Sojourner (Sojo) White is a 2016-2017 La Rioja/Fulbright TA in infantil and primaria in Logroño. This blog post has been reprinted with permission from Sojo’s personal blog: http://sojournies.weebly.com/.
After the awkward transition period that was September, I have finally settled into a daily routine! I am assistant teaching in full force which presents unique challenges on a daily basis. I have observed the teachers at my school as they handle students and learned how to find my own teaching style in a school system that is not my own. Here I’m recapping my struggles, life lessons and completely embarrassing moments. I hope my mistakes make you smile if you’re having a bad day!

sojo

Teaching materials from the US Department of State

1. On Learning to Laugh at Myself More Often

I have made a fool of myself more than once since moving to Spain. From tripping on cobblestone in too high platform shoes to getting lost to fumbling over sentences in Spanish, it’s all happened and leaves me with a bruised ego every time. But hey, I’m learning right? In the classroom, I’m constantly laughing at myself as I talk really slow so my students understand me or when I’m reviewing parts of the body and a student tells me the knees I drew look like alligators! I’m a perfectionist at heart, sue me, so when I get laughed at I feel nervous and anxious. However, I’ve learned to go with the flow, laugh and move on. It’s not that serious to get worked up over the small things. Fulbright was something I chose to pursue and I knew before coming here that being a TA would come with many learning moments. At the end of the day, I was hired to help the Spanish students. They have now become the highlight of my day with their random life stories or comments. They’re learning Social Science and English and I’m learning to relax, it’s a win-win.

2. On Lesson Planning

Being a Fulbright TA is not your average TA position. We still enforce classroom management, but we don’t give tests or exams, grade papers, follow curriculums like Common Core, etc. like TAs in the US. We’re the fun teachers. We assist the teachers in their classroom with activities by helping with grammar, spelling and pronunciation or leading the lesson for the day. These lessons can range from reviewing parts of the body, the five senses, school supplies vocabulary or even basic greetings. One aspect that makes lesson planning unique is the amount of creativity I have in the classroom. I take games that I’ve played in my childhood and apply them to the lessons as much as possible. For instance, I loved playing telephone with my friends so to emphasize the importance of hearing as one of the senses, we played telephone. For sight I put together a PowerPoint of optical illusions to show how our eyes can be tricked and perceive situations different from others. I’ve even incorporated «Slang of the Day» with my older students because I would really like a «Hey» or «What’s up» instead of a formal «Hello» every once in a while. Lesson planning has become one of my favorite teaching activities because I can also incorporate aspects of US culture to fulfill my fancy «US Cultural Ambassador» title. I’ve done presentations on tourist attractions like the Gateway Arch and Wisconsin Dells, shopping malls, food and this week Halloween!

3. On Teaching Infantil (3 and 5 Year Olds) How to Speak English

This was my biggest struggle the first few weeks. Younger children are no joke so props to all the preschool teachers everywhere who work with them all day! You’re troopers. I was perplexed when I walked into the room and said «Hello!» to blank and confused faces. No one participated in the songs. All of them just stared at me. It was the longest 30 minutes of my life. Three year olds barely have a Spanish vocabulary let alone an English one. Teaching was especially difficult because they didn’t understand commands like «Stand up,» «Sit down» and «Be quiet.» It was definitely the wake up call that I need to think outside the box to engage the kids and get them interested. At first, not speaking in Spanish at all was frustrating because I couldn’t connect with the younger ones, but absolutely necessary for the children to have a true bilingual experience at school.
As I was struggling to find solutions to have better classes, YouTube saves the day! I’m so thankful for all the channels with nursery rhymes and songs for younger kids! I created playlists of different themes like colors, weather, numbers, animals, phonics, etc. to pick from and see which ones the classes enjoy singing and learning. Repetition is everything so every day we review the same songs, plus a few new ones. Since using them, the classes have run much smoother! I have my off days like anyone else, but after talking to other Fulbrighters and our advisors I know this is normal and happens to the best of us. The kids have even warmed up to me. Many say «Hola Sojo» or «Hello Sojo» excitedly every time they see me in the halls or when I walk into the classroom. I even get a few hugs that truly make me smile!

My (Not So) New Motto

The moral of the past few weeks? Due to some of my Frozen obsessed students it’s, «Let it go.» I let go of the uncomfortableness. I let go of not having all the answers. I let go of looking ridiculous as I twirl around clapping and stomping to the «Bye Bye» song. I let go of trying to be the «perfect teaching assistant.» I’m going to make mistakes, given advice by my co-workers and told by kids that my hair changes too much, and even that I draw terribly. But in the end I will not let go of this year and allow it to pass me by. So once I return home and people ask me, «Was your Fulbright year worth it?» I can wholeheartedly say yes. The struggles were worth it.

It was all worth it.

Live beautifully,
Sojourner