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EMMA BURGER '14 (Bachelor of Arts in Music Education; Certificate in Leadership Studies)
First Year K-5 General Music Teacher at the American School of Madrid in Spain.
POST #2: September 28, 2014
September has come and gone in a blink of an eye, and yet, there is so much to say.
Working at the American School of Madrid is excellent. As a music teacher, it is really gratifying to work in a school where the arts are appreciated. The administration is very supportive of us and most importantly, we see each child in the elementary school for an hour a week, every week. Because we have such great student contact time and small class sizes (16-22 students per class), we are able to provide an excellent music education for the students.
I co-teach the preschool and elementary classes with the other general music teacher, and because I have a passion for beginning band, I work with the upper school instrumental teacher with the fifth grade band.
The students at the American School of Madrid come from absolutely all over. We have parents who are diplomats, international businesspeople, professional sports athletes, US military personnel, members of the Spanish royal family, etc. It’s always fun to be at recess duty when the other teacher on duty casually mentions... "Oh so and so's cousin is the King of Spain”. Another teacher put it well when she said, “We teach children who will one day have a great deal of influence over how our world is run, and it is our responsibility to guide them to understand not only reading, writing, and math, but also compassion, thoughtfulness, and perspective.”
Additionally, there is a large population of English language learners here, particularly in the younger grades (pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade).Many of the Spanish students learn English for the first time when they start school. By the time they are in first grade, they all speak English, unless they transfer from another country. For the Spanish pre-schoolers, I find myself saying “sin hablar, sin corer”(without talking, without running) all the time, as well as many other useful phrases.
While I could go on and on about work, September has also been a month full of play. Spain is a beautiful country with a beautiful culture, and it’s been so much fun to be a part of it. The most typical cultural events I’ve been a part of include seeing a flamenco show and going to the bullfights. The flamenco show was fiery and passionate, and the dancers have the skill to take your heart where they want it to go. I left the show feeling more alive than I’d felt in a long time. The bullfights are not for the feint of heart, but also poetic in their own way. No matter what happens in the bull ring, the bull will always die. To me, this is a metaphor for human mortality. Death is guaranteed for us all, so more important that death itself is how we face our demise. You can refuse to fight, and die a cowardly death, or you can give everything you have and die honorably.
I traveled to Avila, Spain, a few weeks ago for the Festival of Three Cultures. This festival is held inside the walls of a medieval castle and celebrates the peaceful coexistence of the Christians, Jews, and Moors during that period in history. There was much frolicking to be had and giant platters of meat and flagons of ale were consumed. To top it all off, there were people dressed in period costume and many street musicians playing renaissance music.
I also made it a priority to visit the beach before the weather began to turn. I went with coworkers to Alicante, Spain, which is on the Costa Blanca. We spent our weekend on the island of Tabarca, swimming in the Mediterranean and living out our mermaid dreams in a secluded lagoon with water as blue as it can be.
I’m very happy to be here, and the adjustment process has been ok. Being at school is like being in America, so most of my day is very “normal.”The adventures begin when I leave school and become a part of Spanish culture. There have been emotional ups and downs, but nothing I can’t handle. And truly, who wouldn’t enjoy living in a country where the cheapest commodities are croissants, chocolate, and wine?
POST #1: August 15, 2014
A great adventure begins tomorrow; I will be flying to Madrid, Spain, with a one-way ticket.
This time last year, I was getting ready to start my senior year at Marietta College. Both of my roommates had spent the spring semester studying abroad, and while I could not wait to see them in August, I was also sad that I never had the opportunity to study abroad while in college. Because that door was closed to me, I decided to research teaching abroad. I googled that same phrase, and quite literally a world of possibilities was opened to me. I had no idea there were International schools in almost every country.
After spending some time perusing school websites and weighing my options, I decided to find a job using a company called SearchAssociates. They specialize in bringing international schools and prospective teachers together at job fairs, where interviews are conducted and job offers are made. Before I was accepted as a client by SearchAssociates, I had to write an essay, provide sealed letters of recommendation, interview via Skype, and then, when all had cleared, pay a fee. This took most of September and October, and by November, I was “in”and registered for a job fair at the end of January.
The job fair was a fast paced experience. The first step in the fair was to schedule interviews with schools that had music openings. I walked up to booths, shook hands, handed out my resume, and spoke briefly with the schools. The American School of Madrid had a music opening posted, but it was for a teacher with 5+ years of experience and a Masters degree. Although I was very unqualified, I approached the table and introduced myself. I spoke with the Headmaster who then informed me that while I was unqualified for the posted position, he would love to interview me for a music internship position, which was not advertised. During our interview the next day, I was offered the position and had 24 hours to accept or decline the offer. I was elated, but to make matters more complicated, I had two other offers on the table from other schools. I spent the night in my hotel room, reading contracts, comparing salaries, and making pros and cons lists about all three schools. I went to bed that night not knowing what I would do.
I didn’t sleep well that night because my mind was racing and thoughts of Spain danced in my head. I woke up in the morning with my answer. I accepted the position as a K-5 General Music Teacher through the American School of Madrid’s internship program, which is a program designed to give support to first year teachers. As a first year teacher, I’ll be co-teaching with a more experienced colleague. I’m really pleased about this, because co-teaching will give me a chance to observe a seasoned teacher and give me opportunities to improve my pedagogy without the stress of being 100% in charge of my own classroom.
Back to the present, I’m ready to go! I spent the summer with my family and saying goodbye to most of my worldly possessions. I’m excited to begin my first year of teaching and to have the life changing and culturally immersive experience I’ve always wanted to have. I’m guessing this year will be one of the most difficult years of my life, but in the words of JFK, “We didn’t go to the Moon [Spain] because it was easy, we went to the Moon [Spain] because it was hard.
No matter what lies ahead, I’m just going to jump in and figure it out.