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When in Spain...

Walk into Castillo de Luna high school in Rota, Spain, and you'll notice:

(a) Teachers, not students, move from class to class. (b) There is no cafeteria.

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Education as Americans know it prominently features both mobile pupils and a big place to eat. But consider the advantages of a school that lacks them.

Students are bright and friendly and seem unaffected by being taught in the same room all day with no posters on the walls or well-stocked aquariums. They smile when smiled at, sign petitions to see Pinochet brought to justice, and do better in English class than most US high-schoolers do in Spanish.

Teachers may not have rooms of their own, but they do have what their stationary and sometimes isolated counterparts around the world don't: regular contact with colleagues.

Spend a few weeks here and you quickly look forward to the opportunity to converse with adults in the teachers' lounge between periods, or to regroup before facing another class. Togetherness is a natural part of this culture, which makes time for families to gather every afternoon and eat while the town shuts down (goodbye lunch room).

Each school day there are two official breaks - 25 and 15 minutes each. Teachers steal the other between-class moments. They care about teaching, but here in the southern part of the country the relaxed attitude toward punctuality extends to school. Refreshingly, no one is standing around calculating how many minutes of education this is costing the students.

And who's to say the kids are losing out? Being reminded each day that education is a team effort isn't such a bad thing for teachers - especially in this coastal town, where a nationwide reform has just arrived. Students are younger - Grades 7 and 8 have been tacked onto high school - and are showing up with lower academic ability. With increased workloads and class sizes looming, it's easy to see how a few morale-boosting moments in the staff room could be worth more than a door with your name on it.

* Kim Campbell is the assistant Learning editor. Send e-mail comments to

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