Teaching in an Instituto (High School) vs. a Colegio (Elementary School)

GIF Version.

Having worked in two institutos and two colegios here in Spain, I feel very qualified to write this post. When you work in a colegio, you are godlike. The kids may draw pictures of you, write you love notes, bring you presents, pick flowers for you out on the playground … you get the picture. When you work in an instituto, not so much. You are most likely seen as a welcome distraction from the day-to-day monotony of regular English class. But it’s also possible they think you’re, like, totally lame. (You got me.)

So what’s the difference, anyway?

When you want to play a game

Colegio (Elementary):

Excited Kids

Instituto (High School):

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Mis Impresiones de una High School

One of the things I was looking forward to doing when my in-laws visited was taking my father-in-law to my old stomping grounds—my former high school. It was inaugurated in 1992, and it has the second-largest swimming pool in the state (!), so—I’ll admit it—I thought he might be impressed. As a former high-school teacher himself, he found everything interesting and remarkable (as in, something upon which to remark).

Afterwards I asked him if he would write up his impressions of the visit. He sent me back a very professional-looking document. If I were a teacher, I’d give him an A+, or in Spain’s system, a matrícula de honor. First I’m going to let you read what he wrote in Spanish (if you can), and then I’ll translate it at the end.

Graduation Crawfordsville High School

Graduating from my high school

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My Students Are Nuts

Nuts

No, not that kind.

Examples:

  • I am in class with a group of primeros de bachillerato, a.k.a. high school juniors. “Finland is a country in Northern Europe…” I say, blathering on about some point that my co-teacher, José María, would like me to cover. A bewildered student raises her hand, twisting her blond hair around her finger. “Teacher,” she says in heavily accented English, “no entiendo. ¿Qué es eso de IZUH?” (Translation: “Teacher, I don’t understand. What does ‘izuh’ mean?”) I stare blankly at her for a second, not understanding. Finally, a light bulb clicks on in my brain. “Izuh, ohhhh, izuh,” I say. “Is…you know, the third person form of ‘to be.’ A, you know, ‘un’. Right?” She stares at me. Izuh = is a, girl friend.
  • I am with a group of segundos de la ESO, a.k.a. 8th graders. They don’t understand much, but simple stuff? Yeah, they got that. “The weather today is…” I prompt, hoping they respond. They don’t. “Hot?” They stare at me like I’m speaking in Mandarin Chinese. “Hot?!” I repeat. Surely they know “hot.” Surely…My co-teacher, Arturo, interrupts impatiently. “Hhhhhhhhhhot!” he practically shouts at them. Then I hear the sudden “ohhhhs” of twenty 13 year-olds who finally get it. I just had to say with an accent. Oh okay.
  • I ask the 17 year-olds what they think of the Spanish school system – if it works well, poorly, etc. They say it’s fine. One students spouts off, “It’s way better than the U.S. one!” (In Spanish, naturally. He doesn’t have the vocabulary to say this in English.) I ask him if he’s ever been to the U.S., seen a real live classroom. Nope. Of course not. It’s way more fun to watch sitcoms and assume that all the cheerleaders are pretty, skinny snobs and the football players are dumb jocks and television is real.
  • I ask my 14 year-olds for their favorite Spanish dishes. One says excitedly, “Espaguetis!” which is, you know, Italian. When I mention this fact, the boy could not look more crestfallen.
  • I wear my hair up one day. (We all have bad hair days, don’t we?) A 12 year-old student with hair like Justin Beiber tells me, “You looked better before…” Thanks, dude!

They’re not horrible; don’t get me wrong. There are gems and I love them to pieces. But the funny ones are, well, funnier.