When meeting new people, inevitably they always ask me, “So, why did you move to Spain?” and my response seldom satisfies my interviewer. It wasn’t planned. I came for one month to learn to speak Spanish and how to teach English.
One month quickly turned into “just three more” but here I am, almost seven years later, listening to the sound of daytime fireworks signalling the continuing party of my local Fiesta Mayor. Accidentally moving to Spain has been one of the best things I’ve done in my life and the root of many challenges and experiences in my life.
My first teaching job (that lasted 4.5 years) landed me in the deep end of education. Having done a TEFL I had hoped for a job teaching adults or small groups of willing students, however my enchufe had other plans for me: a local, very Catalan, Opus Dei school including infants, primary, secondary and bachillerato. As the new and exciting native toy, I was given classes from every age group across the school …..and it was terrifying!
After only a month of intensive TEFL training in Barcelona I found myself teaching full curriculum based classes of teens, pre-teens, teenies and teeny tinies. Being thrown unceremoniously into this situation was the clichéd sink or swim challenge. Yes, I swam, but I have to admit I definitely got pulled under and more than a few times. Every single day I taught, I learnt something new and finally I learnt how to keep my head above water. From my learning curve, one area always stands out.
Imagine, you are giant standing in front of an enormous black board that starts at your ankle and stops at your shoulder. Before you is a sea of 22 tiny uncertain faces, all silent from the shock of this unknown giant who walked in and started singing – shakily – in an unfamiliar tongue. You wave a few colours at them and try another few songs and then a story or two. After half an hour, you walk out of the mini kingdom and burst into tears at the relief of it being over. That was my first ever class with two year olds (P2), my first ever time working with children and in fact my first ever time spending that long in a child’s company (let alone 22 all at once).
Over the next four years I progressed to being the sole English teacher of four P2 classes, three P1 classes and even two P0 classes (4 months old being my youngest ever student), planning their English program and being loved unconditionally by more than 150 infants who would throw themselves at the door at the mere sight of me and my stuffed monkey (that’s a whole other story). The experience was a bit of everything.
Admittedly, I had some children who would stare at me and dribble or wet themselves, but others would leave you speechless. One child once led me to a new classroom poster just so he could show off the vocabulary he had been learning with me since he was in P0. That resulted in me successfully teaching a 2yr old how to say “I like blue” in his third language. Another boy, 1 year old, could say all the colours of the rainbow and everything I had hidden in my bag. One day, as I was chatting to his tutor, he walked up to me and said, “come on miss lisa, sit down….”
Speechless and proud.
If there is one thing I have learnt in the past seven years, it is that you have to be flexible. You can’t put limits on what you students should or can learn, they will always surprise you. You can’t be rigid with the teacher you are, certainly be a different teacher with each age group but maybe you can go one step further and
be a different version of yourself with each class. Finally, don’t put limits on what you yourself are capable of.
If I had had the choice of whether to teach young children or not, I would never have said yes. Luckily for me the choice was not mine and it was all at once an infuriating, incredible, crazy, rewarding, unpredictable, wonderful and irreplaceable experience.
By Lisa Hughes