“Why the hell do you work in an art classroom?” The above question is as common among my friends as it is among my students. “If you can’t help me with art, then why are you here?” – a question that’s almost always a daily occurrence. Sigh. Short version? I’m a young, privileged college graduate from the United States who was hired on a Spanish government program (see explanation from Como Consulting) who makes more than the minimum monthly wage of most Spaniards, and now, I get to “make conversation” to improve your “[nonexistent] English skills.” I have paid vacations. I live on a Mediterranean Island. I don’t pay taxes.
(Slightly) Longer version: The above holds true; but small details are missing. I am in an art classroom because of confusing political struggles and ever-changing education policies (TIL, or Tratamiento Integral de Lenguas, a regional policy, caused a whole mess of problems, and sure pissed everyone off. It has since been annulled and replaced by a national education policy, LOMCE. On the high school’s website they explain that their curriculum corresponds to the “Pla Pilot d’Educació Plurilingüe” (Plurilingual Education Pilot Plan). For this reason, art, technology, and informatics are the given subjects taught in English. Therefore, they assigned their given language assistant (me) to “encourage English conversation” in art classes. What that actually means is, I am in the middle of a loud, distracted, inappropriate, smelly (especially after recess), touchy and (often) violent classroom, and in the midst of the barbarity I’m supposed to make conversation with them. Sometimes, when things get really out of control -like the time one of my bipolar Moroccan students (who frighteningly looks striking like Eliza Thornberry) pulled her scarf over her face and took the squirt bottle of cleaning solution, started speaking in Arabic, and told everyone she was a terrorist – I sit back and observe. I often feel like Amanda Bynes’s character Viola Hastings in She’s The Man the first day she walks into Illyria disguised as her brother Sebastian, and her walk from the car to her dorm room is met with a tangled mess of football players, the marching band, silly string and Frisbee players. Except in my case instead of the marching band and Frisbee players, it’s flying rulers and compasses, pencil shavings and crumbled up erasers, and paint brushes tinting students faces and splashing water.
The most difficult part of that job is that it’s not an English class. It’s an art class. I can encourage conversation. I can ask them about their weekends and I can attempt to make them use art related vocabulary. But in the end, they are graded on their art assignments. They are not required to have a certain level of English. Because of this, most of them are generally extremely confused as to why I am there. Just the other day, one student asked where I worked, and why I replied, “this school,” he was shocked. He thought I volunteered my time to come to school and hang out with them. Often, I confess that I am also confused as to why I am there (then feel guilty about having much higher salaries than their parents for doing virtually nothing). It’s almost as depressing as it is funny. It’s May, and I don’t think my students are any better off than they were at the beginning of the year. I still have one student who blushes and giggles when I ask how she is, and then I hear her say in Spanish “No me entero de nada” (I don’t get it). Some kids fake it until the make it. Walking into the room is often like pressing an automatic button. Sometimes I look at a certain kid, and without saying anything s/he’ll reply, “Fine thanks and you,” but it actually comes out like one word: “finthonksindu.” When I say, “Hi guys” the boys love to reply, “HEY! We’re not gay!” And when I ask if they went to the beach over the weekend, they love to say to “HEY, DON’T CALL ME A PUTA.” My all time favorite? “Hey guys, what’s up?” to which they reply, “no, I don’t want your whatsapp (referring to the app Whatsapp). It stopped being funny since before you started saying that. It’s also very popular to Hispanicize English words. Some examples:
- “I’m apprendation English!” (I’m learning English)
- “He is molestation me” (He’s bothering me)
- “I’m terminated” (I’ve finished)
- One kid seemed to think that the typical response to “how are you?” was “I’m happy.” It was too cute so I didn’t correct him.
Sometimes, they just speak slow and distorted Spanish that they believe sounds remotely like English, and talk to me like that.
So, if they’re not learning English, what are they learning? One upside of being a disregarded English conversation assistant, is that the students give up on English – but they don’t disregard you as a person (well, that’s a lie. Some of the 13 year-old girls really despise me). I’ve gotten to hear the gossip of the student population, comfort the girls when their boyfriends break up with them (I keep a copy of Bendetti’s No Te Rindas on hand to give to those whose tears are particularly heavy), and be exposed to the underworld of the 12-year-old homework mafia. One of my students was running a business. How did I find out? He had a huge bag of change. When asked why he had it, after much hesitation he explained. He charges 50 cents for 6 exercises. He does other kids’ homework and has made a profit out of it. Younger groups prefer doing the boy’s hair with pins and clips, while the older groups lay on each other, hug, give backrubs and let their hormones go wild. I do take comfort in the fact that they also barely care about their art assignments. There is a group of 12 year-old boys who I have literally never seen work on one project. They have a 0 in the class, and they don’t care. One of them, who is a model, has the highest self-confidence I have ever witnessed. It’s a bit sickening. The best part? He’s British. But he refuses to speak English with me. He acts as if he doesn’t have the capacity to speak. Frustrating? YES. Aside from crumbling up erasers and making fake cocaine lines out of it and pretending to snort it, their other favorite hobby is: penis drawing. I have never seen so many penises in my life as I have being an auxiliary in an art classroom. They are fascinated by drawing them. Big, small, black, no color, ejaculating, flaccid, you name it. They have a big imagination. They love to draw them on desks, pencil cases, at the top of their papers, on the chalkboard, and on their classmates’ arms. They also love to show me once their done, like a trophy. “Look how much I accomplished today, I’ve drawn a penis and labeled it “Black cock!” And with that, I’ll leave you with one of the penis artwork I could document. Feast your eyes on the talent among them.
And you? What is your classroom like?