Why I enjoyed the Auxiliar Program and how you can, too

About a year ago, I was invited to attend the “Helicheville” Bilingual Day in the school I worked at during my first three years in Spain. Emilio met me at the door with a, “SABORILLA! Te han dejado salir a la calle sin bozal?” Only someone like him would ask if I was allowed to be out without a muzzle. The day was a blur of hugs, of recounting what I’d been up to the last few years and asking if I could return to work in Olivares.

Ojalá – it was the most fun job I’ve ever had.

The North American Language and Culture Assistants program (NALCAP), or auxiliar program, has gotten a bad rep, and with some razón. Assistants say they’ve not been paid on time, or they’re left to their own devices in the classroom (or even underused), not having any idea about what their job really entails or the ability to prepare lessons and try to help the English language instruction.

I have to say that I got really lucky with my placement – wonderful coworkers who treated me as an equal, a three-day schedule with interested students and a school that always paid me on time. We even had music in the hallways during passing periods and kids rarely vandalized the school.

This utopia is not always the case, of course. I recognize that my experience was far different from that of many other friends, like Liz of Young Adventuress (who worked in Córdoba and La Rioja) or Lauren of Spanish Sabores (who spent two years in Andalucía). Their experiences are two of a myriad of them, and every experience differs. When I began teaching in Olivares, I had no idea it would leave to a career in EFL education.

And here’s the kicker: I actually LIKE teaching! It’s a profession I promised myself I’d never do, but I enjoy working with teens and the babies and find it to be a job that never gets boring. I initially planned to stay for a year and give teaching a try, and I’m still at it seven years and three jobs later.

So, with all of the rumors floating around about not getting paid on time, about indifferent coworkers and kids who could pasar tres kilos when it came to English. Believe me, I had a few issues with other teachers or students, but the day the envelope arrived telling me “Thanks for your time, but get the F out and let someone else have a turn,” my boss and I had a few tears as I realized I’d be jobless in a matter of weeks with no student visa.

Really, now could not be a better time to consider teaching in Spain, and those who have the government backing with visas and health insurance will come to Iberia with everything figured out but where to live and how to get their NIE. 

I have wonderful memories of IES Heliche, despite the long commutes, the desperation of putting up noisy teenagers and those moments of feeling really, crazily poor. But I firmly believe that you take whatever you put into the experience. Here’s my advice to incoming auxiliares:

Try and get to know the other teachers, whether or not they’re involved with the auxiliar program.

Yes, there will be teachers at your school who are indifferent, who don’t understand what exactly you do, or even tell you you’re better off not coming to class. After all, your fun lessons involving drawing hand turkeys on Thanksgiving cuts into their teaching time, too.

But there were will others who are curious or realize that you’re far from home, and even a simple hola can help tremendously when you’re missing ground beef actually made of beef and TV in English. My coworkers, for the most part, looked out for me and treated me with a lot of respect.

Offer to help other teachers with their English over your car commutes – Felisabel and I would have a sort of language exchange on our morning commutes (and she even used to hem all of my pants and take in my flamenco dress). Ask your coordinator if conversation practice with interested teachers can be part of your contract hours, and get to know the teachers personally if they’re interested. Try and learn everyone’s names – I was at a school with nearly 100 teachers, and there was flow in and out each year, but I tried my damnedest to remember if the other art teacher was Jose Luis or Jose Antonio or Jose Angel. 

The result? I scored extra private classes, free commutes and people to turn to when I had problems. Invitation to barbecues, casetas and birthday parties. Again, not every school is like this, but making the effort can go a long way. And if you’re bummed about your placement outside of the city, the good news is that young teachers are typically placed in pueblos, so you’ll have younger coworkers to hang out with.

If you want to get something out of the school year, pues, do something.

The biggest issue with the auxiliar program is that there isn’t a cut-and-dry job description. I had friends who sat in the teacher’s lounge five hours a week planning curriculum, while others gave classes to small groups in half-hour blocks. Some gave PE (and I was insanely jealous) or music or math in English, while others stuck to strictly to conversation practice, as specified by the program manual.

Each school is allowed to use their language assistant as they see fit, so your job description is practically unwritten. That said, I suggest you make the best of your time in the classroom. Play games. Listen to music. Find out what your students like, and tailor your classes to those preferences. Work with the team teacher to plan classes. 

