My first week as an Auxiliar de Conversación

So I when I accepted the opportunity to live abroad in Spain for 9 months, what I was actually going to be doing was not one of the things that I thought most about.  My thoughts were preoccupied with worries like “Am I doing the right thing?!” “Ahh I have to find a place to live in another language and foreign country!!!” ” Will I make friends?!???” Behind these worries was the excitement about spending a year in easy travel reach of so many amazing sites and cities I wanted to visit. Between all of those thoughts bouncing around in my head, the “reason” I’m here was not at the forefront.

Last week though, I officially started the program and am now an Auxiliar de Conversación, aka “North American Language and Cultural Assistant”. I was placed in two (most people only have one, but I have two, how lucky) institutos, basically middle and high school put together (ages 12-18). The program hasn’t done much – correction: anything  – to prepare us for actually being in the classroom and I’ve never been the greatest at dealing with kids (translation: they scare me and make me nervous), so I was all around pretty nervous for my first day.

 

Smiling assistants...clearly taken before they actually knew what they had gotten themselves into

Smiling assistants…clearly taken before they actually knew what they had gotten themselves into

Plus every time I mentioned to a Spaniard what schools I was in, they lost no time in telling me that both of them were in poor neighborhoods, one of which was located directly next to the Renfe cercanias (regional rail) station where a bomb exploded as part of the 2004 bombings in the Madrid metro system. Across the four stations involved, 191 people were killed and 1,800 injured. Not like it’s the school’s fault at all, and it was certainly a tragedy for them, but it isn’t exactly the greatest omen to be commuting to such an infamous station where so many people lost their lives.

One of my schools, I.E.S. Madrid-Sur

One of my schools, I.E.S. Madrid-Sur

 

Since I am in two schools, that meant two first days, two days trying to find who I was supposed to talk to, two days of constantly being severely lost in a wave of loud Spanish high schoolers… you get the point. Enter one of my first days (they were basically the same):

9 am – Arrive: go to front office, where the janitor? secretary? greeter? attempts to find the head of the English department. Sit on bench feeling like I’m in some strange movie, observing the students all going about their days and lives while I’m starting an unknown new chapter in mine.

10 am – In custody of head of English department, get shown the school, which consists of two buildings, one for the younger grades, 1st ESO  – 4th ESO  (basically ages 12- 16 from what I can gather), and one for the older two grades, called bachillerato (a word I still cannot pronounce no matter how hard I try). This separation is nice…if you’re in the latter building. Otherwise you feel like you are quite literally in a madhouse.

10:10 – As the head teacher is showing me around, she tells me to follow her into a room and I thought we were just stopping here for a moment…nope. Without warning she introduces me to the class and basically hands them over to me for 50 minutes! They were yelling, talking, and generally being the opposite of stellar students, and I was more than a little frustrated by the end of it. Not to mention that they probably only understood about 25% of what I was saying so neither them nor I got much out of it.

11 –  Break! In both the schools I am in, they do not have lunch time; instead, they have a short mid-morning break. There is a cafeteria where I bought a cafe con leche and a tortilla (thick spanish omelette with potatoes) that came with some nice bread, because everything here comes with delicious bread! Later the other teachers hastily warned me against buying the tortilla there again because as they disgustedly whispered, “It’s store-bought,” but I thought it tasted pretty good.

12 – Another class, a little better behaved than the first, but the teacher whose class it was kept yelling at the students and interrupting them and completing their sentences when they didn’t answer fast enough, so that was a bit discouraging because I felt they weren’t being pressed to try. As a result they were very hesitant in speaking and their comprehension was also pretty low (she yelled all in Spanish).

1 pm  – An awesome class! Reward! They were a bachillerato class and were super cool! They spoke English really well so I could communicate with them, and they all could tell me about themselves so I got to connect a bit more. I hope I get this class in my permanent schedule so there will be an oasis in the desert.

2 – Go home! I have to say, it’s a pretty short day, so I shouldn’t complain, but each day this week, I have been so drained coming home. I never realized (though I should have) how utterly exhausting teaching is; 4 hours feels like 8. and I fully take advantage of siesta each day. I’ve gained such a new-found respect for all my past teachers, because this shit is hard!!

Some of the questions I’ve gotten from my students so far:

-Do you speak espanish? (not a typo, they all say it like that! Also some groups are really interested to know if I do speak it, but I’ve been instructed not to let on that I do lest they take advantage of that and slack off on English)
-Do Mormons really have many wives?
-Why are you here?! (Since I studied archaeology many people, sometimes including myself, are confused as to what I’m doing here)
-Do you know what is going on with your government now? (from the nerdy kid in the older class that prepared questions)
-Are Americans all fat since all they eat is fast food? (Sigh…so conflicted here..I want to represent my country well but…America does have an obesity problem)

To conclude, because I feel like I’ve been overly negative in this post, here are some good things about my job:

-Really nice coworkers who for the most part are excited about me being there so they can practice their English
-Short days for pretty decent pay so I have a lot of time to do what I want
-FINALLY a reasonable (both in time and price) commute – one way is 40 minutes, and for the magical price of 35 Euros a month
-The couple good groups are really fun and I do enjoy them – I just wish there were more groups like that!

Have you ever taught English or any subject? Did you have difficulties in classroom management? How should I tame my students? Let me know in the comments below!

 Also, I was featured in the blog titled Andalucía Bound, written by 3rd year auxiliar Chelsea, in a series on expectations about the program – Check it out!

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One thought on “My first week as an Auxiliar de Conversación

  1. Pingback: Frequently Asked Questions About Teaching as an Auxiliar de Conversación in Spain – Alternative Travelers

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