It’s a wrap: here’s what I learned from teaching English to Spanish babies

The image I had dreamed up of living and teaching in Spain for a year did not include screaming babies, dirty diapers, and snot.

But, in the end, that’s what I got, and like I tell the kids, you get what you get, and you don’t get upset. Although, for the record, I did get upset a few times. Unless you’re an absolute saint, spending the majority of your time with a gaggle of eleven two year olds will drive you to the point of tears.

While some days I lamented over how I was “wasting my time” – I was barely even teaching, and half the time I was bored or frustrated out of my mind – my students (if you can call a two year old a “student”) are pretty cute little cherubs, and I’ll probably miss them when I’m with groups of hard to please secondary kids next year.

In hindsight, it wasn’t all bad, so before I leave nursery rhymes and dried up play-doh behind, I want to close this chapter by sharing some things I’ve learned from my year working in a Spanish preschool.

And I ain’t even a real teacher…

1. Appreciate the little things: I wish I could get as pumped about finding a pine cone or bug as the kids do during their playtime, but I’m a bit too jaded for that. What I can do is appreciate all the small things that often go unnoticed amidst the daily grind.

2. Let it go: That kids mentioned previously who were eating toilet paper? No pasa nada. They’ll survive. So will the ones who were playing in the toilet water, after I douse them with hand sanitizer of course. Spending so much time with the little monsters has shown me in a quite literal way that I can only control situations so much until they are completely out of my hands.

3. Any progress is good progress: Trying to teach little kids English can be like watching grass grow, but when they finally get something, or at least are able to greet me with a ‘hello’ or sing a song, it’s near magical. In my own way I am a little kid when it comes to trying to speak another language and navigate the real world. Just like I can’t expect two year olds to be fluent in English, I can’t expect myself to have it all figured out. In the end, it’s all about celebrating the small wins. Be patient!

4. Forgiveness: Little ones essentially have the attention span of a fly, so maybe that’s why this one comes easily to them. I’m not sure if seeing them go from crying and hitting their classmate one minute to hugging it out the next demonstrates their ability to forget or their inability to remember what happened a few minutes ago, but it’s something adults could do well to follow. It’s shown me that it’s okay to have emotions, give yourself time to process, then move on. Holding a grudge just isn’t worth it.

5. Being a parent has gotta be really hard  Thanks mom and dad, and all the parents out there. Not sure how you do it.

Am I glad this school year is over? I’d be lying if I didn’t say yes, but I’m glad I had this experience and came to realize that a big part of teaching involves learning from your students, no matter their age.

Some inspirational quotes that I think sound a lot better in Spanish – “Teaching demands knowing how to listen” (L) and “The best assignments are those with the shortest instructions” or something like that


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