Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Job

IES Juana de Castilla
My job has two titles: English Teaching Assistant and Auxiliar de Conversacíon.

What do I do, you ask?

That, my friends, is an excellent question... I have no idea!

I'm a week in and have only a vague notion of what I'm supposed to be doing. There are several reasons for this, first being that no one has explicitly explained what an English Teaching Assistant does, except assist with teaching English. Perfectly clear, right? But that brings me to the second obstacle, which is the English classes themselves. I work with at least six different groups of kids, new each day, and with five different teachers. I was warned ahead of time that Spanish teachers pride themselves on improvising. How true that is!

Here's an honest-to-goodness conversation I had on Friday:
Me: "So, what are we doing today?"
Teacher: "Oh, I don't know. Book stuff. The students will know where we are."
Me: "Well, what can I do?"
Teacher: "Oh, just talk to them. You know. They have to pronounce things correctly."
Me: "Great!" (privately rolls eyes)
(PS This should be mildly horrifying to you.)

The teacher then proceeded to rule the rest of the class like a tyrant, leaving little room for me to interact and, you know, assist. And after class, I was informed I should do more! Go through their exercises with them! They need to hear my accent!


In all fairness, that was, without a doubt, the most difficult teacher at the school (openly acknowledged among faculty), and the others at least try to give me a heads up a few minutes before class as to what I can be doing. I, too, can improvise when necessary, you see.

But, as near as I can figure it, I provide interactive learning time by talking with my wonderful American pronunciation, asking kids questions, listening to their replies, and making the necessary adjustments. At least, that's what I've been doing so far.

Now then, my favorite part of all of this is that this conversational style of learning means 100% personal attention. Believe it or not, this is a largely unknown phenomenon in the Spanish school system. Classrooms are largely teacher-centered, and students are expected to take care of their own learning. This is changing, though, and the teachers lament the change on a daily basis. One class, the lowest, is particularly rowdy and apathetic. (Does this sound familiar? Give it some thought and you'll realize why I felt right at home.)

So back to the personal attention aspect. This class, 1A, gives teachers fits. I had been warned about them ahead of time. But... kids are kids are kids, I figured. So I decided to experiment*. It took a few minutes for them to figure out what was going on, but after a bit of conversation about FIFA and videogames, I pretty much had the troublemakers in the palm of my hand in short work. Am I just that great of teacher? Pfft, no. Am I a celebrity at the moment? Definitely. But more than that, I gave them some attention. Some value. Some esteem. With a high gypsy population, this is a new sensation for some of them. The rest... suddenly, they're worth talking to, worth teaching.

It got their attention, at least.

All this takes place independently of lesson planning and last-minute preparations. Job description or no, it's the best job in the world.

... and it's only 16 hours a week. Just sayin' :)

*However, I only see each class one or two times a week... we'll see how well this experiment actually holds out. I have high hopes but realistic expectations.*


  1. You are awesome! And yes of course they will love you. Are the students saying yes to all of your questions! I find that very funny when speaking and trying to gain valuable information so that I can make connections. Your students are missing you here in the US of A. They all say hi! They are finding out that they actually had it great, so when you come back they will definitley appreciate their awesome teacher. Hope you miss us just a little. There will probably be a riot next door so I will film if need be. Say hello to everyone, stay safe, and God Bless. We miss you!

  2. Love the sound of this job! Teaching or/and reasonable facsimile of it is what I call fun. I hope your adventures go well in the classroom!

  3. Haha Sherri - actually I miss Grant a LOT. I'll have to tell you some stories sometime - two words: classroom management. Please do film, but if it comes to blows, I"m seriously betting on 6th hour to win, or 2nd hour to shed blood ;] Thanks, Josh!

  4. It sounds like you are on a grand adventure. Thank you for sharing your blog. I love the way you write. Brings much enjoyment, and you paint a pretty good picture. I hope that this is a fabulous experience for you. I am sure they will be blessed to have you there.


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