By Hendrik B. – Auxiliar de Conversación in Madrid 18/19
Before arriving in Spain, I had many ideas of what teaching English in Spanish schools would be like, I wondered how the children behaved and what methods were used to teach English as well as the other subjects. I was also interested in how the education system operated in Spain and Madrid. From what I saw in my country and in Vietnam, I felt those systems were outdated and prepared children for work in a world that we don´t live in anymore. I am from South Africa and I had no idea what a Spanish school looked like and how it functioned.
This post is to inform you of what to expect in a Spanish public school, and what is expected of you as a Language Assistant.
1. The Language Assistant is not the Teacher, but You Can Teach
I arrived expecting to be left to prepare and teach classes on my own and it wasn´t necessary or expected of me. After a while, at my school, I started preparing and teaching lessons at my own request as I felt I had something to offer in certain areas of the English and natural science curriculums.
The role of the Language Assistant is to be a model for English when the students are learning and speaking English, to teach and illustrate the language including correct grammar, and especially pronunciation. It is important to communicate clearly with the teacher of each subject and find the way that you can best help in the classroom.
2. Bilingual in English, Natural and Social Science
Something to know before teaching English in Spanish schools is that, in the bilingual system, the students are taught the subjects English, natural science and
social science in English. Understanding and speaking a language is not the same as having to teach it. As native speakers, we take many things for granted when it comes to English, things that are not necessarily natural or easy to understand and it is a good idea to brush up on the grammar that the students will be working with throughout the year.
“Could you explain the third conditional today?” is a question that I was asked once, and I didn´t know what a conditional was. If I had known what a conditional was, I would have been able to explain it properly… After a quick Google search and a few examples, I was ready to explain it to the students.
Don´t worry if you don´t have a background in natural science, or if you don´t know the history and geography of Spain. With these subjects, natural and social science, your role is to make sure that the English language is used properly and in the process you will learn a lot about the subject matter at hand.
3. Teaching English in Spanish Schools
A Spanish public school is not much different from any other public school. From what I have seen, the classrooms are well equipped with smart boards, blackboards and all teaching tools you may need. The students work with a set of textbooks used in their curriculum as well as activities prepared by the teacher without the books. I think it is important to have both as bookwork gives the stability and consistency of knowledge transfer, and the activities allow the students to use their creative energies and apply the knowledge to a real situation.
4. The Children and Culture
I work at a public school with students between grade 1 and grade 6. In my experience, Spanish children are more or less the same as all children around the world, with the difference that their mother tongue is Spanish. It is important to understand that we, as humans, are all built and put together in more or less the same way, we all need love, understanding, and encouragement when learning something new.
As the students get older, they become more aware and influenced by the society that they grow up in. All children are in their nature good when they behave badly. I have been in the classroom when this happens and it could be due to circumstances at home or because they are not understanding something or not getting the attention they need.
It is important to be caring, considerate and consistent when working with children. Allow them the freedom to express themselves but, when that expression is impacting the learning of other children in a negative way, it should be dealt with in a calm manner. Luckily, as the Language Assistant, you are not the one to have to deal with these situations and clear communication with the teacher is important at all times. The kids at my school are awesome and it is a wonderful thing to see the lights go on in their eyes when you are involved in an interesting lesson, seeing them learn in this way is a privilege.
5. Working Hours
One of the positive points about being a Language Assistant is that your working hours are normally only 16 hours a week. In my case, I work four days a week doing 4 to 6 lessons a day with different classes. This has allowed me the time to learn Spanish, flamenco guitar and to travel around Spain on my long weekends. You may consider taking up a new hobby in your free time or studying as this job gives you that freedom.
6. Use Your Experience and Knowledge to Give Perspective
As Language Assistants, we come from different backgrounds and countries with different histories. I had the opportunity in the previous semester to teach a few lessons about the history of South Africa as I grew up there. The kids really loved it and it is a great thing to be able to give them the perspective of another country. They learn that not everybody grows up in the same environment that they do and with greater perspective comes greater understanding and compassion. Use the tools you have been given to share some knowledge and teach.
7. Make Yourself a Team Member
Your school is a place where you will be for at least a year so it is important to get to know the teachers and the students well. It takes some time but if you make an effort sooner or later you will become closer to the teachers and you may even make some good friends that will last long after you have left school. It is important for the teachers to see that you make an effort and that they can count on you. You will be given more responsibility and allowed a greater level of freedom in the school.
I am very comfortable with the teachers and students in my school. This means I am not shy in making suggestions or giving ideas, of course always in a respectful manner, you don´t want to make anyone feel undermined. Remember most teachers teach in English which is not their first language and some care needs to be taken in the way you give ideas, suggestions or corrections.
8. Teaching = Learning
All the best teachers I have come across in my life have one thing in common. They are lifetime students. This job might be a stepping stone for you to a more formal teaching job. Use this time in the classroom as an opportunity to learn from the local teachers, I have learnt a wide array of different techniques and creative ways to teach that I wouldn´t have had the chance to see if I wasn’t in this position. Be open to suggestions and soak up every moment like a sponge. It is amazing to see how fast these kids learn, but remember you were also a kid once and you still have this ability, so keep learning.
In conclusion, I love my job! This is a great opportunity to learn, teach and experiment in a formal school setting without all the responsibility of the teacher. I hope this article has shed some light on the role of a Language Assistant. The only thing left to do is to come and experience it firsthand.