“Did you make a happy end?”
“A happy what?” I was jolted out of my reverie by an older gentleman standing next to my table in a cafe, smiling inquisitively at me. My thoughts were a million miles away and it took me a moment to register that this man was speaking to me in English.
“A happy end. Ending,” he insisted in his thick Spanish accent, while gesturing to the notebook in my hand. I had just closed the book after scribbling frantically in it for the last hour, and my ‘crazy-writer’ tendencies hadn’t gone unnoticed by the man at the table next to mine.
“Ohhh,” I said, suddenly understanding what he meant. I smiled. “Yes, I did. Gracias!”
“Good, good,” he said, winking at me before returning to his coffee.
While the man was plainly joking with me, his question was more profound than he could have imagined. I had been writing about my stay in Valladolid over the past three months. I hadn’t quite finished, however—the end was blank. Would I write a happy ending? The choice was up to me.
Thinking back over my time in Valladolid, sometimes life hasn’t been easy. To be as transparent as I can, I’ve had a tough time with the language, the culture, my host family, and yes— even with my teaching responsibilities at the International Immersion Institute.
I remember my first two weeks of sitting in on classes and being shocked at the way the children acted; I thought discipline was impossible. The English classes at the academy were the equivalent to extra-curricular activities for the children and teens, so the teachers worked hard to keep the classes fun and engaging—all while maintaining order and control in the classroom. I was awed at the teachers’ competency in areas where I horribly lacked.
I was physically present in these classes, but I could have been invisible for all the help I was able to offer. The students delicately regarded me, with my blond hair and soft voice, almost as though I were another entity from a distant land. (Which in a way, I was!) My gentle admonishments had little effect over a lively group of teenage boys, for example.
Occasionally a teacher would hand me a part of the lesson plan to do with the kids, and I’d freeze. I felt incapable compared to the teachers, and my confidence level began to drop when things didn’t go as planned. If the man in the coffee shop had asked me about a “happy ending” in the middle of my time in Valladolid, I might have answered differently than I did.
So when I was asked to give a one-on-one tutoring class to a woman, my heart stopped for a moment. What would I do?? Well, I knew that the woman always enjoyed a lively debate about politics, so I created an English lesson on Donald Trump. It went well beyond what I’d even hoped. From that point, I discovered that I enjoyed being at the front of the classroom. It gave me a feeling of freedom— of authority—that I had never experienced before.
The next week I gained confidence in my abilities with the teen classes, initiating the vocabulary and verb activities. I learned valuable life skills from teaching—such as talking slowly and understandably and using concise language. In the infantile groups, I began to do the entire “routine” (colours, numbers, shapes) and games. I loved it. I got to know each child, and it was rewarding to see progress from week to week; they learn so quickly!
By this point my time was flying by, and for one of the internship requirements I had to create a lesson on my own (on a topic specific of my expertise) and teach it to all the classes. My topic was on the Amish—and the Spaniards loved it.
In the last week of classes however, my biggest challenge yet was presented to me: teach a full-length class to a teenage group— without a teacher present. Admittedly, I was concerned. Being the closest to their age, I had the most challenging time maintaining order in a teen classroom—even when a teacher was present. It was almost as though being a disciplinarian could not work in such a setting.
So instead, I became a friend. I got on the students’ level, and for the first time that trimester, I felt like I had their respect. We learned a lot, had lively discussions, and played a game that may-or-may-not have involved balloons, razors, and shaving cream. The students left, telling the secretary that it was the best class they’d ever had!
These three months in Valladolid have been some of the most challenging, turbulent times of my life—but also some of the best. I have discovered so much about the myself, others, and this crazy world we live in. I’ve had valuable experiences that I’ll never forget. I learned how to teach—and was taught how to learn.