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, November 19, 2015

Day to day

Last century I passed a fair bit of time in schools. Firstly I had to study in them. My secondary school, between 1965 and 1972, was quite a violent place as I remember. Bullying from other pupils and downright violence from the staff. Later, between 1996 and 2004, I had an office in another school though I couldn't say I really took much notice of my surroundings. I was working in what was called Community Education - adult education, youth work and community development - and it just so happened that our office was there close to the classrooms and other facilities that we used for some of the programme. The only time I remember venturing into a classroom during school hours was to have a word with someone who organised the Duke of Edinburgh's Award for us. She was a teacher at the school and I went to hunt her out in her room. Noisy as I remember it, and much less formal than when I went to school but everyone seemed to be working with purpose.

I'm working in a school again now and this time I'm actually with the youngsters for at least some of the time. I have nine lessons a week with nine different groups. They are full classes with around thirty pupils in some, a few more in one and a few less in others. I think one of them is a special needs type group though, to be honest, I'm not sure. They do pretty well with the English and they seem keen which is all I need to have a good time.

The school is interesting. It's a very loud place. It's very informal. I'm at one with the dress code in jeans and t shirt and I may be a bit over finicky in having a shave before going to work. At times when the pupils are on the move, in fact every time, it seems a bit chaotic but I've never seen any violence or any bullying other than the sort of fleeting and unthinking attacks that young people unleash on each other without pre meditation and without malevolence. I'm sure it's there but I haven't seen it. I have, on the other hand, noticed lots of acts of kindness and friendship between the students which surprises me.

The youngsters don't show me any respect but they don't show the opposite either. Tens of them greet me every day as I wander the school and some even try to pass the time of day with me.

The noise level in the classrooms is pretty high and the real teachers who hold my hand in the lessons occasionally make someone change seats or leave the room. I presume this means the youngsters must be misbehaving in some way but I never notice. I do notice the ones who don't participate at all though. There are several who just stare at their shoes or draw elaborate pictures in biro. There seems to be no expectation that they join in at any level.

The academy, the afternoon sessions are a completely different kettle of fish. These are paid for private lessons. Most of the youngsters are there because their parents believe that English will be good for them. This may well be true but English is less appealing than the park, their friends or Sponge Bob on the telly. I sympathise. They go to school all day, they have homework to do and then they are expected to do more studying. So it's a bit of an uphill struggle and some of the little dears sorely stretch my patience. The adults and older teenagers in the academy are perfectly nice.

One thing I have probably noticed about the Spanish Education is the apparent use of books. In the school my role is to model real English so I am expected to talk and listen. I am not expected to work to any particular scheme or pattern but I get the idea that most courses start at page 1, exercise 1, go on to exercise 2, exercise 3 etc. The youngsters are certainly keen, conditioned maybe, to fill in the gaps in the exercises. In fact it seems much more important to fill in the gaps than understand the language that goes into the spaces. This involves a lot of pencil sharpening, rubbing out and the modern versions of tipp-ex. I was told yesterday that I will be given a timetable for working through the various books - you know the sort of thing. By the end of January you will have completed Unit 4. Apparently parents don't like to see the books that they have paid for not getting filled up with writing, rubber detritus and tipp-ex. Progress can be measured by the number of pages completed.

I'm sure that such an innovative methodology will turn out legions of capable English speakers.

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