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2 posts categorized "Lexa Muehlbauer"

The Power of Music

Watching my 4th graders dance "La Jota"

One of my favorite parts of immersing myself in a new culture is seeing it in action. Anything from trying new foods, to watching dances, to hearing music makes me feel more connected to Spain. What really sticks out to me about the Spanish people is how passionate they are, especially with their music.

Gorgeous building in the city center of Valladolid

This week, my school celebrated La Día de la Música by having the kids listen to traditional instruments of Castilla y León (the region of Spain where my host city, Valladolid, is). A group from a nearby village paraded around the playground playing the dulzaina and bombo. Everyone was feeling the music-teachers were dancing, kids were swaying and the musicians were feeding off of our energy.

Some of my fourth graders even wore traditional dresses and danced “La Jota.” It was like being transported back in time. You could see, hear and feel the history flowing through every note. Since American history is much newer than Spanish history, kids in the U.S. don’t have the same opportunity to learn and appreciate how music contributes to a country’s dynamic culture. Sure, we learn about the Harlem Renaissance, but you don’t see Jazz players having concerts at public schools. I definitely envy the Spanish for this because music is such an important part of culture and super fun to listen to!

Today, the kids listened to a Rondalla-an ensemble of stringed instruments played with a pick (like a guitar). It comes from the word “Ronda” which means to serenade. And that they did. You couldn’t help but picture a Spanish couple slowly dancing around a dimly lit tapas bar at dusk. It sounds cheesy, I know, but music does that to you. It helps you picture the past and feel an emotional connection to the sounds. The kids were actually quiet most of the time (which is rare) because they were so entranced by the melodies.

While the kids might not understand how important music is now, it exposes them to the sounds of their history and is something tangible that they’ll remember. I’m so glad to be part of a school that takes time away from stuffy textbooks to give the kids a more interactive experience. As a foreigner, these are the moments that I really love because I can actually hear the difference between this culture and mine. Even though I’m not a Spaniard, for a hot minute I get to pretend I am because we’re all hearing, feeling and clapping the same beats together-which is a pretty cool feeling.




Embrace your Inner Teacher

Goofing around during an assembly

Ever since I started babysitting at the age of 13, I’ve always been around kids; we just seem to get each other. For the past nine years I’ve worked as a babysitter/nanny, mentor, daycare worker and camp counselor. Finding the Volunteer program in Spain was the perfect fit for me because I could work on my Spanish with a host family and be around kids-which was a comfortable feeling for me.

But teaching is its own kind of animal. Now I stand in front of a room with 25 pairs of eyes staring at me. It took me a few weeks to get into a rhythm where I felt like the kids and I were connecting. The language barrier isn’t your only challenge; you also have to make English FUN. Blindly walking into the teaching world has been an eye-opening, frustrating, hilarious and great experience...but getting comfortable takes time. Here are some tips to ride out the awkwardness of your first weeks so you can embrace your inner teacher:

1. Go with the flow

Something Spaniards are notorious for is their relaxed attitudes. As an American who lives by her watch and schedules everything to the hour, this was a challenge. If school starts 10 minutes late? Don’t worry about it. If your teacher isn’t in her classroom? No need to panic, she’ll be there soon. It’s definitely a cultural thing that you’ll find yourself falling into, so just embrace the chill pace.

This “go with the flow” mentality also applies to classroom time. Most likely, you’ll walk into each class everyday without a clue as to what’s going on-what a rush! There’s nothing like having to think on your feet or learn 6th grade science vocabulary on the spot. Honestly, this makes teaching really exciting for me because it’s so spontaneous. You get to feed off of what the kids like/don’t like, plus your lead teacher is running the show, so you’re not the sole person responsible for feeding their young minds with knowledge.

2. Try (and fail) to make activities

Where the learning happens

What I love about the teachers I work with is that they let me be hands on. I’m constantly helping with pronunciation, correcting homework and running lessons. My favorite part is helping come up with interactive activities. So far I’ve played “restaurant” with the kids to help them with conversation & vocabulary, created competitive review games and done Halloween charades. You’re definitely on a teaching high when you see that your kiddos are excited about the activities you came up with.

But sometimes your ideas fail: To help the kids learn about the digestive system, I tried putting them in groups and had them draw pictures to make connections between the information and visuals. All good in theory, but the kids were extremely distracted working with friends and just ended up copying images from the books instead of using their imagination.  Total fail-but a great lesson for me. Now I know what activities to stay away from for that class.

3. Get to know the kids

I try to have side conversations with the kids before and after class so there’s more of a personal connection between us. This helps me get to know their personalities and to give them extra practice with their English in a more casual way.

4. Have a sense of humor

Kids are crazy, whether you’re in the U.S. or Spain, it’s a fact. As an English Assistant, you only have to work 3-4 hours a day (go you!), so don’t let those tough days get you down. Try to turn the mood around and do what you can to keep most of the class on track. Most likely, your lead teacher will be just as overwhelmed as you are, so spreading some positive vibes could be a huge help to her.

Since being an English Assistant is fun, have fun with the job! This is your time to give them a break from boring grammar lessons and show them a different side to American culture. Cracking jokes and creating a fun (but respectful) teaching environment will keep the kids engaged and excited to learn from you.

Un saludo,



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