“Chicos, hay que colorear bien,” groused the English teacher as she corrected workbooks and tried to wave off Elsa, who was always hovering around her desk like an extremely hyperactive bee. La profe had just finished reprimanding Andrés, who had dared to color a door pink.
“Doors can’t be pink! Think about it, Andrés! Seriously, what color are doors?” she had asked him, as the little boy with the bowl cut and wide brown eyes stared shamefaced at the floor. Andrés, along with his equally adorable best friend, Kike, was the star of the class—he never spelled “thirteen” as “threeteen” or told me “I have six years old.” But today he had dared to color a door pink!
While I don’t think Spanish schools are bad, they aren’t perfect, just like the school I worked at in the US. There are a lot of good things about Spanish schools, including the generally decent cafeteria meals and the fact that the children begin studying English at three years old. But one thing I could not get past was the idea of creativity—or rather lack thereof.
For one, their notebooks had to be perfect. The children often had to skip the exact amount of lines and indent exactly the same way. If they failed to do this, there would be hell to pay from the teacher, who in turn was being judged by some stern person or entity I never had the chance to meet (not that I cared to). Copying from the board was a daily activity, and a common punishment was copying the numbers or days of the week or months in English.
Rote memorization! The best way to learn a language?
Coloring well was essential. Let’s have none of that creativity stuff here. Doors must be door-colored; that is to say, white or brown. Not pink. Likewise, cows can’t be red and Mom can’t have pink hair, unless she actually has pink hair in real life—in that case, have at it. The children would often ask me, “Kaley, ¿de qué color es ___________?” I sometimes wanted to respond that they could color that flower or bus whatever color they liked, but I was worried about getting them into trouble, so I’d tell them that the flower was red or the bus was blue. Every once in a while, I’d feel unsure and panicky about it, because the last thing I wanted to do was cause a teacher to shout at a child. (Which—let’s not even get into the fact that shouting often and loudly was a daily happening at the school.) So me—yes, me, adult me—would have to ask the teacher to make sure that the child could color the rose yellow. This question could elicit questioning stares and slow, measured responses as though I were the world’s biggest imbecile.
No Circle Time?
Children as young as five (those who are no longer in preschool, educación infantil) are set up with desks as though they were already old enough to sit still for long periods of time. As you can imagine, this causes problems and lots of nervous fidgeting. Carpet circles and in-classroom libraries and play areas did not exist for these children, who had to make do with sparse decorations and hooks to hang their jackets. Story time, where everyone gathers in a semicircle at the teacher’s feet, staring up adoringly at the teacher? Not really, although I must confess I was not privy to their equivalent of English lessons (called lengua in Spanish, meaning the Spanish language).
I also learned that I loved the little ones, with names like Lucía and David and Carlota. I often felt sad that I was officially forbidden from speaking to them in Spanish, as they were only six years old, and what could they understand? Little else besides their name, age, colors, and numbers. So our bond wasn’t as strong as it could have been in Spanish, though we managed to get by with a few drawings passed to me with lots of hearts and stars, and the children telling me daily, “Kaley, estás muy guapa hoy,” “Kaley, you look very pretty today” while squeezing my waist. What person can’t be won over by that?
Related: Check out Erik’s post about his daughter and her experience in educación infantil (preschool) in the north of Spain.