El fruto no cae lejos del árbol.
– Spanish proverb
It must be awkward to be the only black girl in class. Doubly awkward if the only other black person in the entire school is your older sister. I teach them both and they both hate me (one more than the other). As an outsider myself, I sympathize and want to support these girls no matter their disrespect and rudeness. After all, it’s not ME they are mad at. The anger is funneled to hit the kindest ear – it’s a safe bet I won’t react with a billowing scream or drag them out of class by the arm. To them I am soft. Before the Classroom Management Regime began I was a bit too nice and not as tough as a teacher. They had no cause to respect me before I put my foot down.
Now that CMB is in full effect, the two black girls are testing my patience, and part of me loves that they are strong-willed and fiercely intelligent, but as an authority figure whose job depends on classroom cooperation, I am having a hard time maintaining sympathy. One day, the youngest girl punched me in the stomach. My reaction was a flat quip, “seriously?” Yet later that day, as I helped the little kids down the stairs, she nearly fell down the steps hugging me, clinging to me for dear life, nearly knocking us both down in the steps process. The other day she refused to let me zip up her coat and ran away screaming and crying that she didn’t want me near her. Only minutes before she was seated properly and quietly in my class. I try not to play favorites (of course I have a few that like more than others) and be fair to everyone, so when this happens, I have to believe it’s coming from the home and not me. I’ve been nothing but kind, firm of course, but kind. I treat her like any student.
I feel like a fool for even caring in the first place. Perhaps that was my first mistake thinking that my sympathy and kindness was enough to make them behave better. The worst part is that she has corrupted another student, a shy sensitive girl, into acting out. It’s all for attention, I know, but it really angers me. So much so that I think I hate her. I hate a 4-year-old with obvious emotional issues. Hate is a strong word, but it’s true, and the word dislike doesn’t begin to cover it. I cannot stand this child and with each passing day I believe its mutual.
There will be no resolution for me. We can’t just talk it out. I asked her once if we could be friends, just so she would stop acting like such a turd all the time, and she refused and slapped my hand away. Maybe my hate is obvious now. Perhaps she has caught on to my distain. I’ve worked with people I have hated before and I can do it again, although, I wouldn’t have thought such a young person could be the root of my daily headache. What if my child acted this way towards another person or myself? I can almost feel my ovaries shutdown at the mere thought.
“Both in my private and public spheres, my experience is that people here [in Spain] do their jobs, but I come across a lot of people who are very anxious to find a position for life, they’re obsessed with security.” – Margareta Hauschild, from the article “Spain – A great place to live, a terrible place to work?”
I have three weeks left of my second trimester as an assistant teacher. March is right around the corner, as are, visits from an old friend and a dream Spring Break (Semana Santa) in Roma and Bologna, Italia. This month is going to fly by and I simply cannot wait for the time lapse to begin, busy, but in the best way possible.
You see everyday is exactly the same: rainy, cold, and annoying. I know, I live in Spain in my own flat and have two jobs – I am extremely lucky. I’m halfway done with a postgraduate degree. I write a bit and have a lot of ideas for fiction. I relish the quietness of my all-too-cold flat. I found books in English. I’m alone a lot, sure, yet I am going out more and more. My homesickness is gone and I miss things less. My cheer levels are fairly high given the annoyance and humidity of being a teacher in La Coruna.
First off, most of the upper primary teachers continue to ignore me. I had dinner with the other English teachers once. Beyond that, I don’t spend any time with staff outside of school. During break they talk over me or around me in rapid fire Spanish. I only catch a word or two. Oddly enough, the only time someone translates for me is when I understand the conversation because it’s at a normal speaking rate. This leads me to think that I am not welcome and thusly, I stopped sitting with them and sit with the kids who choose to do their homework instead of kicking around a football with the other kids. The infant and lower primary teachers have started to get my humor and we have some real laughs. I chalk it up to the fact that I spend more time with the infant and lower primary classes than upper primary.
Secondly, I learned that there is no Spanish word for accountability and I can see why. No one actually takes any responsibility for anything. I’ve never heard someone apologize or admit fault especially when it comes to the lack of training I’ve had in regards to my after-school English classes. I had two parents complaint about my lessons: that they are too easy and too many videos. No one is monitoring me, helping me, or has asked me how my Monday and Wednesday nights are. No one told the director. It was just passed down until it got to me. I defended myself and made the proper adjustments. So far so good. Although, I wonder why no one involved the director. If it was serious, wouldn’t he be involved and this whole matter would be documented? My thought is that the blame would fall to those who are supposed to assist me if it went to the boss and since there is paranoia about job security, it makes sense that the blame would be shifted to the novice. (Most of the staff have been there for most of their adult lives – I’ve seen the photos and they are hilarious.) Of course, the complaints stayed quiet and I was made to feel like a lazy teacher. The sad part is that it took me awhile to stop believing it.
Thirdly, I lie to myself. Well, I lied to myself for a long time. I only realized this a few days ago: I am not as nice as I think I am. From a young age I’ve worked very hard at appearing a certain way to others instead of just being a real person. The real me was a sensitive, open, loving creature who wanted everyone to like her and that’s just not possible. I was bullied for being too hairy, too smiley, too quiet, too smart. You name it. I was punished for being simply myself. That’s when I created this image of niceness, covered my arms and legs, and forced myself to only raise my hand once per class. I was controlling and managing my true self from a very young age – no wonder it took so long for it to dawn on me! After all the breakthroughs with therapy and struggles with depression, I learn the hardest lesson of all: I am not nice. I feign niceness for social ease and to avoid conflict. This is not so strange as American culture dictates a certain decorum. However, in Spain, niceness is not the norm, indifference is. Surrounded by so much naked disregard and aloofness, the façade slips and I feel myself caring less about what other people think. Not altogether but in bits here and there.
Generally, the best part of my life in Spain is when I leave the school or academy. Being here but really not here. If the old adage is true, that, “if your life is four walls, it will always be four walls, no matter where you go” – then, I am fucked. Meaning no matter where I go I am faced with same issues and no amount of social interaction or enviable vacations are going to fix it. Maybe I’m not cut out for this life. The thought of going home is starting to look like a good idea again.