Doors Can’t Be Pink and Other Lessons Learned in a Spanish Elementary School

Pink Door

Source: Ian Storey Decorator

Color Well

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.

Elementary School US

Source: woodleywonderworks

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.

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4 comments

  1. My school definitely had a fair amount of teachers yelling/shouting at students — that was an adjustment. We had circle time for the youngest kids (ages 3-5), but they all also had desks.

  2. Oh, Oh, Oh…I should not have read this first thing in the morning, especially after having worked at a Spanish bilingual school where the parents PAID to have class in English but the school was so ill-equipped to actually teach them. I had MAJOR issues with the way I was expected to teach – who the hell gives an English class where the kids are told they must be silent?! Who the hell is told to never speak Spanish in class and then is required to give Religion in Spanish to the same kids? I watched PRESCHOOL teachers freak out when their students weren’t ready for exams, so they were told to do extra work while the others played with plasticine and the teacher erased their answers time and time again. I was the rebel teacher who taught values in Spanish (sorry, I think it’s important), had my kids doing dialogues in first grade and didn’t listen when I was told to speak in British English to the kids (I had half a mind to order our Kids Box books in the American English version – que vivan PANTS and SNEAKERS!).

    And guess who has parents call and say their kids aren’t learning as much? Not to toot my own horn, but I think the Waldorf method (a bit on the extreme side of American schools) has children learning to be independent and solve problems much earlier. I am nervous to send our kids to a Spanish school, having barely tolerated it myself!

    I feel better now. And happy with my decision to leave.

    1. Rant away!

      Mario keeps saying he doesn’t want our kids in Spanish schools, because they are forced to take English classes even as native speakers! What a waste of time, when they could be learning German or some other useful language.

      I can see why you’d want to leave!

  3. I was very, very lucky to have worked with a very forward minded team in Infantil, 1st and 2nd grado. I guess they were the rebels. :) They believed the language should be lived and not something to memorize and be drilled. They pretty much used a lot of the Montessori method which really fostered creativity not just in English but in all subjects. I totally agree an overhaul is much needed. I can’t imagine having to have learned the way they are expected to..ughh!

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