FORT WAYNE — Paula Rodriguez-Bañon had her own ideas about how her life would be as a teacher in an American school.
“Some parts are how I thought they would be, some are different,” she said.
Rodriguez-Bañon, 26, a first-grade teacher, and Noemi Gorbea-Barredo, 31, a second-grade teacher, started at Lindley Elementary this year through an exchange program. Both are originally from Spain.
Since moving to the United States in late summer, the two have been adjusting to everything from the food and transportation to the workload and hours of an American teacher.
Lindley is home to Fort Wayne Community Schools’ Spanish Immersion Program, which began in the fall of 1992 with 50 students in kindergarten and first grade. Its purpose was to help English-speaking students learn a second language. The program has since grown to include all 430 students who attend Lindley from kindergarten through fifth grade with the goal that students will be able to read, write, speak and comprehend in both languages.
In 2007, the program was invited to join the International Spanish Academies Program, a prestigious network of schools in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Science in Spain. Being a part of this network allows for the exchange program that brought Rodriguez-Bañon and Gorbea-Barredo to Lindley.
Rodriguez-Bañon has taught students in countries around the world including England, Australia, Ireland and Scotland. In Spain, she is a specialized teacher in English, but abroad she teaches Spanish.
Gorbea-Barredo had been contemplating participating in an exchange program for many years and thought she was at a point in her life when she could take the plunge. She had hoped to be placed in an American city, being from Madrid. She requested to be in Chicago but said it didn’t matter too much where she ended up.
Rodriguez-Bañon requested to be placed in Indiana after a friend who participated in the program had a positive experience in the Hoosier state.
The women met just two weeks before they started at Lindley but have become fast friends, bonding over their shared experiences and the learning curve to teaching in a different country.
They said their first two weeks were difficult, trying to buy a car and furniture and obtain a bank account and a cellphone, among other things while working 10- to 12-hour days preparing for the start of school. And there are aspects they both miss about home like the coast, the food, family and friends.
“There will always be things you miss when you’re abroad,” Rodriguez-Bañon said.
One major difference is transportation. Both said they walk almost everywhere in Spain, but here they must drive. Both reported being surprised with the cup holders in their vehicle.
“There are a lot of drive-thrus here,” Rodriguez-Bañon said.
But both said they’re learning much more about American culture.
“I think that if you’re a teacher, you always have to have an open mind to learn,” Rodriguez-Bañon said.
Gorbea-Barredo said the supervision and almost constant monitoring that come with teaching in the U.S. was stressful at first but has made her learn a lot.
“I’ve learned more here in four months than I did in five years in Spain,” she said.
She said the level of professional development is higher in the U.S., with more interaction and collaboration among teachers. Rodriguez-Bañon said the methodology is also different, and teaching is more standardized than in Spain. There’s more of a focus on reading and comprehension, Gorbea-Barredo said.
She was also surprised at the long hours and amount of work American teachers are responsible for.
In Spain, teachers work from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and students go out for recess every two hours, a schedule that varies greatly from the 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. teacher schedule at FWCS elementary schools.
The exchange program can last for three years, during which teachers can request to move to different schools or stay where they are. Despite the challenges, both Rodriguez-Bañon and Gorbea-Barredo say they would like to stay at Lindley.
“We feel very comfortable here,” Rodriguez-Bañon said.
They both said they feel safer living in the U.S. than they thought they would, and the adjustment has been made easier with the help of other teachers at Lindley.
“I love my first-grade team,” Rodriguez-Bañon said. “They make this easier.”
Maria Hanewald, an instructional coach at Lindley, said the two fill a great need in the building. She said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to fill teaching positions because teachers must be fluent in Spanish and licensed to teach at the elementary level.
“We always struggle with that,” she said. “We are in need of teachers like that in this country.”
Students receive their language arts instruction, which includes reading, writing and spelling in English during half of the day. The other half – which includes instruction in math, science, social studies and Spanish – is conducted in Spanish.
Gorbea-Barredo said while they are learning from their exchange experience, their students are also learning different words, as Spain, like most Spanish-speaking countries, has its own dialect.
Hanewald said having Gorbea-Barredo and Rodriguez-Bañon at Lindley is a great learning opportunity for students to learn about a culture from those who live it.
“It’s exciting for our students especially in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to have that opportunity,” she said.