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A high note

—my week of teaching ended on one. Can you believe it? I hardly could, after spending Monday-Wednesday doing everything in my power to keep from slipping into a screechy Gretchen Wieners-style meltdown.

I lost my patience by 9:30 a.m. on Monday because of the nonstop noise in my classes (I also had one of my recurring retinal migraines, amplifying my sensitivity to deafening shouts). This isn’t a new development; there has been a soft roar of, “ILLO / Hostiaa / ¿Eso qué es?” reverberating in my ears since day one.

I know better than to make sweeping cultural generalizations, so take what I’m about to say with a whopping grain of Mediterranean sea salt: Spanish teens never shut the hell up.

Hand raising? A foreign concept, but one that I’m working to import from the U.S.A. It’s received a less-than-warm welcome from my students.

“Inside voices” is another tenet of the American school system that simply doesn’t translate into Spanish. Or if it does, nobody can hear it over all the yelling. Another Spain blogger recently wrote on this same topic:

Students don’t ask to leave their seats and are often wandering around the room. Interrupting someone because you have something to say is completely normal. And there is shouting. Lots of shouting. I feel like I spend half my class time trying to get my kids to shut up and listen.

It’s not just me, I swear.

Instead of going into Wieners mode I spent the week standing at the front of the classroom with my arms akimbo or sometimes crossed over my chest, making a disappointed face. I probably just looked hungry, but hopefully some of the kids took the hint.

I wasn’t feeling optimistic yesterday when I agreed to stay an hour late and visit with one of the non-bilingual groups to give my now-famous presentation titled: “Going to High School in the United States.” (For bookings and events, please contact my publicist, who incidentally has my same exact name and email address.)

For this class—and for the first time all year—I was instructed not to speak in English. Basically, I was told, it would much less painful for everybody if we broke this topic down en español.

(That may sound contrary to the entire idea behind my job, which is that I only speak English at school and none of the students know that I speak Spanish. But after five months of playing by the rules and mostly failing, I’m ready for Plan B: speaking Spanish. At least 4 billion students/day ask me a question in Spanish, and I almost always respond in English:

Student: “Oye teacher, ¿cómo se dice ‘lentejas’ en inglés?”

Me: “Lentils.”

But the same kids seriously don’t know that I speak or understand Spanish. Occasionally when a student starts talking to me in Spanish, one of his or her friends will say, “What are you doing?! Lauren doesn’t speak Spanish jaj ajajaja.”

Oh, children. If you only knew. If you only realized that I understand 80 percent of what you’re saying at any given time. [That percentage would be higher if they weren’t shout-talking over each other in Andalu.])

So I gave my awe-inspiring PowerPoint presentation, which features photos I robbed from the Internet (for non-commercial use) of typical high school scenes: lockers, Friday night football games, prom (I actually took the prom photo from my own Facebook. To the members of my senior prom group: You’re big in Spain).

REDHAWK PRIDE 4 LYFE. Photo courtesy of the Internet.

I was on fire, in the good metaphorical way, when I gave that presentation. I also felt great when I presented it the first time to another group in English; it was a much-needed confidence boost to finally feel authoritative on what I was teaching.

Teaching, I’ve learned, is maddening (if not impossible) when one is simultaneously uninformed and uninterested in the topic at hand. But this time was different. I was excited to talk about something that I know well, and I was eager to answer questions. Better yet, the students actually had questions to ask me.

Oh, and the Success Train doesn’t stop there (sorry, I’ll never say that again). Not once in the class did I revert back into arms-akimbo-I’m-angry stance, because this class actually shut the hell up. At least they did for 10-minute intervals before they’d lose it again and somebody would leap out of his desk with an out-of-turn comment. Small steps.



4 Responses to “A high note”

  1. Yayyy! It’s the small things.

    Posted by Kale [Y Mucho Más] | February 17, 2012, 1:09 pm
  2. Don’t worry, Siebs. This stuff happens with little kids in private schools, too. I use rhymes to get them to quiet down, or just hold my hand up likea girl scout until they all shut up. I also use bribery with stickers and candy…so offer the older ones…um, litronas?

    Posted by Cat | February 17, 2012, 1:30 pm
  3. Lauren…I teach 3rd grade in the US and they never shut up. It’s just…kids. But YAY!

    Posted by Emily | February 17, 2012, 8:23 pm
  4. Your post brings back the horrors of high school in Carmona… I once flipped out at the kids– in Spanish even though I never spoke it before there– because they had an exam the next period and I was in the middle of giving a nice presentation about NYC (something that specific class had asked me to do) and they were talking and studying– quizzing each other– right in from of me. I stopped talking and no one even noticed. And not to mention that through all this the classroom teacher didn’t say a word. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh

    Posted by Lauren (Spanish Sabores) | February 25, 2012, 3:30 am

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