Behind classroom doors in Spain
Hola! This is my friend Liz – a Kiwi expat living in Spain with initial intentions to learn Spanish and live off a modest au pair wage. However, she soon realised that she couldn’t live comfortably off it. Luckily enough, she met a Canadian expat in Madrid who was able to hook her up with a job teaching English to 8 and 9 year old Spanish kids! Read on to find out more what it’s like behind classroom doors in Spain.
What kind of arrangement do you have with your classes?
I teach 20 hours a week in a class alongside a qualified teacher. I’m more of a teacher-aid really. She plans everything and lets me know what she wants me to do and what students I should work with. It’s great because she’s super easy to work with and helps me out when I’m ever struggling to explain something.
What is your biggest challenge in the classroom?
I have one class a week in Grade 1 (5 and 6 year old students). Getting them to be quiet and listen is the hardest part of my week. It actually takes so much out of me. For me the younger kids are definitely a lot harder.
What do you enjoy the most about teaching in Spain, and why?
I like the kids the best – especially the 8 and 9 year-old students. I’m lucky that I’m in a bilingual school, so by this age their English is pretty good and I’m able to have normal conversations with them (albeit about ponies, the Disney Channel and Lego). These kids are really fun to be with and have such contagious energy.
What kind of resources do you have available at your school?
I’m lucky that my school is in quite a… can I say “well-off” area in Madrid. So we have lots of resources, even an electronic whiteboard that I struggle to use on a weekly basis (seriously, every time I write on it, it looks as if a monkey has done it).
What do you dislike the most about teaching in Spain?
For me Spain has really weird school hours. We have a 2 hour lunch break everyday from 12:30pm –to 2:30pm, which I find really unproductive and then we have to teach the kids for another hour and a half. I wish that lunch was only 1 hour or even just 45 minutes so that my day could finish a little earlier.
What are some cultural differences in the classroom you’ve noticed when comparing to your home country?
Hmmm… one thing is that here they call all the teachers by their first name. I’m just known as Liz. In New Zealand we always referred to teachers as ‘Miss/Mrs/Mr Someone’. So there’s that. Also there no grass at this school which I find is a little poo. Kids just pay out in a concrete patio, although now that I think about it, maybe this has something to do with the winter weather here.
Do you need to carry out many tests/exams for your students?
We do tests in my Grade 3 classes every few weeks – I always get to read out the dictation part in my amazing kiwi accent, which is fun. And I’m helping out in a Grade 2 class (6 and 7 year-old students), who are taking Cambridge Trinity exams soon which are a pretty big deal, so I do a lot of exam practice with them too.
What is something you have learned from teaching abroad?
I’ve got a new respect for teachers (like actual trained teachers with degrees).
It’s not as easy as it looks. I mean sure one day or one week in a classroom is a breeze, because everything’s new and you’re full of energy. But after that it gets tiring. Kids aren’t like adults, they aren’t necessarily at school because they want to learn, they’re there because they have to be. So its easy for them to get distracted, lose focus and tune out. It can be hard work trying to inspire kids sometimes about things that really aren’t so interesting (at the moment we’re studying rocks… I die). Teachers that can keep classes captivated and learning really are doing something quite amazing.
Do you have a memorable/funny classroom experience you can share?
You know when you learn a new language you often end up pronouncing words wrong unknowingly (happens to me all the time with Spanish). Well an example for this with my Spanish kids is the word ‘beach’ which they often pronounce more like ‘bitch’ – as in Spanish the ‘e’ and ‘i’ have different sounds to English. This is forgivable until they start putting the word into sentences and saying things like ‘I love to lay on the bitch’, ‘I like to play with the bitch’, ‘Sometimes I sleep on the bitch’, ‘ I love the bitch’… I’ve now taught them to say beach as if it were spelt ‘beeeeech’. (Bitch also means prostitute in Spanish, which doesn’t help when I’m trying not to laugh at their hard efforts).
What kind of advice would you give to others who are interested in coming to Spain to live and teach English?
Do it! It’s seriously so much fun and a nice easy way to live in a new country without the stresses of working in a “career” job. I think I’m even going to stay for another year since I like it so much.