|IES Juana de Castilla|
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.*