Interview: The Evolution Of Teaching In Spain

Interview: The Evolution Of Teaching In Spain
Summary: Agustina Garcia is a philologist and language teacher at the IES Lope de Vega in Madrid; she is now studying Clarice Lispector, the Brazilian writer of Ukrainian origin and a Jewish family, author of "The Passion According to G.H". At we have had the opportunity to chat with her to give us her vision of the evolution of teaching in Spain after 30 years of experience in the sector. A luxury!

Discussing About The Evolution Of Teaching In Spain

Here is what Agustina Garcia told about the evolution of teaching In Spain:

“I have 30 years of high school teaching experience. The system’s laws have changed a little. When I started, there was another system and then came the ESO. I've lived through this change with great enthusiasm, because 40 years ago in Spain there were children in the street; not now. The laws are important because, politically, we must make decisions about ages, schedules, budgets, etc. However, what happens in the classroom is a little ‘alien’ to politics; at least a bit, I don’t mean entirely. What happens in a classroom between a lecturer and students is a whole world.

”I lived these changes with hope, especially in a political way. The fact that everyone has been included in the educational system seems a conquest in Spain. Note that in 1936, during the civil war, there were 24 million people in Spain and half of them were illiterate. Gradually there have been taking steps, so that this situation could be alleviated and remedied.

”But of course, day by day, I've lived that change also in a very traumatic way: I was used to having pupils aged 15 to 18 years old, and with the LOGSE, 12 years old students came to me. A 12 year old student is not the same thing with a 15 year old student. To me, it was hard to get used to that stretch of 12 to 15 or 16.

”We have had enough training, because the LOGSE incorporated teacher training. I've done a lot of training. We also had many means of photocopies –we could have unlimited photocopies at first–, and we could create our own materials. Of course, all this is not easy to reconcile with a schedule, because all these trainings were made outside of your workday. So it's really been years with a lot of work.

”From the 30 years I have been working in education, 22 have passed in Madrid, and I realized that in Madrid teachers were very conservative. I've met companions who said ‘Well, if the student does not pay attention, it is better for them not to come at all’. There were women who did not realize that they could not say that: The law is equal for all, and all children must be in school. In the same way that you have to adapt to the system, you have to adapt to the children, because we cannot say ‘We will kill the child because if the system does not work, then you have to kill the child’. That we cannot do. And of course, there are teachers who said, for example, that the important thing was physics, or Latin, and yet, if their son had chosen photography, photography was not considered knowledge of ‘culture’.

”So, all these conservative teachers who said ‘For those who don’t want to come, please, don’t come’, all that generated a current of opinion to discredit and say that the educational level was low: That has been installed a little on the imaginary and the public opinion, and I do not see it.”

The Quality Of Education 

“I see that new generations have new knowledge in music, visual, and plastic education, which I have not. I did not learn to read music or draw; I generally didn’t have the access to arts that children have now. I think the students’ level has risen a lot in these subjects. Then there is the Latin language. Look; we have been studying Latin since the eighteenth century, when Jovellanos was in favor of adopting modern languages and reducing dead languages. And it took us 200 years to incorporate innovation. Of course, I am a philologist; I love Latin and I study Latin almost every day, but I admit that there are many ways to incorporate Latin when learning living languages.

”Something different is the level of modern languages right now: Children understand a film in English. When I was little I was a very studious girl, and I was studying French. But when I faced ‘live’ French I did not understand anything. I did not understand even the word ‘France’, because I heard ‘La France’ and at that moment I did not realize that what they were telling me was ‘France’. Imagine yourself not being able to orally identify the word ‘France’ after 10 or 12 years of studying French: It is a failure, and yet nobody admitted that it was a failure.

”Even this gentleman, Durao Barroso, who has been a senior member of the European Union, a Portuguese, says that today the level has dropped so much. But what is this man telling me? In the 60s I traveled by trains full of Portuguese emigrants who were coming from Frankfurt in a three-day journey; and now this gentleman tells me that there was much more culture then? Yes, there was much more culture; but only for the elite, which was the minority.

