For many you, this will be your first time teaching as an English Conversation Assistant, or better known as an “Auxiliar” in Spain. So welcome to Spain, and enjoy the experience. For those of you have taught in Spain before, I hope this post will be helpful!
I remember what it was like to first move to Spain, trying to find a nice (affordable) apartment near my school, improving my Spanish skills, figuring out how to get around the city, meeting new people, and adapting to a new culture. On top of trying to get my personal business on point, I needed to figure out how I was going to teach little kids and acclimate to the school’s environment. This may seem overwhelming, but hopefully this post might ease your mind and get you started on the right foot. You may also like to read this insightful post by Oliver Lucas Guardo
- Introduce yourself to EVERYONE.
In Spanish culture, it’s very common for new people to introduce themselves first. This one may seem like a no brainer, however don’t assume that the school staff or teachers will introduce themselves to you. Many times there will not be a staff “meet and greet” for the assistants at their schools, so be prepared to introduce yourself. You may ask yourself “Do I give 2 kisses or a handshake?”, “Do I introduce myself in English or Spanish?”, “How do make this less awkward?”. Just do whatever makes you feel comfortable, but always say “Hello/Hola”, “Bye/Hasta Luego”, and SMILE no matter who it is or where you are =). Whenever you see a co-worker or a staff member in the hall, even if you don’t know their name, say hello. This will help break the ice and set the ground work for establishing professional relationships in your school.
- Don’t say no to coffee or lunch!
Anytime a co-worker invites you to have a coffee/lunch, this is their way of showing that they want to get to know you. Coffee breaks and lunch are essential to building relationships in Spain. If a teacher asks “Quieres tomar un café?”, just say yes (you can always order something else once you get to the bar). Let’s say you haven’t been invited to drink a coffee with a fellow co-worker yet, don’t sweat it. They might feel awkward putting themselves out there as well. Take the initiative and ask your fellow co-teachers if they want to grab a coffee, or ask where everyone goes to relax during their breaks. Don’t isolate yourself or only spend your free time with the other assistants. Just being seen with fellow co-workers shows that you are interested in being a member of the school staff. Who knows, maybe they might to contract you for the following year.
- Set clear expectations and always be prepared for your classes.
This may seem obvious and expected, but trust me when I tell you that some teachers in Spain will not meet with unless you ask. I have been in situations where I was thrown into a class without meeting the teacher previously, nor what the students were learning. For some of you, this notion of jumping into the classroom without planning, let alone not meeting the teacher is outrageous, but it could happen. That’s why I strongly suggest that you tell your coordinators that you must meet with your teachers BEFORE aiding in instruction, and that you have an opportunity to observe your classes. This will help both of you to establish clear expectations and to plan interesting activities that are adequate for your classes. Every teacher has their own pedagogical style and each teacher will have certain duties for their assistants.
Also, when you take initiative and ask to plan with your teachers, they will respect you more and trust you with their classes. Working at a school can be chaotic and unexpected situations occur often, so teachers will sometimes forget to plan with you. Some of you may be thinking that you are over-stepping by setting up a meeting to plan, however teachers in Spain appreciate the effort. Many Spanish colleagues of mine have complained that their assistants do not want co-plan with them. But when I respond with “Have you ever asked them to co-plan with you?”, many times they realize that they need to make an effort with their assistants as well. So don’t worry about taking the first steps to plan with your teachers, they are open to working with you.
- People understand English, but keep it simple!
I cannot tell you how many times first year assistants assume that teachers in their schools have a proficient understanding of English. If you are working in a bilingual school, chances are that the staff has some basic understanding of the English language, but not everyone. It’s only human nature to criticize something that you don’t like or don’t understand. But be careful of what or how you say things in English. I will not lie and say I’ve never complained about school in school, we have all done it. However, be cognoscente of the staff members who are near you. They might misinterpret what you have said and share that information with your co-teachers. Misunderstandings are going to happen because both you and the teachers are working in two languages. Just keep it simple and concise, and leave your complaints at the “taberna”.
- Attitude is everything: Stay positive
Like the Spanish say, ¡No pasa nada!– No big deal! All teachers make mistakes along the way, we aren’t perfect. I used to get frustrated and feel disappointed in myself when a class did not go the way I´d planned. I realized that I was being too hard on myself and that being an assistant was a LEARNING experience. Any teacher will tell you that no matter how much you planned an amazing activity, if the students woke up on the wrong foot, it is probably not going to work out. On the other hand, you may have planned a less than exciting activity and the students loved it.
Also, things will come up in the school. You might not be informed that your students have an exam, that there is an excursion, your teacher will be out for a few days, a special guest speaker will give a presentation, etc. It can be annoying to go to class to find out you are not needed after you had already planned. It’s ok, don’t worry, use that time for your advantage and write your thesis or plan for other classes. Just keep a smile on your face and look forward to having tapas with your colleagues after school.
Enjoy the experience and learn as much as you can!
Priscilla Ramos Alumni Instituto Franklin, MA in Learning & Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language 2011-2012