Surviving My First Week of Teaching English in Spain

Tossing and turning all night, no position I tried could help me fall into my nightly slumber. Maybe it’s just too hot. This bed is just too uncomfortable. Perhaps I’m just not tired enough. None of these were actually what kept me up, at least not in their entirety. The culprit that was robbing me of my precious shuteye was anxiety. I hadn’t “worked” in the traditional sense in 1 year, 6 months, and 18 days if you want to be exact. Arranging travel plans and working on TwoBadTourists can have its moments of work-type stress, but working in this manner over the past year and a half has always been of my own doing. It’s not like the typical expectation of having to show up to work at a certain time, stay a certain number of hours, and accomplish a certain set of goals.

Still, my time had come and our money had left. So although I felt more competent at this point in my life to be working for a travel company rather than teaching English, a language I often butcher myself, there I was the next morning on my way to work where my new colleagues were expecting me. I wasn’t just concerned about my lack of teaching experience, but also my trembling fear of speaking in front of people. Young kids I would not have had a problem with because they still have that innocent and silly character to them. Teenagers, however, are a different story. I was surprised, however, when I stepped in front of my first group of students to find that they were not as I thought: hideous, hormone-enraged, authority-challenging, dramatic little monsters ready to attack the new teaching assistant as the nearest vulnerable prey.

Source: http://www.scifinow.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Monsters-Inc-3D-Sully.jpg

Source: http://www.scifinow.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Monsters-Inc-3D-Sully.jpg

(My idea of teenagers)

They were just kids. That’s it. Just silly, energetic kids. Then it dawned on me…

Holy crap! I’m an adult. I’m an adult and I have authority. I am not in high school any more. So I held back a tear for my long forgotten youth and accepted my newly discovered role with delight. I began speaking with confidence and couldn’t wait to get the conversation going. I introduced myself and then asked if they had any questions for me or about where I am from, hoping this would occupy the thirty minutes I had to kill.

Crickets.

“You back there. You have a question? No? Oh, just scratching your face? Ok.”

More crickets.

Ok, so maybe I’m not immediately adept at my “newly discovered role”. All things in time, right?

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Source: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m2cm29KVsA1r1c6jgo1_500.jpg

I continued to introduce myself to each class of the day, had them ask me questions about myself (they eventually did), and in turn asked them questions as well. It was quite evident that they were all too shy to say much, just as my Spanish friends said they would be. But I’m sure in too short of time they’ll be more talkative than I’d prefer. So I dodged questions like “do you prefer Spanish food or Spanish girls more?” and a thousand “do you have a girlfriend?” questions with tactical evading and general distraction to steer the topic back to anything other than my love life!

This week was fairly simple as it was just a “get to know each other” week. My role throughout the year though is really to just be the assistant to their English teacher. I will occasionally do presentations, work with them on activities from their books, general discussions, etc. The teachers at both my schools (I am teaching 2 days at one school and 2 days at another) are incredibly helpful. They all have offered continual support and advice throughout the week and I have so appreciated their generosity. They’ve made this transition a breeze. In addition, there is another language assistant at one of my schools who is on her second year and has been a great resource for general advice on what I can expect.

Now that I’m feeling more reassured and have met everyone at my schools I believe I will be sleeping much easier tonight. If not, I’ll just have a glass of wine this time.

For those of you who have taught before or continue to do so, feel free to shoot some advice and/or resources my way. I’m always open to suggestions. I am just assisting, but a little creativity on my part would be appreciated I’m sure. 

15 Comments on “Surviving My First Week of Teaching English in Spain”

  1. Fran says:

    Loved your post. As an ESL teacher in Brazil I can totally relate to some of your situations — all of which get easier! Never doubt a teenagers ability to stump you! haha

    1. Haha. Thanks for the heads up Fran! I hope you’re right in that it gets easier! But they were all actually great kids which is why I really felt more comfortable very quickly.

  2. Ben says:

    glad it’s going well old chap! but the question remains…DO you have a girlfriend?!?!?!

  3. Oh, I remember the first time I had to teach! It was basically, “here’s the book. Here’s your class. Go!” It took me a while to get with the flow of things and, much to my surprise, my students weren’t little monsters – well, most of them were nice. There were a few bad apples. Now, teaching doesn’t bother me in the slightest and I love working with kids. Teens still take a lot longer to warm up, but when they do, they’re lots of fun as they’ll have actual conversations with you. Dammit, now I miss teaching!

    1. Glad you had a positive experience Tom! It’s always encouraging to hear. I do agree, teens take way longer to warm up. I think after almost 2 months with them they’re still getting used to me. The younger ones are immediately pleased though. So much easier. I like working with the different levels though. They all have their ups and downs.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I can imagine its pretty scary teaching for the first time, even if you are just assisting! Good luck!

    1. Thanks for the wish of luck Jennifer! It’s been smooth sailing so far (more or less). I think I’m finally getting into the swing of things. We’ll see how long I last though. So far, I’m thinking I’d like to continue next year. :)

  5. Joshua says:

    I remember doing peers support at high school when I was in my 6th year (i.e. a Senior). I had the delightful task of sitting up the back with one (bad) boy in geography and we were working on the topic of Europe. He hadn’t even seen a map of Europe before, let alone point out Italy. In fact he didn’t even know where the UK – the very country he lived in – was on the map. It was so tough engaging with him, especially without being condescending – but I think the best way to make it real to him was to relate it all back to his world.

    I also assisted in the French department but I have very few recollections of it. A lot of it was giving them someone fairly fluent to practice with without having the stress or intimidation of practicing with the teacher.

    1. Yikes Josh! That peer support guy doesn’t sound like it was an easy task. I’m sure you picked up some good teaching skills from it though. Hopefully I’m managing to pick up a few skills of my own while teaching.

      I definitely understand that it’s difficult for the students to get over the intimidation of speaking a foreign language. Especially the older ones. They sometimes flat out refuse to try. That’s why I enjoy the younger ones a little more sometimes because they care less if they make mistakes. Though when you do get the older ones talking, the conversations are way better.

  6. Reading this brings back memories of last year, think you’re probably doing the same program I did (Auxiliares de Conversación).

    Your experience so far sounds quite similar to mine although I was working with the lil kiddies (4 – 9 year olds) and it was part of a year abroad with my university.

    It took me till after Christmas to feel fully confident with my teaching style and classes etc, and though there were times I really didn’t like the job (I was often left alone with half the class – never underestimate 10 crazy 6 year old Spaniards), by the time I finished in July, I didn’t want to leave and even miss it now.

    Think i’m going to apply again for next year, de Madrid al cielo!

    Interested to hear how the rest of your time goes teaching, good luck, it really is rewarding overall.

    1. Yes, Peter! It’s the Auxiliares program. I’m teaching 12-18 yr olds, but I wanted the younger age group you got originally. However, after a few months now I realize that you’re right. Ten crazy young kids can be a lot to handle! I’ve really enjoyed working with the older students. When I do work with the younger ones though, I’m never left alone which makes it easier to handle obviously. I teach the older ones solo, but they’re way better behaved (mostly). I hope you do apply again. It’s a great opportunity. I think I’ll renew my application for next year as well. I just cant imagine leaving in June. No way!

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