Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Day to day

I remember some adverts at the cinema along the lines of "Which teacher changed your life?" It was a recruiting campaign for teachers; the idea being that teachers could make a real difference. Without the Ms. Williamsons or Mr. Gwizdaks there wouldn't be as many great novels or so many life enriching scientific discoveries. I've never really believed in the concept of inspirational teaching. I do not doubt that some teachers are better than others, that some teachers explain concepts better than others, that some teachers are more empathetic than others but, in the end, I think it's the student that counts. I was an average sort of student and I got average sort of results in a whole bundle of subjects. Who taught me seems to have been irrelevant. Nowadays anyway the very idea of a teacher as the fount of all knowledge seems so Victorian when my phone can tell me much more about chemistry than Messrs Lofthouse, Bottomley and all my other school chemistry teachers put together.

I'm certainly no inspirational teacher myself. I don't particularly care for the job and I do it because I get paid. I'm reasonably organised and I'm reasonably lively so I don't think I'm a bad teacher or anything but I'm certainly nothing out of the ordinary. I've now worked in three different "academies"  which seems to be the accepted translation of the word academia which is usually used to describe a private language school here in Spain.

One of my academies had a flexible learning system built around units of learning but two of the academies, including my present one, use a standard and very simple system which is a bit odd to British eyes. The students pay a fixed fee per month for a set number of classes. The classes are usually graded by ability or by age. So, take an example. In March this year if your classes were on Monday and Tuesday you would get ten classes but, if they were on Wednesday and Thursday you would only get eight. Actually that's not quite true because Father's Day, Thursday March 19th, is a holiday so there will only be seven classes for the Wednesday/Thursday brigade. It's a swings and roundabouts system and most people simply hand over their cash and come every month. You can play the system of course and some people do. December, for instance, is plagued with holidays so lots of students do November, miss December and come back in January.

English is a regular topic of conversation in Spain. There's a belief that without English you cannot succeed. Professionals often need English. Teachers, for example, have to have a high intermediate qualification in English (B2) no matter what subject or area they teach. On the radio there are often pieces complaining about the intrusion of English into the everyday language. It seems to be pretty cool for Spaniards to drop in a few English words to the conversation. The funny thing is that the variations in pronunciation mean that many native English speakers do not recognise the words as English. On top of that many supposedly English words aren't used correctly. Cross and camping for instance are well established, everyday words used by all Spaniards but the first is a cross country race and the second is a campsite. There is camping close to the start of the cross would, I suspect, confound most Brits.

So there is a sizeable market for English language teaching across the age range in Spain. The backbone of the majority of the academies though is children.  Responsible adults want their children to succeed. They send them to do English because either they are doing well at school and want to reinforce the success or because they are doing badly and want to make up the deficit. In reality the level of even the best of the youngsters is excruciatingly bad. I have no idea what's going on with English language teaching in Spanish schools but it isn't working for the youngsters I bump into.

It may be, of course, that for me at least there's no need for younger students to apply themselves. Most of the youngsters would rather be manipulating a games console, kicking a football or chatting with their pals than doing English and as long as they do well, or better, at school their parents will leave them alone. There is no real need for them to try and speak or understand English for me. I can offer neither substantial threats nor incentives. So even the nicest of them, the ones who seem keen, chatter all the time. Spain is a noisy country which means that everyone knows that you need to raise your voice to be heard. The result is that chatter often turns to shouting. Amongst the less interested, on top of the noise, there is fighting. They fight each other and occasionally they fight with me in the sense that they will try to wrest a board marker from my grip or force closed the book that they don't want to study. There is a lot of pinching and kicking amongst them and a fair bit of stabbing each other with pencils. Tearing up worksheets is the norm. I hate English (said in Spanish of course)  and a point blank refusal to participate in the activities are common. Several of the younger children seem to delight in dropping their trousers or throwing snot around. Most endearing. The environment is not one that fosters speedy language learning and one of the real differences between me and a properly trained teacher is that I have no idea about classroom management.

Personally of course I'm still struggling to learn a bit more Spanish, to improve my fluency and what not. So for the past few years the parallels between my own struggles with a language and those of my students have made the whole thing quite interesting. I don't find it quite so aborbing anymore now that I spend most of my time asking people to get off the table or to stop shouting.

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