Dear New Auxiliar,
First of all, is auxiliar even a word? My spell check says no, but that is what you’ll probably be called for the next 9 months of your life, so add it to your personal vocabulary. Technically, the position is called North American Language and Culture Assistant. You’re probably thinking what the heck does that even mean? If you are like me, you will assume it has something to do with teaching English language and American culture to children. The reality can be quite different. Allow me to explain. Here are ten things I wish I knew before teaching in Spain.
1. Don’t get your TESOL/TEFL just for this program
You won’t need it! This is not a program to teach English! It is a program that helps Spanish teachers in a variety of subjects (even P.E. and music classes) teach their subject with a part of the class in English or using English content. Even if you are chosen to assist in an actual English class you should ideally plan the class with the head teacher and he or she should always be there with you to help and supervise.
2. Do come with materials
Maps, brochures, pictures, etc. Just because you don’t have a TESOL certificate doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t come with some awesome TESOL resources. There are some great websites out there with tons of ideas for games and activities. Some suggestions to bring from the US are pictures, brochures, games like Scattergories or Apples to Apples, dice, flashcards, magazines, etc. Anything in native English can be used as a tool and you won’t be able to find it there!!!
3. Do not do too much too soon
This was my biggest mistake. My school was on year zero of the bilingual program, meaning that it was their first year and I was their first assistant. Bilingual classes didn’t even start until the following year so they didn’t know what I was supposed to do and just dropped me into twenty different English classes. Fresh out of my TESOL course and with the typical American overachiever attitude, I proceeded to teach full TESOL lessons that I spent hours planning the night before. The teachers didn’t help me with anything and the kids didn’t understand anything. My work was basically for nothing and I was miserable.
4. Don’t do too little work either (although tempting)
This wasn’t my case, but many assistants spend their time on facebook or sitting at a student’s desk listening to a lecture about plants. It might sound cool to get paid for doing nothing, but it’s also a waste of time and energy. Speak up if you aren’t being used in your classes and ask to change to others. If you aren’t doing anything you shouldn’t be there… 12 hour requirement or not.
5. Negotiate a decent schedule
My first year I started work at a different time each day. Sometimes I had to be there by 8:00 and other times at 11:30… needless to say my sleep schedule was destroyed. I hated it but I didn’t complain. I should have. The second year I asked for a three-day schedule (they’re only 12 hours after all!!!) but I was told four days were necessary. I was disappointed, but at least negotiated a 10-1:30 schedule each day. Finally I had a routine (and a good night’s sleep!)
6. Don’t expect guidance
No one will automatically help you find a plane ticket, an apartment, the school’s address, your bosses name, open a bank account, get your NIE, see a doctor… nothing. You might be lucky and have a helpful boss or principal, but it isn’t guaranteed and no one takes care of you. It’s time to be independent, hooray!
7. Be assertive and speak up
Especially if they are asking too much. I never did and that didn’t get me anywhere. It’s probable that no one realized I was doing way more than the requirements. We should have communicated better.
8. Call in if you are really sick (and find out how)
We are really not given any sick days but obviously we Americans get sick too. The Spanish employees are quick to bring a doctor’s note at the slightest hint of a cough, but I worked my first year with strep throat and even mono. I hated having to go to the doctor’s office to get a note when all I really needed was rest, but that is how it was. Your boss may be more lax, many are, but if not suck it up and go to the doctor (it is free after all!) Also, be sure to ask the first week who you need to contact if you ever do need to call in. I always called my boss, but sometimes she wasn’t even at the school yet and the teachers I was supposed to assist were never even notified!
9. Do speak Spanish sometimes, even if they tell you not to
I was told no Spanish ever because the kids needed to learn English. This resulted in all of the other teachers thinking I really didn’t know any Spanish and never talking to me. I felt really isolated my first year. Also, it is proven that sometimes translating a word in the classroom is effective. I would say the kids should know you can speak both languages and you should use Spanish if and when helpful or necessary, but never when it negatively affects their learning!
10. If you don’t like your school don’t repeat there!
If after trying to get involved, teach well, and encourage the kids you just don’t like your school’s environment… don’t tough it out! I did, primarily because I was too scared of getting moved out of Seville, but if I could go back I would have requested a transfer. It might have been a risk, but I could have also had a much better and different second experience. Most people who switched were very happy with their decision.
So there they are, the ten things I wish I knew before teaching in Spain. Hopefully these tips help. If you have any questions at all leave them in the comments. I hope you all have a great year and enjoy Spain!