There are good days and there are bad ones. There are days when I absolutely despair and feel like I'm failing and there are others when I feel like I'm helping to make a difference by preparing the next generation for the demands of the world of work. But I can honestly say that it is all of these days combined that make the experience as a whole and I wouldn't change it for the world. Yes, there are some days when I feel like I'm going to cry because my students have been misbehaving. But having now been in this job for almost two months I am starting to realize that, just like in any other job, it is the most difficult experiences that make us stronger and enable us to develop our confidence and skills. For Language Assistants this is definitely the case as we go into schools without having the knowledge and experience that qualified teachers gain from a PGCE year. We learn everything as we go along. This may seem daunting to those of you that may be considering applying to become a Language Assistant in the future, but please don't let it put you off because I can tell you very honestly that being in the classroom in front of the students is an incredible way to learn and feel confident with teaching very quickly because it is when we are in front of the students that we are faced with numerous different situations, scenarios, and challenges that require us to develop a whole range of skills such as adaptability, efficiency, oral communication, teamwork, and self confidence. In fact, I would say that the skill that I have developed the most is the skill of being able to think quickly and make decisions on the spot. As this was something that I always found difficult in the past, I'm really happy that I am now working in an environment where it is absolutely crucial to put these skills into practice. However, I thought that today I would run you through a typical day as a language assistant in a secondary school so that you can learn a little bit about what we do.
Every week, I have twelve classes on my timetable with students in all of the age groups (11-18 years old). The vast majority of the days I start at 8:00am and finish around 2:30pm with a 30 minute break in the middle of the morning and the odd free lesson from time to time. Within this time, I also have a number of meetings scheduled with various different teachers in which we plan what I will do with the students in their bilingual classes. Now, you may be wondering what bilingual classes are because they do not exist in schools in many other countries. In Spain, many secondary schools are 'Bilingual Institutions' which means that a part of the curriculum in a number of different subject areas is taught in English. For example, students in the first year of secondary school will have about five maths lessons each week including one that is taught through the medium of English. As the school system works in this way, I don't actually have any English language classes scheduled on my timetable. Rather, I work in the bilingual part of the curriculum in a range of different subjects such as History, Maths, Philosophy, Technology, and the History of Spain. This seemed a bit daunting when I first started as I haven't studied the majority of those subjects for a very long time. However, I actually really enjoy teaching English using the content that the students are learning in each subject as it is a completely different experience to anything that I have done before and I think that it is a fantastic way for the students to develop their English vocabulary and their confidence with speaking the language. I tend to see every class in each age group once a week in one of their subjects. It is good because I work very closely with the class teachers who are very helpful and make sure that I always know what I will be doing in each class the week before in order to have time to prepare myself. I usually do activities with the classes based on the content that they have been learning in previous lessons. For example, at the moment, I'm doing a series of revision activities such as quizzes, key words' games, listening exercises, and dictation exercises, with my 14 year old students on the topic of different energy types. As they have previously learnt about Energy in Spanish, putting their knowledge into practice through the medium of English is not only a great way for them to consolidate their knowledge of the subject, but also to put their English into practice by learning how to understand and talk about a topic as complex as this in the language. I do similar kinds of activities with all of the age groups in all of the subjects as I have learnt that interactive activities are the best way for students to learn and maximize the amount of English that they speak in every class. And t is great because the class teacher is always in the classroom with me and helps in terms of the content. This is really good because it means that I can focus on the English side of the class whilst the teachers make sure that the students understand the subject specific content. So don't worry, we are never ever left alone in a classroom as language assistants! We are always busy but we always have a lot of support available.
In addition to the classes that I teach in the mornings, I also teach an evening class once a week for fifteen students in 2nd Bachillerato (18 year olds) who are currently studying for the Trinity English B2 exam. This is a fantastic opportunity because I teach the classes alone which gives me a fantastic teaching experience in which I am fully in control of the class and work without the help of a teacher. Although this was quite stressful in the first couple of classes, it is getting easier every week and I am starting to really enjoy it as I have gained enough confidence to be able to relax more in the classes which enables me to help the students as much as I possibly can. I prepare my classes using a book written by the exam board that contains lots of different practice activities of a similar nature to those that the students will be expected to complete during their oral exam. I therefore make sure that each class is structured to focus on one particular type of activity (topic, conversation, or collaborative task) so that the students can get to know how each type of activity works and what they will be expected to do. This is a very rewarding experience for me so I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to do it as it is not something that I was expecting to do as a language assistant. It's also a good way to earn some extra money and therefore be able to travel more and be able to afford my food and rent comfortably. So my advice to any language assistants that are given the opportunity to do classes like this in their schools, is to definitely take up the opportunity as it is a fantastic thing to put on your CV and could be very beneficial to anybody who goes onto apply to train as a teacher in the future. It's also nice because you really feel that you are making a difference for the students by helping them prepare for something that will be of great importance to them when they go onto university studies and the world of work.
Finally, another important part of my experience as a language assistant are the opportunities that it has opened up for teaching private English lessons. When I first went to the school in which I am working in Sevilla, I was amazed at how many teachers asked me if I could give them private English lessons. In fact, I was really pleased as private lessons are another experience to put on my CV, a way to get to know some of my work colleagues out of school, another way of earning some extra money, and most importantly a chance to gain more confidence with teaching which can be applied to morning classes with the teenagers at school. I am currently teaching two of my work colleagues privately and am thoroughly enjoying the experience as they are very keen to learn and we discuss a wide range of interesting topics in English at quite an advanced level. Although I teach adults in these classes, the experience is still helping me with the classes at the school as it is enabling me to develop a teaching style of my own and find different ways of explaining things to English learners. I am considering going into adult teaching in the future so this is a very good experience for me to have alongside my work at the secondary school as it's giving me confidence and experience of teaching adult learners which I am finding is very different to secondary school teaching.
So as you can see, there are lots of different types of teaching experiences that language assistants can gain. In my case, I am very lucky as I am working more hours than were originally scheduled in my timetable. But this was my choice and I chose to do it because I liked the idea of gaining further teaching experience than was originally planned, and being a recent graduate, the extra money has been very useful too. For these reasons, although I am working more hours, I am happy because I feel that I am getting a very all rounded experience by teaching my own classes out of school time and teaching both teenagers and adults. I also have a good amount of free time in which I am thoroughly enjoying meeting lots of new people, practicing my Spanish and also my French with friends, and travelling from time to time. Although I find working in a school very challenging at times, I would highly recommend a Language Assistantship to any graduates who either want to go into teaching in the future or don't know what they want to do as it is a really good way to get to know yourself better, broaden your experiences, and experience living in a foreign country. All of these opportunities are really enabling me to grow as a person and prepare myself for whatever I go on to do after my contract here finishes.
I won't keep you any longer, but just to sum up, the main message in this blog post to any current or future Language Assistants is to be positive, take on every opportunity that comes your way, and really make the most of your experience as it is an incredibly rewarding and stimulating job that I know will be very useful in later life.
Thank you so much for reading this post. Please watch this space for more news from Spain over the next few weeks.
Hasta luego! :)