This year I’ve begun work at Centro Concertado Valdecás, a charter high school in the northern area of Vallecas. In terms of its day-to-day rhythm as an instituto, I find it much the same as IES José Luis Sampedro, where I worked as an Auxiliar de Conversación for the previous two years. Students are assigned to one classroom generally according to age, and the teachers are the ones who move from place to place within the building. Walls are largely unadorned, and after-school extracurriculars are essentially non-existent. There’s a heavy focus on exams; if students can jump through the specified series of hoops, that’s automatically considered success for both student and school alike.
That said, the student body and array of faculty at Valdecás are an absolute pleasure to work with. Somewhere down the line I ought to put together a more structured post as regards the Spanish educational system, but I want to emphasize that its issues and quirks by no means prevent plenty of quality from seeping through the mesh of bureaucratic rigidity.
The Vallecas students do come from a distinct demographic than those from Tres Cantos – there was some speculation at the end of the previous academic year that this might cause me some classroom management issues. I look back on this now, and it seems hopelessly snotty. There’s no denying Tres Cantos is well above the median in terms of average wealth; it has to do with how recently it was designed as a city, and the subsequent attraction of white-collar workers and their families to inhabit its brand new buildings.
Vallecas is much more of an average area in comparison to the rest of Madrid. Its students do reflect that: they don’t carry Coach purses, and by and large they don’t take having access to a native English speaker for granted. I’m still acclimating, but I feel that’s where the differences end: teenagers are similar no matter where in Spain you go. They sneak their cell phones into school, they proclaim “A-la!” when befuddled, they want to know if I eat tortilla.
In general, I do observe students listening to me more attentively. There’s also a great deal more trust placed in my teaching abilities by staff members, and this is reflected in my daily class structure. Instead of teaching in the classroom at the professor’s side, I select small groups of students to take outside of the main class and into my own little space.
From there, it’s entirely up to me to conduct an hour focused on speaking and listening skills, as well as to evaluate the students and organize them accordingly. I don’t give homework or exams, and I don’t teach grammar in the traditional note-taking sense. The time is treated as a potentially potent opportunity for the students to be exposed to native speech, which may not happen much outside of this hour.