”I have lived changes in a contradictory way: On one hand, with great political hope; on the other, with great effort and many professional difficulties, because, of course, I passed an opposition then called ‘high school aggregate’; it was good, it was a comfortable thing. But hey, when you have to completely change your thinking about your students and what they need... Because you can put a test and whoever passes it, passes the course, and whoever fails, fails the course. This is no longer good for anything: What you have, the time you have, you have to... how do you say it now?, you have to ‘manage’ to deal with it in a way that helps each and every student. And then, well, that's the double reading that I have from my experience."

The Evolution Of Teaching In Spain: The Only Constant Is Change 

“And then there are the constant changes: Every year, I, in the 30 years I've been teaching, had to deal with something that I had never met before. There are always very new things. For example, this year I'm teaching distance universal literature. Of course, that I had never taught online. And I have to be always ready, looking for online resources to upload for pupils in the virtual classroom of the school – we have an online space for every teacher to put materials and all that.

”In Spain, there had always been distance learning. When I started working in Madrid, in 1987, I worked in what was called the night school. There were students who had not had access to school; they were working, and went to study at the institute in the afternoon. But afterwards, with the LOGSE, as it was already mandatory for everyone, the night school disappeared, because there was no longer students working since they were 14. But of course, over the years, there is again a number of students who have been left off the hook, and it there is a need to support them by offering some courses to them.

”Now there is remote learning: Remote learning is a program that has a reduced schedule, where students receive a collective tutoring every week, either morning or afternoon. So I have to repeat the same each week, one day in the morning and another day in the afternoon, so students can attend. They have access to personal tutoring, where they can call me or visit me at the center. There are also some materials on the internet that they can take with Moodle, which we must prepare ourselves; there are standards we can use, given by the Ministry, and we can expand them.

”Now I have three groups for remote learning: A second grade in high school, a first grade in high school, and one at ESPAD, which is secondary school for adults, which also has migrant students who have entered our country. There is a Russian student who doesn’t have the recognition of the Spanish education system, so he is taking ESPAD. There are also students from Latin America, many of them, and also Spaniards, because apparently, there are 40 year old people who left school early and they need a high school diploma to climb the ladder at work. Another girl who started working very young as a secretary is also attending, because she doesn’t have the certification. I mean, there is a heterogeneous student body.

”There is a program which is much closed. Every fortnight I select what seems to be more important to me. Then, those who come to tutoring already know what it is going to be talked about that day. I try to discuss something useful every time. For example, the other day, they told me: ‘But teacher, we will not do any homage to Cervantes?’. I hadn’t thought about Cervantes, because in ESPA the Renaissance is covered, so I said ‘You are right’. And then I wondered: ‘What might be useful for them?’. And then I remembered the gitanilla, where there is a moment of epiphany at the end of the play, when the secondary characters who had been absent for many years recognized the main character. The gypsy girl, Constance, was stolen by a gypsy from Corregidor. And in the end, it is discovered at a meeting that the girl was the daughter of a high society family. So we read this fragment. They asked me: ‘Will we have to learn this word, anagnórisis?’ This was during the last part of the class, and we were focused on that.

”As you can see, yes, we can adapt the curriculum to the circumstances a little. We only have one hour per week for that, but it is the students who have so much interest. That, to me, is very satisfying, because I see that they ask me and they want to know more...”

The Internal Change 

“I especially have changed in that I am not dogmatic. For example, the direct object: It seems it was something that if you did not know, you couldn’t pass to second grade, right? Well, syntax, for example, although I give much importance to it, I no longer give it all the importance. Also, spelling, I also give importance to it, but not all the importance.

”I have learned to relativize, to think that there are other things that are also important. For example, talking about sexuality: When the gay marriage law came, I was working with Gypsies, and some guys from the COGAM collective came to class to do an awareness. The girls asked them ‘But you're a fag?’, they answered ‘I am gay’ and the girls said ‘that means you're demonized’.

”But notice that the girl who said these things, she repeated it because in their culture it's felt that way. But I am convinced that this girl, in the afternoon at home, or with friends, whenever she spoke of the issue again, she would repeat or speak the things the boy had said, and she would not take the other role, because he made her think. That's what I have changed the most, because I had never heard of a gay marriage; 25 years ago I would never have spoken in a classroom of the homosexual marriage. It hadn’t occurred to me; it was not in people’s mentality. When I start thinking about this subject, I think I was very homophobic, and then, gradually, I have been approaching the world differently.

