Signing Off/Thank You

Friends, since I’ve basically detailed everything I know about the program, I’m not sure I’ll be posting anything else to this blog. I’ve submitted my testimonial to the program coordinator and my degree is finally recognized. I’d like to thank everyone for reading it and posting questions/comments. I started this blog because there wasn’t really any info out there and I’d hoped to help a few people make decisions and accomplish the mountain of tasks it takes to actually begin, never mind finish, this master’s program.

As of today, the blog has received 3,092 hits from about 900 individual visitors in 25 countries, including some country called the “European Union.”

I will be keeping the blog active and will respond to any question that may come up in the years to come. I wish next year’s crop success and, as always, if you’ve got any questions, just let me know. Signing off…

-Brandon Gatlin, Master’s in Bilingual and Multicultural Education

Getting Transcripts From Alcalá

*UPDATE from 5/17/2015 AT BOTTOM:

This may be my final post in this blog, as I have run the gamut of the program. (At least I think so). The final giant ordeal of this program is getting transcripts from the university to an employer, university or yourself.

First off, as you probably know, you’ll need your transcripts to continue your education in another master’s program, a Ph.D program or to prove you’ve got the degree for employment purposes. If you want to continue your education, even for another master’s, you’ll need to prove which classes you’ve taken. If we’d gone to a local university, this would be easy. I can actually order transcripts from Auburn in 5 minutes and get text message updates as they’re delivered. This will not be the case with Alcalá. It’s mid February and I’ve been working on this (and not getting paid for my master’s degree since August). Here you can learn from my mistakes.

HOW TO ORDER: Before even ordering the transcripts, you’ll need a clear idea what you need them for and to whom they should go. I’ll reference my own person case to keep this out of the abstract. These transcripts will be from a foreign university and will be written in Spanish. For that reason, they’ll need to be evaluated by a third party organization. I didn’t need mine to be separately translated, and neither did my friend who has fully completed the process.

There are a few organizations that will evaluated foreign transcripts and I received a big list of them from my employer (a school district).

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I opted for World Education Services because that’s what my friend used. (I’m open to sponsorship and advertising BTW). The big picture process is that the transcripts must be ordered by you and sent from Alcalá to WES. WES will evaluate them and decide if they’re kosher. In any case, they will send their evaluation to the person/organization that you chose when you paid on WES’s website.

STEP 1: Go to the WES website. Register. Here’s when it starts getting weird. WES has a lot of options for you depending on what you need. They’ll certify a lot of things. What you’ll probably want/need is what I got – a course by course evaluation of your transcripts. This is the most expensive option but it’s worth it. I may change my mind on going back to school one day and, if I do, I’ll want some of these classes to count towards my new degree. But more than that, with this option, they’ll keep your evaluation on file forever, and you can just order it to be sent to someone in the future whenever you need it.

If this is what you want/need (in lieu of the slightly cheaper option which is a one-time only deal), the name of what you’re looking for is called WES ICAP. The “I” stands for international.

Here are some screen shots to help you navigate:

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The page where you choose has the options laid out like a matrix. You just click on the bubble of the thing you want and you can see what comes with that particular package. Since my order is still processing I can’t view it without making a new fake account. After I complete this process I’ll try and put some up, along with any other new info.

After you complete this process, which cost me $297 dollars, you’ll need to actually order your transcripts from Alcalá. The fee included the evaluation, a copy sent to me, and a sealed copy of the evaluation sent to the Alabama State Department of Education. You’ll need the address of where the evaluation is going during the ordering process. It took me a while to find the ALSDE address for this type of thing and the WES website wasn’t any help. It’s got a catalog of recipients, but mine wasn’t in it.

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Once you’re done ordering from WES, you can check the progress of your order on their website. Things like: if they’ve received your required documents, the status of shipping the evaluations, etc.

