The Art of Slowing Down

It’s no secret for those who know me that I have lived my life at a very fast pace. I’m a typical Type-A American with a 20-year plan. I like my life to be organized, prepped, and planned right down to each minute detail. So if you know these things about me, and you know anything about Spain, you might imagine (correctly) that my adjustment to life here was a little bit challenging. The picture above is from my college graduation, May 22, 2016.

Adjusting with Each Step

Although I’ve lived my life in a few different places and needed to adjust my way of going about things with each move, I’ve almost always managed to maintain my pace. Even if the world around me was moving a little slower, I sped up. I buzzed past everyone around me, always keeping my eye on my end goals. And in the U.S., this worked really well for me. I was always perceived as hard-working, goal-oriented, and productive.

This time last year, I graduated from college, finishing the busiest four years of my life. Each day of my time as an undergraduate presented a new challenge, and my to-do list never ended. As much as I participated in the American cultural tradition of complaining about how much I had to do, I loved it. When my calendar was full, I often thrived.

Teaching English and More

When I moved to Spain to start teaching English, all of that changed for me. The truth is, I had a lot less to do. And that was very difficult for me. I did my best to fill my schedule as I had always done. I got a second job, starting taking Spanish classes, and planned lots of trips. But I still found myself with an almost overwhelming amount of free time compared to my recent college days. And I struggled to feel like I was doing enough with my time.

students in spain

Over the course of the now nine-and-a-half months that I’ve been in Spain, I’ve realized that this is the first place I’ve lived where the world around me won’t adapt to the pace I set. This has been challenging, frustrating, and sometimes anxiety-inducing for me. But the Spanish pace has forced me to slow down and live more in the present – even when I didn’t want to. And doing so has helped me grow and come to know myself better than I ever have before.

Slowing Down and Spending Time Intentionally

I notice the things around me more than I used to, and I’ve started spending my time more intentionally. Now I feel free to spend a few hours at dinner instead of one, and I don’t see a day spent in the park as wasted time. Someday when I leave Spain, my pace will need to change again. But I’ll be grateful that I can take this lesson with me: slowing down isn’t always a bad thing.

 

the art of slowing down

by Emma Schultz

Live For Now and Embrace the Spanish Culture

by Leesa Truesdell

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory Dr. Seuss“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” – Dr. Seuss

As each week passes, our “foreigner shells” crack open piece by piece. Each piece that breaks off, allows us to let go of old preconceived thoughts about the unknown, or doubts of Spain. The more we embrace the Spanish culture by exploring the unknown it becomes our new known.

There are cultural and societal norms that take place by tradition, which means they exist and they are the standard for Spain. For example, part of the Spanish culture and tradition is not to live in the past or the future but to live for the now. This aspect of their culture is a trait that I am looking forward to practicing.

Don’t Let Past Performances Impact Future Relationships

Personally, I believe as a North American I tend to worry too much about how past performances can impact future relationships with regards to employers. For example, I know for many of us, “what if” statements can cause unwarranted stress and serious spiraling into unnecessary places. Does this sound familiar, “If I do X now will it bring me the results I need for Y later?” Really? What if X explodes and Y is nothing more than an anomaly? What then? This is an exaggerated example of spiraling. We tend to overburden ourselves by focusing on what could be or could have been. Living for now is a novel concept that I believe will make all of us healthier happier people while living here.

Live For Now

In Spain, teachers generally are openly affectionate with their students. They hug and kiss their students. Whereas in the United States, it is prohibited to engage in similar conduct with students. For American teachers, this will be an adjustment.

In general, Spanish people are more hands-on culture. For example, they greet with a kiss on both cheeks. Whereas in the United States a greeting is a handshake and maybe a hug. It will be interesting to hear the perspectives of CIEE teachers that we will be following in Madrid. Hearing their cultural observations and experiences at their schools will help everyone understand Spanish culture. For example, if we live in the mindset of thinking for now then there is a lot that can be accomplished over one school year with – our students and our CIEE teachers — today.

