16 May 2011, Monday
El Ejido

A few observations from last week:

It's clear that the students in SMDA see me as a way to get out of class.

Last Wednesday, two girls with whom I've wanted to talk for a long time approached me and asked if I could take them out of class for an interview at such-and-such hour. I asked what class they had at that time--an obligatory question I've learned to ask. I don't want the teachers to feel I don't value their classes, even though the students themselves are impatient to get out of them. The typical 'victims' are math, biology, and physics. And sure enough, the girls told me they had physics. I told them I really couldn't at that time, and they made a counter suggestion, after which we went through the same verbal ritual: "Qué tenéis a esa hora?" "Física." "Ah. No, lo siento pero no puedo. Tiene que ser a la hora de tutoría, religión, por ejemplo, o alternativa." Their rejoinder: you've done this with other students; you've taken them out of science classes. I think they were probably right, because I was taking students out of class at the beginning of the year pretty much whenever they could get away. A few weeks in, however, the math and science teachers started being more strict, a reaction that--from an educator's point of view--I understand perfectly. I suggested to the girls that perhaps P.E. would be a good class to skip. "No, me gusta educación física," one of them told me. "Ah!" I said, genuinely surprised (my own memories of endless volleyball and basketball drills filtering through.... bo-ring). "Entonces no te la puedes perder!"

They come to me to ask for interviews, and they try to do so when they have a math or science class, especially. The teachers are firm about not wanting students to miss out on these core classes, and I do my best to reinforce that message for students: You have to find another gap in your schedule--during homeroom, for example. Sometimes they grimace and shrug and walk away. Other times they run to consult their schedules and come back to tell me when they can meet.

I've teased students before that they just want to do interviews because they get to get out of class, but in fact, this is a mutually beneficial relationship. I get interviews, and they get a change in their routine. (Sometimes, the teachers are happy to have a couple fewer students in a class, too.) Furthermore, now that the weather is nice again, we've started doing interviews on the patio again, and I believe my social stock has increased with this change. Kids whom I thought had decided I wasn't cool, or that the interviews were boring, have started to approach me again. I don't turn anyone away, unless they consistently ask to miss physics class, for example. I've learned, within the system of the school, to refer them first to their teachers to ask permission, and then I double check--to make sure these arrangements are as transparent as possible.

In this way, my role at the school is always at the edge of official protocol, in a way. My presence offers students a temporary escape from routine, a distraction, but interviews and informal chats must fit into the school schedule and the spaces available on the school grounds. An interview with relative privacy means meeting in one of the department offices--an option students like less--or contending with interruptions from passersby on the patio, shouted greetings from the classroom windows, or, because we are outside, certain students' tendency to jump up, move around, or drag their feet through the pebbles.

These are not perfect interview conditions, I suppose, but they provide a way of simulating a version of "free time" and when I'm lucky, of allowing students to "do" free time while I'm there as a sympathetic participant observer. This happened last Tuesday when, after a social studies survey that a handful of students administered to me (when they asked me to participate, they noted that they were needed to do the survey with "una persona mayor," putting me firmly in my place!), one boy cued up Camarón de la Isla on his iPhone, and two girls launched into an impromptu flamenco performance themselves, complete with palmas and impressive vocals.