I’ll be honest. I didn’t apply to the Teach & Learn Program for the degree and suspect many of my classmates are in the same boat. In fact, I didn’t even want a master’s degree. I had considered it after doing my undergraduate degree in foreign language education, of course, but, even though I wanted to continue my education, I wanted something different than the “next step.” I felt like it was the normal thing that I stay in Auburn, Alabama, do my two years in a master’s program, and then enter the job market with an advanced degree on my resume. But the more I thought about it the more I wanted to do something really different. At first, I considered applying to strange and exotic locales such as Puerto Rico and even Equatorial Guinea but, looking at educational opportunities there left my unsatisfied.
I decided to make a list of what I wanted to achieve from another college degree. First and foremost, I wanted to become a better Spanish speaker. Graduating with a degree in teaching Spanish left me pretty functional but I knew I needed to improve before I started teaching the language. Secondly, I wanted time in the classroom to practice. As I was mulling these things over in my mind, I heard about the Teach and Learn program from a professor who was doing recommendation letters for me. She told me about another student of hers who was doing the program and gave me her contact information so I could find out more.
After learning about living in Spain and studying teaching at the same time, my interest peaked. It seemed almost too good to be true. I could practice my Spanish and practice my teaching skills all the while sipping cafés con leche in La Plaza Mayor wearing sunglasses. However, I knew that my imagination tended to get away from me so I started getting technical with my point of contact on the ground in Madrid. What would I actually do all day? Could I afford to eat, let alone drink coffee at European prices? I found out I could, in fact, live off of my stipend, but it was a grad student’s life. I was young enough to find this “romantic,” so I kept asking questions. I learned the program was actually really hard. Besides classes, we were full time teachers. I would be teaching every hour the “real” teachers did, but with none of the grading. When I read that, I was sold.
On both fronts I met my goals, even though I taught English all day instead of Spanish. I got to practice Spanish while living in Spain in many ways, especially at the bank, where most of my problems seemed to occur. But where I got to learn the most was living with my Spanish roommate, who also taught at my school. He took the time to include me in Spanish life, where I learned day to day things like: playing cards, complaining about traffic, and mostly, which team to support in the Clásico and how to celebrate when they win. Furthermore, some of the classmates I met became great friends as we learned to navigate another country together.
That isn’t to say that the degree itself hasn’t helped me. On the contrary, I learned more about teaching methodology while in the program and had an opportunity to try out a lot of new things in my classroom the week following class. In all, the program was well worth it. It’s free tuition and a year in the classroom with lots of new tactics to try. It was a long, rough, year but a great prep for my first year teaching alone in the classroom.