”Another experience I had with the subject of language: There was a child from Ecuador, whom I taught in 2000 or so, when they began to be incorporated into our educational system. I talked a bit about Miguel Delibes, who was very plastic and spoke of storks, and well, that boy did not know what a stork was. I could not understand that someone would have never heard of storks, but really, why should they? He spoke to me about the tilingo, and I didn’t know what it was; I had never heard of tilingos...

”Those things make you think a lot. Of course, the system is a bit old and slow, but I also think the school has to be a bit like that, right? It has a socializing function in the group. Some teachers offer practical subjects, and this is a way in. You can learn anything. Once you know how you learn something, and how to identify if you know or don’t know it, then you apply it to anything you have to learn. The test is a blank paper page or a blank computer page in which you need to obtain out of your head what you have been learning. That's when you'll realize what you need, what you did not understand, what you have to repeat, what to insist on...”

Project-Based Learning

“This year, at the Lope de Vega Institute we have incorporated project-based learning, and in the fourth grade of ESO I have to do a unit for the second evaluation that we have devoted to the Nobel prizes. We worked in groups, and there was a girl who could not work in a group, so she worked by herself; others were distributed in groups and they have researched the matter. The final project we had to present in the cultural center of Aluche, in Castilla y Leon. In Aluche there is a cultural center of Castilla y Leon, and as I worked for 20 years at an institute in Aluche, and I contacted the center, the students went there one afternoon.

”Specifically, some students spoke of Pablo Neruda’ work, and another spoke of Korea. That girl is a fan of Asian cultures, and it turns out that in Korea there is only a Nobel Prize, in Peace, not in literature, and she told us about it.

”Students tell me many things. Now there are meetings of cultures. I'm looking forward to them, I do comparison of languages, and then I think about things I had never thought before, and about other writers that they also talk about. A girl did her work on Russian Nobel prizes; Russian literature is one of the greats of world culture, and well, she spoke of Sholokhov, whom I did not know many things about. I learn many things with my students.

”But hey, we go slowly: Because this project also entails new literature that talks about standards, rubrics, and worksheets progress, which is the usual, but with a new language. We have access to information, we also have some tutorials, and there are teachers who already go a little ahead and tell us all about it. So we have that kind of training. But hey, there are people who are more involved and people who are less engaged, so we are going slowly. But we are learning new things.

”For example, in universal literature, there are American authors who were not previously in the curriculum, such as Dylan Thomas, so we had to incorporate these contents. But the content is not the most important thing; I mean you can apply the methodology to any content. You must also like it. Education, if you don’t like it, it's torture. If you like it, you gradually progress... because everyone learns in the end, no other choice is left.”

New Methodologies Applied To Education 

“New methodologies applied in education, as in Finland, where they use the flipped classroom. Here they are known more at a theoretical level, but outputs are also made; the open classroom is also used. What can be done is done. Then, there are more avant-garde centers; there may be differences between centers, even among the public ones. These differences depend on the educational team, as they get more or less involved, because the center has to promote it, to do something that involves the team a little; because if not, well... Where I am now, yes, there is an atmosphere of change, they want to do things right... An historical institute does not necessarily mean that everything is already done, right?

”There is a bit of everything. There are also very conservative management teams. Some people are also selfish and they think that the most important thing is not the students, but their own position. This, with the government of the Community of Madrid, has also been noticed, as it has favored a series of very conservative teams. The ‘separatism’, how it was carried out, with a selection of students, it is not the spirit of equality that a lot of teachers want in order to help every student.”

Improvement Proposals 

“Maybe a reinforced English level is needed, because a system that only goes to 30% or even 20% success, to only reach some elites, is not what we have fought for. Although there have been many laws, they have all gone a little to the same direction. The only difference is that more money or less money is available. Public money can be used more in military expenses or educational expenses, and that is where the issue is.

