is normal for the teachers. Furthermore, the parents’ don´t seem to have respect for the teachers either. In the school I was pre-pracing in, teachers had parent-teacher conferences almost every day and almost all the teachers dreaded these meetings. This was because most of the parents would come in to demand that the teacher give their son/daughter a better grade on a test, or for the semester, no matter if the child deserved the grade they got. One of the most unbelievable stories that I heard was that, there were a couple of parents that had brought in lawyers to analyze the exams that the students had failed, so they could assert that the grading was unfair. However, since the students had left more than half the exam unanswered, they could not do anything. After that, the teachers have to keep all the exams and work that the students do during the year as evidence in case parents try this stunt again.
Another difference that surprised me a lot was the amount of information students are required to learn from early on. Students are required to learn a second language from the moment they start school. Moreover, in history class the study of geography is obligatory and students are required to learn the names of all the countries, rivers, and mountains of the world. In my history class, I was taught extremely basic geography and was required only to learn the names of three or four river and mountains. Furthermore, my ten and eleven year old students were required to learn biology in English. But not just simple biology with basic vocabulary, no. They were required to learn all of the bodies systems (digestive, excretory, reproductive, nervous, etc.) with each organ and their function in a language that was foreign to them. This is extremely difficult for them because it is a completely new subject taught in a language that they are just learning. In the United States, I did not start learning biology in such depth until I was thirteen years old. It is amazing to me the demands they give these students and the fact that they are completely able to comply with these demands. This gives me the feeling that, in the United States, they underestimate what and how much information can be taught to the younger students and this is something that needs to be evaluated and fixed.
  However, there were also some similarities in teaching instruction that I thought were interesting. For examples, the classroom layout for both countries is the same. Students sit in groups of four or five until they are thirteen or fourteen years old, which is when they start sitting more in rows. This observation interested me and I started wondering the reason for this. Does this change in classroom structure at that age increase classroom learning? Another similarity that I thought was interesting was that standards were also measured in the same way. Most teachers taught by the book and gave a lot of importance to exams. I consider this format of teaching to be erroneous and it needs to be changed here as well as in Spain.

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