Life is going well here in Toledo. I am fully over the post-Christmas slump-so often I look around and smile at my life. I am so grateful for this opportunity and all I have learned and experienced thus far.
The (almost!) spring-like weather is certainly helping my outlook. We had a tease of a spring weekend last weekend, but the temperatures have dropped (just a bit) and it has rained (though that is much needed, as winter was very dry).
While I was studying in Salamanca in 2010, I feel I was a much "better" blogger. I think I just had more to tell that seemed important: spring break in Italy and France, weekend trips to Barcelona and Portugal...it was all new and exciting.
I have been doing a fair share of traveling this year (Basque Country, Switzerland, day trips to Madrid and Cuenca) and certainly my life here is very different than my life in the United States. But I have settled into a routine and life is comfortable.
Not only that, my semester abroad accustomed me a bit to living in Spain. I regret to admit it, but the history and architecture which make Toledo and Spain such an interesting country are less of a novelty to me. Granted, all I need to do is take a walk through the narrow streets and glimpse the magnificent cathedral or the river as it rushes through the valley and my sense of awe is renewed.
I think what I mean to say is that it takes effort for me to find things to write about; and though my instincts tell me that is wrong (am I crazy?) I think the challenge is a good thing. I reflect more; I push myself to get out for a walk and find things to make me smile. I heard recently that it doesn't matter what we look at, but what matters is what we choose to see. I think that is a valuable lesson.
All this rambling (my apologies) is to say, I have not been remiss in smiling, though my blogging efforts may say otherwise. And here is anecdotal evidence to prove it:
-British English is more commonly taught in Spain, as opposed to American English. And there are more differences than you'd think. A common, every day difference I encounter is with telling time. To say 8:20, we would say "eight-twenty" but here they learn "twenty past eight". I know we use that phrasing as well, but that is all they know here. Sara, a bright fourth grade student, asked me the time. I looked at my watch and said: "It is one-fifteen." She looked confused and asked me to repeat. I did, but the confusion and repeating continued until 1:16, when I finally said: "It is a quarter past one." She smiled, shook her head, said "okay" and skipped away.
-In Laura's fourth grade class there is a boy named Raul. There are actually two boys named Raul, and they are physical opposites: one is tall and chubby, the other is half the size and Laura refers to him as Raulito (little Raul). "Raulito" is always, always lost. Very rarely is his head in class. I am constantly calling to him, sometimes when he is on the other side of the field, while the rest of the class is gathered around listening to me explain the activity. Frustrating? Very. But he (sometimes) manages to make me smile. At the end of one class, the rest of his peers waiting in line at the door to go up stairs, Raul is wandering around the gym. I walk to him, kneel down (so he can see my face) and say: "Raul! What do you need to do?" He looks at me, with a half smile, and asks: "Game over?" I chuckled, handed him his wash bag, and led him to the line.
-Julia is the daughter of a coworker whom I tutor in a small group lesson. She is fine and just learning to read. She excitedly showed me her new Hello Kitty folder. I said: "Oh, how pretty! I like Hello Kitty, too!" She gave me a funny face and responded: "No, it is 'Ello Kitty." Her dad shook his head and explained that learning to read and write in Spanish while learning English is a bit challenging. 'Ello, Kitty.
-Enforcing consequences is a difficult part of teaching. In fact, I really hate it. I am glad I work with other teachers, so that they have to do the punishing (only after several stern words and my serious "Look" (Dad? Jarrod?) don't do the trick). Several classes have recently had to spend P.E. class in the classroom, copying "Castigados en E.F. por mal comportamiento" (Punished in P.E. for bad behavior) until the page is full. And if they didn't have this page signed before the next class, they sat out again. My private classes I don't have the luxury of letting someone else doing the punishment, and have had to develop my own methods. I tried a negative approach, with paper slips in envelopes, removing one after a warning. If all four are gone by the end of class, that student misses the next class. While that system worked more or less, I decided to try a positive approach. Now, they know they will receive either a sticker or candy at the end of class, but only as a reward for good behavior. (This is a group lesson of 3-5 year old students).
-I finally bonded with the third grade class that liked me the least! Seriously, their faces would drop when I walked into the room with Fernando, the gym teacher. It hurt, but I was used to it. We had extended recess the other day, and I was invited to play their version of dodge ball. I was surprisingly great at dodging the ball (less precise at throwing, though...) and earned their approval. They even used the few English words and phrases they know-so cute.
-In one of my first grade classes there is a boy named Mariano who has a serious learning disability. He usually works with a special teacher during my English class, but this particular day she was unable to have his lesson and he was in the classroom with us. I have noticed that he doesn't always participate in the lesson with the other students. We were doing an activity on the new SmartBoard and Tere, the classroom teacher, motioned for me to call on Mariano. He came to the board and with much guidance, correctly put a pig in the farmyard. The entire class clapped for Mariano, and I nearly cried.
-I will certainly miss the little miniature hugs I get from the preschool students.
-I find myself using my hands to talk much more than I ever did, even in conversation with my American friends. I am used to using exaggerated motions to help my students understand. So if I say "see" I point to my eye. I fan myself when saying the word "hot". I speak much more slowly. I have noticed that some words-English words-I have started saying with a Spanish accent. Especially "hello". I don't know why.
-I had an old friend from high school visit last week with his girlfriend; they are on a tour of Europe and stopped in Toledo. While walking around the city, we randomly ended up exactly where I got lost when I visited in 2010. I laughed out loud. If you don't know that story, it involved myself and two others getting lost, nearly missing our tour bus to Salamanca, and stopping a car and asking them to drive us to the meeting place...We hitch-hiked, briefly, and I found the spot where it all took place!
Well, I know this was quite a long winded post. In other news, I aced my Medical Terminology test! And I have a trip planned in two weeks with my friends to Gran Canaria! Vamos a la playa! And I may head to Salamanca next weekend to visit my old stomping grounds. And in three weeks I will be in Madrid, picking my baby sister up from the airport...YAY! Time is flying.
Un abrazo muy fuerte.