2016/2017 Posted by Melissa H.
Have you ever been faced with a classroom full of smiling, shouting, squirming eight-year-olds at nine in the morning? Have you ever attempted to keep dozens of students under control without speaking a word of their native language? Have you ever been presented with the challenge of teaching those students about your own culture, while doing your best to adapt to theirs?
Neither had I. A little over 2 months ago, I took a giant leap of faith. I uprooted myself from my familiar, comfortable life in the United States to become a Meddeas Language Assistant in Spain. I had almost no experience and absolutely zero expectations. I showed up to my first day of school with a completely open mind, prepared to take on whatever challenges my new work experience would bring—and there have been plenty!
So what exactly is this new life like? Read on to find out…
I wake up on a chilly Wednesday morning in Madrid and start getting ready for the busiest day of my week. Before the sun has fully risen, I’m out of my apartment and on my way to the nearest metro station.
After a short trip to the outskirts of the city, I arrive at Colegio Santa María del Bosque. I spend a few minutes in the teachers’ room chatting with fellow instructors and making sure I have everything ready for my first lesson of the day.
Time for class! Today I’ll be assisting Pablo, the English teacher for the sixth year of primary. I say hello to the class and am greeted by an eager chorus of “Hello, Melissa!” despite the early hour. Pablo has asked me to run through some speaking and listening exercises with the students to help them practice their conversation skills, so I spend most of the class asking questions and eliciting responses from each student in turn, occasionally correcting their grammar or throwing in a trick question.
This is the most chaotic part of my day, but often also the most fun: a language workshop with the fourth year students. I’ll usually have a game or activity prepared to help them practice the vocabulary and grammar they’ve been learning from their English teacher. Sometimes they can get out of control, but more often than not it’s because they’re so eager to participate that they have trouble staying in their seats and keeping quiet! I do my best to let them to express their excitement and enjoy the lesson without allowing the class to descend into complete chaos. It’s a tough balance to strike, but I believe this is the most vital part of my role as a language assistant in Spain.
After the language workshop I head to the comedor, where traditional Spanish meals are served family-style to students and teachers alike. Maybe today we’ll have lenguado a la romana, paella mixta, or sopa de lentejas. If we’re lucky we might even get cocido, a beloved local comfort food consisting of steaming broth, noodles, stewed chickpeas, beef, chorizo, and garlicky cabbage.
After lunch I head over to the secondary school for class with the bachillerato students. These are teenagers who are preparing to take the Cambridge exam, so their English level is very high. We might go over some exercises from their textbooks first, and then play a game or listen to some American music. Often, however, we’ll get sidetracked talking about the differences between Spanish and English, American culture, current events, or any number of other subjects that I’m happy to discuss. In my opinion, this kind of casual conversation is one of the best ways for these advanced students to improve their language skills for real world contexts.
My last class may be over, but my day is far from finished. It’s time for a private lesson with seven-year-old Daniela and her little brother Rodri. Every week I spend an hour at their house playing games, reading picture books, and doing activities to improve their English. Sometimes it’s hard, since they’re so young and their language skills are minimal, but their never-ending energy means that they’re always eager to learn—and their enthusiasm is infectious!
After another short commute I arrive back at my apartment and take a seat on my balcony for merienda. This is one of my favorite times of the day, when the city streets quiet down and I can to take a moment to relax and reflect on today’s classes. Every day is hard in its own way, but the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I get from teaching almost always supersedes the exhaustion I inevitably feel. Tonight I’ll sleep well knowing that I made it through yet another day of the enormously challenging, constantly surprising, and incredibly meaningful life that I lead as a language assistant in Spain!