If you stand in the back of the classroom, you won’t enjoy yourself. Remember: you’re the fun teacher who doesn’t give homework or exams or demerits, so the battle is half won.

And then there’s the feeling of spending a year doing little else than explaining the difference between present perfect and past simple or enunciating words.

Believe me, I had the idea that I was going to make my student bilingual. Naive and overly optimistic, yes, but when I learned to let go of that idea and work to engage my students in classes, I got the sense of fulfillment I was looking for. 

Be clear about your preferences and needs, but recognize that not everything is possible.

Eager to now my schedule my first year in Olivares, my boss came back with a four-day, twelve-hour schedule. I was crestfallen, at first, as my day off was Tuesday. While my friends were staying out until 7am on Fridays, I was waking up to get to work.

During my second year, I was scheduled to work on a day in the middle of the week for only two classes. In fact, I’d spend more time on the bus than giving class.

After a few weeks of grinning and bearing it, I approached my boss. I didn’t threaten or get whiny (as is my style), but instead had already looked at possibilities in the schedule for swapping class hours, as well as talked to other teachers about the possibilities. I politely told my boss that this would maximize my time in the classroom and make my commute loads easier, and she agreed.

To be clear, there are things that suck that you probably can’t change – a long commute with weird and inconvenient bus or train times, working with an age group that could be difficult or the terrible money handling (which ensures you won’t be paid on time). You may have to work four days a week or split your time between two schools, or even 1000 students.

But if there is something that could be improved – be it a better classroom switch, more planning hours with teachers or even a suggestion that can streamline your work – tell your boss politely and give reasons why. Because there’s no catch-all description of your job, only you can put limits on what you do, or recommend ways to improve the program.

Relax. It’s likely not personal.

In my mission to try to please everyone (character flaw), I grew upset and angry when teachers flat-out told me I was useless to them, or barely grumbled a hello in the morning. But I’m the language assistant! You need me! I’m friendly and bake cookies on occasion! Don’t hate on me just because I’m a guiri!

Then someone gave me an emotional slap in the face (I’m sure it was Asun, and I’m thanking her for it) and told me to calm the hell down and not take it personally. Many teachers felt that they couldn’t use me effectively in the classroom because they were preparing for seniors’ exit exams, or because two days in English was simply too much. Some teachers are extremely old school, so respect it and move on.

Once I got over myself, I enjoyed my classes and team teaching in the áreas no-linguíticas.

Remember that it’s a job that you’re doing part-time, and you’re getting paid far more than you should be getting paid.

Just to give you an idea – a teacher at many language schools in Seville work 20-24 hours a week and earn between 800€ and 1,000€ a month after taxes. Twelve hours for 700€? Casi regalao! Enjoy it, and all of the free time you have after you’re done working.

Once you have a full-time job, you’ll miss finishing work at noon and getting to take a siesta every day. Just saying.

Interested in more posts about my experience working at a rural high school in Andalucía? Check out these posts: How to Apply to the Auxiliar Program // Alternatives to the Auxiliar Program // Saying Goodbye to IES Heliche

If you are getting ready for the program and have questions or doubts  leave me a message in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

 

Applying to to the Auxiliares Program: How to Apply to be a Language Assistant in Spain

Six years ago, I began researching a way to make it back to Spain. I was a senior at the University of Iowa, finishing a degree in journalism and “how the hell do I get abroad.” 

Fast-forwarding to the present day, I’m sitting in the sunlight basking into my apartment on the fifth floor with a café con leche. My one goal post-college was to move abroad, and thankfully the North American Language and Culture Assistants gave me a visa, a job and the ability to make Spain my hogar dulce hogar. And since it began nearly a decade ago, loads more teaching programs in Spain have begun.

Remember Mike? He wrote about his intention to start a new life in Spain through the same program, and has gladly shared his experience of tackling the application process.

Well, the application period for the Auxiliares de conversaciones extranjeros en España finally opened up. However, I felt that I was going into this application process basically blind. All I really knew is that I had to login to Profex (the application system they use), and upload documents. Everything I had read of various blogs and forums said that you should apply AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE! Basically, once someone applies they are assigned a number, and then once the application has been approved, placements in regions and schools are given out in the order of the application received. First preference being given to those who are renewing their current placements.

