The Fine Line Between Teaching & Learning

Ashley Simmons
February 18, 2016

Yesterday, February 18, 2016, was my first day of teaching English to students here in Spain and it was truly an experience. Not only did I find myself surprised at the comfort with which I navigated around and with the students, but also the comfort with which they navigated with me. I’d been cautioned over and over that the Spanish classroom was different than the typical American classroom and would be quite shocking, and in the words of my roommate, “They talk about culture shock like it’s a disease.” (Perfect analogy, Caroline. Couldn’t have said it better.)

A lot of culture shock seems to stem from the idea that the culture one is used to is the only culture that exists and the only one that exists correctly. Herein, the idea of something being different is somehow then "shocking"; different isn't shocking. It's just different. By having an open mind that accepts, acknowledges and understands that my culture is my culture and is not in any way a better culture, I feel I've been able to further appreciate Spanish culture. I understand that there are going to be differences between the way I live my life, the way I associate with and communicate with other people, the things I would and would not do, than there would be for those I interact with. And so, I didn’t find the Spanish classroom any more "shocking". Instead, I attributed the passionate dispositions of the students to them just being kids. 

I was also told previously that many of the children were excited about our IES Abroad students’ presence in the colegios and so upon walking into the classroom and proceeding to introduce myself, I was greeted with respectful silence, attention, and ear-to-ear eager smiles — at least for the younger kids. The teenagers were much more relaxed, angst filled and realistic as teenagers often are.

The first day of my internship was not just telling students what my favorite color is (pink) or what my favorite kind of music is (Jazz and Rap, and when mixed together = bliss), or even if I have a boyfriend — 

Brief Interruption:  All children want to know the answer to this question. Do you have a boyfriend? No, I told them, I don’t have a boyfriend. And I proceeded to tell them, (In Spanish, might I add *insert smirking sexy face emoji here*) that while you’re young and in school, you should focus on being young and in school. Study hard and do your best while you can. Be with your friends. You have your whole life for love and boyfriends. (Also, guys. You’re like three???) Ah, my childhood years. So young, so annoying, so much...puberty…let’s not go that far back. 

During my time there, I found myself not only teaching but learning as well. The children often finished my sentences for me, somehow detecting the mild frustration on my face when I could not properly conjugate a verb. Or even when I didn’t know a word, they would then help me find it through some horrible half-descent description of something similar. In this way, the language barrier was basically non-existent. We were all seeking to learn and in many ways teach one another. 

Aside from the glory of learning, I walked around Granada later that night and suddenly understood the horror my teachers must’ve felt in the past upon seeing me outside of the classroom. Almost a kind of you don’t belong in this setting! What are you doing here? I found myself awkwardly and obviously ducking around corners, in my very awkward Ashley way, whilst simultaneously waving a small hello and continuing on my way (Fortunately, the teenagers didn’t want to acknowledge that I could dare to exist outside of our hour of time together either, and so I continued down the street with my comida para llevar and onto my own homework, remembering that I too, am still a student...And a teacher now??? Vale.)

I feel like teaching English, and in turn learning Spanish in an entirely new environment, will be one of the highlights of my experiences here in Granada. The fine line between teaching and learning is one that should without a doubt be crossed. There are lessons in even the most unexpected of things if you’re willing to listen.

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Ashley Simmons

Ashley is the 2015-16 IES Abroad Blogger of the Year! A Junior at Brandeis University, Ashley studies English, Creative Writing, Film, Television, and Interactive Media, as well as Creativity, The Arts and Social Transformation. On campus Ashley is an English Undergraduate Departmental Representative. Originally from Washington D.C., she enjoys cooking, reading, playing the piano, playing video games, and being with her family and friends.

2016 Spring
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