ORDERING FROM ALCALÁ: I’m an expert at this; I had to do it twice. The first time, I didn’t know I had to have the transcripts evaluated so I just spend 5 months trying to get them sent to me. The first hurdle is the Spanish calendar. The university is shut down in August, when you need the things, so you have to wait until September just to request them. When you graduated the director will send you and email detailing what to do exactly, but I’ll include everything here. Be advised that next year things may have changed slightly so check with them.

Here is the email in text format:

“Dear Teach and Learn alumni,

To obtain your Transcripts from Universidad de Alcalá you need to request them at Estudios Propios Office (paying a fee at Universidad de Alcala). One month after the Program Graduation you can request the official transcripts.

Fill out the following form and send it by email at secalum.postgrado@uah.es:

TRANSCRIPTS REQUEST FORM:

https://portal.uah.es/portal/page/portal/posgrado/posgrados_propios/documentos/doc_5_ep.pdf

MA information needed to fill out the forms:

Academic year: 2013- 2014

  • Master in International Education, CODIGO DEL PLAN: EC99
  • Master in BILINGUAL AND MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION, CODIGO DEL PLAN: EE87
  • MÁSTER EN APRENDIZAJE Y ENSEÑANZA DE ESPAÑOL COMO LENGUA EXTRANJERA PARA EL PROGRAMA “TEACH & LEARN” CODIGO DEL PLAN: EB97

HOW TO OBTAIN TRANSCRIPTS AND/OR DIPLOMA:

  1. Send an email to secalum.postgrado@uah.esincluding the previous forms.
  2. Pay the required University fees

PAYMENT METHOD:

  • Personally at Santander Central Hispano bank with the receipt that Estudios Propios will send you by email after requesting the transcripts or diploma. After paying the fee, send a copy of the payment in pdf to secalum.postgrado@uah.esor take a copy personally to the Estudios Propios Office (Colegio de León, Calle Libreros 21, 28801, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid).
  • If you live outside of Spain you can send a wire transfer to the Universtiy bank account:

Banco Santander (BSCH)

Bank code: 0049

Branch: 6692

Address: Libreros, 19. 28801. Alcalá de Henares (Madrid)

Tel. 91 889 11 58

Account #: 2316216026

Swift: BSCHESMMXXX

IBAN: ES23 0049 6692 8023 1621 6026

BIC: BSCHESMM

Please send a copy of the payment to secalum.postgrado@uah.es or by fax to 00 34 91 8856879.

IMPORTANT: 
THE PAYMENT RECEIPT MUST INCLUDE THE COMPLETE NAME OF THE STUDENT.

To obtain the transcripts: it takes approximately 10 days after the payment has been completed.

To obtain the diploma: it takes around 3 – 6 months after the payment has been completed.

The process will last around 1 month,

Best wishes,”

BASIC OUTLINE OF TASKS: You will need to download the request form, fill it out, and email it back to the university along with a form in Spanish from WES which authorizes the university to give your transcripts to a third party. Alcalá will send you a document with a price on it (in Euros). You will need to wire them money via bank-to-bank transfer. If you’re still in Spain you can just do this is person. After the bank transfer is completed successfully, they will send the transcripts to WES. WES will evaluate them and send the evaluation to both you AND who you elected to receive them ($30 extra) in a sealed envelope. You get money or college credits.

(1) The request form – Open the document (you will receive it via email). Type in as much info as is possible. You may not be able to fit the address in unless you handwrite it in. Print it. Write in any other info you left out. Info. to include:

Your NIE #, which is located on your NIE card at the bottom left. Mine begins and ends with the letter “Y.”

Your name

The address where the transcripts are going (not necessarily yours)

Your email

Your degree with code. My code was EE87 (bilingual ed)

Academic Year (2013-2014, for ex.)

Check appropriate boxes. I checked “carta de pago” & “solicito que lo envien …”

At the bottom of the paper copy you should:

write place where you are, the date, and sign. Lastly, scan this document and email it to the Secretaria de Alumnos Postgrado. Be sure to include the spanish version of the WES form, which will release your transcripts to a third party. The WES form is called “Solicitud de Certificado de Estudios/Calificaciones.” You will only fill out the top part of that form. If you have any doubt on how to fill it out, just check out its corresponding English version.

