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Stephanie Duncomb


readingMy First Students

My story takes place in Écija, Spain, a small town located in the southern region of Andalucia. Often overshadowed by the nearby cities of Sevilla and Córdoba, it is far from the path commonly traveled by tourists and expats. However, among locals, it is well-known by its infamous moniker: la sartén de Andalucia - the frying pan of Andalucia.

It was here, in the dry, scorching heat, where I began my first year of teaching.

I arrived, not as a prospective teacher, but as a recent graduate with degrees in journalism and Spanish. I came to Écija under the pretense of improving my Spanish, but, if I was being honest with myself, I really came to escape the responsibilities of adult life for just one more year.

I was placed at a bilingual primary school as a North American Language and Culture Assistant, a title that instantly made me an expert on all things English and all things American. I took my new position of expertise seriously and did my best to make my favorite customs and celebrations come alive for my students, even though I had never been taught how to plan a lesson or manage a classroom.

Looking back, I owe a lot to these students, my first group of students, as they taught me much more than I taught them. They taught me that kindness, patience, and a good sense of humor can overcome almost any language barrier; that a good teacher trusts her instincts - if I was excited about a lesson, chances were pretty good that they would be excited about it too; that trust and respect have to be earned - even from five-year- olds before any real learning can occur.

After a year of adventure, exploration, and self-discovery, it was time to say goodbye. I returned to the United States with a renewed sense of purpose and began the journey of becoming an ESL teacher.

Four years have passed since I left Spain, and I have welcomed many new groups of students into my classroom. As I continue to make space in my heart for each new group, I make sure to thank the ones who came before everyone else, who I now credit for helping me discover my passion for teaching.