Catching up with Lynnette for our second interview was not like any of my other interviews so far. When Lynnette and I initially met at my CIEE orientation in August of 2016, as mentioned in my first interview with her, she was someone I had to meet. When she spoke, people listened. I realized what my immediate desire to speak with her was for: it was a connection. I am sure many others felt this same sense of connection with her over the course of our orientation because of the candor of her character. She is authentic and she wants people to know her story.
Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” – Farrah Gray
As we look back at Lynnette’s time here in Madrid, we see that her first year of personal growth teaching abroad was a “honeymoon period.” She was in “survival mode” during her second year and from what she explains, an uphill battle for her third year.
What stood out the most about Lynnette after our first interview was her reason for being in Spain. She said she finds joy in helping others. Lynnette continues to thrive on her quest to do just that, but one variable in the equation has changed. She is working to help herself in life so she is better equipped to help others. When I spoke with her and we discussed these last few months, she said, “you can write all this – all of this. I want my story to be real.”
Meet Lynnette, the authentic veteran:
What is a typical day at your school like?
“It takes me about 40 minutes to get to school by train. I usually go over the day and see what materials I need to bring with me for the first two hours of class. When co-teaching, I am in charge of the daily routine which is usually at the beginning of class.
In first grade classes, I’m working on jolly phonics and different games to review their vocabulary. If I have infantil, what we know as preschool, most of our routines take the form of musical play. They are usually my most unpredictable classes but the most fun because the children are learning a little bit of everything and they are more creative.
Second grade classes have a daily routine that is usually more physically interactive. I usually create activities where they have to move around and work in groups. Then I have “coffee break time” which is very important if you are working in a Spanish school. It is a social half-hour for teachers. After the break I usually prepare the rest of my classes. By lunchtime I have all my lessons prepared for the next day. I am currently pursuing my master’s degree, so during my lunchtime I work on my curriculum design for my class or any homework I may have.”
How many people do you work with (auxiliars included) and how many classes do you teach?
“I co-teach with seven other teachers and two other auxiliares. Each auxiliar is in charge of a particular grade level. I have infantil which consists of four- and five-year-olds. In primary I have all of the first and second grade levels. In secondary, I teach 4th ESO which is the equivalent of sophomores in high school.”
What is communication like in and outside of school?
“Communication in the school is something that I have to make more of an effort with. I work in a cooperative school, meaning the teachers are on an equal playing field with administrators. This requires a great deal of communication. Outside of school I only socialize with one of the teachers, partly because it is her first year and we have the same teaching methodology.”
Are you forming working relationships with coworkers (auxiliares and teachers)?
“Yes, I am and always have. I think this is the reason I have stayed in Madrid for almost three years. Creating relationships is essential in any job. It also makes the working environment pleasant because you work hard towards common goals you share with your colleagues.”
Are you forming bonds with students?
“I think it’s important and essential to form bonds with your students mainly because students don’t learn well from people they don’t like. Therefore, you have to be sure that if you want to work with children you are able to deal with the responsibility.”
Does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships inside and outside of the classroom?
“I believe the school tries to work with auxiliares in a professional manner. Furthermore, being in a cooperative school means everyone has their own schedule and time is very limited. So the best time to foster those relationships between your co-teachers is coffee break time.”
What is your favorite part of the day?
“My favorite part of my day is working with my two more challenging classes, and they are complete opposites. First, my five-year-olds in infantil because they are unpredictable and learn so fast. Second, my 4th ESO class (15-year-olds) because they keep me young and I learn from them. These 15-year-olds are in that stage of life where they just want to be heard.”
How is material being taught to students?
“I had two weeks of observation at my school. I went to classes on my current schedule and observed the teachers, figuring out how I would best work with each of them. I was proactive and asked them what they see my role being in their class. I have been lucky to be with teachers who believe in cooperative learning. However, as auxiliares, you have to be very perceptive, understanding that some teachers just teach from the book. There are two reasons for that. One is the mandated law that the teachers finish the books. Secondly, you have to understand Spain’s history. Spain was under a dictatorship for 40 years. The educational system that was in place at the time was meant to teach basic necessities like sewing classes for women and the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Thinking outside the box was definitely frowned upon. The teaching style in that time was very teacher-centered.”
How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?
“I am a planner by nature so even on my first day I arrived at school with an animated video and an icebreaker game. For my weekly plan I usually try to organize my different grade levels and plan one grammar game or phonics exercise. I always work on ready activities like popcorn reading. Each week I introduce the new subject and by the end of the week I am doing either a summative or formative assessment.”
Do you work at a bilingual school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the Community of Madrid?
“I work in a school that is certified bilingual according to the Community of Madrid. However, I have to say there is a very interesting thing that my school does in order to not have a disparity caused by learning the natural science materials in English: they also teach a natural science workshop class in Spanish.”
What standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?
“That really varies by teacher. Some of the teachers use summative assessment meaning they have an exam and they give a grade. Some of the younger teachers use formative assessment, which is more informal. It really depends on the teacher.”
Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?
“The school was established in 1985 so they do have a clear vision and I feel very spoiled with my school. The teachers meet every week to see if they are sticking to the curriculum. The policy is that each grade level is supposed to cover the same material at the same time and that both teachers must take the exam on the same week.”
“Looking back at our first Teach Abroad series interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain both in the classroom and outside of it?
“I have learned that personal development is never-ending. Specifically, I was recently diagnosed with stress anxiety disorder brought on by the number of changes I have gone through in the past two-and-a-half years. However, despite my issues, I still would not want to be anywhere other than Madrid. I feel that I am learning a lot about myself and the culture around me.
Working through the more challenging facets of personal growth I feel that, despite everything, I have adapted well. As part of this process I am learning to respect and retain my authentic self while allowing for growth and development.”
What are your new goals, and/or modifications to previous goals, for 2017?
“My goal is to finish my Master’s in International Education. In a couple of years I can see myself helping and consulting people to be better teachers and students of English as a Foreign Language. I would like to provide seminars on how to guide students through learning as well as helping EFL teachers adapt to their new home.”
While speaking with Lynnette I realized that some of her initial goals are changing and Lynnette is, too.
I followed up with Lynnette about her concerns for possibly losing, or somehow altering her authentic self. She shared that she has realized that self growth is going to happen and she welcomes it, but the pace of the process has caused her “stress related anxiety” about which she spoke. Growth, while always positive, is not always painless.
Personal Growth Teaching Abroad
In the end, Lynnette has been using this third year to hone her teaching craft. She realized that she had ‘skated’ through her first two years, leading her into the harsh awakening she experienced at the beginning of her third year. For many of us, it’s often that we cannot see what is actually happening until our body lets us know. This was the case for Lynnette. Lynnette’s autopilot burned out and she needed to resupply herself with the mental resources needed to live abroad. The transition happened and for Lynnette, like most humans, she was trying to survive and adapt while simultaneously trying to hold on to who she was two years ago back in the U.S.
Lynnette’ personal growth has come a very long way in three years teaching abroad. She is enjoying both her Master’s degree work and the work at her new school. She says her new school has embraced her and given her the responsibilities of a teacher. With the responsibility, Lynnette has been able to focus on her own methodology while using what she is learning with her masters.
While some of Lynnette’s goals have changed since our first discussion, what’s been most eye-opening for me is the transformation of a young woman finding her way abroad in a new professional environment. Since the first time I met her at orientation, up until now, I would compare Lynnette to a caterpillar that is just about to break free from her cocoon to become a butterfly. She is well on her way to personal growth teaching abroad and her new dream aboard.