I couldn’t exactly remember her face. I was sweating in a gas station parking lot, waiting for my ride to the school where I signed up to help teach English. A typical American I showed up for my first day five minutes early and then, because I’m in Spain, I waited for fifteen minutes until a white mini-cooper pulled up and two smiling women stepped out to greet me. I didn’t really remember where I was going and I had no idea what I was going to be doing. I had prepared a presentation about the United States to show to the class, but I didn’t know what level they were which had made preparing the presentation difficult.
At the school the driver walked me up the tile stares to the back of the second floor and left me waiting in a small classroom, overlooking the cement soccer field. The English teacher is a native of Barcelona, who au paired in Ireland for a semester. Her English is 100,000 times better than my Spanish, but it’s pretty heavily accented and she’s clearly more comfortable in Spanish, which is why the class is taught mostly in Spanish, and the students don’t speak very good English.
The students trickled into the classroom in groups, talking loudly over each other and gradually settled into the U of desks. Three pretty girls settled on the ground in the middle. The teacher looked at me, “Is that O.K.?” I shrugged and nodded.
The teacher started to talk over the students, explaining the activity they would be doing with me. I kept waiting for her to stand solemnly, with that slightly judgmental look only teachers seem able to conjure for rude students. But she just kept talking, occasionally telling a student or two to shut up.
When she stepped aside, the students were hushed for a moment as they fully examined the new comer, but quickly picked up their conversation. It’s difficult to have a conversation with twenty people when they’re all talking in a different language at the same time. However, they were never disrespectful, an odd concept for Americans. How can people talk over you, appear to ignore you, without being actually rude?
After class the teacher took me to the cafeteria. It’s a big open room pretty similar to how Hollywood imagines American cafeterias, except the teachers share the room with the students. The teachers sit in a corner around a big table pulled together from a bunch of desks. The food, unfortunately, is not much different from American Cafeterias.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the administrators give students rides home. I thought they were making a special exception for me, when they offered me a ride from the school to the center of Alicante. But the secretary also drives at least two students home with her everyday. In the United States outside of school students and teachers avoid each other like the plague. An administrator giving a student a ride home? Schools are definitely not okay with this, what if something were to happen? The parents could sue.
In Spain people tend to be less serious about things. More willing to accept children’s need to express themselves, and to trust their educators not to kill their children.