A Job Just Short of a Siesta

By: Jeremy Booth

Even though I'm determined not to lead a career in a world of errant paper airplanes and ADD-riddled children, a world otherwise known as the public school system, this is where my first two years after college have been spent. Despite my strong desire to escape this world eventually(it will continue next year in Colombia...) I can't help but be drawn to the opportunities because of the challenge they present and the experiences they provide. Last year I worked in an inner-city high school in Cincinnati as a "college access advisor," helping underprivileged juniors and seniors pursue a post-high school education. This year I am supplementing English education in an elementary school in a suburb of Madrid.

The word "school" is about the only thing these two jobs have had in common.

If I had to choose one word to describe my experience in the Project REACH program last year, it would be "professional." This was mainly due to the presence of a no-nonsense program coordinator who oversaw her employees in 7 different schools with utmost vigilance and high expectations. The 40-hour work week was stressful to say the least(even more so considering the 25 extra hours I put into a grocery store on nights and weekends) because of these expectations. We were to maintain an appearance and demeanor of professionalism, which meant button-down shirts and clean slacks, formal emails to anyone and everyone, and looming deadlines and milestones that MUST be met. Not every day led to the destruction of my fingernails, a habit that manifests strongly when under large amounts of stress, but most days were spent making phone calls, sending emails, having meetings and advising children from 8:30-4:30.

The word for this year's job? Complete-and-utter-polar-opposite-of-last-year's-job.

Okay, so I suppose that's cheating, but hyphens are technically grammatically fine(I think). Besides, that's the best way I can sum up what I am doing this year. Last year's minimal attire was a polo and slacks: I once got questioned for wearing a nice pair of jeans. This year, said clothing results in a casual "what's the occasion?" The shock of the freedom has even led me to overcompensate by sometimes arriving in a multi-colored outfit that would shock Picasso, but that's another story. If you were to walk into work last year a little groggy, from a rough night out or otherwise, you would surely be questioned and possibly sent home. Now I am teased for not being able to handle my alcohol. There have been several occasions this year where I have stretched my 16 hour work week to 20 hours(rough, I know) by working on my usually free Monday so I can get some extra days off in the future to travel. Last year, a missed day required a note from the doctor and often some kind of way to make it up. Those ought to give you an idea of the difference.

I don't know what I expected when I came to Spain, land of the siesta and 10 pm dinners, but I didn't expect it to be this relaxed. But it has been nothing short of "chill," and it started on day one when I went to our first jornada, an introductory workshop of sorts. At the very end of the long 8 hour day of various presentations, almost as an afterthought or a P.S., the coordinator of the program told us to remember to maintain a professional nature in and out of school because we create a reputation for the program. The way she did it, however, was said with so little enthusiasm that it caused me to chuckle. Last year, this message was delivered almost weekly, as though not having frequent reminders would cause behavior worthy of a Girl's Gone Wild video.

The good thing about both stints as a educator of the bright young minds of the world is that I am likely learning more than my students, says the cliche teacher from some inspirational movie. Last year lessons mainly dealt with professionalism again, but they also contributed to me working on my authority and being on a team. For example, one student defiantly told me "f**k you, white man!" Then I knew I had my work cut out for me and I was forced to find a way to connect with my students and build a command for respect.

But this year has been a lesson in flexibility and adaptability. After growing accustomed to snapping at a child every time he or she used a curse word, the profanity ridden mouths of my elementary school children was jaw-dropping. When I scolded a child for calling another an hijo de puta, a son-of-a-bitch, he looked at me confused and then later I heard him change it gilipollas, because "asshole" is nicer. This was just one setting in my internal programming that I have had to reset, but it serves as a testament to how totally different the environment is when working in Spain.

At this time next year, after having been in Colombia for over eight months, I will likely have material to write another blog on the same topic. In fact, after reading about having a classroom of 50+ students and no books or computers I know I will, but I'm happy to have had the two years I have thus far. The first year polished my ability to relate with children, work with various kinds of staff members, and of course, be professional. But it's this year of working abroad that will prove to be more important in my success next year. In terms of the difficulty of my job, the situation in Cincinnati will likely be more similar because of how demanding it was, but having to adapt to a culture is absolutely more important.

Some people like to say that they live at their jobs, referring to how much time they dedicate to it. However, in my case, I will say that I have lived because of my job. Because without my experience at my school, I would be a lonely, lost American aimlessly floating through the streets of Madrid, pathetically eating McDonald's and an occasional, adventurous tapa. Thanks to the lessons I got at my school, however, I became a madrileƱo, and this year spent lounging around the school was more important to my growth than I ever expected it to be.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingJeremy Booth is an American expat living in Colombia. Blog description: After spending a life-changing year in Spain, I joined the Peace Corps and got sent to Colombia. Specifically, I am in beautiful Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast. In my blog you will read about culture shock, my job as an English teacher, hilarious anecdotes or just every day life.
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Contest Comments » There are 4 comments

Sue Booth wrote 8 years ago:

Wonderful and descriptive essays about a young man's life in Madrid

Jan Barton wrote 8 years ago:

Incredible journey(s) not only to Madrid but other cities and countries within a day or two of Madrid. This blog shows a different way of seeing these places, meeting the people and staying in hostels and couch surfing. A must read!

Ross Barton wrote 8 years ago:

Your writing gets better and better. People that start reading your posts will stay with you. Keep up the good work. Someday, I believe you will be published.

CMT wrote 8 years ago:

From inner city of Cincinnati to suburbs of Madrid and on to the jungles of Colombia ... you really could not have set this up more perfectly! This post and your blog resonate "true". I kept on wanting to read more. So please do keep on writing. Truly a joy to read.

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