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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

School Teacher Diary

Day 1
I am teaching English to a class of kids between the ages of 11-13 this month of July, Monday through Friday.  I will be bike commuting about 13 kilometers each way. It takes me about 45 minutes. The entire route through Valencia is on the bike path through Turia Park. I love the ride and consider the commute as a fringe benefit rather than a nuisance. The school is absolutely beautiful and I’m sure it costs a fortune.  I have altered my bike a bit for the commute as well as in preparation for some bike touring possibly this August in the north of Spain.

The main reason I took this job was to be able to finance my vacation without taking money from my savings. The pay is great at the school and I have always wanted to be a teacher, and not just for adults. My dad was a teacher so maybe it’s in my blood.   I don’t just want to be a teacher, I want to be a fantastic teacher, a teacher kids will remember the rest of their lives. I had precious few of those kinds of teachers. At Indiana University I had a couple of great professors but most of them were uninspired bores. Teaching is just another phase I am going through and I will quit and move on well before I become bored with it, I promise.

The commute will allow me to sort of shake down the gear I’ll need for a bit of not-too-ambitious bike touring. I have never toured by bike and I’m not even sure I will like it. First I need to see how much I am able and/or willing to haul. I put a rack for rear panniers on my mountain bike. This is mostly to avoid wearing a pack when I commute to the school every morning. It will soon be too hot to have anything on my back.  I just used one bag today which worked out rather well. I may need to move the rack back a centimeter or two as the bag rides a bit too close to the back of my foot on the pedal stroke. I will also swap out my tires later this week in favor of narrower, faster wheels.

I took off my rear fender to put the rack on my bike and left it off. Of course this means that it would have to rain this morning. I actually avoided most of the rain but the streets were wet and I could have used the protection. It’s summer and the rain had stopped even before I set out so the streets were drying up quickly. I’m sure that is the last time I will see rain in my tenure at summer school. I stopped off at a favorite café to get a small sandwich to eat after I got settled in at the school. I usually don’t bother with breakfast but if I have a good bike ride this early in the morning I will need to eat something every day or I’ll be famished before I get another chance to eat.

We had to divide up the students and the other teacher had written an exam to determine how this was to be done. I suggested that we just divide the students boy-girl-boy-girl and not worry about mixing levels. The exam he had written was a bit tedious and even I didn’t understand what he was trying to get at with some parts—nothing like tedious mixed with cryptic.  I thought that it was best for me to sit back and bite my tongue. I was told that the kids wouldn’t be receiving evaluations so I thought that giving them a test was just going to make them hate this summer school right from the start. I think that testing and doing mind-numbingly boring exercises are things that have strangled English teaching here in Spain, at least from what I have seen thus far. Tests have little to do with learning and most don’t even give a fair evaluation of the student’s knowledge of a subject.

The first teacher barely speaks Spanish so English was used as he explained his set of rules that he posted in the front of his classroom. I looked around at the kids and I doubt any of them understood what the hell he was talking about as he literally read them the riot act. Many of them probably didn’t even realize that he was talking about rules. He had made an extra copy of his rules for me. I’m not too big on regulations and authority. I figure that by now most kids can recognize when they are following the rules and when they aren’t. With that said I am also the type that doesn’t take any crap from anyone, especially not kids. My philosophy is anarchy meets iron fist. I just think that rules are something that for these polite kids are something best dealt with as need arises and not before. I sat back and watched the kids suffer.

Most of them were seriously agonizing over the whole process. I could only imagine how much they were dreading what was to become of their young lives inside of these walls. Tests and rules, two things I despised as a bright young student back when I was their age.  I asked the other teacher several times how long this was going to take. I told him that if he wanted to evaluate the kids that would be easy enough after 15 minutes in class. Finally after an entire hour had passed I stopped the test. “But they haven’t finished,” he told me.

I told the other teacher that the kids were relatively equal in ability with a few exceptions, so using the results of the test wouldn’t matter. Then he insisted on having the students grade their own exams which took another 20 minutes. Finally I just told him what students were coming with me and we marched off to my classroom. This will be the last time I allow anyone else access to my students.

So after the long and lengthy and completely worthless evaluation process I had a little less than 30 minutes to begin teaching.  Once in my classroom I introduced myself and told them a few things about me, mostly lies but all in proper English. Learning another language pretty much sucks so any time you are able to make a kid laugh has to work towards making the process a little more bearable. First I had to shake off the bad taste they had in their mouths from the test—something that will take more than a half an hour.

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