Cenicero y Nájera

For my work as a language assistant, I’ve been assigned to two different schools. The first is in Cenicero, a small village with a school of just over 100 students. I got really lucky and was only given a work schedule from Monday-Wednesday! Which means I would have Thursday and Friday completely free if it weren’t for the language academy… but more on that later. I take the bus to both villages and it’s about a 30 minute ride. I don’t like getting up earlier than I would have to if I was placed in Logroño, but it could be a lot worse!

Basically it’s an elementary school with a preschool attached. My classes range in age from 3-years-old to 12-years-old. Pretty great difference there. I only work with two teachers, first is Ana who teaches English and Science for 3rd-5th grade. Then there is Xabi who leads English for 1st and 2nd grade, and also goes over to the preschool for 30 minute English lessons. I enjoyed my first week with them because they are very helpful and I get to follow along with the lessons they already have planned for the classes. When they found out I liked Art History and studied it in college, they came up with a school year theme where they can use different art pieces to explain English vocabulary (parts of the body, animals, settings, feelings) and an art project where the kids are going to do finger paintings like cave drawings and create a “cave” in the entry way of the school. It sounds cute and fun!


The downside is when I have a short break between classes I sometimes feel awkward around the other teachers. They hardly speak any English and I think they’re embarrassed to try to talk to me (Spanish people are very proud). Sometimes it goes well and one of them will offer me a coffee or a piece of breakfast cake, but most of the time any conversations end after “Hola, que tal?”… I would love to try to talk to some of them in Spanish even though they speak very quickly, but since I announced that my Spanish wasn’t that great most of them keep their distance and I don’t have the courage to speak up yet. Hopefully that will change! The students are pretty well behaved and I enjoy my classes. The time goes by really fast with them since I only see them for three days every other week!

My other school is in Nájera, another small village, but larger than Cenicero. I like traveling there because it is nestled in the mountains, but already it is getting cold! Nájera has two high schools and two primary schools. Mine is a private, religious-based school of about 200 students. There are actually four nuns, or monjas who live above the school (and also a chapel complete with multiple relics that at least three different teachers showed me, the first time I was like, “What is this place?!” because it’s the last thing you would expect to be behind a narrow staircase). The students love me. I feel like a celebrity every day because anytime they see me on the stairwell or through a class door or across the playground they yell “Hello Corney!!!” It’s really cute, and although they aren’t as well behaved as the students at my other school, I feel like I connected with them a little bit more so far.

The other teachers are incredibly nice to me and friendlier than those in Cenicero (not to say they are mean, just the teachers in Nájera are like wow). They don’t care that they have to speak in slow Spanish and we may have multiple errors, they want to get to know me. My first day I told them that I was sick and needed to to to a pharmacy (everything In Logroño is closed on Sunday) and Raquel immediately got up and told me to follow her. She lives in Nájera and showed me where one was and was stopping to introduce me to different shop owners and people she knew along the way. So nice! She even ordered my cough syrup for me. Jésus is a younger teacher who has a few classes of computer technology. I feel a little bad because he told me he has two engineering degrees, but there is just no work in Logroño right now because of the crisis. So he teaches at the school and is hoping for more hours. He offered to take Jay and I to a bodega whenever we want. The teacher I spend the most time with is Charo. She used to be the only English teacher even though her English is shockingly poor. She is very motherly though and already pulled me aside to give me a book in Spanish about the Prado Art Museum in Madrid “in case I liked reading and would like to know more.” The other English teacher is Náyade, and she is incredibly kind. I was sick on Tuesday and didn’t go to school and she didn’t even have me make it up later in the week. She teaches the 13 and 14-year-olds. Her English is very good and I like talking with her. The next time I will be in her class, she gave an assignment to put together presentations in English about typical Spanish music, food, etc. so that I can know. I’m excited! And the kids were excited too, they all found me later to tell me which group they were in.

La Piedad

However, my first day there was really difficult. After I introduced myself to the class, the teachers just sat down and told me to teach something and I has nothing prepared. As a language assistant, we shouldn’t be leading the class on our own– especially with no notice. I even asked them what type of vocab they wanted me to teach and they just said “Whatever you want.” Not okay! Wednesday wasn’t as bad as Monday because I had some time to prepare and all the teachers gave me a copy of the English book they follow in class, but I’m hoping I don’t have problems in the future. It’s really hard to even play games with the kids because their English levels are so low they often don’t know what I’m saying. Especially the preschoolers. If I can’t explain a game completely in Spanish, there’s nothing really to do because not even the “English teachers” can understand my English and translate it for me. So it’s definitely a challenge. One of the teachers in Cenicero told me he didn’t feel like they were qualified to be doing a bilingual program as they are a small village with limited resources, but they are doing the best they can. So I am going to have a positive attitude and keep doing the best I can. All of the teachers have a laid back attitude and the kids seem to really want to have fun, so I’m enjoying it as I can! More to come!


2 Responses to “Cenicero y Nájera”

  1. dad

    don’t be afraid to ask for help…I know its hard but find the teacher you get along with best and tell them you want to get better at Spanish and ask them if they will talk to you. make them feel special for helping

  2. Dan Frazier

    Courtney, gracias por compartir tus experiencias con nosotros, disfrutamos de cada palabra que escribe. Como sumergirse en castellano la oreja que crecerá más en sintonía. Quisiera proponer que no utilizan el inglés en la medida de lo posible. Escuchar radio y televisión locales, cuanto más, mejor, interactuar con personas que no son bilingües con el fin de dominar.

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