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3 Things I've Learned From My Students in Spain

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Draw me a pink heart", Ana demanded with a charming toothless grin that I simply couldn't say no to. I drew her name in bubble letters just to provoke another goofy seven year old smile. We were killing time after standardized testing, and I was in charge of babysitting the 2nd graders while the other students finished their exams.

"Now draw me a blue heart and write Adrián's name next to it", she mandated in Spanish. "Why Adrián's name?" I asked. "Porque es mi novio." Because he's my boyfriend. Like, duuuhhh. For the rest of the afternoon, Ana pranced around the room proclaiming her love for Adrián. While I personally prefer not to shout my romantic interests from a mountaintop, I couldn't help but admire how shamelessly honest she was.

Meanwhile after about 40 minutes of play time, many of the 2nd graders began to tearfully lament to one another, "I'm mad at you, because you won't share your crayons with me", "Leave me alone, you're bothering me", and "I'm sad, why don't you want to build a castle with me?" Although mollifying the madness was thoroughly exhausting, the whole scene made me think: When was the last time I personally confronted someone who I was upset with?

Though the tears and tantrums get old fast, kids feel every emotion to the fullest and have no reservations about expressing how they truly feel. They're unabashedly honest. They're not like the repressed adults I know who are trained to say, "I'm fine" even when they're going through the most difficult of personal traumas. Kids don't lie or hide from their emotions, and I've come to realize that we could all learn something from their refreshing, no-bullshit approach to expressing feelings.

Watching my students make heartfelt drawings for each other always makes me smile.

I get up at 6:40 am every single day. If you know me at all, you probably know that I am not a morning person. This usually means that I come to school with no makeup and my hair messy from a slept-in braid. Yet even on those days when I could pass as a homeless person, I'm constantly showered with compliments: "Teacher, you are beautiful!", "Teacher, you look very pretty today!", "¡Qué guapa eres, Teacher!" Children, are you blind?

And when they're not complimenting me, they're giving me drawings, hugs, crafts, rubber band bracelets... you name it. I don't deserve these tokens of their affection; I'm not even their real teacher, I'm just an assistant! Regardless, they spoil me with love, gifts and odds-and-ends that I'll never bring myself to throw away. It melts my heart.

I suppose they go out of their way to make me these things because it's their way of saying, "I love and appreciate you." It reminds me that I don't do this enough for the people that I love and appreciate. Even though I think about my friends back home all the time, I hardly ever remember to send them letters, postcards, long emails or birthday cards. I could blame it on being busy, or I could blame it on the ease of Facebook. But the truth is, us grown-ups don't make thoughtfulness a norm like kids do.

My friend Meghan always remembers to send birthday cards, Christmas cards, thank you cards, and even Valentine's Day cards. (And she has great taste in stationary, so her cards are always really pretty and stay on my shelves for years.) Every time I receive one in the mail, I get all excited and giddy - much like how I feel when my students randomly give me drawings, cards and bracelets. I want to be like Meghan and my students, who spread joy by simply being thoughtful.

Just a few of the trinkets that my students have gifted me this year.

It's kind of ironic that I'm writing about this, because as an assistant teacher it's partially my responsibility to discipline my students. I have to reprimand them when they're eating paste or drawing on their faces with permanent markers, and I often spend an average of 10 minutes per class (or more) trying to get them to stop screaming, taking off their shirts, and rolling around on the floor. (Did I mention that I'm specifically talking about my 8 and 9 year olds...?)

Nevertheless, while my 3rd graders can be wild animals when they want to be, they can also be pretty freaking brilliant. They call me out when I'm not consistent. They ask me, "But Teacher, why are we doing this?" when it's a filler (aka "time-waster") activity that's completely irrelevant to what they're learning. They catch on. And they're bold.

The other week in art class, we were crafting a sheep out of paper and cotton swabs. I showed them the Pinterest example on the white board, instructed them on how to construct the sheep, and started tying little red bows for their sheep heads. Art class was almost over when one of my favorite students - a shy kid in the back of the class who's always well behaved - comes up to me and presents me his sheep. Except it wasn't a sheep, it was a tiger.

Who does that? What third grader is assigned an art project to make a sheep and thinks instead, "Screw that, I'm going to make a tiger!" I could hardly contain the grin on my face. I would have never seen it coming from this darling little underdog, but I admired the hell out of him. I think there's something to be valued in those who think out-of-the-box, even when it means bucking the system. Why not make a tiger?

Dare to be different, folks.

While being an assistant English teacher isn't the most glamorous job, it's certainly been one of the most rewarding. I can't wait to teach at my same school next year and continue learning from these adorable kiddos.

Have you learned any life lessons from teaching or being around kids?

5 comments on "3 Things I've Learned From My Students in Spain"
  1. Oh, God, the tiger story is great! ha, ha I enjoyed reading your post. Some years ago, I was like one of the students you are talking about! Marta, Barcelona

  2. That tiger is AMAZING! And you are so right about kids and their awesome way of confronting each other. I totally need to do more of this and less repressing and making my self sad!

  3. haha this is so cute! i'm teaching in korea (coming to madrid in sept!) and my favorite kiddos are always the ones who think outside the box and dare to show that creative bone that they've got. those ones are always my favorite! needless to say, i love the tiger and i'd love that kid :)

  4. Adorable. Spanish kids are so adorable - I have greatly enjoyed teaching because of my little ones!

  5. Love this post!! Beautifully written as always. And the tiger story really made me smile :)