The website has a program manual that outlines the application process and a Profex manual that detailed each screen on Profex and how to navigate the page. Once I was actually in the process of applying, these documents were actually very helpful. I was able to begin working on the list of documents on the website which needed to be submitted for the application:

  • The main page of a U.S. or Canadian passport
  • A copy of college transcripts or college degree
  • Letter of intent or statement of purpose
  • Medical certificate (if not a U.S. citizen) – to be turned in during VISA application process
  • Letter of recommendation

Before the application period opened, I was diligently working on the collecting all the items above. The passport page was an easy photocopy, as was the copy of my college transcript. I browsed many forums and blogs, as well as the Facebook group for this year’s auxiliares to see if it mattered between the transcript or the degree. Everything I came across said that it didn’t matter as long as one was uploaded. Needless to say, I chose the transcript. The letter of intent was fairly simple, as I had to put into words why I wanted to teach in Spain. However, the only glitch with it was that it had to be 300 words, so my 750 word first draft had to be significantly reduced. Who knows if they really even read it though?

The website had a guide for how to write and submit the letter of recommendation. The letter had to come from a professor or former professor unless the applicant has been out of school for over 5 years. I contacted my former professor and faculty advisor. She was ecstatic to be writing the letter for me. I was thrilled because I had been nervous that since I could not ask her in person she may say no or put it on the back-burner and finish it later than when the application opened. My professor wrote the letter in the format they requested and mailed it in. I asked that she send me an electronic copy so I could upload it online just in case it got lost in the mail. Luckily, she obliged and I was able to upload a copy when I was applying.

On January 10th and 5:01 p.m. here in Milwaukee, WI, (00:01 a.m. in Madrid), the application period finally opened. I began logging in and creating a user account, while following the Profex manual. After I had created a username and began entering my personal information, the system started to load very slow and kept shutting me out. I attempted to login a few times and kept receiving an error message from the website. Quickly, I began searching forums to see if others were having this problem, and I found out that others had the same exact problem. It seemed as though the mad rush of applicants had overloaded their server.

I attempted to login nearly every hour, sans when I briefly slept; however, it was to no avail. The same error message popped up every time. Since it didn’t work through Friday Spain time, I figured it would be down through the weekend, which it was. Although, it did not stop me from constantly checking to see if for some reason it would work! On Monday, I was able to login and finish my application. The Profex Manual was a breeze to follow with actually having the web page up in front of me. Most of the fields that need to be filled in are personal information, college information, any teaching experience, and any study abroad experience, fairly straight forward.

After all that information was completed, the fun part began: selecting regional, type of city, and school preferences. For regional preferences the applicant put each group in order of preference, from 1 to 3, and then selects one region within each of those three groups. The options for regional placements are:

Group A: Asturias, Cueta y Melilla, Extremadura, La Rioja, Navarra, País Vasco

Group B: Aragón, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Cataluña, Galicia, Islas Canarias

Group C: Andalucía, Castilla y León, Islas Baleares, Madrid, Murcia, Valencia

The regional preferences are followed by the type of city preferences, which allows the preferences of a rural community, medium sized community, an urban community, or no preference. Then, the school preferences consist of primera, secondaria, or no preference. Personally, I found this to be the most exciting part, as I was actually selecting where I would prefer to be located. Now, I know that I may not get placed in any of my selected preferences, which is perfectly fine with me. I was just excited to be actually submitting something that said where I would like to go and what I would like to do.

Once this part of the application is finished, Profex generates a .pdf print out. It is necessary to print this out and sign it because it needs to be mailed in to a specified regional coordinator along with a checklist that is initialed and signed.

An application becomes Inscrita once the online part is complete. When the regional coordinator receives all the documents the status is changed to Registrada. This is where my application is at this point. Admitada is the next stage, which is when all the submitted documents have been accepted. So far, no one that I know of has been placed past this stage this year.

According to everything I have read, it takes a long time to reach the next stage, Adjudicada, which is when they send the autonomous community assignment that the applicant has been placed in. You have seven days to accept or reject this placement. Assuming it’s accepted, the status becomes Aceptada. The final stage is when you receive your Carta de nombramiento, your school placements. These latter stages of the Profex application process are exciting to think about, but still seem far off for me. I’m just looking forward to being Admitada!

