Colegio El Pilar De Valencia, Spain
I’d like to take this opportunity to recount some of the events I had the pleasure of experiencing while taking part in a job shadowing project in Valencia, Spain. For those not familiar with job shadowing, let it be known that the funding for the program comes from the European Union and the job shadowing itself for an individual teacher entails going to observe the work of another teacher in another country. This gives teachers in both countries a chance to get fresh ideas from one another with a view to enhancing their own teaching methods in their respective schools in the future.
My first impressions of Spain were favorable to say the least. The warm air that hit my face as I stepped out of the airport into a taxicab was definitely a welcome change after the cold autumn weather of Finland. Having checked in at the hotel I immediately took an evening walk around the area surrounding the location of the hotel. Apart from the delightful warm temperate climate, I was pleasantly surpised by the sincere warmth and welcoming attitude of the Spanish people. Having visited Spain before, I was aware that not as many people in Spain speak English as they do in Finland. However, I interpreted this as a sign of a healthy dose of national pride in the Spanish people. Those accustomed to speaking English while on their travels will be met with a few challenges in Spain. The Spanish people actually expect you to speak their own language in their own country, as they should.However, a little bit of gesticulating and body language goes a long way in communicating when there is no common language to resort to.
When I arrived in the city, it seemed the whole of Valencia had been swept by a tide of national pride as attested by the countless number of the Spanish flags that had been hung on balconies and on the windows. Yet, while approaching the subject of Catalonia becoming independent from the rest of Spain, my Spanish colleague couldn’t care less. I was rather hesitant to bring the subject up in the first place since I thought it might be a sensitive one, but I finally plucked up the courage needed to do so only to find out the subject didn’t interest my Spanish colleague that much.
Having arrived on a Saturday, the next day was free for me to spend as I wished. There was a wealth of interesting architecture to enjoy just a stone’s throw away from my hotel. A science museum, theater and a marine life center were all examples modern architecture you might not necessarily have expected to see in a well-established centuries-old city such as Valencia. I had had something more traditional in mind. I was later told by one of the Spanish teachers I got to meet that the whole area had once been a riverbed. The river had since been diverted on another course around the city to prevent flooding. Wonderful walkways and restaurants could be found where once there had been a river flowing through the city and the area really worked a treat as far as going out for some exercise in the evening. Lots of people were jogging there. Others were walking their dogs and still others enjoying a pleasureable bikeride in the park.
Once Monday arrived, I found myself at the Spanish school I was to visit. I was looking forward to the experience and I wasn’t disappointed. I was met by Dany Martínez who had been kind enough to plan a program for my visit. Having visited Alppila High School in Finland a year previously, Dany and I had met before, so that made things easy and laid-back. However, Dany had got the impression that I was actually a music teacher in my own school which is not the case. That didn’t bother me or anyone else for that matter, since I had my banjo with me and was able to take part in music lessons I had been assigned to go and observe. A great big thank you to Carlos is in order. He’s the young and dynamic music teacher at the school and he really made feel welcome and wanted. The students were really nice to me too and they seemed genuinely interested in me and had a lot of questions for me. Questions such as: ”Can you play Country Roads?” As it happens, I had actually played the song at the end of school spring celebration at school in Finland before summer break, so I was secretly pleased with the fact that the kids asked me to play something they knew that I could actually play. I played it together with Carlos on guitar. Another fun part in the music lessons was for me to play a song and have the kids sing along. What we did was we showed the lyrics to the class on the screen in front of the class and everybody had a blast singing She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain. Since I was in class and to them I must have seemed ancient, the kids immediately assumed I was there to teach them as well as Carlos. They raised their hands and asked me for help. I was happy to do what I could and I must say it was good fun from start to finish. I also got to perform a song or two on the banjo to primary school kids. The little kids sat on two long benches one behind the other while I played them a song to the best of my ability. Their genuine reactions to the music was amazing and I was pleased to get a big round of applause from them for which I’m thankful. Kids that young are so genuine in their responses and they can’t be bribed (although I tried by giving them a piece of candy each after my performanceJ).
I also got the opportunity to attend English classes during my visit. I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to three very capable teachers I had the pleasure of observing at work: thank you Jitka, Alex and Rosa! Once again I was welcomed by the students in their English classes by a host of questions they had for me to answer. The students had traditional school books at their disposal. It all felt so familiar and it seems no matter how many miles there are between any two schools, the similarities between the schools are more striking than the differences. Just like in my own classroomin Finland, there was a computer in one corner of the Spanish classroom and a white screen on which the teacher projected images and other necessary materials for the students to see. One difference between a Finnish classroom and a classroom at Colegio El Pilar was the fact that the teacher still had a pedestal to stand on. Those were removed from Finnish classrooms much to the chagrin of some Finnish teachers some years ago. Being small of stature, I can personally see the benefits of having a pedestal to stand on for sureJ. The most striking difference in the classes I attended was the lack of online books for students to use in their studies. Having online books is a fairly recent development in Finland as well and it remains to be seen whether using laptops is what it’s cracked up to be with regard to getting good results in teaching. So, we’ll see in a few years whether this online teaching stuff is something we should have gone with or whether we should have stuck to the tried and true in Finland, too.
Apart from the classes I got to observe, I was also given a taste of Valencia by night by going to visit two music venues that had been kindly recommended to me by Nacho, a teacher who had also visited our school in Finland along with the visiting Spanish group of students a year previously. I got to enjoy some very tasty and well-played jazz music played by some local musicians. When I told Nacho of the high quality of the music and the musicianship the players exhibited in their performance, Nacho told me some the musicians were studying at a local affiliate of the Berklee School of Music. No wonder the music was of a high standard!
All in all my job shadowing experience in Valencia was a welcome relief from teaching in Finland and I’m glad I made the decision to go for it during my fall break. It gave me lots of memories to cherish in years to come and I will never forget it. Enjoying the +30C heat on Friday afternoon was blissful beyond belief! It was quite a rude awakening to step out of the airport to get into a cab in Helsinki where the temperature was -1C. Only a 31 degree difference in temperature! I wouldn’t mind the difference if only it was the other way round. I know I don’t look the part and it’s very unlikely, but enjoying the Spanish sunshine makes me think there’s got to be at least an iota of Spanish blood in me.
Thank you Colegio El Pilar De Valencia!