Saying Goodbye

You might say my mind has been made up since last August. For the first time in my six flights from America to Spain, I cried boarding.

Normally, I’m equipped with a travel magazine, a bottle of water and a nervous stomach at going back to a place that I love so much, but this trip was different. Spain no longer held the same excitement and romanticism for me as it did during my first few years there, and I wasn’t looking forward to going back.

It was clear what the problem was: My work situation.

I thought about how many mornings I’d trekked to the foreigner’s office or to the unemployment office or to job interviews during the hot summer months. I remember I told my friend Izzy that I was about to throw in the towel and just go back to America, defeated. Then Refu called back, asking me for an interview. Seven hours, a 13-paged written interview and two classroom try outs later, I was officially given the job at SM’s.

And two school years later, I’m bowing out. Official reason? I don’t want to be a teacher forever. I want to blog. To not have to turn down weekend trips because I have too much to do. To live my sevillano life, lest lose it forever.

Next year will be a transition year: master’s in Public Relations at the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona, 26-hours-a-week teaching gig at a language academy (working in the pm again…weird!) and toying around with this blog. I’ll still be teaching, though I’ve made up my mind that it’s not the career I want forever. At least, not in Spain.

The thing is, my situation – long hours, poor pay, no chance at moving up  – will be the same forever unless I do a master’s in teaching. My school threatened to have to complete a five-year teaching program (as a master’s for primary school teacher does not exist) or to lose our jobs. I did them one better and gave official notice about a month ago, citing that I wasn’t willing to pay for five or more years of schooling for something I can’t see myself doing forever.

Of course, there’s more to the story that isn’t fair to share. No one in my school has been overly abusing of anything else but my time and my self-worth. Sure, I’ll miss my co-workers and the staff at the bar across the street, who never need to ask me how I want my breakfast. I’ll miss the parents, full of compliments and funny stories about the 45 kids I’ve grown to adore after being their tutora for 10 months.

That’s the thing – I’ll miss my kids with locura. Absolute, unending locura.

If I make the count, I’ve taught at least 700 kids in some form – between my five years and three summers teaching. I’ve had kids that make my nerves snap, kids who are mini-mes (and tell me they want to teach English like me), kids who understand where I’m coming from, kids who give me hell. As a director of studies, I’ve put up with fist fights, calls home sobbing to parents, crazy moms who yell at me over the phone…vamos, all in a day’s work. Between the test-giving, the long nights preparing theatres and parties, the endless hours of programming and grading, I’ve found that this is and isn’t where I want to be.

I think about just how far me and the babies have come since September. Having been their English teacher in Five years’ preschool, I already had the confianza of knowing them – and having them know me. They were excited, and I had unhappy preschool parents asking to know why I’d been changed to primary. But I was elated. Finally, my own classroom, a manageable number of kids and a feeling of actually being on the team.

It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies – there were kids who I needed to win over, motivation to keep up and a lot of work to be done. Since my coworker and I have 45 kids, that’s twice the work when it comes to grading and report cards, and an extra class of parents to see. But I enjoyed watching their Aha! moments, rewarding them for using their English blocks of speech (even if just a few words here and there) and how they smiled when we’d play a game (roll the ball in the bucket as a math game? I deserve some kind of award) or take a field trip or make a breakthrough. They, as well as I, have matured and come into their own in these ten months, and I’ll take a piece of them with me when I have to say goodbye next Friday.

The plan, before I gave notice, was for me to continue onto second grade with my minions. Multiplication tables, reflexive verbs and the solar system were all on the docket, and I had many anxious six-year-olds asking, ¿Serás nuestra seño en segundo? Since my move up to first grade was so unexpected, I didn’t have to lie and say I didn’t know who their teacher would be next year, because it’s all up to the boss anyway. But as I take down their adorable drawings, send home their corrected and completed workbooks, I find myself giving more hugs and kisses, pinching more cheeks and wishing that things could somehow be different.

Teaching and I have a love-hate relationship: I hate the work, but love the reward. I find pleasure in creating a challenging lesson and giving it, like standing up and acting goofy in front of a crowd and crave the daily satisfaction that a young learner’s progress garners. It’s all of the extras at my school that was slowing me down, and it all came to a head with the theatre last week. I cried in front of the kids for the first time all year.

My decision to leave is the right one for me.

Maybe some of my kids who finally started getting results will get blocked with a new teacher. Or maybe they’ll like him more. But I’m confident that the right foundation has been laid for them to be successful.

Now that exams, grades and everything else is done, it’s time to enjoy with the kids who taught me that school can be fun and hands-on, with the ones who read my emotions even better than I do, the ones who say ” I want the holidays to Chicago con Miss Cat!” Boogers and all, they’re still really special kids, and I will miss them dearly.

How to Pay Taxes in Spain (aka The Day I Became an Adult)

Today was Tax Day in America.

