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.

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.