Monday, December 24, 2012

My First Semester As A "Profe"

     Well, the world didn't end but the semester sure did. On Thursday I finished my first semester as a(n) (assistant) teacher. I loved it. It's sort of cheating I guess, because I don't have the responsibilities of grading papers or disciplining students, but still, I teach classes. Being an assistant is great, because I only have each class once a week, so the students are always excited to see me.
     The kids are really great. They're also really talkative. You cannot get a class to be silent for more than ten seconds, ever, except one class I have of 12 year olds who are all very good students and love to learn. Well, 1 for 16, could be worse. But what the classes lack in discipline they make up for in amiability. I can't go five steps in the halls without five students saying hello to me.
     The last week of the semester was the best week. I prepared a Hanukkah lesson for all of my classes so that they could learn something new and not be bored with the same old Christmas lecture. It worked. Many of the students had never even heard of Hanukkah. I told them the story, some traditions, gave them a worksheet, and finally two Hanukkah songs. First, we listened to them ("Hanukkah O Hanukkah" and "I Have A Little Dreidel"), and then I brought out a guitar I had borrowed from the music room and we sang the Dreidel song. It was great, everybody was entertained and happy, and all week I would hear kids singing the refrain in the halls. After we sang the song, I played a little Blues tune on the guitar, which is what they really wanted me to do. I was greeted with loud applause, chants of "¡Tú sí que vales!" (which can be translated as "You are really worth it"), and requests for more. It was really great to see them all interested. Afterwards, I asked them to sing a traditional Spanish Christmas carol, of which there are many. They sound much more like Hanukkah songs than popular American carols.
     The week prior, I had gone to school on Friday (I don't work on Fridays) just to teach a couple of P.E. classes how to play baseball. I had done this once before, and since then all of the gym teachers have been asking me if I could come teach their classes. The kids really love it and I am happy to teach them. No one really plays baseball here in Spain. It's like rugby in the U.S. You don't find many people who know exactly how to play or have seen or played a game. So I suppose I'll continue next semester guest-teaching baseball when I can.
     It's only been a little over two months, but I've learned a lot about teaching. For one, it isn't easy. Trying to entertain 30 kids (or at least get them to listen) is pretty difficult. But I have realized that if just one person is wanting to learn, it's worth it. Also, I've learned the benefits of teaching the same lesson more than once. The first time is like a disaster compared to the third or fourth time. Hopefully, with practice, first lessons will be more honed. Thirdly, being a teacher means I learn every day, whether it be a teaching method, a way of explaining something, how to deal with a situation, something about Spanish culture, or even about British culture (the student books are Oxford). I really enjoy being in a learning environment.
     And then there are the other teachers. They are extremely nice and helpful. I have good relationships with all of the English teachers, as well as the music teacher, a couple of P.E. teachers, the cafeteria lady, and various people. Before I arrived I had heard of auxiliars last year being uncomfortable in the break room because of the economic crisis, but that has not been my experience at all. Everyone is very pleasant and it is a real pleasure to be at school.
     En fin, I had a great first semester (or technically, trimester), and I am looking forward to the new year. I know I will continue to learn and hopefully I will improve as a teacher, or as the kids call me, "profe."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Spanish Language Fluency: A Work In Progress

