American vs. Spanish Education: 6 Key Takeaways
**Disclaimer: I'm not claiming to be an expert in the field of education -- I think I have a total of maybe 13 months (yes, I counted) of experience learning how to teach and actually teaching -- but I think I can say that I'm qualified to discuss the differences between my own American educational experiences, from attending a public school my entire life to teaching at a charter school (an alternative choice public school, for those who haven't heard of this term, as I previously hadn't), and my three and a half weeks working as a language assistant in a bilingual, public Spanish school. And anyways, this is a blog, so I'm here to share my own thoughts and opinions.
1. You knock on a classroom door before entering
Honestly, I don't know why this sticks out to me so much (three weeks and one day in and this common practice continues to surprise me) or why I'm choosing to write about it first, as it's probably the least important. Prior to entering any classroom, both teachers and students alike knock (there are even signs outside the door reminding you to do so). I haven't asked why this is the polite thing to do, and I would imagine it has something to do with not causing a distraction (have you ever tired to get a classroom full of 11-year old's to calm down?) when entering the room. However, once you're in the classroom, the teacher will stop the lesson in order to talk to you for a relatively long period of time. Also, most teachers lock their windowless doors when teaching (I just wouldn't foresee this going over well in the U.S.).
2. The school day
Now, I don't necessarily know that this is common across all public Spanish primary schools, but the school that I work at operates from 9 AM - 2 PM everyday. Five hours. And there's a 30 minute break in the middle of that time. In total, there are 22.5 hours of potential learning each week. Compare that to the 7 hours of learning per day in the public school system I attended and the approximate 8 hours of learning at the charter school at which I worked. I haven't done all the math, but that is a serious yearly difference in the time students spend learning. Again, I'm no expert, but neither system seems to be reasonable. I have difficulty understanding how much material can be covered in a 4.5 hour period, but I also don't know if it's possible for 11-year old's, for example, to sit and actually retain information for 7 or 8 hours a day. Both education systems could learn from the other.
3. The students talk... A LOT
Customary to Spanish culture, the children talk, a lot, and they speak over each other, and their teachers, a lot. It's totally normal for students to be speaking to each other while the teacher is lecturing, and most times, the teachers will not say or do anything to stop them. As a millennial, I'm more adapted to multi-tasking than my parents' generation, but even I would struggle to take notes and understand material if I was always (note the italics) talking during class.
4. Bilingual schools are quite common in Spain
This is something that the United States gets so wrong. In Spain, many schools incorporate English into their curriculum. This doesn't just mean taking an English class for one hour per day. The students actually learn in English. At my particular school, students are taught English (duh), natural science, social science, and arts & crafts in English. While I am a huge proponent of incorporating a second language into learning, I think this system has it's flaws -- What about the students who are just learning English? How much material are they not understanding because it's being taught in a foreign language? Even though there are kinks in this system, the Spanish definitely have the right idea.
From what I can tell, there doesn't seem to be a school-defined "appropriate" or consistent way of disciplining students. In my own schooling experiences, there were steps to follow (teacher detention, Saturday detention, etc.) and at the charter school I taught at, there were very strict and clear procedures to follow (again, steps). So what have I seen in Spain? A teacher yelling (and I mean yelling) at a student, usually in front of the whole class, or at the whole class, about their lack of worth (that may be a little harsh, but I have heard teachers tell students they can't do anything). Then, everything goes back to normal. The entire event is quite startling to witness.
6. Teacher-student boundaries
I had only planned on writing about five differences between American and Spanish schools, but I couldn't conclude without writing about this subject. Students call teachers by their first names. Students often hug and grab (in a non-sexual manner) their teachers. How the Spanish define an appropriate student-teacher relationship is drastically different than in the U.S. I can see the positive (American) aspect of having a clearly defined wall between a teacher and his/ her students, but I also understand the (Spanish) mentality of students feeling comfortable with their teachers.
It's difficult to fully articulate how differently the American and Spanish education systems operate, but I hope I was able to paint some sort of a picture. Oh, and did I mention that I only work 16 hours per week?! Yeah, quite different from my experience last year.