Where Tuvalu Is and Other Lessons from Global Classrooms

I was nervous.

I wasn’t nervous, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the word crispación.  The way it sounded, crisp, like a layer of ice closing over the room.  The room was La Asamblea de Madrid, the parliament for the Community of Madrid: lacquered wood gleaming, glass, and bright lanterns hanging from high ceilings.  The word crispación reflecting off the shiny surfaces.

It was a Tuesday night, February 27th.  Over two hundred 14 and 15-year-olds were in suits and ties and nice shoes, trying to sit still in their swivel seats.  Looking down the long arc of the table where I sat, I could see all twelve students representing IES Fortuny: all girls, all remarkably intelligent, dedicated and brave.  My and Becky’s students!

The Global Classrooms Madrid Model United Nation’s Conference would not officially meet in committees until the following day, Wednesday, February 28th, but Becky Haley (the other Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at Fortuny), I, and our twelve delegates had been preparing for the conference for so long that to be in the very room where the closing ceremony would take place in just 24 hours was making me nervous.

My feet were dangling off the oversized chair and I tried to hold them still.  I wondered if I had done a good job leading Global Classrooms at Fortuny.  I had been to a few Model United Nations (MUN) conferences when I was an undergraduate.  I remembered that parliamentary procedure was a mouthful for me: referring to yourself in the third-person, having to second and vote on every procedural decision, the excess of adverbs in formal speech.  I remembered hours scouring through the CIA World Fact Book, the Encyclopedia, World Bank Data, and various news sources and UN reports in an effort to compose a sound position paper.  I remembered the giant committees where I was swallowed in a sea of raised placards.  I don’t remember particularly enjoying myself.


When I had to design lesson plans for Global Classrooms, which I led two days a week in lieu of Social Science and English, I was overwhelmed by the amount of ground I had to cover within a period of five months: conducting research, keeping up with current events, public speaking, debating, problem solving, essay writing, improvising, etc.  The list of skills required to succeed in MUN seemed interminable.

At the same time, I remembered how bored I sometimes felt at MUN conferences in college and I wanted to make Global Classrooms as fun for my students as possible.  From the beginning, I gave my students the freedom to explore their own interests: I let them choose the Millennium Development Goal they wanted to research and the weekly news article they had to summarize.  Sensationalist articles about brain-eating amoeba were popular, but some students used the opportunity to learn more about serious issues that interested them like gender inequality or the illegal drug trade.  I also tried to make public speaking fun by incorporating some improv theater games, and conducting practice debates on controversial topics like sexual education and the social media.

Despite my best efforts, there were some weeks when I felt ready to give up: some of my students were not completing any of their homework, others were plagiarizing, almost all of them were complaining about the amount of time they had to put into Global Classrooms.  I wasn’t sure if I was too boring or too strict or too demanding or too unprepared or all of those things.


As the months passed, however, I found little surprises waiting for me around the corners.  One day, a student who had never turned in an assignment and who never participated in class came up to me and apologized for his behavior.  Then his friends joined him and apologized too!  Another day, a student who had been struggling in my class wrote me an email saying it was his first year in the bilingual program but he was trying his best to succeed.

When the time came to choose six students from my class to represent Fortuny at the Madrid Conference, it felt like an icebreaker gone wrong: So you’re stuck on a remote tropical island in Las Acacias and you can only bring six students with you!  Who do you select?

I’m not sure what my answer reveals about my personality, but I ended up choosing the six students who wanted to go to the conference the most.  Amidst all the speaking and writing skills I had been drilling into my students over the course of many months, the only thing I couldn’t drill into anyone was aspiration, drive, and the ineffable, extra “oomph.”


So there we were: me, and the choosen twelve, the inspired, the driven, the oomphy, all seated in the hemiciclo, uncomfortably warm.  I turned to the two students sitting closest to me and asked them to tell me about their Global Classroom experience, what they learned.  At first they went on about their research on orphans and vulnerable children, what they had learned about the world, its complexity.

“We have also learned the Tuvalu exists!” one of the girls declared, “It’s in Oceania!”

“With this,” the other one said, “people are going to know where Tuvalu is.  My mother knows now!”

Had they learned anything about themselves? I asked

“Yes,” the first one said, seriously.  “A few months ago, I didn’t know how to speak in front of other people.  But now I’m not nervous about what people are going to think because I have my ideas and I know how to share them.”

She was telling the truth.  This soft-spoken girl who used to offer her statements like questions was looking me in the eye, and I was the one who was nervous.  I should have said I was proud of her, but I don’t know if I did.


I closed my reporter’s notebook and the opening ceremony began, and the next day my students all did amazingly well at the conference, and it ended, and we went back to Fortuny on a bus, and the day after that I went in to work again at 8:30 a.m.  Global Classrooms ended, and I still don’t know if I did a good job leading it or not, but I do know where Tuvalu is now, and I’m not nervous anymore to teach.