I quit my job as an English “Language and Culture Assistant” at a High School in Spain today. The town of Pinto, Spain took me an hour and 20 minutes and 3 different transfers to arrive at. The commute was too far and was becoming a hindrance to my foot healing. I’m not sure what I will do next or where I will end up. The kids were sad to see me go. I can’t tell if that is because I am simply a welcome distraction from normal class or they actually did like me. I taught 16 different classes per week, each class seeing me once per week; so roughly 250 or more students, ranging from the age of 12-18. Sitting here now, I recall the kids fondly. I know they are good kids, no matter how rowdy and obnoxious they could get. They were genuine and good-natured, the kind that Spain breeds in droves.
Now that it’s over, the students’ noisiness and insubordination are not the most salient facts in my memory. I remember the times I forgot most of their names and didn’t have the class list on hand and would just start shouting out the most common names “Diego! Javier! Sergio! DavEEd! Aitor! Come on I know there’s one of you in here..” “Noelia! Maria Lopez! HOOlia! (Julia) Arancha! Maria Moya! Maria Gomez!” or when they laughed and mocked my pronunciation of their Spanish names. The many times they broke down my hard exterior and pulled a laugh out of me even when I tried my hardest to stay mad at them because they had been acting up that day.
I engaged with them about topics that a teacher is not normally supposed to acknowledge i.e. smoking weed, getting drunk. There were the times where the class clown would mumble or say something in Spanish in the back that stoked a wave of laughter and I would make him repeat in English so we could all enjoy the wise-cracks. I will remember the days I would bring in the handball and rifle it at them (in the predominately boy’s classes), sometimes aiming at one of their heads in frustration. They would laugh it off and roar and chant like soccer hooligans, firing the ball back at me.
“Who was the first president of the United States!” I would say as I simultaneously chucked the ball in the opposite direction, not looking, hoping to catch one of them off guard.
There was the day I was supposed to be practicing conversation with each of them individually in the back of the classroom as the teacher taught her lesson. I ended up playing hangman for 20 minutes with pink haired Paula, to escape the mind numbing boredom of confused looks and awkward attempts at translation. We communicated in Spanish and tried to find movies that each of us would both know. Paula and the two guys in the back impromptu started asking me if I knew the names of various Spanish pornstars, “No, we shouldn’t be talking about this.” I said.
“Do you know Sasha Grey?” She inquired, raising her eyebrows.
“Yeah, I know her.” I conceded. The three of them broke out in laughter.
There was a freedom and ease to this job that just couldn’t be matched. I had free rein to do whatever the hell I wanted. I felt empowered on the days one of the good students would come up to me after class and ask for help. I was serving others and being useful. My hope is that I influenced these kids for the better and maybe left them with a more positive view of Americans. I will probably regret quitting this job in a week or so. These adolescents surely taught me way more than I taught them. I was welcomed and embraced by them. The students and teachers were so kind to me. They showed me when you expect the best in people, people can rise to the occasion of being that best version of themselves, as I did at this school. The kids taught me to lighten up a lot and chipped away at my serious demeanor. They showed me that outward displays of affection are not always sarcastic or mocking.
On my last day today the kids asked me to speak in Spanish so they could see what I sounded like. “Hablas bien”(You speak well.) Diego said.
“You sound like a Romanian.” Sofia blurted from the back of the classroom.
“Thank you Sofia, I’ll take that as a compliment.” I said.
I’m glad I had the good sense to stifle my wise-ass comments during the hundreds of stuttered, slow pronunciations of English each student mustered throughout the year. I could’ve done alot more harm than her Romanian comment.