As I sat telling my suegra of W-10s and 29-cent hamburgers, I realized I would have to turn in my borrador de la declaración de la renta before June 30th. I cursed, having never done it before. In 20120′s fiscal year, I worked not four months, therefore disqualifying myself. 2011 was different, and my measly 2% retention rate meant I’d have to pay, I was sure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLmuFcd2Gn4

After a quick tutorial on how to solicit the draft, I signed in using my Número de Identificación del Extranjero (called a NIE, or foreign resident card). Almost immediately, I was identified with my name and address. My mouth dropped as Kike howled with laughter. I had to claim a bank account, and from there, all of my financial information was extracted and laid out before my very eyes. Not counting the two months’ vacation or private lessons or camp, I had made under 20.000€. Sad but true.

My phone buzzed with a new message from the Agencia Tributaria. They have my phone number, too!! There was a long code, which I was asked to introduce into a text box. Within seconds, a PDF containing all of my financial information from the 2011 fiscal year was compressed into an eight-page document full of words like retenciones, porcentajes and plenty more I didn’t understand. Kike checked for errors while I held my breath, waiting for the damage.

Um, it says here you can donate to a charity, Kike said. There were two options: the Catholic Church or “bienes sociales” which was probably for beefing up political salaries. I declined, writing off the for-once efficiency that seems to be lacking in every other bureaucratic issue I’d dealt with.

At the end of the seventh page, he announced how much I’d have to pay: a whopping 0€. I hadn’t reached the threshold and have no valuables, like a house or kid. So, I paid my taxes, the government knows a lot about me (but apparently not that I moved 22 months ago), and finally feel like a grown up in Espain.

But, for realz, why do I have to pay taxes if they won’t co-validate my degree or let me have a credit card?! Spain, you wack.

Nazareno, Nazareno

It’s Viernes de Dolores in the Catholic world, so you know what that means:

My school is full of nazarenos.

 Now, I know what your American brains are thinking, but this can’t be explained by a few letters: the nazarenos are symbolic of the penitent brothers of religious brotherhoods. In Seville and throughout Spain, these brothershoods march throughout their towns for up to 12 hours, accompanying a float adorned with candles, flowers and an image of Christ or the Virgen Mary.

They say the hoods make the sinners nearly unrecognizable to the people who come from around the world to see Seville’s famous line-up (read a few tips on how to survive it if you do come), but I’d still file it under culture shock.

Though it was tiring (they don’t called it Friday of Dolores, or Sorrows, for nothing!), it was fun to play guessing games with the students and practice prepositions on the two-hour long march.

When the faithful returned to their temple, there were pestiños and rosquillas for all. For now, the mantones and floats are stored until next year, and we teachers get a glorious ten-day break from babies and boogers.

Have you ever attended Holy Week processions in Spain? What was your reaction? Any big plans for Semana Santa? This lady is off to Turkey tomorrow!

A Glimpse Inside My Classroom

In thinking about leaving education and trying something different, I sometimes think that teaching may really be my thing. After all, I love kids, adore the ones I’m teaching this year,and feel good when I plan a fun unit and my kids laugh in the classroom (who wouldn’t show Kip’s Wedding Song from Napoleon Dynamite to teach “I love” in the classroom?).

For the record, I teach full-time at a bilingual elementary school. This kind of thing is de moda in Spain these days, and this is why I’ll have a job speaking English until the day I die, if I so choose. It’s both a blessing and a curse, as it also limits what people think I’m qualified for. So, I spend my daily grind speaking shouting over two groups of rowdy but adorable six- and seven-year-olds. They get half of their curriculum in English, so I divide my team between English, Science, PE, Art, Music, Math review and sometimes Values. Two classes, totalling 44 students, are at my cargo, so when one group of 22 is with me, the other group is with the Spanish teacher, ane vice-versa. It’s a good set-up when the kids actually remember to take all of their school supplies and books and bags and jackets during our once-daily switch.

I’ve had experience writing curriculum since my second year as an auxiliar de conversacón, and I have a TEFL certificate. In a language classroom, classes should be dynamic, with lots of recycling (asking students to reproduce material they learned earlier in the year, or even in earlier courses) and with plenty of motivation. Stickers, candy, or watching a video in English work wonders with young learners, and a daily question-and-answer with my high schoolers was always fun (if not revealing).

It also helps to have oodles of materials. As we all know, a student of any subject can learn in a multitude of ways, so I try and have plenty on hand to help my niñitos learn. The basis of my curriculum is a series of books for nearly every subject I teach, with the exception of PE and Values. Though I didn’t pick out the books when they were chosen, I have come to enjoy the methodology and have fun teaching them. For English, I use Kid’s Box 2 (Cambridge, ISBN ISBN-13: 9780521688079), which is packed with fun illustrations, plenty of filler and warmer activities, catchy songs and lots of photocopiable materials for me, the T. Science is MacMillian Natural and Social Science 1 (MacMillan, http://www.macmillanelt.es/Macmillan-Natural.2396.0.html), which I liked for its objectives and beautiful presentation in the book. A solid curriculum that focuses on oral and listening skills can make all the difference in grasping the concepts laid down by the school.

