No, not that kind.
- I am in class with a group of primeros de bachillerato, a.k.a. high school juniors. “Finland is a country in Northern Europe…” I say, blathering on about some point that my co-teacher, José María, would like me to cover. A bewildered student raises her hand, twisting her blond hair around her finger. “Teacher,” she says in heavily accented English, “no entiendo. ¿Qué es eso de IZUH?” (Translation: “Teacher, I don’t understand. What does ‘izuh’ mean?”) I stare blankly at her for a second, not understanding. Finally, a light bulb clicks on in my brain. “Izuh, ohhhh, izuh,” I say. “Is…you know, the third person form of ‘to be.’ A, you know, ‘un’. Right?” She stares at me. Izuh = is a, girl friend.
- I am with a group of segundos de la ESO, a.k.a. 8th graders. They don’t understand much, but simple stuff? Yeah, they got that. “The weather today is…” I prompt, hoping they respond. They don’t. “Hot?” They stare at me like I’m speaking in Mandarin Chinese. “Hot?!” I repeat. Surely they know “hot.” Surely…My co-teacher, Arturo, interrupts impatiently. “Hhhhhhhhhhot!” he practically shouts at them. Then I hear the sudden “ohhhhs” of twenty 13 year-olds who finally get it. I just had to say with an accent. Oh okay.
- I ask the 17 year-olds what they think of the Spanish school system – if it works well, poorly, etc. They say it’s fine. One students spouts off, “It’s way better than the U.S. one!” (In Spanish, naturally. He doesn’t have the vocabulary to say this in English.) I ask him if he’s ever been to the U.S., seen a real live classroom. Nope. Of course not. It’s way more fun to watch sitcoms and assume that all the cheerleaders are pretty, skinny snobs and the football players are dumb jocks and television is real.
- I ask my 14 year-olds for their favorite Spanish dishes. One says excitedly, “Espaguetis!” which is, you know, Italian. When I mention this fact, the boy could not look more crestfallen.
- I wear my hair up one day. (We all have bad hair days, don’t we?) A 12 year-old student with hair like Justin Beiber tells me, “You looked better before…” Thanks, dude!
They’re not horrible; don’t get me wrong. There are gems and I love them to pieces. But the funny ones are, well, funnier.
Ahh, high school. For some of us, it was a glorious time. For others, it sucked majorly and we couldn’t wait to graduate. I fall somewhere in the middle. I was no homecoming queen, but neither was I unpopular and alone. My high school life was filled with clubs, sports, friends, and classes I enjoyed (most of the time). It was in high school that I first fell in love. No, it didn’t end badly and, yes, I still believe that love is possible (if different) at that age. I didn’t wear Abercrombie & Fitch, but I wanted to. However, that fact didn’t make me miserable or desperate. I worked at an ice cream shop with all girls and, no, my life wasn’t drama-filled. P.S. I hate that type of assumption.
As I’ve spent this last year in a Spanish high school, I’ve noted many differences between instituto (what high school is called here) and my experience.
- Sports. Well, there are definitely no cheerleaders here, although they are fascinating to the Spanish teenagers. School sports are practically nonexistent at my high school and they’re not nearly as important as they were at CHS. In my high school, we wore our jerseys to class, proud to show that we were a part of the volleyball/tennis/basketball team. We practiced two to three hours daily, spent weekends at tournaments around the state, and generally passed a substantial amount of time with our teammates. Here, they definitely don’t practice after school because it’s time to eat. And sports hold a lot less importance, unless we’re talking about La Liga (their soccer league).
- Classrooms. Here, instead of kids changing classrooms, the teachers do. The children are assigned groups and they stay with that group most of the time. They do split up for optional classes like French or religion. The classroom walls are almost always bare, unless the children decide to decorate it themselves. It’s weird coming from a place where every Spanish teacher has a Spanish flag, multiple maps of Spanish-speaking countries, and other general decorations on his/her walls.
- Lack of honors/advanced courses. Nowadays, in many American high schools, taking multiple AP courses is old hat for the average student. It’s practically required. Honors courses are quite common, if not ubiquitous. Here, there are no special courses for advanced children, as it is seen as unfair. Nonetheless, there are special courses for slower learners. Is that weird? I find it to be because my English classes go at the pace of the slowest learner, which is generally a snail’s pace.
- Teacher attire. In the U.S., teachers are usually required to wear professional clothing: skirts, hose, dress slacks, collared shirts, if it’s not Casual Friday, that is. Here, I’ve seen non-P.E. teachers in sweatpants. Not all of them are as informal, as people here, as a general rule, dress nicer. However, it’s not a requirement.
- Student attire. There is no dress code. I’ve seen some short skirts/shorts and underwear above the sagging pants of many of a male student.
- Smoking. Well, you’re not allowed to smoke on school grounds, but the teachers don’t go out of their way to hide it from the students.
- Break time. We all have it at the same time, 11:10-11:40 and many teachers go to a local cafe to have coffee together.
- Daily schedule. When you’re done, you’re done. There’s no such thing as a “prep period.” If you’re done at 10 AM, you can leave. Now, that is one rule I can get behind.
- Computers. At my high school, every classroom teacher had a computer in his/her room, not to mention a television and a DVD player. At my high school, there are very few electronically equipped classrooms. Every department shares one computer and there are two in the teacher’s lounge.
- Alcohol. I suppose we have parties in the lounge sometimes because once, while looking for something, I spotted a cabinet with Fanta, Coke, and various liquers. Hmmm, party during the break? Don’t mind if I do…