Monday, April 5, 2010

A Rough Start

So far my first week in Burra had been a bit of a struggle.  The majority of my classes were with older students.  I knew that would be the case when I accepted the position in the Teacher Exchange Program, but I was confident that I could adapt my teaching to suit my students' needs.  However, it was turning out to be more of a struggle than I had anticipated.  I knew it would take time.  But now I was about to enter the class that I had been waiting to meet all week--a group of 6 and 7 year olds.  Teaching first and second grade was where I had the most experience and I was about to walk into my comfort zone.
I knocked on the door and was greeted by a raspy "entra."  As I entered the room, Mary was slowly rising from her desk.  With a cigarette in hand she began to sashay towards me.  She stopped at my side and introduced me to the class as the English teacher.  She then took one final puff, and while blowing the smoke in my face she let out a chuckle and wished me luck.  I was a bit taken aback, but as the door slammed shut my attention was drawn to the class that sat in front of me.
21 pairs of eyes quietly watched me as I began a more formal introduction.  Like with all young children and foreign language classes, the start was a bit slow.  However with patience and props we were off to a good start.  Suddenly, a little girl stood up and started yelling at me that I needed to speak in Spanish.  Within seconds the blonde haired, blue eyed, ring leader had the entire class chanting "En Español" while banging their pencil cup on the desk.  Now I may have been a newbie in this school and country, but I had had years of experience with many difficult classes.  I had gone through a very progressive teacher training program where I had been provided with a "toolbox" of a variety of discipline strategies.  I quickly began rummaging through that box, but I couldn't manage to find the appropriate tool to fix the problem.  In fact, the students had turned from chanting and pounding to throwing things across the room.  As I began to panic, I switched to Spanish and continued my struggle to get the group under control.  Unfortunately the situation continued to get worse and, before I knew it, I had students on tables, under table and running around the room screaming.  With over 40 minutes left in the class period I had no idea what I would do.  Just then there was a knock on the door and to my horror the Director poked his head in.  All I could do was say, "Don Beschit, I think we have a problem."
I then stood in horror as I watched him pull students ears, slap knuckles and yell at the top of his lungs--all tools I wouldn't have found in the remotest corners of my tool box.   With order restored and under the watchful eye of Don Beschit I was able to successfully finish my lesson.  However, I couldn't help but wonder how on earth I was going to survive the school year.


  1. OMG! I had a foreign teaching experience in Germany once, and although it was at the university level, I can still remember how apprehensive I was about the whole thing. I cannot imagine having chaos added to a situation in which one is already totally off kilter just because everything is so different. Somone else may have just packed her bags and said "adios, baby"; I am sure, however, in time that you found some handy tools!

  2. Goodness - What a class! And what a way to discipline - so different. These are great reads.

  3. Anonymous, I am not sure that the tools I ended up using came from the survival, not educating, box.

    Marta, it is a class that I will never forget. I am glad you are enjoying my Spain stories.