As of 15 Feb 2015, the email address is: secalum.postgrado@uah.es

PAYMENT FOR TRANSCRIPTS: Before you pay, and after you send the two documents to Alcalá, you will receive an email from the university. It’s basically a receipt telling you how much you must pay, and by when. The price as of 15 Feb 2015 is 28.02 in Euros. All in all, I think it cost me almost $60, due to a $25 bank fee and exchange rate.

My bank does international bank to bank transfers, so this was too difficult for me. Another bank that does them (that I know of) is Bank of America, though I don’t use them. The process is just a phone call. Call your bank, tell them what you need, and for how much, and give them all the details you have about the bank account/number where the transaction is going.

Again, here are all the details you’ll need to tell your bank over the phone:

HOW TO OBTAIN TRANSCRIPTS AND/OR DIPLOMA:

  1. Send an email to secalum.postgrado@uah.esincluding the previous forms.
  2. Pay the required University fees

28.02 in euros for the transcripts &

226.70 in euros for the diploma (as of March 2015)

PAYMENT METHOD:

  • Personally at Santander Central Hispano bank with the receipt that Estudios Propios will send you by email after requesting the transcripts or diploma. After paying the fee, send a copy of the payment in pdf to secalum.postgrado@uah.esor take a copy personally to the Estudios Propios Office (Colegio de León, Calle Libreros 21, 28801, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid).
  • If you live outside of Spain you can send a wire transfer to the Universtiy bank account:

Banco Santander (BSCH)

Bank code: 0049

Branch: 6692

Address: Libreros, 19. 28801. Alcalá de Henares (Madrid)

Tel. 91 889 11 58

Account #: 2316216026

Swift: BSCHESMMXXX

IBAN: ES23 0049 6692 8023 1621 6026

BIC: BSCHESMM

Please send a copy of the payment to secalum.postgrado@uah.es or by fax to 00 34 91 8856879.

Wait.

UPDATE 3/21: It’s been over 6 weeks since I paid for the transcripts. WES hasn’t received them. (I found out through a message from them). Today, I requested the transcripts again but I’ll wait for their receipt before paying. The total amount I’ve spend trying to prove I have this master’s degree is now $520…

UPDATE 4/12: Some good news friends; Early last week WES sent me an email saying my evaluation was about to be processed. they gave me the date of Tuesday 4/14. However, it was completed early and on Thursday I logged on and viewed the eval. It rated my degree equivalency as “Master’s.” It should be on its way to the Alabama Dept. of Ed. so hopefully my paycheck will reflect the degree at the beginning of May and I’ll also receive my backpay check (right now it’s about $2100).

UPDATE: 5/17: The good news is that my degree, after several phone calls to the Alabama state department of ed, has been recognized by the state and my pay will increase – the ordeal is finally over!!! 🙂     The bad news is that I will not be receiving any back pay (2,500 at this point). The money has dissipated into the ether, so I just have to move on. The reason I was given is that the pay increase only takes effect the day the superintendent (or whoever it was) actually signs a paper recognizing my “Highest Degree Earned.” Every teacher I talked to said that they had received back pay after getting all their paperwork sorted but maybe it’s just my district, which is among the poorest in a really poor state. In any case, I just have to get over it, unless my union rep actually writes me back confirming that this is the rule.

Master’s Classes at Alcalá

Since I have no real comparison to Master’s classes at an American university, I’ll try and be as descriptive as possible so you guys know what you’re in store for. As I’ve written elsewhere, this year (at least) we go to Alcalá every Friday from 3:30 to 8:30. We have a total of 8 classes, besides the thesis which technically counts as a class as well. We take one class at a time for four sessions and then move on to the next.