This whole Profex process was not actually as difficult as I had anticipated. Current auxiliaries de conversation blogs and forums were incredibly helpful and reassuring throughout the process. Unfortunately, I discovered Facebook group for those applying to teach after I applied, otherwise that would have been pretty helpful too. In the end, I wound up with number 780. While it’s not the best number in the world, I still feel as though it is respectable and feel very comfortable that I should get a placement. I’m checking my applications status every hour, if not even more frequently, and I look forward to keeping everyone updated with my thoughts about this whole process.

Hasta luego.

Got any questions for Mike or me about the program? Have you considered doing  an internationally recognized TEFL degree to help you be effective in the classroom? 

Five Years, Five Goals

The chalk squeaked as I drew a line under the word SUCCESS. My 4 ESO students read it, es-soox-essss, a habit I hadn’t been able to break in my three years working with them. I always knew it would be an uphill battle.

I crumpled small slips of paper from atop the teacher’s desk and picked one up. “Teacher, you are beautiful.” That little paper ball went right into Franci’s face.

At the end of my three years of teaching at I.E.S. Heliche, I asked my 16-year-olds to tell me one thing that made them feel successful before turning the question, “Has your English teacher been successful?

When I graduated, I made a list of three things to accomplish in my first three years out of college. Five years later, I’m closing in on my fifth anniversary of moving to Spain on September 12th. I told myself I could consider myself successful if I accomplished three things – but that list seems to grow as my years in the land of sunshine and siestas climb.

Last year, I examined the four things I love about Spain. This year, the five most important things I’ve accomplished during my years in Spain.

Year One. Move Abroad

Once I had studied abroad, I knew that the only place for me to go after graduation was to anywhere but America. I did all of the research, using my study abroad office and contacts I’d made through the Daily Iowan. When the opportunity to participate in the North American Language Assistants program came up, I abandoned my plans to do a work holiday in Ireland and brushed up on my Spanish. Working just 12 hours a week gave me time to do an internship at a travel company, make friends and travel throughout Iberia.

My parents came to visit at Christmas this year, and I struggled at even mundane tasks, like translating menus and asking for directions. My dad joked that I’d been to busy guzzling sangria to actually learn the language, so my goal for my second year in Spain was to work on perfecting my castellano.

Year Two. Learn Spanish. Really, like actually speak it.

As anyone who has traveled to Spain can tell you, the Spanish they teach you in school no vale over here. I struggled with my accent and theirs, didn’t understand their slang. It even took the Novio and I several months speaking in English before I worked up the nerve to ask to switch to Spanish.

The majority of my life in Spain is now down in my second tongue, but it didn’t come easy. I bought several books, began watching TV in Spanish and made an effort to use it as often as possible. Become proficient in Spanish has taken me thirteen years, but I finally have the C1 Certification of Proficiency from the Instituto Cervantes. Toma. Time to focus on something more fun, like traveling.

Read about preparing for and taking the DELE. Then read about my weirdo accent.

Year Three. Travel to 25 countries before turning 25.

The time I didn’t spend learning Spanish during my first year was time I spent traveling, hitting six new countries andseveral regions in Spain. My goal to travel to 25 foreign countries looked more and more possible.

I traveled overnight from Budapest to Prague with my friend Lauren, and she snapped a 6am picture of me setting foot in the 25th. Since then, I’ve been to several more, but all the while I’ve felt fortunate to have a springboard from which to explore Europe. I’ve done some cool things, like snuck into monasteries in Romania, ridden a donkey through rural Morocco, camped under the stars on Spain’s Most Beautiful Beach.

Read my Top 25 moments (with links between all five posts) on Backpacking Matt.

Year Four. Beat the Paperwork Game.

By far one of the biggest pitfalls of being a non-European in Spain is the paperwork hassle. Any guiri can tell you that the standing in lines, running from one office to another, surrendering all of your personal info and then not hearing back for weeks is enough to make you turn around and say adiós to Spain.

Stranded with few options for renewing my student visa status after the Auxiliares program dropped me, I struggled to find a way to legally stay in Spain, even considering working illegally. I exhausted my contacts one by one until the US Consular Agent suggested something that have never occurred to me: lying.

I already had paperwork pending for a Master’s I’d decided not to do, so I hopped on the first bus to Madrid and applied. Having never filed paperwork in the capital, I wasn’t aware that the Foreigner’s Office worked on an appointment system, and that they were booked for months (which also meant I stood out in the cold for several hours alone). The guard gave me the number, and I called. Tensely. Making things up. And I got in the day before my residence card expired.

