Education appreciation: how teaching in Spain has helped me see educators in a new light

If you had told my sixteen-year-old self that someday I’d be working with middle school and high school students I would have laughed in your face. Teaching was the last thing I wanted to do, mostly because I wanted nothing to do with school.

In addition, despite some of the amazing educators that I’d had, I did not see teaching in a positive light. After all, there was the overly quoted phrase echoing in the back of my mind – those who can’t do teach – that had already poisoned me with a negative view of the profession.

Oh, how times have changed. My current job – working as an assistant English teacher with middle and high school students in Spain – is something I never thought I’d do. Mind you that back then I wasn’t the biggest fan of Spanish class either, and now I can call myself fluent. So yeah, life has a way of surprising us.

I’m not sure I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life, but my short stint has helped me gain a newfound passion for education as well as a better understanding of the pressure placed on teachers and students. It’s also made one thing abundantly clear – that teaching is by no means an “easy” job. 

Teaching is a profession that asks a lot of individuals. It’s often a thankless job, and at least in the United States, it is not held to high regard, although based on all that previous information, it really should be.

Yet, our society continues to incriminate the educational system for all the world’s problems – no wonder teacher burnout is becoming increasingly common and recently made the cover of TIME. Teachers are expected to not only to teach the material, but to act as psychologists, parental figures, and entertainers as well. As we’ve seen time and again, especially over the past year in the United States, many teachers will put their own lives on the line to protect their students. Let’s also take into account that fact that educational reform is often mandated by individuals who have never stepped foot in a classroom.

In the United States, your job is not necessarily guaranteed. Teaching, in a way, is seen as a sacrifice, but you still have to earn the right to make that sacrifice. Nobody I know who has gone into teaching does it for the money or job security. Their reasons for entering the profession rest on their passion for educating the next generation or sharing or a subject that they are passionate about. In fact, many people I know who’ve become teachers are those who struggled during their own school years and hope to improve the experience for the next crop of students.

In Spain, on the other hand, teaching is seen as a secure profession. If you are able to take and pass the oposiciones exam (which is a lot easier said than done – the number of places each year seems to be arbitrarily allocated but that’s another debate entirely) you are essentially guaranteed a spot in the public school system for the rest of your career. Generally, I find that teaching is seen as a respectable profession here. However, there is a downside –  this can be the death of innovation in education. If teachers, or professionals in any industry for that matter, feel so secure in their job, they are less likely to feel motivated and strive for higher standards (A note to any Spanish readers – call me out if I’m wrong, please!)

Both systems have their faults and failings, but one thing I’ve realized from my time in Spain is how much the United States undervalues our teachers. Until now, I counted myself in that category. Perhaps working in schools has made me more in tune to issues in education, but one thing that’s for sure is that teachers deserve a lot more respect.

Like any profession, there are rules and restrictions and we cannot expect teachers to change a flawed system. However, let’s just think about how many go above and beyond for their students. I was one of those kids who was mathematically challenged and remember staying after on multiple occasions to do practice problem sets with my teachers. I don’t think I would be capable of ever displaying the amount of patience they exercised with me.

It slightly boggles my mind that it took moving to another country and working in another education system to start to see our own in a new light and to start viewing teachers as human beings with strengths, weaknesses, and lives outside of work; individuals who like anyone else might actually have limits to their patience. Was I really that blindsided?

Thanks to all the teachers out there for doing what you do. As one formerly apathetic high school student, I can tell you that your work does not go unnoticed.

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