Horarios Master in Bilingual and Multicultural Education

Here is a page from my schedule. You can see “thesis meeting” spliced a lot of times throughout. These are sessions for giving out info to everyone pertaining to both the Portfolio and Thesis. A couple of them were actually meetings but were, rather, time slots where you could schedule to meet with the adviser. The “online” portions are actually scheduled. You have the whole week to do whatever work you have to; it’s not limited to certain windows during the week and there are no online classes where video is streamed and you have to watch.

There are three divisions within Teach and Learn. My program, Bilingual Education, is the biggest; we have about 25 students. I think my program is the biggest because of the option to get the TEFL after the course. I actually chose Bilingual Ed for this reason but decided against doing it because I felt like there wouldn’t be enough time because of the Thesis and Portfolio. (More on that later). The other two are International Ed. and Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language. All three, from what I understand, are pretty different, but we do share a couple of classes, “English as a Global Language” for instance.

I have found the majority of the classes interesting but not as challenging you might expect from the Master’s program. One reason is that we work full time in addition to our classes. For that reason, the Master’s classes are usually pretty low on my list of stresses. I always take care of my lessons first, then I tend to get around to doing the Master’s work. I can do all the work, even though much of it is pretty time consuming, pretty easily. Because of the schedule of classes being what it is, much of the work this year has been shifted to outside of class, or so I’m told. Another thing of note is that there are no text books, per se. The teacher brings in photocopies of most things we need but there are quite a few longer texts put online for us to read.

A few classes had quite a bit of lecturing, but the majority have had tons of group and class discussion. There is usually a final project due for, or within a week of, the last session. It could be a group project/presentation or a big written assignment to be turned in on Blackboard, which is Alcalá’s online platform. There’s a good chance you used it as an undergrad or perhaps you used Canvas, or something else.In short, the Master’s classes themselves are a huge cause for concern.

There real concerns are making lessons, the Portfolio & the Thesis. I turned in the Portfolio six days ago and I still feel a high about it. It probably took about 100 hours in total. This tome is basically a combination of two things: a teacher’s portfolio, highlighting who you are and how you teach, and a reflection about the program and your placement. When it’s finished, it has to be printed and spiral-bound as well as put on a CD. In theory it’s not too difficult to do. However, we found the directions to be confounding at time. We didn’t receive a rubric on what the portfolio’s contents were until late February, when we’d been working on it since October. Instead, we had a powerpoint presentation with probably the majority of information we needed but not organized especially well. In the end, mine was 30 pages, the majority of which was written. We had initially received information that the portfolio was to be about that length, but, like many things, I’m just not too sure. I half expect to be notified soon that I’ll have to redo it just to make it longer.

And finally, Thesis. We had two options for this. We could do curriculum design OR a research project. I opted for research. There has been a lot of talk about this Master’s and whether its “legit” or “real.” All I can say is that not every Master’s in the US requires research so, when I did this, it made the Master’s real enough to me. The thesis is 50 pages minimum, which wouldn’t be all that bad except it’s not double-spaced, it’s only 1.5″. Furthermore, it’s on Spanish paper (A4) which is longer. I guesstimate that, if on American paper and double spaced, it’s actually about 70 pages, or more. You have the whole year (technically) to do it, but realistically you can’t start your research until after Christmas and ours is due 16 May (after a 3 week extension 🙂  This leaves you about four months to do the research and write the 35 or so pages. It’s doable for sure, but I’ll be spending a good portion of Semana Santa typing.

Getting An Abono Transportes (Travel Pass)

 

 

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Getting a travel pass is something the vast majority of us had to do and it can be more difficult than anticipated (like everything else). First, it’s good to know what the abono is and does. It is a travel pass that is good for the Madrid Metro, both city buses (Red in color) and longer-distance buses (Green “Interurbanos”, and cercanías, which are trains that go from one town to another (Madrid Atocha to Alcalá de Henares, for example).

0dosalsas Madrid-bus

Warning: Do not be one of the people on a Facebook group asking if your abono will take you from Madrid to Valencia because you will be cyber-bullied, partly in jest. In short, the abono is good for all public transport inside the Community of Madrid.

