Molly Hostetler, Sarah Stein, and Harrison Wills are English teaching assistants at public elementary, middle, and high schools in Seville. As participants in CIEE’s fully immersive program Teach in Spain for teachers and recent college graduates, they gain valuable experience teaching abroad for a year, while still being able to explore their new city and to travel to other parts of Spain and Europe. They regularly communicate with their lead teachers to prepare for the week’s classes, but also with their peers, joining groups outside of the school and sharing apartments with them.
– Today is what day?
– And tomorrow is what day?
– Does anyone know what day comes after that?
Silence fills the room.
– Does anyone know what day comes after Wednesday? It goes Tuesday, then Wednesday, and then…
– Yes! Thursday! And does anyone know why this Thursday is special?
The confused faces of a room of first graders beg Molly to answer her own question. «Thanksgiving!» she tells them, bringing her PowerPoint up onto the screen.
– On Thanksgiving, we give thanks. Does anyone know what it means to give thanks?
The students think, and answer with their best definitions, many explaining in a combination of English and Spanish. “On Thanksgiving, we say what we are thankful for. I am thankful for my family. Is there anything you are thankful for?” “Friends!” “School!” “Earth!”, are among the responses Molly receives.
– Does anyone know what we do on Thanksgiving besides give thanks?
Again puzzled faces fill the room. “We eat!” Molly’s presentation ends with an activity: finding and coloring specific items on a table overflowing with Thanksgiving-related food and objects.
Each of her Tuesday classes, which includes second grade, first grade, and fourth grade in that order complete this activity. There are approximately twenty-five students in each class. It is the same Tuesday schedule as normal, though this Tuesday is different from most at elementary school C.E.I.P Maestro José Fuentes. These classes are just three of the sixteen classes she has each week, twelve science classes taught in English and four English language classes. As a future ESL teacher, the tactics she’s now learning will be very valuable for her career.
Like Molly, Sarah also has the responsibility of delivering Thanksgiving presentations in all of her classes the week leading up to the holiday. Her presentations are also relatively simple and explain the different foods Americans eat on Thanksgiving, as well as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the football games. It’s a fun assignment that lets them take charge of the classrooms in which they work as assistants.
Sarah assists in sixteen classes each week at C.E.I.P Prácticas, ranging from preschool classes to sixth grade. As a recent college graduate with a degree in Psychology, Sarah says “I did not see myself ever being a teacher. I love children and I’ve worked with kids, but not in a classroom setting. I don’t know if I’ll pursue teaching, but maybe child psychology or social work. I’m trying to learn from the teachers the best way to work with kids. Education in any context is going to be really important. If I go into social work, using my experience in education with both families and children will be important. It’s also important to learn communication skills to work with a child who doesn’t speak the same language as me.” The Teach in Spain program came to Sarah as a perfect transition between college and her professional future. “I was interested in living abroad and had spent time in Spain traveling, so I already knew that it would be easy for me to adjust. It’s a gap year. I’m thinking of doing grad school, but I wanted a year of experience in between.”
While Sarah’s future remains uncertain, Harry knows that he wants to continue working and living in Spain. His classes continue as normal the week of Thanksgiving, and although he explained a little bit about Thanksgiving in a few classes, he forgot that Thursday was the holiday. For him, as for all of Spain, it was just Thursday, special only because the next day was Black Friday, a new holiday for the country. It has only been introduced to Spain’s consumeristic culture during the last three to four years. Harry teaches English in courses on technology, geography, gym, and music from sixth to twelfth grade at I.E.S Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente.
“Today we are doing presentations,” the lead teacher informs Harry as he walks into the classroom. “Okay, I will help them out with any English questions they have.” Harry will not be taking charge of the classroom of middle-schoolers before him. Instead, he will be there to correct grammar as the students talk about different geographical landmarks around the world in English. “What region are those in?” Harry asks after a student talks about the Andes mountains. “Argentina?” “Colombia?” “Venezuela?”, they ask. “Yes, but what region, what part of the world are they in? You know how there’s regions or continents like Europe and Africa and North America. Does anyone know what region of the world the Andes Mountains are in?” When a student provides the right answer, “South America”, Harry exclaims “Yes, great job!”
In his geography class, Harry has a lesser role than in gym, where he can take the lead, separating the students into teams and playing soccer or trying to organize flag or touch football with the teachers at the school. There is the freedom in gym class for him to talk with the students while they take part in the sport or activity of the day. The academic classes have more organization because the professors are trying to teach specific course material in the two languages. As his students are older, they have more complex material to learn and a more rigid schedule to follow.
Molly and Sarah, however, have more creative flexibility in their classes because their students are younger. Regarding their roles in the classroom, each has similar responsibilities. “I’m there to assist with language discrepancies and help with activities, translating, and pronunciation. I don’t ever teach a full lesson plan. Teachers might ask me to prepare something on a certain subject or work on similar things with a small group in the back of the classroom,” explains Sarah. The Thanksgiving presentations, which classrooms asked Molly and Sarah to prepare, offered them the opportunity to take on more active roles in the classroom than other weeks.
“Turkey. Repeat after me. Turkey.” Molly instructs her students. “Turkey,” a harmony of voices says back. The coloring activity that the students are completing has presented a challenge: to many of the students, cooked turkey just looks like a cooked chicken. Confused first graders help their peers saying “It’s the chicken. Color the chicken.” Seeing the confusion, Molly pulls together two pictures of turkey, one cooked, one alive, so that her students understand the association.
The Thanksgiving lessons represent a different type of week for each of these teaching assistants, whose roles usually do not involve teaching an entire lesson. Still, it gives a glimpse into the daily lives of three teachers who will be in Seville for the rest of the school year.