Moving to Spain, I knew that my job was going to be to teach. Now, to define teaching in its entirety would take volumes of books, many of which have already been written by countless scholars and supposed experts, but I think that it is safe to say that we all know what being a teacher is, at least on the surface. During my time in Chicago, I spent a large chunk of my weekends planning the lessons for the week. Then, starting Monday morning, I was a teacher by day and a tweaker by night. Each day, I had to come home and think about what had happened during my classes. What worked? What didn't? How much did we cover? Is there something that we didn't get to? Do I need to go over a particular topic again? All of these questions were asked inside my head several times a day in an attempt to give my students the best education that I could. In the classroom, my job often turned from teacher to officer, and I was tasked with making sure that no one left the room bloody or broken, educational advancements aside. After two years of that exhausting routine, I think that I have a pretty good idea of what it is to be a teacher. An expert? No, never will be, and anyone who claims to be an expert in the field of teaching needs to be challenged to the nth degree. But, I do feel as though I have a little knowledge on the subject, if for no other reason than I worked in a very difficult and unique situation and was forced to study the craft in order to survive the daily grind.
In many ways, my job in Spain is quite the same as in Chicago, my ultimate goal being that my students have learned something by the end of each day; however, the ways through which I work towards that goal and the children with whom I am working are a bit different...
For starters, I teach 5th and 6th grade in Spain (I taught high school in Chicago), and I am not actually the official classroom teacher. I am an assistant, a language and culture expert whose job is to provide perfectly accented pronunciation when speaking English and to act as an encyclopedia of all things American. Usually, I spend my days pulling groups of students out of class, playing games and having formulaic conversations with them in order to improve their English comprehension and production.
Another thing that is different about my teaching job here in Spain is that most of the children hold a more positive attitude than did my students in Chicago. Most of my students in Spain want to learn English. They enjoy talking with me and trying to tell me things in English. To work with me in a group is a treat to them, and when I don't call their name to join me on a particular day, they get upset and ask me when it will be their turn again. In Chicago, this was not the case. Now, don't get me wrong, I truly love my students from Chicago and I still talk to many of them quite often through Facebook and email, but the truth is that most of my students in Chicago could not have cared less about learning in my classroom. And, while I am not necessarily blaming them for this lack of educational ambition, I cannot pretend like it didn't exist. Getting my students in Chicago to be quiet, stay still, and work on something in class was often an exhausting task that led me to lose my cool or otherwise veer from the educational objective. Here in Spain, I don't really have those issues.
My work load and stress level are also quite different now that I am in Madrid. In Chicago, I often worked 10-14 hours a day planning lessons, making worksheets, grading papers, and brainstorming about how to better my classroom. For one of my subjects which I taught three times a day, I was not even provided with a curriculum and had to create one myself. For both of the subjects that I taught, I did not have a textbook and, thus, created EVERYTHING that I used in my class. Whenever I would go out with friends for dinner or for some activity in the city, I would often have trouble pulling my mind away from the things that I should have been doing for work instead of being out attempting to have fun. Many of my friends in Chicago were the same way, and 90% of our conversations were about teaching because that was our lives. In Spain, I work from 9am to 430pm, but I have a 2.5 hr lunch break. I only actually do work for about 4 hours a day, and the work that I do is enjoyable and not difficult. Once I leave work, I have no grading, no planning, no nothing. I am completely free to do as I choose until I go to work the next day. Oh yea, and to top it all off, I don't work on Fridays. So, I have a 3 day weekend every single weekend, and because Spain has so many holidays, I often have 4 day weekends. Almost every day of the week, I spend my afternoons and evenings with friends going to see things in the city or relaxing at a cafe. We tell stories from work about how cute the kids are and about the funny things that they say and do during class. On the weekends we travel to various parts of Spain or Europe, soaking in the culture and exploring our surroundings. Everyone that I know here is just enjoying life, taking advantage of their youth and of this opportunity that they have been given, a stark contrast to my last two years.
Besides the fact that I am not getting paid that much, there is no stress in my life at the moment, and to be honest, its pretty weird. Sometimes I don't know what to do with myself because I actually have nothing to do. After having spent the last 2 years in a very stressful environment with no time to do much of anything but work, I am learning all over again how to relax and how to be ok with having nothing going on. My experience in Chicago is something that I would never take back. I am proud of the things that I did while working with my students there, and I am even more proud of the things that many of them did. I created long lasting, deep rooted relationships with many of my Chicago students, and I see many of them as my own children. And, while my job there was not easy, it did have its rewards, and I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to teach where I taught. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't fun, but it taught me things about myself and about the world that I would have never learned otherwise. My move to Spain was, in part, a purposeful digression to an easier life. I came here wanting a bit of a break, a chance to just relax and have a good time. I know that in a year or two I will return to my life in the states to work towards goals that I have set for myself. The career path(s) that I will probably take are not going to be easy and I will end up spending most of my life working very hard with very little tangible reward, but for now I want to be young. I want to be in Europe, relaxing, traveling, and experiencing life before I join the real world one last time for good. A little over a month into the adventure, I think that I am well on my way to accomplishing my objective.