Kike and I had also done a de-facto partnership, which was passed from a simple piece of paper denoting that he was responsible for me to a piece of plastic denoting I could stay in Spain for five years without having a porque to go near the office. I fought the law, and the law handed me a loophole.

Read How to Deal with the Foreigner’s Office and how to trick funcionarios and pretend you’re smart.

Year Five. Find a Stable Group of Friends

The problem with being an expat is that many people come and go, making my cycle of friends constantly in motion. Even those I think will be long-term sometimes pack up and go. And with a partner in the military, I still find myself alone. Finding friends is easy, but keeping those who are inclined to stick around – both American and foreign – has been more difficult. Thanks to the American Women’s Club, working at a school with Spaniards and making an effort to befriend Kike’s friends, I’ve got friends all over Spain, and I sadly don’t spend much time with people I know will only be in Seville for a year.

Algo se muere en el alma, right? Have drunkenly sung that sevillana far too many times.

Year Six. Figure out how long-term this all is.

My students decided that I had, in fact, been successful in my first three years in Spain. Still, all of these years abroad has gotten me a little disconcerted. I’ve spoken with a lot of expat friends on the subject fo staying in Spain, especially admist a crippling financial crisis and little job security. Why not go to America? I ask them and myself. Who wouldn´t want a mortgage, kids and to deal with all those stupid jingles?

Haha, oh yeah. Looks like it’s time to set some new goals – what should they be?

Algo se muere en el Almaaa

3ºBSara and Ana from 1ºbilingual and they cake they made me

4ºA

Every beginning has an end. The end of a relationship, the end of the road, the end of time. And my time was finally up at Heliche this week. To imagine the 1200+ hours spent teaching, laughing, trying to keep the kids from acting like zoo animals, drinking coffee (or anise!) in the teacher’s lounge, planning and correcting have all accumulated into one big lump of happy memories and a very satisfying experience.
There are days where I leave Olivares defeated, exhausted and feeling like I’m doing nothing productive. But these past two weeks have proved to me how far we have to push ourselves to get results and how much those things are appreciated in the end.
I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of hugs, gifts and tears I’ve had in the last two weeks. It’s been strange, counting down the days, holding on to the little bit of time I’ve been afforded. I usually feel rushed and have this dreaded anxious feeling as things wind down. This time, I’ve felt calm and ready. I know it’s good that the Junta is cutting me loose – I need to move on. Thankfully, my coworkers and students provided me with two wonderful last weeks to say goodbye and wish me well.
Penúltima semana:
Tuesday and Wednesday were normal days, minus the extra squeezes and the constant questions about why I was leaving. It was a weird feeling to start realizing that this was, in fact, the end. Nieves ignored me, not because of anger, but I think we’ve been able to do a lot of things with this program together. There have been people along the way who have given us big pushes, added their personalization and helped us make this all a success. But since I started with the first group of bilingual kids, I feel that they are mine.
Thursday was a tougher day. I said goodbye to my bachillerato kids, many of whom have been my students for a few years, but I never really felt too close to them. Emilio and I spent our conversation hour talking about Zapatero’s “tizerazo” or cutting of the national budget by robbing teachers of the little money they already make. I then had my 3A group. It’s a small class, but they brought me treats and a big card thanking me with the sweetest little notes from each of them. I got a little sniffly with my Isidoro, who wrote: Thanks for never making me feel ashamed to speak in class. We had brownies, Serafin took my camera and took pictures, and I gave a heartfelt goodbye. I’ve realized that the people at my school have really made my experience what it was, and I relayed this to them. Next came applause, a big group hug and kisses from each.
I spent Friday finishing up lots of little projects: writing a personal card to each kid in my second year bilingual class and all of my coworkers from the English department and Equipo Bilingüe, putting together a slide show chronicling the last few years and buying candy and goodies. I felt prepared to deal with the week, knowing fully well that tears were inevitable and part of the process.
Tuesday rolled around, and my first year bilingual kids baked me a cookie cake and gave me a lot of beautiful gifts: jewelry, fans, a school bag, a dress. I showed them my sideshow, and it was easily the quietest couple of minutes that we’d had all year! I then went to Nieves’s class to have another hour with her. We played a game and then I presented all of the kids with their personalized letter and some candy, and Nieves began to cry. I had to ask her to turn the desk around. In music, I presented a song that I liked, just as the kids were doing, but I chose Dave Matthews Band’s “The Best of What’s Around.” After we read through the song, clarified vocabulary and talked about the meaning behind the song, I could barely contain myself while we played it on the projector.
The lyrics say, “Turns out not where but who you’re with that really matter” and I relayed to them the importance they’ve had on my three cursillos at Heliche. My kids are young and impressionable, and I´ve watched many struggle with trying to find out where they fit. I did all of this in Spanish, thinking it was way too important to do in english so that half the meaning gets lost. Emilio, being the person he is, chimed in: Not only could I leave the class to cat for a year, which I did, but we could never expect to have someone with so much heart and so much enthusiasm for her students. TEARS COMMENCE. I got into Toñi´s car, unable to say much, and covered in gifts.
Wednesday was a long day. Music class was normal after the previous day, my conversation hour with Fernando reflective. My 4ºESO students threw me another party. I´ve had most of them for three years, so leaving them was especially hard. They gave me a cute bag and new earrings and sang Sevillanas de adiós to me. I cried my way through the whole class, especially when Maribel clung to me saying she hates English when I don´t come to class (and English is four days a week!). Technology was a normal class, with neither Fernando or I recognizing the fact that we would soon be separated.

