Working as a language assistant (my first weeks at school!)

I’ve now been working in my schools for the past 3 weeks so this post is slightly late; however, it means I have more to fill you all in on! For anyone out there thinking about becoming a language assistant through British Council (like me) or Study Abroad then hopefully this will give you an insight into what to expect!

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true dat

So, like some others, I was placed in both a primary and a secondary school in my town, and therefore have to split my time between the two (spending Mondays and Wednesdays at the secondary, and Tuesdays and Thursdays at the primary). I only work 12 hours a week, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you add on top of that prep time with the teachers and lesson/ activity planning (plus my year abroad research project and other commitments!) it still does feel like a nearly full-time job. However, one perk of working so few hours is that they only take up 4 days of the week, giving me a tasty 3 day weekend for travelling/ relaxing!

The first thing I must mention is that it came as something of a surprise to me when I was told I’d have to be teaching in the schools’ bilingual lessons. For anyone who doesn’t know what this means, it basically boils down to the fact that I have to teach maths, sciences, geography and history in English, as opposed to actually teaching English in English lessons (as I’d thought I would be!). So I thought, silly me, I probably wasn’t listening when they told me this last year; but every other person I’ve spoken to on the programme was under the same impression, so we’re all just muddling through these unfamiliar subjects as best we can (I haven’t studied any of these since I was 14/16, as I went into languages, so I’m learning on the job!).

So I started off my first week in my secondary school, IES Profesor Andrés Bojollo. One of the first things that struck me was how different the school was to any English school I’d experienced before. The lessons were run so differently, and seemed to me very repetitive, with the students doing the same thing every week: mainly just reading from a textbook and repeating phrases in English, never seeming to actually get much done (although this may be because some of the teachers are still very new to the bilingual programme, and aren’t sure how best to teach the material in a second language, which is understandable!). I actually spent my first day either just sat in the corner of the classroom feeling like a bit of a lemon, while students grilled me on my personal life, or acting essentially as a talking book, with the teacher telling me when to “stop” and “go”. So I thought: were they expecting me to use my initiative? Well you would think so, but I wasn’t really given much opportunity to do so, even for correcting pronunciation (which is my main job!).

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My new job

On the other end of the scale, the only lesson where I feel I really do anything to make myself useful is my Wednesday morning science class; the teacher is new to the bilingual programme and isn’t comfortable teaching in English so has 78378basically given me the material and asked me to plan all of the lessons and teach them (ha. ha.)! To be fair to him, he has been very helpful, nevertheless the thought of planning and teaching a Y 9/10 chemistry lesson for Spanish teenagers was more than slightly daunting. (Despite one or two sassy ones, they’re mostly lovely though. I’ve just had to get used to being stared at by every student in the school absolutely ALL of the time; apparently I’m really that interesting.)

The thing with Spain is that everything is so loose and ‘go with the flow’ (see my experience of the Spanish bureaucracy…), that I am never given a lot of direction and so never really know what’s going on. For instance, a teacher came up to me today 30 seconds before the maths lesson and said “Ok, so this is what I want them to cover today, you just teach it and review it however you want”. Ummm what? I don’t mind taking over if I’ve been asked to plan something in advance, but winging it in front of 30 teenagers who are watching my every move is not ideal. And when I do have prep time with a teacher, it more often than not turns into 50 minutes of rambling about random things that are completely unrelated, and 10 minutes of vague lesson planning.

Although this all sounds very negative so far, it actually is a great school with really lovely staff and students; this is just a slight rant about some of the things I’ve had to adapt to with regards to the differences in schooling compared to what I’m used to! The staff have all been super welcoming and helpful and have coffee together every recreo and tapas and drinks together every Thursday night, so it’s a pretty nice vibe.

“How do I move?”

I realised pretty quickly that the primary school is completely different. This sounds pretty obvious but, at first, I made the mistake of going in with the same attitude I had for the secondary school; I soon realised that you need a TON more energy and smiles for working with little kids, or it really can be exhausting! At my primary school (CEIP Dulce Nombre), I have a constant fan club following me everywhere I go and bombarding me with smiles and waves and “hellos”; I’ve even been rugby tackled with hugs by crowds of kids as I walked into class on more than one occasion. This is actually lovely as the kids are super sweet, but I guess I hadn’t prepared myself for it at first! Sometimes it can be difficult though, for example there’s one little girl in particular who wants my attention all the time (to chat to her, play with her, etc.), but when I’m in the middle of teaching the rest of the class it’s impossible. It’s also pretty difficult trying to explain this as none of them really understand me fully, being so young.

I do really enjoy teaching in the primary school though, as the kids are such a joy to be around. Last week they spent half a lesson laughing at my pronunciation of sierra morena (which I thought was pretty on point), but the novelty of the English girl speaking Spanish was clearly just too much for them to handle (I’m now repeatedly asked to say it, which definitely isn’t going to get old any time soon…).

(Plus I got my first piece of fan mail last week, which was pretty cool 😛 )

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I’m glad I was placed in one of each as I’ve been wanting to go into teaching for a while but was on the fence between primary and secondary, so hopefully this year will help me decide which I enjoy most and which I’m best suited to. I used to think I would teach primary but, although I’m really loving the primary school, I think I may actually be slightly preferring the secondary school vibe so far. Just because I feel I can do more with older kids in terms of teaching English, whereas with the younger ones it’s mostly been just repeating words and phrases, parrot fashion.

If anyone is planning on embarking on the same programme next year, feel free to contact me with any questions!

My next post will be up soon documenting my adventures in Málaga; the next in my postcard scrapbook collection! 

Hasta luego

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