Working as a Language Assistant

One June afternoon, I was just finishing lunch during my break at the veterinary hospital when I received one of the best, life-changing emails of my life thus far. It was from CIEE, a non-profit company that organizes study/teach abroad programs and promotes international culture and language exchanges. My heart jumped as I read,11263146_10200696483530507_5111892205448514675_o
At first I was nervous to be placed in a rural area outside of Madrid central. However, with research and advice from past auxiliares, I learned that Cantos Altos is a great school to work for and the commute is very simple. Plus, you can’t beat a mountain view like this:IMG_1616

Spain is behind the rest of Europe in terms of English fluency, so more and more opportunities arise for native English speakers to go abroad and be what is called an auxiliar, or language assistant. Some programs that organize such opportunities include CIEE, BEDA, and the North American Language and Culture Assistants government program. 

The job of a language assistant is to, you guessed it, assist the classroom teacher. There are four auxiliares including myself at Cantos Altos: three Americans and a student from England. I work with two English teachers in the 1st and 2nd grades. I’m lucky in the sense that my teachers are very welcoming and value my opinion on different activities and the difficulty of those activities and lessons. I’ve read and heard of other auxiliares who end up spending a lot of time sitting in the corner and waiting for the teacher to assign them a task.

The first graders need stimulation absolutely 100% of the time. Their attention spans are short and they are learning their second language at age 5 and 6. I didn’t start learning my second language until age 14…lucky patos! They are at the level where new vocabulary and pictures are the main sources of English comprehension. We use big flash cards, games, short videos, story telling, and workbook activities for instruction. Songs, I’ve learned, are a teacher’s keys to rapid fire learning, but also a key to a new level of insanity. I spent the majority of my trip to Toledo singing, “Look at my big red kite. My big red kite, my big red kite! Look at my big red kite…I love toys!” in my head. POR. DIOS. I’ve also learned that while auxiliares shouldn’t admit to knowing some Spanish, I’ve found it’s sometimes absolutely necessary when working with 1st graders one-on-one. Just one Spanish word of clarification can turn a blank stare into a smile and a loud, “AHHH valeee.”IMG_1570
The first grade teacher keeps a blog for the parents if you are interested in seeing some of the little faces I see each day. He also contributes to a blog called Teaching Solutions.

Second grade is quite different in terms of level and abilities. The children begin prepping for the Trinity exam at the end of the year, so one of my responsibilities is to ask the students a list of questions one-on-one to improve fluency. The teacher adds one or two more questions a week in addition to the original list. Repetition is key.IMG_2256

Second graders are required at all times to speak in full sentences. For example if I ask, “What is your favorite subject at school?” The student must respond with, “My favorite subject is _____” instead of a one word answer like “Maths” (British English) or “Spanish.” I’m quite impressed with some of the children’s high language skills. For example in Natural Science class, they are learning things like the layers of the Earth and the bones in English. I know for a fact I didn’t begin to learn the human bones until 4th grade…in my NATIVE language.

Among Natural Science, I also assist with English and Social Science class. I get a lot of instruction time during second grade. I go through the calendar each morning (What day is today? What day was yesterday? What day will tomorrow be? What is the season? Etc.), and I explain lessons from their workbooks that correspond with the computer program projected on the Smartboard.
FullSizeRender (3)It’s been a month since starting my new job. The students are now more comfortable with me in the classroom, and it’s fun to see their progression. Not to mention free hugs. 🙂IMG_1565
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Some interesting details to the Spanish classroom include toilet paper for Kleenex and a portrait of Spain’s King and Queen.IMG_2257 IMG_2253
Once a week I tutor one of the Cantos Altos’ teacher’s students in the English room for an hour after school. The student happens to be in my 2nd grade class so I help him with homework and we review everything we’ve gone over in class.IMG_1567 IMG_1566

Twice a week I also work at Ontario English, a language academy about a ten minute walk from Cantos Altos. I work with three students ages 4 and 5. It’s challenging because they are even younger than my first graders, and I am the only one in charge for a full hour. Sometimes an hour seems like three, but we also have good days when no one is trying to sleep, roll on the floor, steal a crayon from someone else or open the door. Starting next week, I will also be leading a one hour conversation class for high schoolers. The age variation will be challenging, but a great experience.IMG_2261 IMG_1623 IMG_1557 IMG_1626
Teaching is definitely challenging! Those who go to school to become a full-time teacher~you are a saint. I’m so grateful to all the wonderful teachers I’ve had growing up now that I have the opportunity to stand in their shoes. 

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