When drafting the Assistantship Provisional Program with Ms Natividad Lara-Cepeda, we had two strands in mind:
– how my previous work and project experience could be made of use, meeting the general and annual objectives of CEP Tomelloso;
– how the Assistantship program with its planned activities could draw on my professional practice and give me insights on a different educational system in view of its organisation, teacher training, school teaching, project initiation, etc.
The overall idea behind it all was the intercultural and professional exchange for the benefit of the two parties – the host Center as representing the Spanish educational system and me as a representative of the Bulgarian one. Needless to say that both Natidad and me are believers in United Europe and the necessity of building bridges between the European countries on all levels, but before all in education as it is the field of developing new mindsets and changing old patterns and attitudes. Schools are the centers where new Europeans are being taught and trained to live a life of peace in cooperation with others without prejudice and ungrounded discrimination. European citizenship starts from school and we strongly believe that teachers are supposed to be its champions and everyday agents. For this reason, teachers themselves need to be further trained and involved in intercultural exchanges: before teaching or leading others one should have their own trial-error experiences so they can have insights about what will work with larger groups when the time comes to enthuse them.
From the very beginning of our cooperation with Natividad (Ms Lara-Cepeda), we have been very ambitious. We set an overarching programme for my stay in the town of Tomelloso and my work in its In-Service Training Center. The initial plan included:
– delivering courses in languages – language training in English, Bulgarian and Russian.
Speaking foreign languages and plurilinguism are among the priorities of the Regional government of Castilla-La Mancha. Judging by the number and variety of compulsory language courses at school, as well as by the number of running or currently developed bilingual school projects, language learning is in full swing in the region, the Ciudad Real province and Tomelloso itself. However, as expected, the most appealing language to master is the English language. It is understandable: English is the modern lingua franca, a must for any educated contemporary. As I am an English teacher, it was natural to be involved in the process of teaching English. Yet before coming I had not imagined that I would be the ‘deliverer’, the main trainer of the scheduled A1-2 and B1 English courses. In a way it was a surprise and an honour for me to be trusted with the responsibility of developing (compiling) materials for the needs of the particular groups of teachers. Natividad just took the role of assisting me in class dynamics: she is at her best in designing warm-up, breaking-the-ice games, looking after the balance between hard language work and students’ psychological comfort. I appreciate a lot this kind of team work. It is more like project-based, having nothing to do with the usual class routine of one-teacher-doing-it-all. I’d like to see and participate in more classrooms of this kind. It gives perspective and broadband experiences for both teachers and students regardless of their age. Our students have been teachers and judging by their responses and final evaluation, they loved it 🙂
Some of our language-oriented plans have had to be cancelled. It happened so with our idea about Russian language and culture crush course. For the complex time-funds-number-of-students reason, i.e. efficiency and effectiveness, it went down the drain. The pre-planned Bulgarian language and culture course has had to be reduced to 6 hours of attendance and a semi-distant part of doing homework with feedback on the proper use of basic Bulgarian grammar and vocabulary. Yet it works, at least as sensitizing teachers on the issue of cultural and linguistic otherness which might be later used as orientation in dealing with students and parents from Bulgarian emigrant background.
– the teaching job – Teaching is usually associated with school – primary and secondary. It has always been challenging, even more today with the contemporary requirements for both student and teacher involvement in the class process as learning partners on friendly terms and equal footing. This challenge is made all the more intense when it comes for a foreigner to step in as a language and intercultural assistant in a predominantly monolingual classes. I have had an experience with international classes back in the 1990s and the turn of this century (East-West and P.E.E.P projects), where every participant – teacher or student – knew exactly their job on pre-set topics with plenty of time to prepare and develop materials. However, it has not helped me a lot 🙂 Here, as I have had to be once a week in some classes of some schools, it is more on the move – from week to week. You have to focus your efforts to suit the particular class and teacher’s programme. It demands a good teamwork with the teachers or at least with the head of the language departments if we want to to reap some good results. Speaking from experience, my first attempt as a visiting teacher, a foreigner supposed to interact with teachers and students in their natural surroundings, was a disaster. As I was just asked to prepare ‘something’ about my country – probably some historical background and culture – I did it by my own ideas about what was important or interesting to remember about Bulgaria. Actually I overdid it: too complex and too in-depth, and as a whole – inadequate for the language level of students’ English. The student level, although supposed to be ‘advanced’ in the bachillerato, did not turned up to be so 😦 The teachers were not much of helpers: they were disinterested. This was a lesson to be learnt: do not pre-suppose, look for more preliminary information and cooperation with teachers, even if they did not show much willingness in doing so!
My second cooperation – the long-lasting one – has been a success story, more or less. I just love Santo Tomas de Aquino School, this semi-private, semi-public catholic school, for being open and cooperative. Still they have a long way to go in mastering the English language and interculturalness in the wider world. I do not think it would be too strong to say that they represent the New School, that of 21st century. Just an image of the enticing school and classroom environment:
14th February – celebrating the patrons of Europe SS Cyril and Metodius and the Day of Love: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.1764686109373.2098961.1005749765
My third cooperation – with the primary school Virgen de las Vinas has been even better. Probably because of the age – up to 10-11 – they have been more willing to learn… by their own mistakes.
