RealJobs: Ellen Willemin

Today’s high: I taught the fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper” to my fourth-graders. In it, a lazy grasshopper sees a busy ant stockpiling corn for the winter. The grasshopper says to the ant, come relax with me, to which the ant responds, no, I’ve got to work hard now so that I don’t starve during the winter. That winter, the grasshopper comes to the ant begging for food. The ant gives him some and says, next time don’t be so lazy!

The patio of Ellen’s school.

Though they are supposedly the low level class, they picked up on the morals of this story with great ease; we have to work hard and not be lazy, we have to be generous, we have to prepare for the future. For every frustrating moment in which you have tried to explain (in English) the meaning of “becomes” one thousand times, there are also these moments, in which the students grasp a concept with relative ease. You begin to think “Well, I must be doing something right!.” And then you have to think of some ingenious way to explain or demonstrate the meaning of the word “surface” in English. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

As native English-speakers, we take for granted what a precious commodity our mother tongue is. I certainly did, before coming to Spain to teach it. In an article that I discussed with one of my older students, who is learning English for her job at an international insurance company, I read that the level of English in Spain is lower than that of Italy and just above that of Taiwan. Partly for this reason, English fluency is such a big focus in Spain at this moment—the bilingual education initiative in both public and private schools is a huge expenditure, and that is not to mention the immense quantity of parents and adults alike who are looking for private classes to give their children or themselves a leg up in an increasingly globalized world. The idea is to start inculcating the language in students at a young age so that they may be better prepared to take on the real world, whether in Spain or abroad, in the future. Judging by the extremely high level of my fifth graders, who can not only carry on a normal conversation but also understand some jokes, the program is already a success.

Speaking English is a tremendous skill to have, and one that can allow you to travel the world teaching it in various places. If you are interested in travel or education (or both, as I am), I would encourage you to take advantage of this now, because who knows what the international language will be in 20 years?


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