Thursday, December 18, 2008

Spanish Education System

I have spent over three months working in the Spanish schools. Some of the things that I have encountered have really impressed me while other things drive me crazy. Most of the teachers at my school and the Spanish educational system seem to value rote memorization over creativity and critical thinking. The students in my history and geography class had to memorize all the major oceans, seas, rivers, and mountains in the world, yet they lack the skills to write a persuasive essay nor do they know how to look up information in a library or on the internet.

One thing that I really like about the Spanish educational system is tutorial system which is similar to having homeroom. Each class of about 25-30 students is assigned to one teacher who is their tutor and the whole class meets once a week for one period to take care of official business, make announcements, and answer questions. In addition to this time, the tutor is responsible for monitoring all the kids in his/her class and if the parent has any questions they call the tutor. This means the parents have one point person to contact if there are any problems. Parents come in about once a month to meet with the tutor and discuss how the student is doing in all of their classes. The tutor is responsible for talking with all the teachers that the student has before meeting with the parents so that they can discuss the overall performance of the student. I think this a great idea because many students in the United States slip through the crack and there is often little communication between teachers regarding an individual student. This way, if there is a major change of behavior the tutor will probably know about it because they have to be in constant communication with all of the teachers that a particular student has.

One thing that is different from the United States is that the teachers move from class to class instead of having the students switch classes. This has both positive and negatives associated with it. First the students don’t have the opportunity to leave the classroom in between periods so sometimes I think they get restless from sitting all day. Second this means each class (25-30 students) stays together all day instead of switching classes and being with different students every period. As a result, the students feel comfortable around each other but they often adopt class personalities such as the class clown and the nerd which can be hard to change.

One thing that drives me crazy is that most of the teachers do not write the homework on the board or pass out a handout explaining the homework. I have been in many classes where it is unclear to me what the students are supposed to do so I can only imagine how the students feel especially considering they are listening to directions in a foreign language. Furthermore, great emphasis is placed on taking neat notes and having everything in the correct format with little attention paid to the content. Sometimes it takes my students five minutes to get out a piece of paper and title it because they all use rulers to underline the heading and they are obsessed with making everything pretty. However, this is due to the fact that the teachers value work that is neat rather than the ideas expressed by the students. For example, I have had multiple teachers show me students’ exams and comment that there is no way the student could have done well on the exam because the hand writing is too messy. This frustrates me because I know that many of the students have good ideas but have messy handwriting.

The students at my school just finished their first trimester (it made me think of Union except they don’t get a six week long break). The students are enrolled in 10 classes but they don’t have every class everyday. Some classes like English are five times a week while history and biology are three times a week and some such as citizenship are only once a week. Most of my students failed at least one class and some failed up to as many as 8. Grades are out of ten with five considered passing. I understand there is a different grading policy but what bothers me is that the teachers don’t care that their students failed. No attempt at extra help or attention is given. Rather the teachers write the students off as lazy or unintelligent and do not bother to try to help the students learn the material. Multiple teachers have commented to me that certain students are disasters and that there is no point trying to help them. This goes against everything I believe in. I think everyone can learn and you just need to figure out how to capture their attention and motivate them.

Overall, while I may not incorporate a lot of the methods the teachers in Spain use, I am learning a lot about education and how to be an effective teacher. Hopefully, I will be able to take what I have learned and apply it when I return next year and have a class of my own.

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