October 13, 2009

Hola, Todos,

My forlorn feeling has vanished — we’ll see how long that lasts — as of today. There’s so much noise and commotion at school that there’s no time for me to feel sorry for myself and haunted about my situation. Anyway, what I was upset about was a little bit of homesickness and my evasive roommate, but the situation magically changed, so I feel better. Someone asked me how I had dealt with homesickness when I lived in Yokohama, Japan, for three years. I wasn’t exactly homesick, but at times, I was wildly lonely and experienced an emotional rollercoaster ride for months. I would feel terrible or lonely, and then someone would invite me to their house or give me a present or take me somewhere. It was one surprise after another. The way to deal with it? Go out, get involved, meet people, and stay busy. Lots of times this works; occasionally, it doesn’t.

I team-teach students six to nine years old. We American English teachers have been in different classes and with different teachers but finally got our schedule today. The students are energy zappers: They constantly talk and can’t remain quiet for more than one second. I honestly don’t remember that we Americans talked that much in grade school, but don’t quote me as I reminisce about the Stone Age.

Here’s a typical scene: The Spanish English teacher gets mad at the students, the students are quiet for literally one second, and they then continue talking again, with absolutely no regard for the fact that we are standing there. One of the English teachers identifies who is talking while she writes their first initials under “No Break” on the chalkboard. Then she says, “Alejandro is talking, Joel is talking, Roberto is talking” and then yells You aren’t listening!” If they are particularly talkative, they must leave the classroom and wait in the hall. While waiting in the hall, one boy kept opening the door a crack to eavesdrop on the class. He finally came back in, said “sorry” to me, and returned to his seat.

Another English teacher is overly strict with the students. Occasionally, if a student has written in the space beneath the page’s top line instead of on the top line, she will take his or her paper and rip it up, which astounds me. I had just praised a little girl who had written every word correctly, and then this teacher noticed that the girl hadn’t written on the top line and said, “No, you didn’t do it right!” and ripped her paper up and threw it into the recycling box. The little girl looked defeated.

Or if a student has been talking, this same teacher will stop and say, “Alejandro has been a very bad boy. What do you think, Hallie?” On the inside, I’m shrugging my shoulders, as I don’t know how to respond to her question: I don’t want to say he has been a very bad boy because then he’ll grow up thinking he is a very bad boy and need therapy for the next 20 years — haunted every time he hears the English language. I just look at her, trying to not to side with anyone in particular but also trying to support her, and say something innocuous and ridiculous like: “Well, I think we should all pay attention.” I keep envisioning these Spanish kids, now only 6 years old, traveling to the United States in 10 years, when they’re full-fledged adolescents, to find and beat me up, all because I sort of sided with this teacher.

Then something truly funny happens in class, and this teacher says, “Marta, it isn’t funny! Do you think it’s funny? It’s not funny!” I think it’s funny, but l have to wipe the smile off my face, keeping in mind that it isn’t funny because I want to support her. What I really want to say is, “I don’t think it’s funny: I think it’s hilarious!” – but of course I can’t. For example, the kids were doing their homework, and I noticed a girl had put a small eraser with a pencil stuck perpendicularly into it atop her head and was sitting there nonchalantly wearing this combo before the teacher who doesn’t think anything is funny (but laughs about the students to me in private) spotted it and made her take it off her head.

Then one kid was trying to cut his eraser, and as the kids are basically taught British English (have got and rubber for eraser), the teacher said, “Juan, don’t cut your rubber!” I had spotted an English conversation on the bulletin board, and it said something like, “Share your rubbers” or “Paul, can I borrow your rubber?” (While the kids are making noise, I love to indulge myself in these readings.) Although I’m quite involved in helping the teacher by reading English aloud or walking around and explaining to the kids what they are supposed to do, one day, for just a few seconds, I was distracted: I was reading something off the bulletin board, and the teacher was walking toward me, and initially I feared her saying, “Hallie, pay attention! Class, Hallie has been a very bad girl, hasn’t she, Class?!” Of course, she didn’t: She was just walking over to tell me something.

There are 25 students in each class, and we need to get them each more involved in speaking English and give them more attention. I think we need to split the class up sometimes and work with a smaller group.

I team-teach two hour-long classes in the morning, then there’s a half-hour break, one class from 12 pm to 1 pm, 1 1/4 hours free, lunch at 2:15 p.m. (by this time, I’m famished) until 3:00 p.m., a class from 3:00 pm to 3:45 pm and one from 3:45 pm to 4:30 pm. I get out by about 4:30 pm every day and have Fridays off. I enjoy the students and the Spanish English teachers. I’m learning a lot about teaching this grade level, and the Spanish English teachers actually teach in English, which impresses me. When I lived in Japan, the Japanese teachers oftentimes taught their English classes…in Japanese.

What saves me is that I think I’m having a positive impact on the kids and I have input in the classes, and I like helping the kids understand what they’re doing. When the kids are very noisy, what saves them is that at least they are very cute, and oftentimes not only do they yell my name excitedly — “Hallie! Hallie!” — but they also sometimes come up to me, out of the blue and hug me around the legs. It doesn’t get much better than that, and they are certainly helping me conquer my forlorn feeling. And the teachers are nice, too.

So I’m having a good day. We’ll see what the next few days bring.

Internationally yours,


Posted By HALLIE to International Girl in Spain at 10/13/2009 02:45:00 PM

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