Next, you have to know which abono you need. The Communidad de Madrid is divided into various zones that mostly resemble circles around the city proper, with the downtown Sol area being the smallest and closest to the center, and places like Buitrago del Lozoya and Alcalá de Henares being way outside.

ZONAS

The only way to know which abono you need is to know (1) where you will definitely live, (2) where you will work/teach & (3) that Alcalá de Henares is located in Zone C1. What follows after you know these constants is a complicated mathematical formula. But, like in all my Math classes, you can guesstimate. For some people, it’s very easy. If you are going to work in Alcalá and you decide (wisely) to live in Alcalá, and the university is in Alcalá, you know to buy a C1 abono. You would also have the choice of not buying one at all and just paying the fare each way. Only you will know how much travel you will do and to where. In my case, I live in the C2 Zone, work in the C2 zone and attend university in the C1 Zone. I travel through C2 all the way down south to the center of Madrid. I then travel East all the way back out to C1 (Alcalá). I was really confused on whether I would have to pay again to go back outside of the city center on my way out to Alcalá but it’s very easy.

Your abono is good for all travel within the zone(s) listed on your abono, and closer to the city center. Mine is a C2, so I can travel from C2 all the way to A, and back again if I want. However, there are abonos for people who don’t want to travel all the way from the pueblos to the city center. If you’re elderly and you just need to visit your children in C1, there’s an abono for that. You can just buy the C1-C2.

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The prices from the graphic are current as of 8 April 2014. However, I recommend checking out the source because the prices change often.

The next important piece of info you’ll need is really easy – how old are you? I mentioned the elderly person – he/she doesn’t have to pay as much and neither do “jovenes,” or “youths.” If you’re applying to this program there’s a good chance you’ll get this discount. I’m old but it would have saved me about 38 Euros per month. To qualify as “joven” you must be under the age of 23 (5-22 years old). According to what my friends have told me, to get this abono, you have to wait a bit longer. You must go to the tobacco shop and order it, then wait for X number of days. Other than this waiting step, it’s normal.

But what is normal? Here’s the process. Getting my C2 abono took about an entire day due to conflicting information from everyone. In the end, I quit and walked back to my hotel. Fortunately, I walked in the completely wrong direction and happened to walk right by the place I needed to go. If you just need the simple A abono, I’ve heard that you can get these just about anywhere in the metro/train stations. But to get the more expensive ones, there are certain “estancos,” or tobacco shops you must visit.

I thought it would be easy. The woman at the info desk in Plaza de Castilla told me exactly where to go. I went there and they told me they don’t sell C2 abonos. I walked back and forth several times, talking to anyone who might know where to go and it all let to nowhere. Fortunately for you, here’s where to go: In the Tetuán barrio, on the corner of Calle de Bravo Murillo & Calle de Pinos Alta you’ll see a sign for “tabaco.” Here’s the place the sells the C2 abono. There are others, I’m sure, but I don’t know where they are. In order to get your abono you’ll need the money, passport (for ID), & a small photo of yourself. These photos are sometimes described as “passport photos” but it’s really difficult to get the correct size in the US. The Spanish use them for other things too, like getting your NIE card, so it’s a good idea to get about 8 or so at one time and be done. If I remember correctly, there’s a photo shop right about where I was standing when I took this picture.

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The street jutting to the right in the photo is Calle de Pinos Alta and the tobacco shop the red and yellow sign to the right of the picture.

 

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Calle de Bravo Murillo runs South-West from the Plaza de Castilla and Calle Pinos Alta shoots off to the North-West. The intersection is where the “e” is in “Google.” (lower left-hand corner)

After I filled out the long form with my passport info, the woman took my money and photo then spliced it all together. Afterwards, she gave me my first “cúpon mensual,” or monthly coupon. This “abono” thing I’ve been talking about is actually worthless. It has your abono number, name, photo & any information about the type of abono you have, such as if you’re a youth, elderly (tercera edad), and you zones, of course – but it won’t get you anywhere without the coupon.

