My friend Lindsay, another American who worked in an elementary school in Sevilla a few years back, once told me the story of a teacher who used to berate kids for getting things wrong, getting behind in work and getting in trouble. When they learned professions, the children piped up with chants of, “I’m going to be a doctor!” or, “I’m going to be a politician!”, and were immediately told that they weren’t bright enough to do anything worthwhile.
From an American perspective, this seems to be the 180º of what our parents told us when we dreamed of being astronauts or the US President. I wanted to be a ballet teacher in kindergarten (without ever having taken a class), then a vet (have bad allergies) and finally settled on wanting to be a journalist. I spent half of my life training to write and speak well, only to teach little enanos colors and numbers in English. But being a kid and having a world of possibilities is quite a beautiful thing.
In the school I work in, bad work is erased until it gets done correctly. The kids who color out of the lines or write a number backwards are made to miss recess to do extra work, rather than running or playing as children ought to. In Miss Cat’s class, I’m happy to say, “Great job, Alba!” or, “What a cool monster, Tano!” to every kid, no matter how poor their work may be, simply because being proud of your work is a great confidence booster for a kid. They all want my attention around the clock, so the smiley face drawn on the hand or a sticker goes a long way.
I’ve tried constantly, especailly in my high school years, to teach values to my students. The high schoolers I taught for three years always gave me the, “Yeah, you’re a teacher, you don’t count” attitude, and that’s the greatest part about teaching the babies. Today, the four year olds went on a little field trip around the neighborhood to review what they’re learning in conocimiento del mundo, a subject about the world around them. The teacher put the kids into pairs and we passed shops and pharmacies and people on the street. The kids eagerly repeated everything I said in English, but more importantly, any storefront we passed, they each said, “I’m going to work here when I grow up, Miss Cat!” From hospitals to carpentry work, it seems that my students will in twenty years be carrying on as workers.
Since I had the back half of the group, I could say quietly in Spanish, you can do anything you want in life. Except eat candy all day long.