Halloweird

4 11 2010

The darkest day of the American calendar must be shared with the hundreds of sugar-starved kiddos of José Luis Sampedro. No, not the day after Election Day – I’m talking about Halloween (c’mon, people, catch up).

The auxiliares – that is, Laura, James, Heather, and I – have spent several commutes ruminating on costumes. A theme eventually emerges: American Superheroes. Heather snags Catwoman, which Laura combines with Poison Ivy to make villainous feminine duo. James calls Batman, and as such I am assigned the lowly sidekick role of Robin.

Oh please. Robin is just about the least amount of super you can get. I sneakily plan an alternative get-up.

A couple chinos later, and Captain America is ready for battle.

Laura and I construct cardboard onomatopoeia, then emerge from our dark tower to the center of the recreational area during the afternoon break. We are immediately swarmed – we have informed the students that we will offer candy to anyone else who remembers to dress up. No one has, but hundreds of little ears are buzzing with the promise of sweet, sweet sugar, and we draw an unbelievably enormous crowd within seconds.

Whamm-o! Bam! Pow! Zing! The good guy triumphs in the end (of course) and the bad guy (as punishment?) holds aloft a bag ripe with Sugus. She is MOBBED, a thousand nasty smelly little fingers clutching at her wig and brambles, scrambling for a chance at the prize.

Batman and Catwoman make a late entrance, and we snap a few shots (which Heather still needs to put online, dammit) and offer one more lucha before the bell.

My own Halloween fiesta was low-key-esque. Two highlights include:

Alex as beaker-toting mad scientist, and –

Sam‘s impeccable attention to detail, from her winged cheeks to her ghostly pumpkin-spiced cake.

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Play-Doh Chemistry

23 10 2010

Being a Fulbright ETA is not all prepositions and relative noun clauses.

Constructing a crystal sodium chloride pyramid out of black and orange Play-Doh is definitely the highlight of Natural Science class thus far. You never saw so many 12-year-olds so jazzed to check out renditions of molecular structures.





José Luis Sampedro Second Impressions

14 10 2010

Two solid weeks into teaching has me thoroughly enmeshed in the swing of things.

I assist in 19 classes a week, which amounts to a heavy workload; as such I consider it massive good luck that I adore the freneticism of the Auxiliar working style. It’s highly unusual that I know exactly what the plan is for each hour of the day – and here my fellow Auxiliares let loose a snigger at my understatement – but I find that I am absolutely most comfortable flying at top speed by the seat of my pants. It’s undeniable uncertainty, but the lack of rigidity means a high amount of wiggle room for the ambitious Auxiliar who just might be dreaming of brewing up a workshop series on critical thinking skills. You will be kept posted.

Quite a few general musings on the distinct qualities of the Spanish educational strategy have been posted on other Fulbright blogs, so I don’t plan on directly addressing them here. I’m also trying to allow space for my understanding of the experience to develop. I feel so differently about teaching this week than I did last week, and even then was significantly far from how I felt the week before that. Every day I wrap my head further around the quirky aspects of how the institution functions, along with how my aspirations can fit in – and flourish! – amongst the expectations and limited resources I confront every morning on campus.

I’m designing and executing a pair of classes centered around music each week with Patricia’s students. My first selection was Mika, both for the general likability of the tune as well as the clarity of the vocals. We filled in blanks, identified parts of speech, sought out synonyms, and discussed a few key points (“Does this song, indeed, make you feel relaxed? Why or why not?”). Today was the first round of student requested artists, beginning with Green Day. Almost every single lyric is an idiomatic expression of some variety; I couldn’t be prouder that my students now understand the phrase “bumper-sticker philosophy.”

There’s so much more – Laura (the other Fulbright at José Luis Sampedro) and I are slowly developing a joyful working friendship, which we hope to soon expand into the culinary realm. The other two Auxiliares, James and Heather, are a whirlwind force of expertise and dead-on impressions. I ride my patinete every morning and feel akin to the adolescent boy I never was. And, underlining it all: the students are, by and large, totally and mischievously delightful.





El Patinete

3 10 2010

There’s no denying that my commute to Tres Cantos is on the lengthy side. However, part of being a Fulbrighter is adapting oneself to unusual and challenging conditions. To this end, I have made a small purchase.

O 25-minute downhill walk from Tres Cantos train station to José Luis Sampedro, prepare thyself: La Reina del Patinete has arrived.

Retiro is my practice arena, and I zip and zoom and generally scoot. It is absurdly exciting to anticipate Tuesday’s commute with ganas.





Tres Cantos/José Luis Sampedro First Impressions

29 09 2010

After attempting a few different combinations of walking, metro, and train, I’ve settled on a path involving segments of all three in my daily northward journey towards Tres Cantos. It takes me approximately an hour and ten minutes to get from my piso to the chalkboard, depending heavily on syncing my step with the timing of the trains.

This overcast day isn’t the best for capturing attractive photos, but the gray of the skies isn’t a wholly inaccurate reflection of the swathes of sidewalk. Tres Cantos really is this quiet. It’s a tricky thing to describe without tagging on extra implications – do we call it tranquil or desolate, sleepy or peaceful? – and as such I’ll leave it at some facts:

– Tres Cantos is the newest municipality in all of Spain. It’s a planned township, commissioned by Franco’s folks back in 1971; inhabitants began strolling its streets a decade later.

– Tres Cantos is a sister city to the planned cities of Columbia, Maryland, United States, Cergy-Pontoise, France, and Nejapa, El Salvador. Students can take advantage of international exchange programs between them.

– Tres Cantos is the area with the highest percentage of residents with a university-level education in all of Spain. I’ve been informed that this merited an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, but can’t find any evidence to support the claim.

It’s a healthy 20-minute walk from the Renfe Cercanias train station to el Instituto José Luis Sampedro, which isn’t excessive but does leave something to be desired on the days I opt for heels. Investigations into patinetes are being made.

Schools in Spain differ wildly from the comparatively hyper-decorated American equivalents. They are built for utility, and the students stay in one assigned space with others of their year while the teachers relocate each hour. As such, both classrooms and hallways are strikingly bare to my American eyes, although peacocking in both clothing and behavior of rowdy students during breaks fills the space much more than the above photo might suggest.

Due to difficulty in pinning down a workable schedule for the year – merely considering addressing the cobweb of influencing factors makes my head throb – I currently spend a good chunk of my time looking at doorknobs. No one is quite certain of our role here, least of all us, which does strike me as an odd contrast to the tenacity one has to have in order to be granted a Fulbright in the first place.

I have more gut reactions on this topic (ha, when don’t I have something to say?), but will save them up for a few weeks in order to be able to paint a richer “what-it’s-like” scene.

Laura – my Fulbright co-auxiliar – and I do manage to gain entrance to a select few class sessions. Pictured above is our coordinator, Rachel, and her group of Primer ESO students, which in the American system would translate to 7th grade. These kids have been in a bilingual program their whole lives, and as such have very high levels of comprehension and speaking.

Today, they discuss homework reviewing the parts of speech. Their vocabulary is excellent; Rachel drops in the term “phoneme” without anyone missing a beat.

The final third of the period is dedicated to introducing new vocabulary for a poem the students will learn. Rachel requests that Laura and I depict the underlined terms in picture form on the board, which is not the simplest task in chalk given ideas like “wrestle” and “tickle me pink.” The students are asked to copy down (!) our artists’ renditions of the terms, and then everybody matches drawings with words.