The Madrid Chick

Musings from a Canadian living in Madrid



Am I too ¨hard¨on my students?



This is my last week of work before my summer holidays. Thank God. As a teacher, I am just emotionally and physically exhausted. Those of you who are parents or spend time with children know what I mean. You love them but do they ever drive you up the wall sometimes.  I need the holidays because I need distance from them and they need distance from me too.  I was having a chat today with an Irish guy who has been working with teenagers in England for quite some time. He is visiting the school where I work and getting to know the students.  We were talking about discipline and he asked me, ¨Seriously, Natascha…do all the kids here have so many behavioural problems? I said, ¨Well, unfortunately, you got the bad luck of being in the class where the a good majority of the students do not behave well.. It is an extreme situation but I imagine that it is quite different where you are working in England.¨He agreed. He told me that if any of his students spoke to a teacher the way  he saw some students speaking to the teacher that day, they would be sent out of the room  or even supended for a day. That does not really happen where I work. The idea is, ¨Let´s talk to the children and let them know what they are doing is wrong.¨ Right. Well, I agree that words ARE important but words are not the remedy to everything. So is action. Hey, adults are the same. For example, we can be told a million times not to drive over the speed limit because it is dangerous and so forth but it does not keep everyone from doing it. But oncve we are caught and it is on our driving record, we are usually more careful.

Today, while looking after some children in the cafeteria, I discovered that a 4 year old had (on purpose)poured all of his drink on the floor. He found this amusing and I told him, ¨Let´s see how funny it is when you clean it up.” I handed him some paper towels and he was shocked. He began cleaning it and one of the people I work with was shocked that I did that. After about a minute, I told him to get up and I asked him, ¨Was that fun’¨ He answered that it wasn´t and I told him, ¨Well it is not fun for others to clean up your mess either. Next time, think twice before throwing anything on the floor¨. My colleague was still surprised and I said, ¨How will he learn if he does not realise that there is a consequence to his actions?¨ Was I being ¨hard¨on the boy? Maybe, but in my experience,  gently saying, ¨Please don´t do that again¨is not quite effective. And I get pretty annoyed when I see children throwing food and drink on the floor. It is such a lack of respect, on top of being a waste.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, a 5 year old student came up to me, crying because his friend had broken his toy. The conversation went something like this:

Boy: He broke my toy! (Accomapanied by theatrical sobs)

Me: I see. And didn´t I ask you to put away the toy because you are not allowed to bring toys to school?

Boy: Yes, but he broke it.

Me: So, first you brought the toy to school knowing you shouldn´t. Then you did the contrary of what I asked and took the toy out again after I asked you to put it away.

This comment of mine was met with no verbal response, but the theatrics disappeared.

Me: How do you think I feel when you ignore me? I feel sad. I am sorry your toy is broken but I am not surprised. That is one of the reasons why you should not bring toys to school.¨

I asked his friend to apologise and they both walked away, but not before telling them that I expected better from them BOTH. Luckily for me, the mother of the boy with the broken toy was fully supportive of my actions when I later explained what happened. Some parents would have been pretty annoyed with me for being too ¨hard¨ and not punishing the other boy more.

Bad choices have consequences. Those consequences are there to teach us. If you tell people you expect great things from them because you know they are capable of doing them, they strive to achieve them.  I know some people think I am being hard on my students but the pride they feel when I tell them they made the RIGHT choice tells me I am on the right path.

Can good manners ¨run out of style”?



As a native English speaker and teacher living in Spain I am often told that we English speakers say ¨please¨ and ¨thank you¨ too much. I answer by saying that it is better to say these things too much than not at all. I often point out that I find it so disappointing and frankly,maddening, when I hear how children usually make requests here in Spain.  The ¨requests¨ can often begin with an ¨Oye¨ ,which means ¨hey¨.  This ¨hey¨is normally accompanied by a very loud or even screechy voice. This alone instantaneously makes my skin crawl because my name is not ¨hey¨and I hate shouting. (If you don´t respond immediately, the voice just gets louder) .The ¨hey¨is usually followed by the phrase ¨I want ……¨  And that is that.  The other way children make known that they want something is by making statements. For example, Paco does not have a pencil so he comes up to me and says, ¨I don´t have a pencil¨and he will expect me to give it to him.  Conversation over. When I give people these examples of what I can only call blatant rudeness, I am often told that these are cultural differences. That is where I draw the line. No!!  That is not possible because I married a Spanish man and he does not speak this way nor does his family or do his friends.  It seems to me that the generation of adults having children today have lost sight of the importance of good manners. I am not saying all of them, but yes, many. I work in a school that is focused on the children learning English as well as Spanish. Parents have this dream of their children becoming bilingual (though most don´t know much English or have any real desire to learn it themselves) and spend a good amount of money for this to be achieved. They want their children to be well rounded and ready for the future that awaits them. But unfortunately, good manners seem to be disregarded as a means of educating a person fully. I do what I can to teach the children that politeness and kindness is fundamental in my classroom. One day I asked my students, who are only 6 and 7, ¨Which is more important, learning English or learning how to be a good and kind person?¨The students answered that English is more important. I told them that although English is important, being a good and kind person is more important because no matter what language you speak, if you are cruel, rude or unkind, nobody will want to be your friend. The students were shocked that I told them that but it made a difference in their attitude towards each other. The trend is for children to learn so much and yes, their opportunities have increased in many ways, but since when did good manners become unnecessary?

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