Since being in Spain I have noticed a lot of differences in how people interact, some that I’ve come to embrace and some that I’m still getting used to. So, before I went to my placement for the first time I was expecting to see a very different experience than what I am used to in the United States. While I did notice a lot of differences, I was also surprised to see that there were a few similarities as well.
First, I will give a quick overview of my school. It’s a Catholic school that is partially funded by the state. There are students ages 3 to 18 there. One obvious difference that I noticed was the organization of the different levels. First, they have levels equivalent to pre-school/kindergarten. Then, there is what we would consider elementary school. The difference comes when there is “escuela secundaria” and “bachillerato.” “Escuela secundaria” is what we would consider middle to halfway through high school, around 10 or 11 years-old to 16 years-old. In Spain, this is as far as one has to go in their education. They can then choose to enter “bachillerato” for two years. This track is for students who want to go to the university and are therefore more motivated students. These students have to have an idea of what they want their major to be by 16 because they have to either choose a science track or a humanities track for “bachillerato.” To me, this puts a lot of pressure and stress on kids to know what they want to do early on, which may make them choose without really exploring their options. However, it does help them to get an early start on topics that interest them. I, however, have not been able to really see how this works as I have been working with an English teacher in the “escuela secundaria.”
Another difference that I have found is that the teaching style in my placement is much more teacher-oriented rather than oriented towards student collaboration. In every classroom all of the desks are in single-filed rows facing the front of the classroom. In the lessons that I have observed, the students took turns answering the book’s questions, reading paragraphs from the book aloud, and working on worksheets individually or sometimes with a partner. However, this may only be the method of this individual teacher, not the entire school. There is some opportunity for discussion for this students when they leave in groups of five to participate in discussions with the American volunteers in English for 30 minutes, but it is not as integrated into the curriculum as it has been in my experiences at schools in the United States.
One difference that I enjoy about this school is that instead of the students changing classrooms for their different classes throughout the day, the teachers change classrooms. I think that this allows the students to have a constant learning environment and not have to waste as much learning time transitioning. This also might be the reason that there are very few posters on the walls in the classrooms.
The students also have a half hour break in the middle of the day to go outside, eat a snack, and talk to their friends. This takes the place of lunchtime in the United States since they eat lunch after school here as school ends at 2:30pm and the Spaniards generally eat lunch around 3pm. After the break, they have five minutes of relaxation with music and then a prayer. I think that this schedule helps the students transition from the burst of energy they got from the break into being in a calmer state in order to be ready to learn.
While there are many differences between this school and the schools I have seen in the United States, there are also some similarities. For example, the collaboration between teachers is valued as much as it is in the United States. There is a board in the teacher’s lounge to make announcements and to coordinate schedules. Teachers also meet in the teacher’s lounge and coordinate their lessons, like I have seen in the United States. For part of my pre-prac I take out students from their classrooms to give them lessons in English that are more discussion-based. When I do this, they are not always in English class. I think that this shows the collaboration of teachers across subjects much like is encouraged in the United States.
The expectations of students are also the same. Like Catholic schools in the United States, students receive demerits for not wearing their uniform, not doing their homework, not bringing their textbooks, causing too many disruptions, etc. While the students call their teachers by their first names and are more comfortable talking casually to a teacher, there is still a respect for and obedience to the teachers as authority figures like in the United States.
At first I was expecting my experience in a Spanish school to be completely different from what I’ve seen in the United States. While I have seen differences that have expanded my ideas about teaching, I am very happy to see that the two countries are not that different.