Felisabel drove me home, as usual, and she told me she had been thinking of me the night before. How so, I asked? She went with a few friends for tapas in Plaza de Gavidia, and sat near a group of two american girls and several Spanish guys. One was lively and laughing, well-dressed, and continually ordering beers and chowing down on tapas, while the other sat silent and sulking. She grabbed her friend’s shoulder and said, “That´s the one I have been telling you about. Esa es mi Cat. That´s my Cat.”

Thursday, my last day, was just as I expected it to be. I arrived to school with Nieves looking sullen and helped her with a few tasks. She stuffed a present into my purse, and beautiful scarf with purple and green flowers, and said, quite frankly: “I´m not saying goodbye, so don’t talk to me today!” I tried to say goodbye to the school´s directors, but was turned away, so I went to find Mercedes, the woman who runs the cantina during recess and makes coffee for me when I ask, even going so far as to bring it to the teacher´s lounge for me. She thanked me for the brownies I made her and wished me a good summer. I don´t think she had realized it was my last LAST day until I announced, to which my open arms were met with a long hug and tears. “There won´t be anyone like you,” she said.
My coworkers from the department gave me a lovely bracelet with matching earrings, all met by tears and well wishes and big group hugs. I felt like I was in the receiving line of a wedding: one by one, more coworkers came to give me endless compliments – even ones whose names I didn´t know! Lucía said it best when she drove me to school for the last time the week before: “No one ever saw you adapting here and coming into your own. But you´re one of us now, and that´s why we´re sad to see you go.” Regardless, I know (and knew) that I´m leaving with having made a good impression on the school as a handworker, someone who puts her heart into her job and who maintains good relationships with all.
My last hour of class I will remember forever. Felisbael practically had to drag me out of the office, where I was making photocopies for Luis´s class, telling me that there was no time. When I got to the classroom a few minutes later, I hear chiding and shushing, and the lights were off with no students to be found. Upon opening the door, however, I had balloons emblazoned with “We love you!” thrown at me. I was in tears, Felisabel was in tears, and Mercedes was in tears again. The kids threw everything together at the last-minute, covering every detail – including tissue! They had written me messages on the board, brought in cakes and goodies, bought me gifts and awarded me several certificates. Each took the time to tell me what they will miss about our classes together. I was overwhelmed, both by the gesture and from all of the kids sticking cameras in my face, blubbering.
The party began, kids chowing down, me trembling as I cut the cake. Maria made me a CD with, what else, Sevillanas, so we cleared a space on the floor and began to dance. They sang Sevillanas de Adiós and I bit my lip, thinking of how far they´ve come in just two years. I took it all in, hoping the class period would stretch a bit longer, and I was able to get out of dancing using the “I fell and banged my knee up and the doctor said no” excuse until the very end.
when the bell rang, we had a big group hug and I gave each a hug and two kisses. On their way out, some of the girls started singing, “Algo Se Muere en el Alma (Cuando un Amigo Se Va). Yes, something, however small, dies within you when someone leaves, when you leave, when there´s a change. But, like in college, I have things to look forward to, too. Maybe they should rename it, “Algo se muere in el alma (cuando está vacia tu cartera)?”