Abono Coupon Mensual

Here is the coupon that you’ll have to buy every month. You put a vast amount of money inside a machine and get this tiny ticket that resembles the tickets you get playing skeet ball. Actually, those are worth more because you can trade them for stuffed animals. Anyway, to renew the coupon, you take your ID card out of the plastic case and slide it into the machine. The machine then tells you which abono you have and knows how much you owe. You put in the money and the machine spits out the coupon; it’s very easy and you can do it in English if you’re not comfortable in Spanish. You put the coupon in its slot over the bar code and take it out to use when necessary.

To use it, you pull out the coupon (don’t drop it!) and stick it into a ticket reader. The reader gives you a message saying you’re OK and gives it back to you. These “readers” are on every form of transport or at a central entrance point. Each bus has its own reader but in Metro stations and train stations there is the classic turnstile you’re probably already familiar with. Sometimes you have to reinsert your coupon upon exiting train stations but sometimes you don’t. I’ve never figured out the system.

Getting A Cell Phone

Getting a cellphone in Spain was supposed to be the easiest thing on the list. Nope. However, I think my case was a little unusual and, by and large, the process is rather quick and simple. Before leaving, I did my homework completely. I had AT&T unlock my iPhone 4s (for a small fee as I was almost out of contract), researched many mobile providers, and chose a SIM Card to buy along with its company. In Spain, as in the US, you have the option of a contract, but it isn’t necessary. In fact, it’s much easier (and simple) to just buy a SIM card and prepay. Perhaps after a few months you may want to sign up for a contract but I wouldn’t recommend it until you’ve had some time in the country to figure things out – no need to rush into more contracts being as you probably just got out of one in the US.

After my research, I chose a company called Tuenti (which is part of Movistar) due to their rates and good reputation on the internet. After checking-in to the hotel, I went out in search of a Movistar kiosk to buy my SIM card. Unfortunately, the first one I came to was out of them. :/ “No biggie,” I thought to myself and kept walking. I eventually found a shopping mall and quickly located another Movistar service person. Didn’t have any. At this point, I decided to just go with Movistar because the deal seemed to be about the same (1gb of data, 1k sms messages, .03 per minute calls, etc). Unfortunately, of the two remaining sim cards he had for me, none worked. Rather than wait “dos horas,” I decided to brave the elements once again and walk around randomly looking for a kiosk.

After (seemingly) doing this all day, I decided to go with the first thing I saw. Down some back alley in the Sol area, I found an Orange kiosk run by a Chinese guy. “Los Chinos,” as they are called, have a somewhat dubious reputation in Spain, in part due to their reported unlocking of mobile phones for exorbitant amounts. I always chocked it up to a bit of old-world racism (which absolutely exists here), but I’m not really sure.

Update 10 April 2014: I’ve had Orange now for 6 months and I haven’t had any major problems. The most annoying thing I’ve run into is the constant text messages from them at all hours of the night with pertinent info like my horoscope. I also had problems “topping up” (UK term for adding money to the account) in the beginning because I didn’t yet have a Spanish debit card and I live in a tiny pueblo where there aren’t many obvious places to take care of this. My roommate found a store that adds money to your “saldo” and it hasn’t been a problem since. In the city, these places are everywhere but not up in the Sierras.

Just look for “recarga tu móvil aquí” or something to that effect.

cartel_recargas

My School

While researching my Master’s program I did a lot of reading about Spain. I read tons of blogs from tons of auxiliaries of conversation and I learned a lot – about traveling. Not surprisingly, most people blog about the most interesting moments of their lives. Unfortunately, this can lead to a pretty skewed image of peoples’ lives; our friends on Facebook seem to be having way more fun than we are and, in turn, we feel worse about our own lives by comparison. But I’m rambling… What in stumbling towards is that the day-to-day events of our experience get lost and those are the stories I was most interested in. Not that you went on vacation to a hut in Andorra. So, without further ado, here is that story.