”But well, I does seem ok to me that there is a legislative consensus. Then, there are also the laws related to Catalan language: I really would be in favor of the subject of languages in Spain being offered throughout the country, so that all children would have access to it, at least to a level B1 of the CEFR (Common European Framework European Reference for Languages), Galician, Basque, Catalan, outside their own communities. Because of course, when it comes to finding a job, I had a friend that her sister is a pharmacist, number one of her promotion: That girl aspired to be a pharmacist at a hospital in Galicia, and she could not access the job post due to the local language used.

”So, to me that seems like a clumsy, because maybe it is very important to learn English, but it is very important also to learn Galician, because you can simply get a job post. I don’t see this to be complicated. Sometimes when I ask my students what they know about Catalonia, they know Barça, Jordi Pujol, the sea, but they do not know the culture; although in the language school in Madrid you can study Catalan and there are several centers. I think it also has to be within the system. I would put it as a compulsory subject, if I were the minister… At least there would be access, which also would serve in the fight against separatism, right? It's fundamental. But hey, it seems that in Madrid, with the government we have, this is a little distant. Although, who knows?

“Or for example, Arabic studies. For many years we have had a barrier there; we were very proud of the music of Córdoba, a series of cultural events, but we did not want to know that there were people living there and that they have another life. That life must be known, because it is an important part of the Spanish population; if not, how are we going to communicate? The media transmit Islamophobia, they raise questions to peace, integration, and that is also important.

”I think the school should do more excursions, for example. We are already organizing some; I had one scheduled since September, an excursion to Salamanca -because I am from Salamanca-, which is a very educational city for students, a Renaissance city, who many don’t know about. Now, it has come the third quarter, which is when I had planned it, and they told me no, because tests are coming. Finally, it ended up not being done.

”I believe that such actions do not encourage students to learn, because what you'll learn during a day trip is something that you cannot forget. It is not the same seeing something in class and seeing it yourself in place: The house of the shells, the deco art... Seeing a number of things, being there with other people, the river... It's not the same. I would result more in such activities outside the classroom.

”But things are going well this year. Students in fourth course of ESO are visiting companies to see how they work, and I think that can help too. They are happy. They see the professional world quite closely and they want to be prepared to be able to wean and have their freedom.

”There are also European projects for contacting students from different countries. I do not know if it works through Skype. There is a page of the European Union, Eurydice, which speaks of these programs, but it also is very bureaucratic. They organize it, but eventually they get discouraged because they do not see the end; but they are working. Yes, a small group of students have gone to Germany, this is being done for several years now. It is very positive, because they get to meet new friends and are learning other ways to live.

”I also say that we look much into business, Europe, the United States, but we do not look at Africa. I think for example that being in Sahara with goats would also be very educational, because we would learn to value things and understand things. I have no notice of students here who have interchanged with Mali, Sudan, or Egypt; I think that governments are not interested in such things. They are very close, look at Morocco, but apparently this does not interest us, or we do not want it. I think we should think a little bit more about that.”

The Leap From School To College 

“Regarding the relationship between school and university, I have a big thorn, because I would like to teach at the university too; I did a doctorate, a doctoral thesis, and yet I see that from the point of view of school teachers, we have the access cut to college. There are two ways, but neither is an easy one:

  • There is a formula called associate professor, where you have to work on your schedule in high school, plus the hours of the University. This, of course, is an overload; after 50 years teaching is already very hard.
  • The other formula would be an assistant professor, but earning 1,000 euros is not satisfactory for a 50 years old person.

”It is true that school teachers do have access to high school, but we don’t have access to teach at a university as a professor. It is a topic claim that we have failed to raise, or haven’t claimed enough, and I have suffered from it. Since I read my thesis in 2009 I was trying to be a professor, but I was requested for an accreditation from ANECA. Since I had no university training experience, they did not give me the accreditation, although I had a lot of teaching experience in another field. Then, to acquire that teaching experience to get the ANECA accreditation, you had to either be associated with or be yourself an assistant professor. So, in the end, I almost stopped thinking about it.”

