Yesterday, I said goodbye to my fifth school in seven years. Six of my schools have been an overwhelming positive experience, and my issues with my job do not stem from the actual schools but the program that funds my Spanish dream. It never gets easier saying goodbye, and this year I just downright avoided it. Two years are now going by in the blink of an eye, and I am trying to look upward and onward to the future.
For those not familiar with the Spanish school systems, I will offer a bit of an explanation. There are two cycles of pre-school. One is from 0-3 year olds and is an optional daycare like environment. The second cycle is also optional, I believe, but is more important. This goes from 3-5 year olds and similar to pre-schools/nursery school/play school/whatever word your region or local school district gives it. They work hard. They learn cursive before print in Spain, but all capital letters are in print. They learn colours and numbers and English and Spanish and maybe Catalán or Basque or Galician or a local dialect like “bable” or “leonés” or “aragonés”. It’s the typical pre-school and kindergarten environment. This level is called “infantil”.
Between 6 and 12 years old, students go to “primaria”, elementary school. More and more schools are doing either art (plástica) or Science in English, which means they can name the planets, but they don’t know what a planet is because they don’t grasp the concept in English. My fourth school did it in a correct way. I had to teach Science in English, but they were also receiving more concrete details in Science in Spanish so they got exposed to English as well as learning the concepts in Spanish.
Between 12 and 16, they are in “high school”, or ESO (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria). (DBH in the Basque Country. I’m not going to attempt the Euskera). The classes are more demanding in the United States, and their exams are quite difficult. They are graded on a scale of 1-10. Anything below a 5 is failing. I translate it as 10: A+, 9: A, 8: B, 6-7: C, 5: D. However, since they lack the grade inflation that is all too present in some school districts in the US, most students are ecstatic with a 7.
When they are 16, Spanish (Catalan and Basque too) students can stop school. Most go on to “Bachillerato”, which is similar to “college” in the UK or an AP-only curriculum in the United States. They have two years of very intense university-prep courses ending with “Selectividad” at the end of the second year, which, averaged with their marks/grades during these two years, determines their university placement.
They can also choose to go to a politécnica (vocational) training or professional formation (which I think is more similar to a community college in the States. If you’re not watching Community, you should!).
My first year, I was at a secondary school in small-town Andalucía. Looking back, it was a good school. At the time, I could only deal with the problems of living in small-town Andalucía and learning my Spanish was not as good as I thought it was. I don’t remember much about my goodbyes, although I do remember being packed up and boarding the first bus out of that town.
My second school was in an affluent suburb in Madrid and was a total mismatch. It was primary, and I just cannot deal with little children. My teaching style is total secondary style (or even uni!). The teachers were cliquey and I did not fit in. They did not renew me because I was too “reservado”. It’s okay, because I landed on my feet.
I was able to sweet-talk myself into a placement in a small town near València (but in Castellón province). The problems with the program (and their inability to pay their auxiliares) in València have since caused them to remove the program from València. They used me well, and I learned a lot. I fit in well with the school and had a ton of colleagues outside the department who were more than happy to teach me Valenciano and help me improve my Castellano (Spanish. No one in the Greatest Peninsula in the word uses “español”, which means “language of Spain”)
My fourth school was by far the best school I have ever seen in my life. It was ranked third in the entire Comunidad de Madrid. It came with a lot of stress (but there is a difference between stress and anxiety.), and living in Madrid is not my cup of tea (to put it mildly). However, this school was located in a suburb outside of Madrid. As it was private, although the suburb wasn’t so affluent, the students were. Most were actually bilingual in English and Spanish. I taught everything from 3 year olds to other teachers in this school. I had my own class of Bachillerato students, where I began to find my footing as a teacher. Alas, the school was unable to contract me, and the law of the Comunidad de Madrid only permits two years. I packed my bags and applied for Catalunya. They no longer have the program I currently do, and the Basque Country was my third choice after Catalunya and València. However, it’s more fun to say the Spanish government feels one comunidad wanting independence is the same as any other and just put me here instead :).
This school has been a bit different. Not bad different. It was a bit harder to feel integrated due to the isolation of each department (they hang out in their department offices instead of the teacher’s lounge), and I was off in my own classroom. And with their preference for Euskera, it was quite difficult to prove myself and meet people. They do speak Spanish, of course, but it was Basque-only. It was secondary, and of course, my fave classes were Bachillerato. It broke my heart to say goodbye to some of these students and to my colleagues in the English department. And the school is one of the better ones in the greater Bilbao area. I can’t complain. I’ve been happy there. I just don’t make enough for the expensive Basque Country, and the cultural differences between Spain and the Basque Country are sometimes jarring.
I don’t know how my new school will be, but I am thinking optimistically.
But the thing is, I think next year I might possibly have to say goodbye to the Greatest Peninsula in the World. It’s harder and harder to live on the bread crumbs that is our salary, it’s always harder to say goodbye, it’s harder and harder to pick up and move to another city. I have been sending out CVs since January for both the summer and next academic year. I am trying to make up my mind whether to pursue a master degree in Spanish, as I do miss the world of being a student. But by doing this, I would most likely have to leave Spain. And I have a lot of unfinished business here. Six provinces left to visit, a ton of paradores, I still have yet to climb Teide, swim in the seas of Menorca, obtain a B2 certificate in Catalán, watch the tides at the Playa de las Catedrales in Lugo, and there is the business of those 728 kilometres awaiting me to Santiago. This summer is looking impossible to stay in Spain, so I will probably be in the States for two months. The final decision will be made this week about the summer.
I have been blessed to have worked at so many great schools and to have lived seven-going-on-eight years in the Greatest Peninsula in the world. I don’t want to leave. I also am ready to move on with my life and find a bit of stability.
(And if I were to become a published writer or were able to make a living as a travel writer, I would do it in a heartbeat. I also just had to translate “enseguida” into English. Spanglish is such a fascinating language, just like “euskañol”!)
Goodbye to the academic year 2014-2015. Here’s to a bright future wherever I end up.