The Spanish Classroom vs. The American Classroom
This is a small picture I drew on my iPad my first week here in Spain. Drawing has been one of the most powerful tools in helping me cope with culture shock, as art always helps me see the beauty in situations. This little cartoon to me represents the flow of my thoughts in English living in Badajoz while all my classmates speak to me in Spanish.
I've been in the Spanish classroom for over a week now, and as a rather dormant participant in class, I've found myself observing every single detail that appears different from the American classroom. The many long and arduous lectures in philosophy give me ample time to both dose off and make mental notes of all the little things in the Spanish classroom that characterize the learning experience. Before coming to Spain, I had read so many articles and blogs encompassing all the main ideas of the Spanish education system when compared to those of the American education system, but in all honesty, the small differences have been the most amusing to me, as they add to the authenticity of my experience here attending a public high school in Badajoz, Spain.
Teachers move from class to class, as opposed to students moving from class to class. In the American education system, each student in high school has a different schedule, and as one moves from one teacher's class to another teacher's class, the group of students in every class changes as well. Here in Spain, you stay with the same group of students every day for the whole year, as you all take the same subjects, and every teacher comes to you.
Teachers are referred to by their first names. I remember being quite surprised my first week of school when I heard my classmates refer to their teachers almost as if they were calling a friend. It was rather odd to hear my classmates say "Carmen" or "Diego" rather than the traditional title of Mr. or Ms. followed by the teacher's last name.
People use the informal "you" when talking to teachers. The Spanish language, much like many other languages, has two versions of the word "you": one formal (to use with elders or respected people) and one informal (to use with people your own age or those younger than you). I had expected people to use the formal you ("usted") with their teachers, but instead, my classmates speak to their teachers using the informal form of "you" ("tú").
The usage of technology in the classroom is very limited. This one pains me to write (literally), as my back is constantly sore from the massive textbooks I carry to school everyday that significantly contribute to my ponderous gait. Students barely use technology in the classroom, as almost everything is written by hand, and the usage of mobile phones in the school is prohibited (although almost everyone sneaks around this at times!).
School days are shorter. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that school days in Spain are only siz hours long, and we start later than schools in the United States. School starts at 8:20am and ends at 2:20am (we also have a 30 minute break in between!).
Students raise their hand to call the teacher's attention by making a number one with their fingers rather than directly raising their open palm. This one's a bit harder to explain, but when students raise their hand, it's almost like they're raising a number "1" in the air; instead of raising up an open palm, they only raise up an index finger!
Tests are scored out of 10 points. Unlike the United States, students don't receive test scores that are out of 100 points; instead tests are scored out of 10 points, with scores above 5 being passing marks and scores below 5 signaling a failure/incomplete. Most of my classmates aim to score at least an 8 or higher, which is considered a good score in Spain.
Teachers write on chalkboard. This seemed straight out of an old movie to me when I first started attending classes, but teachers only write with chalk on chalkboard in almost all the classrooms. At times, the chalk does not show as clearly on the board, so many teachers have had to rewrite words.
Schools do not have any after school activities or clubs. As soon as the school day ends, most students head straight home. Schools do not have clubs or activities, and there are certainly very few student leadership opportunities (like class council or club president).
Most students walk to school or use public transportation. Apart from being very environmentally friendly, walking to school (or using public transportation) seems to be the most popular form of commute for students in Spain. I walk to school every morning with my friend, and every day, we walk back home as soon as the last bell rings.
Everything listed above is all I have managed to record of my own observations living here in Spain. Most of these could be specific to my specific city (Badajoz), and as I write these down in my notebook, I always remind myself that these are simply observations, not judgements. Most of what my friends "know" of the American classroom stems from what they have seen on TV, and while not all of it is incorrect, it certainly does reinforce to me the idea that preconceptions are abundant. As I continue to immerse myself in my new world, I strive to promise myself every day to learn something new and allow myself to accept all I see because a foreign country does not mould itself to make me comfortable; it is up to me as the alien to see the beauty in all these rules and customs, moulding myself day by day.