Three weeks ago I began my second year as an Auxiliar de Conversación (English Langauge Assistant) in a school just outside of Seville, Spain. After only a few weeks of classes, I can already tell that this year will be a unique experience.
As much as I enjoyed my first year as an Auxiliar in San Sebastian, my actual classroom experience was less than gratifying. I split my twelve hours per week between two different schools: a vocational school in which English classes were mandatory and a college preparatory school (bachillero) in which students chose English as a course of study. As you can imagine, there was a pretty big difference between the levels of engagement in the two schools.
The students at the college preparatory school were around 17 years old. In general, they were very motivated, and almost all of them were already proficient in English. This meant that my main role in the classroom was to simply provide students with an opportunity to practice their English. I did this primarily through discussing cultural differences between the U.S. and Spain. My biggest challenge throughout the year ended up being finding ways to keep them engaged in discussions.
The vocational school was a different story. The students’ ages ranged from 16 to 50, and their English levels were just as varied. I had students that only knew a few words in English and others who were almost fluent, though those were the minority. As if those factors didn’t make things difficult enough, the general attitude towards learning was pretty negative as well. Students would blatantly not pay attention during class, refuse to speak or complete assignments, and openly laugh at other students for making mistakes.
In general, both schools were disorganized, though the vocational school was far worse. What discouraged me the most, however, was how often the professor I worked under at the vocational school would tell me how bad (both in their behavior and their English levels) the students were. And this was in front of them! I’m no teaching expert, but given his attitude, it was no wonder the students rarely gave any effort, let alone performed well.
Still, despite these frustrations, I did learn a lot during those nine months, and I felt as though I helped quite a few students at both schools.
A New Environment
I’m happy to say that this year looks to be a much better experience. I’ll only be working at one school this time, and it’s a secondary school. Secondary schools in Spain have students from 12 to 16 years old. Those four years are the last years of obligatory schooling that Spanish students have.
Other than the age group, another big difference is that I will be assisting in several different subjects: math, biology, music, geography, and English. Each of these subjects is taught in English, and my primary role will be to correct grammar and pronunciation. This is great because I hardly remember anything I learned in those subjects, especially in math.
From the moment I was given my class schedule, I could already tell that this would be a much more organized teaching environment. The director of the English program was very straightforward with me about what I’m required to do in the classroom and how my schedule will look.
So far I’ve assisted in pretty much all of the classes that I will be in, though due to national and regional holidays I’ve probably only worked about six or seven days. Still, outside of being completely lost in the math class (how the hell do you write in scientific notation?), my classroom experiences have been pretty good so far. The students have all been respectful and most of them seem pretty eager to practice their English.
Overall, I have a really good feeling about this school year. But regardless of what my classroom experience ends up bringing me, I know that it’s 100% my responsibility to make the most out of this year.
If reading this post made you curious about how you can teach English in Spain, you can check out this video I made on the Auxiliar de Conversación program. Let me know if you have any questions!