My first day of school was muggy and confusing. As I stood in front of a class of expectant 10-year-olds, I could feel two or three weighty beads of sweat slide slowly down my torso.
The teacher I was working with began the class with a question: "And what is the weather like today?"
I soon learned he started every class this way, so that his students could practice weather vocab in English.
I never understood this, because the answer on the southern coast of Spain is always the same: "It is warm and sunny today..." the class would drawl.
They were never going to learn anything new this way.
I wiped away the perspiration escaping down my stomach with the edge of my t-shirt. I didn't want my students to notice.
Am I red in the face? Can elementary schoolers smell I-have-no-fecking-idea-what-I'm-doing?
No. They can't. But what they can smell are the 3 bags of melting Reeses' Peanut Butter Cups I had smuggled across the Atlantic for them. Peanut butter is not a thing in Spain. They will never stop asking if you have any more Reeses'--and the most enterprising of your 5th graders will shout out of turn: "Can we buy these on the internet?!"
My official job description besides being a human jungle gym for clingy 6-year-olds was to teach social and natural science to 1st-5th graders in my bilingual primary school in Motril, Spain. What I ended up doing was spend my days trying to explain the unexplainable: grammar rules, American culture, and how it's possible to not have a preference between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona soccer teams.
Prior to the decision to spend my first months post-grad on the Iberian Peninsula, I had always thought my last day of elementary school would forever be in 2006. But it's actually today.
Round two of this experience included many lessons left out of my American classrooms in the early ’00s: climate change, dictators, Native American genocide, the ethics of teaching English abroad, and the medicinal merits of jamón and siestas.
Also, this time, I wasn't the one being adorable.
The precious niños at C.E.I.P Antonio Garvayo Dinelli always insisted that pizza is the best Spanish food and that the room you cook it in is called the "chicken!" I will never forget the girls from Maestra Ana's class who, for an activity about Thanksgiving, wrote they were thankful for me. Same goes for the 1st-grader who "dabbed" every time he got a question right, or his classmate who always made the sign of the cross when he walked into the room. My 2nd-graders from Señor Gaspar's class taught me that a mob of hugs from 8-year-olds is the best way to start a Monday, and that to be a good citizen you must always pick up the dog shit on the streets–a widespread problem in Spain we once spent the entirety of a very enlightening civics class discussing.
To all my immigrant, refugee, and first-generation Spanish students who juggled up to four languages seamlessly–you are the future.
To my students who would answer "How are you?" with "Yes," and a big smile–keep going.
I hope one day you will discover, like I did, that languages are doors.
Open them, and you too may find yourself in a foreign country,
standing in front of expectant children,