I also try to have a lot of visual cues around the room, though we can’t put anything on the walls. I use both doors, windows, the three cork boards and even my desk to display student work, prepositions, there is/there are and a character wall for my students to get an easy, visual reminder of tricky structures and concepts we’ve worked on this year.

My first graders are learning some basics of reading and writing in English, so we’re using the book Chicka Chicka Boom boom to review letters, and have a weekly spelling bee to reinforce letter names (again, recycling is important in young learners).

Each week, one student is asked to present the letter (in this case, J), and read three words we’ve learned with this letter. They’re a little more graduated in Spanish and refuse to believe there is no Ñ in English, but it’s helping them to learn that you don’t always read what you see. J and G are confused, Y seems like a foreign concept, and water is always spelled g-u-a-d-e-r to them, but we’re getting there.

I’m also trying to focus on using the English they know, similar to bit of intelligences. Please don’t tell me, seño, no tengo lápiz. You know the structure have not got, the word for pencil, and the first person, just the same as you know to say can+I+have. I flat out ignore kids who ask to go to the toilet in Spanish, which motivates them to use a few palabras sueltas. I also have a chart in the room for each class that tracks the oral English they use in class. Ask for scissors in English? One tick for you. After 15, they get a sticker page, and each month will have a small prize for the student with the most points. I did this with tickets for behavior during the first five months of the year to reinforce good behavior and being a good classmate (Spanish kids seem to be very selfish with their colors and erasers). My name is at the bottom of the list for the kids to police me speaking in Spanish.

The above activity I stole from Forenex, the Summer camps I work for. After listening to a story about animals, kids had to draw an invented animal and then describe it, thus recycling everything to body parts to how animals move to colors. I was pleasantly surprised at their enthusiasm and accuracy in describing them.

Though our values subject has kind of been thrown out the window, I’m taking the opportunity to talk about a different value every month. From respect to tidiness to cooperation, we do a small activity or read a book and have a short discussion about them. I used a house as the example, and that each one of us is a house. Which bricks do you choose? Greed and anger, or discipline and forgiveness? This visual reminder is right next to the board, so a simple finger point at sharing tells kids non-verbally that they have to share their rubbers and not distract the class by arguing.

Please don’t think this classroom is a tranquil haven for a frazzled teacher and her rambunctious students. I have my daily “hasta aquí” moments where I lose my patience and I sometimes slip into Spanish. I’m behind in curriculums and rarely have everything neat and organized. I should be at least on letter P by now. But it’s a fun environment that encourages speaking up and learning by moving and playing, which can make all the difference.

Please share any tips and tricks in the comments below, or ask any questions. As a five-year vet and teacher trainer, I know a couple of things about teaching at nearly every level, but I definitely am glad I did  a TEFL degree to help me with classroom management and lesson planning.

I like my Sketchers…

My kids are learning about food in both English and Science. The only grammar they need to know in English is, “Can I have a(n)/some ____, please?”, but I am the most exigente teacher ever and make them ask for everything in English.

So I amped it up, asking them to start distinguishing between I like and I love and I don’t like/I hate.

I wanted to use this video, but figured it would be too tough:

Instead, they folded a sheet of paper into four parts and labeled them, I LOVE, I LIKE, I DON’T LIKE, I HATE, filling in the blank and drawing the word.

I got everything from I love football to I hate football, got one I don’t like Engliss (typo intentional, here) and I don’t like pizza (who are youuuu?).

My favorite is below:

Now accepting awards for Greatest English Teacher Ever

If January Marks the Start…My 2011 Travel Round-up

Let me tell you a little story about peer pressure.

When I was 11, my parents informed me that the dog had taken the news well. She faintly wagged her tail.

“What news?” I asked, hoping for the trampoline I’d begged my parents to buy us for ages.

Oh no, it was the M-word. We were moving. I’d have no friends. Maybe there wasn’t a Kohl’s there. Was Chicagoland > Rockford, or had my mother just confused after consumering too many kosher hot dogs growing up and was going crazy?

Well, I wanted to fit in. I did so by going to the Von Maur and using my birthday money to buy a pair of Jnco jeans because all of the popular girls had them.

I strutted into Edison middle school the next morning and was immediately dismissed as a poser.

