Teaching English Without Any Teaching Experience

Whenever I told people that I was moving to Spain for a year to teach English, I recieved a variation of responses.  One reaction I got was, “I didn’t know you wanted to be a teacher!”  Confession:  I don’t.  Well…right now I don’t, but that might change after this year.  The truth is, most people who sign up for my program to be English teachers in Spain don’t actually want to be teachers in the future.  It’s just that this is the best and easiest way for Americans to live in Spain.  Like me, there are many Americans here who studied abroad in Spain in college, fell in love with the country, and had no other way of returning except for teaching English.  So… here I am.  A recent college graduate with a BA in Communications with hopes of one day becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist currently working part-time as an English teacher in one of Madrid’s catholic schools with absolutely no experience in teaching nor a teaching certificate of any sort.  The only thing that qualifies me to do this is the fact that English is my native language.  Crazy, right?  Fortunately, my official job title is only a “Language Assistant” so I am not the actual teacher.  I assist the English teachers and pull away small groups of students one at a time to practice their English.

Last week was my first week of work.  Come Monday morning when my 7:30 AM alarm went off, I couldn’t help but feel sad knowing that my 2-week vacation in Madrid was over and it was time to start my real life here.  I was really excited to finally have structure in my life and to feel like I actually have a purpose while I’m here, but at the same time it was hard to give up my 24/7 freedom to do whatever I wanted.  But one of the benefits of working in Spain now instead of studying, is that once I’m done work I’m pretty much done for the day, unlike studying abroad where I had homework and had to study for tests.

My commute is very easy.  It consists of a 5 minute walk to the metro, a 15-minute metro ride, and then a 10-minute walk to my school.  Super easy!  Monday I only teach 2 classes, so I’m only there for a couple hours which is nice, but also makes me be like “Wtf. Why can’t we move my Friday classes to Monday?!”  Oh well.  I was assisting the same teacher for both classes and it was so much fun!  Both classes were with 12-13 year olds.  I always knew I work best with middle-school aged kids and Monday just confirmed it.  They have so much personality and I love it.  The boys are sassy and the girls usually like me because I guess we have mutual interests:  AKA loving One Direction, Taylor Swift, and movies meant for teenagers like High School Musical (This looks bad on my part.  Peter Pan Syndrome much?).  We did pretty much the same thing in both classes.  I introduced myself and then we went around the room and all of the students introduced themselves to me and I asked them basic questions to get them to speak.  Most of the girls said they loved One Direction and they LOVED it when I said I loved them too.  I even knew that they came in concert to Madrid this past Spring and most of my students went to the concert.  One girl even had a poster of them next to her desk.  Then today, I made a reference to High School Musical because a boy in their book looked like one of the actors from the movie and the kids knew exactly what I was talking about!  The boys even said “Zac Efron!”  I was very impressed with them.  I’m definitely going to get along with them just fine.  Weird fact about Spanish schools:  the students stay in the same class all day and the teachers are the ones who switch rooms.  This creates some super antsy children!  In between class, they’re always surrounding the door entrance giggling and talking.

Tuesday was a longer day.  I taught 4 classes and had a coffee break in between so I didn’t end until around 2 pm.  It was also a bit more difficult because most of the day was with 14-16 year olds which I wasn’t looking forward to teaching since I’m so close in age to them.  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to gain their respect but they were very kind to me.  Funny story:  I asked my class where they recommend that I go while I’m in Madrid and one 16-year-old boy responded with, “My house…in my bed.” Uhhhhh….I replied with “I have my own bed, thanks.”  Wtf?!  But I was also nervous teaching this age-group because they have a much higher level of English which should make it easier but it actually doesn’t because I can’t play children games (which are easy and fun) with them and I’m unaware of what vocabulary they actually know.  So it was very difficult engaging them in the discussion.  It’s also difficult switching age groups within the same day.  I go from playing Simon Says with 11-year-olds to unenthused high schoolers. 

I will also have a very hard time not being friendly with my students and being the “good cop.”  My school is very strict in the fact that I can’t be super friendly with my students and I have to be authoritative at all times which will be difficult since I feel like I relate more to the students than the teachers haha I’ve always had that problem though.  I’ve been a student my entire life so it’s extremely difficult to just switch roles!  Especially since I’ve never been trained to teach so I have no idea what I’m doing!  A few of the 15-year-old girls were talking to me before class and they told my co-teacher that I’m their “friend” and the teacher replied “she’s not your friend, she’s your teacher.”  Again, it looks like I’m going to have trouble being an authoritative figure. 

Last week was just full of introductions and games but this week is when I start taking half the class on my own and just helping them with their speaking and listening skills.  I really enjoyed doing that today.  For each class, I had a group of 12 or 14 students and I got to spend time getting to know them better and working with them individually.  I’m finding it really difficult that I can’t speak absolutely any Spanish in front of them.  This rule is enforced because apparently if the kids hear me speaking Spanish, they’ll never speak English which is the entire point of me being here.  But it’s hard when I see a kid stumbling over his/her English, and I just want to be able to translate for them but I’m not allowed to. 

Thursday I was randomly given the day off because the students and teachers were going on a “bonding field trip” (I think just hiking in the mountains).  Even though I am a teacher (I get to use the teacher’s elevator!), I think they assumed I would like to have the day off- and they were right!  I took a day trip to Segovia with my friend Kristen.  Then on Friday, I was only scheduled to teach one class but I REALLY wanted to take a weekend trip down to Sevilla so I emailed the principal and he said I could take Friday off too!  So I obviously had a really difficult first work-week with only teaching for three days and travelling for the other two.  Life if rough.

In total, I’ll be teaching 15 different classes which means I have to learn about 450 different names (let alone SPANISH names) as well as all of the teachers names- AHH!  I doubt I’ll learn them all before June when I have to leave!  I’m usually pretty good with names (Krystie, if you’re reading this, you were just a fluke! hahaha), so this will definitely put my skills to the test.  Everyone is lucky because they only have to learn my name.  In fact, I feel famous in this school because before I met my students they knew exactly who I was.  I walked into my classes and they all said “Hi Samantha!” or “Hi Sam!”  and now when I walk through the hallways, even kids I won’t be seeing that day are saying “Hello Samantha!” to me in the hallways and I love it.  I love my job and my kids so far, I think this is going to be a fun year and I can’t wait to see how much they improve 🙂

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