It’s my favorite season: back-to-school. And for the first time ever I’m back at school not as a student, but as a teacher! Monday, September 23rd was the first official day of classes for 400-some Spanish youth who attend the Instituto de Educación Secundaria Ría del Carmen (that’s a mouthful). So what is school like in Spain, you ask? Well, I’d recommend pouring yourself a glass of vino tinto and settling in, because I’m about to explain the Spanish education system to you. There will be a quiz later.
I’m working at an Instituto de Educación Secundaria, which is comprised of students in 7th-12th grades. Spaniards attend primary school through 6th grade, then graduate to a secondary school, which they are required to attend through 10th grade. After 10th grade, however, there are various paths available to the students- including vocational training or college prep- for what is roughly the equivalent of 11th and 12th grade.
I’ll be working primarily with 7th-10th graders who are part of the bilingual program at IES Ría del Carmen. Besides going to English language class everyday, they also take 2 or 3 other courses taught in English, such as social studies, math, and art. About twice a week, I’ll take over their English language class, for the privilege and honor of teaching the Global Classrooms program. Global Classrooms in the international version of Model United Nations, which is being taught in over 20 cities around the world.
The 8th, 9th, and 10th graders in the bilingual program all participate in Global Classrooms. Each grade level is given a topic of international interest to research, and then students are paired up, each pair representing a different country. The students work from now until the spring to learn about their country, write a position paper, and prepare for the regional Global Classrooms Conferences, held each February or March in Cantabria. During these conferences, the 16 secondary schools in the region will organize various conferences to allow the students to gather together, to present, discuss, and resolve the topics they’ve been researching– all in their second language, English. I have two groups of 8th graders (segundos, or “second years”) two groups of 9th graders (terceros, “third years”), and one group of 10th graders (cuartos, “fourth years”)- and I meet with each group at least twice a week for Global Classrooms.
During my first week of school, I’ve learned a few things:
- When asked to name as many of the 50 states as they know, most Spanish students will include “Hollywood” in their list. Hmm…
- Spanish students ask smart questions that I am ill-prepared to answer: “What is your opinion of the Spanish Prime Minister?” and “Is there an [economic] crisis in the United States?”
- They also ask dumb questions that I am ill-prepared to answer: “From what country do you like the boys?”
- Bring a snack (or two or three) to school, because you won’t get to go home for lunch and siesta until 2 or 3pm.
- Students want to be taught– not talked at.
If you’re still reading this, and you’re not my mom, dad, or Grannie and Gramps (love you! I’ll call you sometime soon!), I’m honored and impressed. You don’t have to take the quiz.