In the Classroom: Role Reversal

Now that I’m back in the U.S., I’m going through all the entries I started but  weren’t quite finished or I simply never published. This is about my experience in Spanish classes by night and being a teacher by day.

Working as a teacher by day and as a student by night, I’m learning that I just may be a teacher’s least favorite type of student.

 You see, in my classes student’s have various levels of English-from don’t-understand a word I say to bored staring out the window or playing on their phone because they need a more advanced class. As a teacher, it’s a constant challenge to find balance. I feel for my student’s who have to sit in on a too basic of a class, losing out on improving their English with a native speaker as well as for the student’s stare blankly or whisper to their neighbor to translate what I said. For the first month, I thought these students just didn’t give a damn and were being disrespectful. I have one student who has no shame, bless her heart, who blurts out almost every minute- Que dices? What are you saying? She wants to learn and is so eager to take part.

Que dices?

Que dices?


Now when I asked some teachers why student’s who have a very low level of English are in these classes, they explained there is only one English class per grade level and it’s probable that many students will fail yet there isn’t much to be done.. Talk about foreshadowing their future without any attempt to change the broken system. Maybe it’s out of teacher’s control but as an assistant it’s hard to witness.

 After being “kicked out” of my intermediate level Spanish class for a silly misunderstanding about the last day to pay, despite my many attempts to actually pay and my honesty of doing the right thing, I sought out other alternatives. I found a lower level Spanish class for immigrants a few blocks from my house for a mere 10 euro fee to register. The teacher who signed me up encouraged me to enroll, even though he agreed my level was higher. “It will be good practice and when space opens up you can move to the higher-level course,’ he eagerly told me.  Except he failed to say, they only have one class and it’s in the middle of the day, when I work at the high school. But I found this out after I enrolled and maybe it’s a good thing. Now, I’m the bored student yet hungry to learn.

 I figured a Spanish class is better than none, even if it only helps me with the basics. I can definitely use all the help I can get though the pace of the class is slow. Too slow that I space out, chat with my neighbor and swipe glances at my cell phone when our teacher isn’t looking. I want more from the class. I’m a decent student; I do the assignments, I write new words I don’t know with the plan to look them up later but often space out when she gives us the chance to speak, unless it’s my turn, of course.  And I’ll admit I don’t take advantage of the opportunity like I could.  I should speak as much as possible considering I have a willing ear at the ready to correct me and help me improve.



 Speaking in class is what I urge all my high school students to do since it’s the best way to practice and improve and all the teachers use this class time to award participation points. As much as I want them to speak, I now know what it’s like to have to speak in class.   I’m no longer the shy kid nor afraid of speaking in class but it’s definitely not my favorite thing, especially when it’s not my native tongue.  I’m continually telling them I don’t care if they make mistakes because that’s part of the process of learning a language and practicing is the only way to improve. But when the roles are reversed, I understand what my student’s must feel- a sense of uncomfortable-ness speaking in a different language and making mistakes in front of their peers. It’s amplified in a high school setting vs. among adults but the feelings are the same.

 The difference between my students and I is, I can stop taking classes anytime. I don’t have to show up. But I stay because in each class I learn something new; new words, phrases, and expressions. I hear the pronunciation as the teacher speaks slowly and articulates every word. When I speak in class, I realize all the little mistakes I make when the teacher corrects me. Some days I wonder if I’m learning enough in exchange for the hour and half I’m there, 4 days a week in the evenings. That’s to be debated.

 With no other Spanish classes on the horizon, it may just be worth it to stay, in addition to finding the self-motivation to study and practice every chance I get, mistakes and all!


How are you as a student? Do you do things as a student that drives you bonkers as a teacher?  Can you relate?

After 2 months in the class, a week-long school holiday made me realize how much I loved my evenings and then a 10 day trip in Asturias made me realize even more how much I loved going home and cooking meals. So much for trying to stay focused in a lower level class.  

2 thoughts on “In the Classroom: Role Reversal

  1. Pingback: In the Classroom: Scattergories | Roamingtheworld

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