Well, I didn’t learn my lesson. Now that I’m blogging, I give into the peer pressure of comparing stats, doing those dumb surveys and, as the new year has already crept up on us, a year in review. In 2011, I added two new countries to the list, had five visitors from the US, got my work/residence visa paperwork all together and turned 26.  I can’t say 2011 will be the greatest I’ve had (dude, 2010 was pretty, pretty good), but I managed to see some new things, meet some new people and probably consume a new pig part.

January

Amy and I rang in the New Year with oysters, an old boxing legend and a broken camera in Lausanne, Switzerland. I moped through Season Three of Sex and the City the next day while Amy was bed ridden. Colds and booze do not mix, people.

From there, I met several  friends in Berlin, Germany and got my history nerd on as I explored a concentration camp, museums and the off-beat Berlin.

February

Apart from the usual routine, I got to go to my first flamenco fashion show and a wine festival. Cheap wine, that is.

March

March came in like a león, as I spent a raucous night in Cádiz as a third-of the blind mice group at the annual Carnavales celebrations.

My first visitors of the year, Jason and Christine, spent a rainy sojourn in Sevilla,

but then Beth came during the Azahar and warm weather, and we drank in Granada, Jeréz and Cádiz (and then I got strep).

April

Ahh, a Sevillian primavera. I spent Easter Week in Romania with my camp buddies, driving a beat up Dacia from one forlorn corner of Romania to another. I loved it, and consider it a budget-lovers paradise – I spent in one week less than I did on my airfare! And ate a ton of pickles. I am like the Snooki of Spain when it comes to pickles.

May

The first week of May brought flamenco dresses, sherry and my five-year win over Spanish bureaucracy during Feria week. I spent nine days riding in horse carriages and proving I have plenty of enchufe.

A few weeks later, Jackie and her brother came to visit, and we took off to Córdoba for another fair.

Also, Luna turned one, Betis worked its way back into the premiere league, and summer was just on the horizon.

June

Switched to half days at work just as it was impossible to take the heat. Got to watch Lauren walk down the aisle and party all night (only to fly to Madrid for a conference the next morning. I made it!). And I got my first real year of teaching done, too!

I may have, at time, been a professional baby handler, but having a peek into a kid’s world is something magical. Magical if you like boogers, of course.

July

The first of the month brought a huge triumph: I was finally given my five-year resident card and had won my battle with extranjería. For the third summer in a row, I headed up north to Galicia and to summer camp. Instead of teaching, I was given the role of Director of Studies, so I got a work phone and unlimited photocopies. Perks. Teachers got crap weather, but I a not-crap team (they were awesome.)

The Novio, finally back from pirate-hunting, met me in Madrid for a few days. We got the chance to, um, do what we do in Seville (eat tapas and drink beer) before making a day-trip to the sprawling El Escorial palace.

August

A is for August and America and fAtty, as I spent 23 days eating up all of my favorite American goodies, like real salads and Cheez-its. I had help celebrating a birthday, as my dear amigas from Spain, Meag and Bri, came to Chicago for a few days. I also got to visit Margaret in her New Kentucky Home.

What I thought would be a good little sojourn was much too short, and I boarded a Dublin-bound plane and stayed overnight on the Emerald Isle.

September

School started again September first, and my change to first grade resulted in more naps, more work and more responsibility. Thankfully, I had my great kiddos back in my (own!!!) classroom. Life resumed as normal.

October

Though I vowed to make my fifth year in Spain new (and I have been doing hiking trips, seeing theatre and exhibitions, etc.), I fell in to normal school routine. In October, this was punctuated by a work trip to Madrid for a conference, studying for the DELE and endless barbeques. When in Spainlandia, I suppose.

November

The new month meant cooler air, a focus on studying and a visit from my final visitor, Lisa. I sprinted out of the DELE to catch a train, meet her and take her to Granada. We laughed at all of our college memories and she broke out of her little mundo to try new foods and explore Seville on her own.

Bri came, so we had a small Thanksgiving dinner, and I shared it with my not-so-anxious-about-pie goodness at school.

December

Amid lots of school work and the looming Christmas play, I enjoyed the Christmas season in the city. Brilliant lights, snacking on chestnuts, window-shopping. The Novio went to the States for work, and I followed him soon after to travel around the Southwest with my parents and sister. The Valley of the Sun, Vegas and the Grand Canyon were on the itinerary, but the extra $640.55 I won on a slot machine win weren’t!

Sadly, the year ended on a sour note when I got news that the child I had repped during my years in Dance Marathon passed away after a long battle with cancer. I don’t want to preach, but you can visit the website to see what the Dance Marathon at the University of Iowa does for kids and their families who are battling cancer.

Goals for the next year? Plenty, both personal and professional. Just be better, I guess. The second part of the year has been a huge slump, so it’s time to find me again. Be a better partner, teacher, friend. Fill up those last two pages of my passport. Figure out where to go next.

I want you to share your biggest accomplishment and goals for 2011-2012! I need some inspiration, readers!

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