Discipline, Spanish Style

Last year, Nancy Bielski came to visit me. Since she’s in school to be an English teacher, I brought her along one day so that she could see what Spanish schools are like. Her reaction went something like this: “OH. MY. GODDDD.” Followed by, “I have never seen such poorly behaved kids in my whole life.”

While I wouldn’t liken teaching in a Spanish village to teaching in inner-city Chicago, we definitely have our share of discipline problems. Kids hit each other in the hallways, destroy our new computers and mouth off to teachers. I’ve had to yell quite a few times, and often end up tuckered out after a four-hour day. Teachers blame the lax education system and the reverence that Spanish kids receive. “Well, if my son/daughter doesn’t want to learn, I won’t force them” and “Well, if my son/daughter doesn’t want to learn, you should be a better teacher” are as common as teachers handing out partes, which are like demerits. I’ve given out just two in the 12 months I’ve taught at IES Heliche. In fact, students get partes just for not turning in homework! Most of them rack up several in a term and could care less if a teacher has to call home once or twice. To me, it’s totally unuseful.

Every other Wednesday, I’d like to jump off the highest building in Olivares (which is maybe 2 floors, unless you count a church) because I not only have five hours of class, but I also have 1D. For some reason, this class is always cursed. Year after year, teachers tell me, the students in 1D have the worst behavioral problems and the most partes, almost like being in the lead for the school food drive or something. When I came into class a little late (actually on time since the teacher has to go there immediately to prevent the kids from throwing the desks out the windows or something), the teacher was screaming at everyone to sit down and demanding to know what happened to the eraser for the chalkboard. Clearly, none of the kids fessed up, and my attempts to get them to behave and focus on the language village were futile. The teacher, a very calm woman, finally went to the equivalent of the dean for help. Fernando is tall and unnerving and in charge of all of the discipline in the school. He’s pretty good for the job, in my opinion, because he’s scary.

I tried my best to at least correct the worksheet we’d done last week before Fernando came. The whole room got SILENT and I thought some of the kids would have liked to crawl under their desks from the looks on their faces. “It’s been called to my attention that someone has spit gum onto the blackboard (oops, missed that one!) and a second person has hidden the eraser. Who would like to confess to doing it?” No one, clearly. He asked a second time. And a third, adding that now the crime had gone from bad but excusable to bad and not-so-excuseable. Finally, he asked the kids to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of the students who had committed the acts. After counting them, he announced the names of two kids – both huge troublemakers and smartasses. He interrupted me twice more to call out two other students before giving the students more partes and threatening expulsion. The whole class was quiet and not even one of them asked what kind of punishments they’d be getting.

That lasted a whole two minutes until I was back to, “CAAAAALLLLLAAAARRRROOOOSSSS!”

First Week of School

I can’t remember feeling this tired! I haven’t had a siesta in a week, I can’t sleep at night, I TEACH. I never realize how mentally exhausting teaching is until I came here last year. And I’m supposed to be an assistant!

Actually, they’re treating me more like an assistant this year. Last year, I planned most of my own lessons and was the de facto teacher of those lessons. The other teacher just handed me the chalk and said, ok, have fun! I think the kids like me more that way. English class for them is boring – following the books, repitition and little else.

I thought that, as the only assistant, I would be passed around like I was something rare, but I feel like I’ve been nothing more than a nuisance. One teacher was like, “What do you mean you don’t have anything prepared?” And I said, “Nieves told me not to. Why don’t I just practice some of the dialogue with the students and try and make them speak English.” Oooh, not happy. Another didn’t let me do anything in class but correct some students when they proncounced something all wrong. I corrected his incorrect use of “your” and I thought he was going to kill me. I didn’t give a single class today, and sitting in the back of a classroom does not sit well with me.

My language school job SUCKS. I have to work Friday and we have very few holidays that fall during the school week when I don’t work, making it hard to travel. And they’re paying me very little. I can make more money and NOT work Fridays by teaching private lessons.

The good news is, the weather is still warm, and my bilingual classes are such good students. They all raise their hand and speak English and even sing songs in music class! I think I am going to end up working more because I’m in charge of what they learn!

We have a long weekend this weekend, and since I don’t work at Heliche on Tuesdays, I’ve got until Wednesday! Not bad. If only I had a boyfriend with a car here to take me somewhere…

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