October 13, 2014
So far, I have spent three days in Colegio Highlands Los Fresnos and each of the three days I have been there I have noticed many differences between the Spanish and American school systems. Some of the differences between the methodologies of the schools are positive and others are negative, but I think observing and experiencing these differences while completing my international pre-practicum in Madrid will vastly shape who I am as a teacher.
For a bit of background knowledge, I am placed in a primary school in the suburbs of Madrid. The school is Catholic, and not having taught in a school with a religious affiliation before, this was one of the biggest differences that I have experienced so far. Throughout the day I move from class to class, starting with fourth grade boys to second grade girls, to fifth grade boys, and ending with sixth grade girls. The school is bilingual, meaning that 50% of the student's education is in English and the other 50% in Spanish, but I am placed only in the classes taught in English.
From my first day in Madrid, I have noticed many cultural differences, and now having spent several days working in a Spanish school I have seen how these cultural differences have carried into schools. Some big differences are that the students all wear uniforms (different uniforms depending on their age), the students all call the teachers by their name prefix and their first name (for example: Miss Amy or Mr. Richard) instead of by last name, and the students all stand up when a teacher or faculty member enters a room.
One of the most notable, surface level differences I have noticed includes the schedule of the day. The school day starts at nine am and ends at five pm, which is about two hours longer than the typical American school day, depending the school, of course. The start time of the school is much later, but this reflects the Spanish schedule-- most Spanish people do not eat until at least nine pm and do not go to bed until much later, even children-- so their days start and end later than ours do. Also, the day starts at nine and the teachers then have a half-hour long coffee break at eleven, where we are given coffee, juice, bread, cold cuts, cookies and pastries. This is a very typical part of the Spanish day, which is very unfamiliar to me because I am used to working in a school where a ten minute break to eat a piece of fruit we packed for ourselves is a luxury. We then have another two hours of class and then have a two-hour lunch break where we are served a three-course meal. This is also a very notable cultural difference, the fact that teachers and students are given all of their meals for free. This may partially be the result of the fact that the school is private, but also the result of the fact that food is a huge part of Spanish culture. Many students who live close enough to the school go home during the two-hour break to eat with their families. It is important that everyone has a long time to eat, talk, digest, and relaxed. Twenty-minute working lunches are not a part of the Spanish routine.
This schedule change is one of the most positive differences that I have noticed. The students have plenty of time to go outside and play throughout the day and to spend time with their friends. You can always feel how much lower the restless energy is when you come back to class after the students have had a nice long break; meanwhile a lot of the day is packed tighter in the American school system. I think that valuing relaxation and physical education is very important, and I really like how it is done at the Colegio Highlands.
Another notable difference is the fact that boys and girls are separated in class. Each grade has two classes, one for boys and one for girls and they never mix throughout primary school. This is a system that I have noticed has both benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, the girls’ classrooms are much calmer than in other schools I have worked in where they have boys to distract them. Boys and girls are often at different developmental stages so it can be difficult to have them all in the same classroom. However, the fourth and fifth grade boys' classrooms that I work in are very hectic and the teachers have very little control over their classroom. I do not think that this is the result of the teachers' lack of training or capabilities, as both the teachers are well seasoned and experienced, I jus think that having a class of twenty-five ten and eleven year old boys is unrealistic. I think that this could work if the classes were divided into higher and lower levels so the groups were smaller, but most of the time the boys all are very distracted by one another and they get embarrassed about speaking English in front of one another. I think that this could work, but it is not necessarily functioning properly in this particular case.
One other interesting difference that I have noticed is the bilingual education system at Colegio Highlands. Most of the English teachers are Spanish people that did their studies at English-speaking immersion schools, mostly in the British education system. But, although these teachers are Spanish, the students are all told that the teachers are native English speakers from Great Britain. So, as far as the students know these teachers do not speak a word of Spanish. Although I am American and speak English, I am also near fluent in Spanish, but I was told on my first day at Colegio Highlands that I am not supposed to tell the students that I speak any Spanish at all. The director, the person who told me this, said that if I tell the students that I speak Spanish then they will only want to speak Spanish to me and in their English classes the students are supposed to be using English only. Having now spent some time in the school, I think that I do not necessarily love this rule. Sometimes I feel as though it is good because the students are forced to use their English. However, there have been times when the students are really struggling and I feel as though it would be better to have them tell me the word or phrase in Spanish and then have me explain it to them in English so that we can work through it together. Of course, I am not trained in bilingual education so I do not know what the proper technique is, but I just feel like sometimes the students give up because they are unable to express themselves, or they might benefit from comparing the words and phrases in both English and Spanish.
To wrap up this post, I feel as though I am taking away a lot from being able to see this school system and the way that things are taught in Spain and at this particular school. There have been a lot of methods and practices that I want to use and combine with those of the American school system, and others that I don't want to use at all, but I think this is really helping to shape my teaching style. I look forward to going back again and learning more!