– project drafting – Actually this was my first job here. It took almost three months: from mid-November to mid-February – parallelly to everything else, – as drafting projects is a long process. I have had the chance to share its trials with Natividad, going through different proposals, prioritizing and selecting the manageable ones, corresponding, persuading people, editing drafts, etc. My contribution was in two aspects mainly: promoting a new Bulgarian partner in a Grundtvig partnership project (assisting in the correspondence with it), and editing the final project darft in English. I have also been a witness of how Natividad has been consulting school teachers, guiding them in project drafting and proper compiling of project documentation. I have been very impressed by the zeal with which she does it. I admire her drive in promoting European projects and project work. I think more people like her are needed everywhere across Europe in the so-called ‘grassroot’ organisations of the type CEP Tomelloso here in Spain is.
– visiting schools and provincial coordination meetings (job shadowing) – The good thing about being an assitsnt to an educational advisor in an In-Service Teacher Training Center (in Spain) is… that you can have an access to various schools and meetings on various levels of the educational system. Natividad has brought me with her to two provincial meetings so far – one on EU project promotion and coordination (December 2010, Valdepenas) and a general provincial education steering meeting of CEP advisors (February, Alcazar de San Juan). Both of them were very revealing about how the state of the arts in these fields are in Spain. I have been quite impressed by the cordiality, in-depth concerns and considerations with which they have been dealing with their pending tasks and new development. I liked the constructive way in which they state their achievements, their problems and new challenges. I respect this approach of involvement of everyone who has something constructive to say and be heard by the others, including the higher levels of government or coordination. On the other hand, I have accompanied Natividad to tens of her visits to schools – primary and secondary. Mostly in Tomelloso, but also to three different schools in Socuellamos. The picture is more or less the same: talks with teachers, turning an ear to the problems they are facing in the ongoing bilingual programmes or European project drafting, persuasion for and urging negotiation in more active participation. Unfailingly on friendly terms… with a lot of laughter and jokes 🙂 I Love Natividad for showing and sharing with me all that 🙂
– the Bulgarian event – this is still pending. We have planned it for April. Finally it will take place on 23rd May. The idea is to make Bulgarian culture more vivid as one of the cultures of immigrants here in Tomelloso. I have already met a few Bulgarians who have had their place and position as ‘teachers’ here. Strange, isn’t it? One of them, Ilia Angelov, is a Spanish citizen and a teacher in mainstream school system (in a vocational school); the other one is a yoga teacher, Kostadin Andreev. I have met other Bulgarians, too. But they are somehow ‘off-board’, in the servicing sector, not appreciated much by … the Spanish, if we are to ‘spill’ the truth 😦 The ‘Bulgarian event’ is seen as a promotion of ‘otherness’ that enriches the local community. We hope it will have a success in strengthening the bridges, the multi-level connections between the true/idigenous Tomelloseros and the ‘newcomers’ 🙂
– the library job – Strange as it is, this was the initial kernel around which we developed the current Assistanship project. At the time (March 2010) it seemed the most solid 🙂 Now, with the fund cuts, it is almost fading. Yet we – Natividad and me – will do our best to arrange the resources in a library-friendly access and compile a list of books needed for the Bilingual Language and Intercultural Section. Who knows? We might be lucky to find additional sources of funding. Hope dies hard 🙂
Here I’ll stop again to take a breath of the overwhelming experiences in this land of richness and splendor, of high achievemnets and dire controversy. Tomelloseros think that they are nothing much compared to other parts of Spain and the world. Yet… through the eyes of a foreigner, as I am, I can see how much they care about being or at least striving to be at the top! I respect and admire their efforts. I think they are doing a great job. They should be encouraged in doing so 🙂 I also think that the brilliant Ms Lara-Cepeda is doing even a greater job by ‘seducing’ and bringing to the place various trainers and specialists to broden the horizons of the Tomelloseros. In my view, this is the only Way to move ahead! My job here is to support her in all her ‘invisible’, everyday efforts, meant for the greater public. I know, I believe that future is being seeded by such kind of a ‘weird’ race of enthusiasts who rarely think about themselves. Tomelloso, in the face of the teacher community, is definitely indebted to her and her service. I hope people will realize it ….one day.
I am a foreigner. I speak of myself. Yet a foreigner can ‘see’ things better than people immersed in and used to their own ways and routines.
Next time I’ll probably speak about the unforgettable meetings with teaches and trainers from all over the world who happened to cast their light and insight for shorter or longer to Tomelloso and Tomellosero teachers. The hub of spinning otherness around is acually…. CEP Tomelloso.
Life is amazing on the fast educational lane. Even more, when you live it as… cultural clashes 🙂