My school is called Gredos San Diego Buitrago. GSD is the parent company and the school is located in Buitrago Del Lozoya, located about 75 kilometers north of Madrid on the A1 autopista. GSD is actually a cooperative and the teachers pay in some money to work there. The school is very old and very new. The school has been around for years but was bought before the 2012-2013 school year so there are still some growing pains and times of confusion. The co-op itself is apparently very well known and regarded but, this school being so new, still has some issues such as lack of technology is many rooms. However, I do believe see issues will be worked out in time.

Organization: the first thing an American, or perhaps anyone not presently confined to a mental institution would notice is the seeming lack of any organization. This is something we were warned about but, not unlike the Grand Canyon or one of my poetry readings, it must be experienced to be fully vertigo inducing appreciated. Here, the teachers didn’t receive their schedules until the first day of class. Fair enough. But the students had no idea where to go and apparently many of their names were not on the list of paper outside their classrooms. Even so, the confusion was cleared up after a few days. We, my fellow auxiliary and I, didn’t receive our schedules until the next weekend.

Schedule: I am scheduled 25 hours a week of teaching. I teach everything from Primero ESO to 45 year olds, who have decided to go back to school to fare better during the crisis. ESO, by the way, is a 4 year degree for 10 to 14 year old (more or less) and is required by law. After ESO, the student may enter Bachillerato, a 2 year degree which seems to be more ESO and could be thought of as the last 2 years of American highschool (with all the lack of motivation and moodiness). Or enter vocational school and learn anything from cooking to auto mechanics. As a foreign language teacher in the US, I would probably have 6 classes a day with 2 or 3 different levels. Here. I have 6 or so classes a day with 6 or so different levels. This essentially makes for 25 preps a week, every week. I’m not yet sure how I’ll cope, but each class has a book I can fall back on. If my foreign language education professor could hear me now…

The Bell: I was used to the same sound that Zach Morris was used to hearing as he slipped past the threshold of his class at Bayside High. This school has a different bell. Music. Rather than the intrusive pounding of metal on metal, or an electronic version thereof, an instrumental of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” will ring in the day. This is one area they’ve got us beat. When I was a student teacher, the volume of the bell was not adjusted properly in our room and I had to plug my ears to keep the agony,and hearing loss, to a minimum.

Classes: there are 8 classes of varying length. In the mornings they tend to be 1 hour while in the afternoons they’re usually 50 minutes. There is a 25 minute break for the students and teachers around 11:30, depending on the level. The students and teachers take their break from 12:05-12:30. The classroom itself is pretty bare. I’ve already mentioned the lack of technology in many rooms but the walls themselves, as well as the corridors could use some spicing up. There are a few familiar mantras such as “if you can dream it, you can do it,” and a board about New Zealand, however. Hopefully my partner and I can help remedy the overall lack of life on the walls. The students desks are small tables with chairs, and tend to be put in pairs for partner activities.

Staff: the staff seem great and fairly positive despite their heavy workload. Some do 30 hours per week which is something I’ve heard is not supposed to happen. I think there is a cap at 25.

The Flight to Spain/First Day

OK. I actually came over a few days ago but have been too busy/tired/lazy to post this. The flight went mostly as expected with one giant hitch. About 7 hours before my flight was to leave, while I was still packing, I got an automated call from American Airlines. My flight out of Huntsville to O’Hare was cancelled. I ended up spending two hours on the phone that night before successfully rebooking my flights, but had to be moved back a full day. This ended up being a blessing in disguise because I got to actually pack in time to go to bed and I had messed up my hotel reservation anyway; I would have gotten all the way to Madrid and found out I couldn’t check in til the next day, leaving me in a bad situation.

The important thing is to stay up all day the first day, otherwise it’ll take much longer to get over the jet lag. I spent my first day nearly failing at two seemingly simple errands: get new sim card for my unlocked iPhone 4s and buy travel abono. I will cover these is separate blog posts because they can actually turn out to be anything but simple.