     Last night I watched a Spanish film (Hable con ella, a film by Spain's famous director, Pedro Almodóvar). This was an event, because it was the first Spanish film I have watched without subtitles and understood the dialogue. This is to say nothing of the film— It was very weird, though I recommend it. The point is, I was able to follow, for two hours, the dialogue and plot of this film. I consider it an accomplishment, and something I could never have done before I arrived in Spain.
     I have been in Madrid now for two and a half months. In this time, my Spanish (listening comprehension, speaking, reading, writing) has improved greatly. One of the biggest factors is, of course, that I am surrounded by Spanish speakers every day. But without putting forth much effort, I could easily pass these months without improving much. Fortunately, I am trying to take full advantage of this opportunity in Madrid by learning as much Spanish as I can. I am doing this in several ways.
     First, I live in an apartment with Spanish speakers (a Spanish guy and a Brazilian guy— recently I moved from my old flat, but that is a story for another day). Secondly, I attend an "intercambio" every week, which is a language exchange, held at a bar, where people go to improve the language they're learning. I've been going to this intercambio since my first week here, and have made a few friends, who I meet there each week.
     Thirdly, I have a one-on-one intercambio with a guy in his mid-twenties from Madrid, for two hours twice a week. We walk around the city, he shows me places I haven't seen, and we split the time between speaking English and Spanish. Needless to say, between these intercambios, I am learning how to speak "real" Spanish.
     Fourthly, I speak Spanish at school with teachers as much as possible. I have even made friends with one of the P.E. teachers and have taught one of my classes (in Spanish) how to swing a baseball bat. More lessons are to come, and eventually we're going to play a game. Moreover, next week I'm going to start a third intercambio with one of the teachers, staying after school for an hour and a half or two hours once a week.

(The word notebook that is always in my pocket. Almost time for another one.)

     And since that is not enough, I have enrolled in an advanced Spanish course which meets for one hour, three times a week. Monday will be the beginning of my second week in the class, and the level is very high. There are around ten people in the class and I might be the worst at Spanish. The level is C1, which is the second highest level on the European Union scale of foreign language proficiency.
     I am taking the class for two reasons. The first is to improve my Spanish in general. The second is to prepare to take a Spanish exam at the end of May. A couple of weeks ago I started thinking about taking a test toward the end of my time here in Spain, in order to see how much my Spanish will have improved. I found the D.E.L.E (Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language), which is issued by the Instituto Cervantes, and is the only official test recognized by the government of Spain. It is equivalent to the English proficiency tests given by Cambridge. Tentatively, I am planning on taking the C1 level test, which is the second highest level test that the institute issues. This test is hard.

"The DELE C1 diploma proves that the student's progress with the language has been successful and that he or she has a higher than advanced level of Spanish. This diploma certifies the linguistic ability to understand and recognize implicit meaning in a wide variety of lengthy, difficult texts. It also certifies the ability to express oneself fluently and spontaneously without showing any signs of making any unnatural effort to find appropriate expressions, and to make flexible, effective use of Spanish within social, academic and professional contexts. Finally, the diploma certifies the ability to produce clear texts; correct in structure and detail, written about complex topics, and showing the correct use of organization mechanisms, articulation and cohesiveness." 

     Needless to say, if I were to take it now, I would certainly fail. But I have six months to improve my Spanish, and I am hopeful that I will be at or near this level by June. Even if I'm not, I think that having this concrete goal to strive for will push me to improve my Spanish more and faster than I would without a self-imposed challenge. The course that I have enrolled in will meet until the test date, which is great because it is an extended period of time, and the class is not solely focused on studying for the test, though we will to practice exams, but rather it is guided toward Spanish language improvement in general.
     Finally, I am trying to read as much in Spanish as I can, including newspaper articles, poetry, plays, and (maybe) books. Currently, I am reading Lorca's drama, Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding). I don't think it's going to end well for the characters.
     And as for writing— the main source of improvement is through email, though Facebook helps too. I've been sending more emails in Spanish than I thought I would, and not just one-liners. When I attended the Leonard Cohen concert back in October, I sat next to a woman who struck up a conversation with me. A mid-fifties madrileña, we talked before the show and during the intermission, and I got a bite to eat with her and her friend after the show. We've been exchanging emails once a week or so since then (she writes long emails, not just quotidian in subject matter, but discussing literature, philosophy, and writing). So naturally I have to reply in paragraph form, which is good but also means her emails stay in my inbox un-replied to for a little longer than usual. We finally met up again this week to attend a classical cello concert and it was great.
     All in all, I am really enjoying my time in Madrid, and I don't have much 'learning withdrawal' from college because I am learning every day.