Live For Now Including Teaching Experiences

Grand Parents sitting at a park

Seven new CIEE teachers (two of which were a couple traveling together) and one veteran teacher spoke about their teaching and other experiences in Madrid this school year. Tune in for our upcoming We Teach to read about our veteran teacher, Lynnette’s experiences. She will be touching on Spanish culture in and outside the classroom. She will also share her love for Spain and why she can’t bear to leave.

Personal Growth Teaching Abroad

by Leesa Truesdell

Catching up with Lynnette for our second interview was not like any of my other interviews so far. When Lynnette and I initially met at my CIEE orientation in August of 2016, as mentioned in my first interview with her, she was someone I had to meet. When she spoke, people listened. I realized what my immediate desire to speak with her was for: it was a connection. I am sure many others felt this same sense of connection with her over the course of our orientation because of the candor of her character. She is authentic and she wants people to know her story.

Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” – Farrah Gray

As we look back at Lynnette’s time here in Madrid, we see that her first year of personal growth teaching abroad was a “honeymoon period.” She was in “survival mode” during her second year and from what she explains, an uphill battle for her third year.

What stood out the most about Lynnette after our first interview was her reason for being in Spain. She said she finds joy in helping others. Lynnette continues to thrive on her quest to do just that, but one variable in the equation has changed. She is working to help herself in life so she is better equipped to help others. When I spoke with her and we discussed these last few months, she said, “you can write all this – all of this. I want my story to be real.”

Meet Lynnette, the authentic veteran:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“It takes me about 40 minutes to get to school by train. I usually go over the day and see what materials I need to bring with me for the first two hours of class. When co-teaching, I am in charge of the daily routine which is usually at the beginning of class.

In first grade classes, I’m working on jolly phonics and different games to review their vocabulary. If I have infantil, what we know as preschool, most of our routines take the form of musical play. They are usually my most unpredictable classes but the most fun because the children are learning a little bit of everything and they are more creative.

Second grade classes have a daily routine that is usually more physically interactive. I usually create activities where they have to move around and work in groups. Then I have “coffee break time” which is very important if you are working in a Spanish school. It is a social half-hour for teachers. After the break I usually prepare the rest of my classes. By lunchtime I have all my lessons prepared for the next day. I am currently pursuing my master’s degree, so during my lunchtime I work on my curriculum design for my class or any homework I may have.”

personal growth teaching abroad madrid

How many people do you work with (auxiliars included) and how many classes do you teach?

“I co-teach with seven other teachers and two other auxiliares. Each auxiliar is in charge of a particular grade level. I have infantil which consists of four- and five-year-olds. In primary I have all of the first and second grade levels. In secondary, I teach 4th ESO which is the equivalent of sophomores in high school.”

What is communication like in and outside of school?

“Communication in the school is something that I have to make more of an effort with. I work in a cooperative school, meaning the teachers are on an equal playing field with administrators. This requires a great deal of communication. Outside of school I only socialize with one of the teachers, partly because it is her first year and we have the same teaching methodology.”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers (auxiliares and teachers)?

“Yes, I am and always have. I think this is the reason I have stayed in Madrid for almost three years. Creating relationships is essential in any job. It also makes the working environment pleasant because you work hard towards common goals you share with your colleagues.”

Are you forming bonds with students?

“I think it’s important and essential to form bonds with your students mainly because students don’t learn well from people they don’t like. Therefore, you have to be sure that if you want to work with children you are able to deal with the responsibility.”

Does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships inside and outside of the classroom?

“I believe the school tries to work with auxiliares in a professional manner. Furthermore, being in a cooperative school means everyone has their own schedule and time is very limited. So the best time to foster those relationships between your co-teachers is coffee break time.”

What is your favorite part of the day?

“My favorite part of my day is working with my two more challenging classes, and they are complete opposites. First, my five-year-olds in infantil because they are unpredictable and learn so fast. Second, my 4th ESO class (15-year-olds) because they keep me young and I learn from them. These 15-year-olds are in that stage of life where they just want to be heard.”

student five year old painting

How is material being taught to students?