Students At University 

”This year there is a festival of classical theater at the Complutense University, and they have led us to watch Helen Of Troy and Oedipus The King. We have seen the campus, we have been in the students’ home, where they gave us information about grades, but of course I do not agree with that 3 + 2 subject: It is like going back to pay again, to break a little equality. Also, now I have a niece who is taking a master degree, and she takes exams every week. It's like going back to primary. It should not be that way; it should prevail the independence, because when you finish your studies you'll have to continue on your own. To me, having a test every week seems silly. Like justifying how much we work.

”In passing from school to college, in technical careers such as engineering I do not understand why in the first course most students fail. It is a drag of the old system: Pay a tribute, go to special classes, go to an academy, pay more... This is a kind of corruption, I understand, and we need to analyze it.

”Then, in literature studies, there is not so much of team building; there are teams, but I think it comes more as a personal training at reading. Reading is individual, you have to access personally, silent. I think the lyrics are mainly books, but there are people like Chomsky who speak about the evolution from linguistics to sociology and help you understand the world. For me, this is the ideal. I understand this: These figures such as Erasmus, Chomsky, who were born in philology, or Bertrand Russell, who went to literature because he found mathematics very easy, are exceptional characters. They are our models.”

Continuous Learning 

“We must be prepared for the new, for what does not yet exist. Sometimes having the operating system changed is not an obstacle for you to overcome, but a way to make money, because it involves true knowledge. There was a philosopher in ancient Greece who learned to play the flute at age 85. You are always learning, there is no doubt. However, we have to fight a little against the cycle of changing something that is not substantial, because computers, as cars, at the end their functioning is the same. So why do we change them every six years? For example, about planned obsolescence, I think we could have a computer or a car for life. But of course, we have lost ground so strongly... that does not mean it’s knowledge. You will be constantly getting dizzy... It's like having to change your mobile phone every year.

”With the students, we are always telling them they have to change, but I have studied a little about the industrial revolution, where I have seen unemployment they call ‘structural unemployment’. A country, no matter how many millions euros it has, does not just end with unemployment. Which is what happened here when there was the bubble; there was a lot of money moving, but that neither ended with the unemployment. Some have interests in having masses of people intimidated by telling them they could lose their jobs: ‘If you don’t want the job, there are 50 people who want it’. I think that's what we have to change. See others as people, not as numbers or as a means or human resources such as machines; they are not machines, they are people.

”I am very fond of a French philosopher called Simone Weil, who wrote The Working Condition and was contemporaneous with Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre. She was in the war in Spain and died of tuberculosis, not wanting to receive treatments that workers were not receiving, although her family could afford it. This woman said that at work we need to know why we work and what we work for.”

Educator By Vocation 

“I am what is called vocational. I like it a lot, since I started, and now I am also at a good time, because I've had very, very hard times with all this adaptation. Also, among peers it is very difficult sometimes: If I have a problem with a student, I understand, because it is part of my job; but having a problem with a partner who is like you, that I do not get.

”Well, I think I have reached a point where I'm very happy and I see it optimistically from the will perspective and pessimistically from the intelligence perspective: Optimistic of will because I think we do want to do things; but then, from a scientific point of view, intellectually, it is complicated, because there is a number of forces that are there for business. Madrid no longer reaches the 50% rate of public education centers; they have been assimilated, gone to subsidized private, and policies are missing co-education, which was a vindication of the 60s, so that boys and girls were together in the classroom.”

The Ideal School 

“The ideal for me would be the ‘total school’: Everything outside school and the school would be all. That school could also get the experience of grandparents, as grandparents would go to school once a week.

”Also, Friday could be devoted to visiting libraries, for example. Libraries, although there is much online information, are still very useful. When I get online information, it is not the same as when I go to the library and I see the books on the shelf front. Libraries are not widely used because students do not have the time to go there. We should leave time to attend these libraries. For example, we teachers have a magnificent library in St. Augustine Street in the Ministry of Education, which it is open in the morning and closed in the afternoon. So, as most teachers work in the morning, the library is always empty and we cannot use it. Well, I think yes, we would have to leave one day a week to do that sort of thing, and not, of course, stay in bed. It would be for going to museums, libraries, for doing something else.

”Finally, adult education: There are women who are studying English, theater... The motto is that the school belongs to everyone and it is for everyone.”