“I had two weeks of observation at my school. I went to classes on my current schedule and observed the teachers, figuring out how I would best work with each of them. I was proactive and asked them what they see my role being in their class. I have been lucky to be with teachers who believe in cooperative learning. However, as auxiliares, you have to be very perceptive, understanding that some teachers just teach from the book. There are two reasons for that. One is the mandated law that the teachers finish the books. Secondly, you have to understand Spain’s history. Spain was under a dictatorship for 40 years. The educational system that was in place at the time was meant to teach basic necessities like sewing classes for women and the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Thinking outside the box was definitely frowned upon. The teaching style in that time was very teacher-centered.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

“I am a planner by nature so even on my first day I arrived at school with an animated video and an icebreaker game. For my weekly plan I usually try to organize my different grade levels and plan one grammar game or phonics exercise. I always work on ready activities like popcorn reading. Each week I introduce the new subject and by the end of the week I am doing either a summative or formative assessment.”

Do you work at a bilingual school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the Community of Madrid?

“I work in a school that is certified bilingual according to the Community of Madrid. However, I have to say there is a very interesting thing that my school does in order to not have a disparity caused by learning the natural science materials in English: they also teach a natural science workshop class in Spanish.”

What standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

students books abroad learning

“That really varies by teacher. Some of the teachers use summative assessment meaning they have an exam and they give a grade. Some of the younger teachers use formative assessment, which is more informal. It really depends on the teacher.”

Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?

“The school was established in 1985 so they do have a clear vision and I feel very spoiled with my school. The teachers meet every week to see if they are sticking to the curriculum. The policy is that each grade level is supposed to cover the same material at the same time and that both teachers must take the exam on the same week.”

“Looking back at our first Teach Abroad series interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain both in the classroom and outside of it?

“I have learned that personal development is never-ending. Specifically, I was recently diagnosed with stress anxiety disorder brought on by the number of changes I have gone through in the past two-and-a-half years. However, despite my issues, I still would not want to be anywhere other than Madrid. I feel that I am learning a lot about myself and the culture around me.

Working through the more challenging facets of personal growth I feel that, despite everything, I have adapted well. As part of this process I am learning to respect and retain my authentic self while allowing for growth and development.”

What are your new goals, and/or modifications to previous goals, for 2017?

“My goal is to finish my Master’s in International Education. In a couple of years I can see myself helping and consulting people to be better teachers and students of English as a Foreign Language. I would like to provide seminars on how to guide students through learning as well as helping EFL teachers adapt to their new home.”

Personal Growth Library

While speaking with Lynnette I realized that some of her initial goals are changing and Lynnette is, too.

I followed up with Lynnette about her concerns for possibly losing, or somehow altering her authentic self. She shared that she has realized that self growth is going to happen and she welcomes it, but the pace of the process has caused her “stress related anxiety” about which she spoke. Growth, while always positive, is not always painless.

Personal Growth Teaching Abroad

In the end, Lynnette has been using this third year to hone her teaching craft. She realized that she had ‘skated’ through her first two years, leading her into the harsh awakening she experienced at the beginning of her third year. For many of us, it’s often that we cannot see what is actually happening until our body lets us know. This was the case for Lynnette. Lynnette’s autopilot burned out and she needed to resupply herself with the mental resources needed to live abroad. The transition happened and for Lynnette, like most humans, she was trying to survive and adapt while simultaneously trying to hold on to who she was two years ago back in the U.S.

Lynnette’ personal growth has come a very long way in three years teaching abroad. She is enjoying both her Master’s degree work and the work at her new school. She says her new school has embraced her and given her the responsibilities of a teacher. With the responsibility, Lynnette has been able to focus on her own methodology while using what she is learning with her masters.

While some of Lynnette’s goals have changed since our first discussion, what’s been most eye-opening for me is the transformation of a young woman finding her way abroad in a new professional environment. Since the first time I met her at orientation, up until now, I would compare Lynnette to a caterpillar that is just about to break free from her cocoon to become a butterfly. She is well on her way to personal growth teaching abroad and her new dream aboard.