Helloooo fellow and soon-to-be auxiliares/teachers abroad,It's Kamala again!
I’m am a HUGE advocate for learning from experience. Experience is one of life’s greatest educators. But, it never ever hurts to be given a “heads up”. If you’re having a tiny bit of anxiety as a 1st year auxiliar/English teacher/teaching abroad in general, dive into our blogs here. We’re experiencing it first-hand. I spent an hour or two a day reading blogs about living and teaching abroad--I wanted to know the good, the bad and the ugly. Here’s a dose of experience for you, straight from my heart and fondest/not-so-fond memories:
- Try to secure housing AT LEAST within 1 hour commute (Metro, etc.) from your school. Seriously, I know it’s only 16 hours a week, but as you may have seen in my post about my actual schedule--chances are you’ll actually be in school a full day 9am-2 or 4pm. Living in the center of Madrid sounds cool but if you’re not placed near it--you can also take a metro into the center! You have to be in school 4 days a week...do you want to be on a train for 16 hours plus a week!?!?
- Communicate with your Director/a, Head of Studies and teachers. Up front, talk with them and make sure you’re clear about their expectations of you. What do you do if you’re sick or running late? In class, teachers are typically really excited if you have a cool game to learn English with the kids or love it when we create materials (board games, etc.) for their classroom. You should have a teacher or your coordinator on WhatsApp and a means to communicate after school or over the weekend if necessary! Also DO NOT PLAY HOOKY, honestly, we do have a LOT of days off. This will also ruin it for future auxiliares. When you're very sick, let them know and they'll understand--you may be required to bring in a doctor's note. Talk to your school! At my school, when we want to take a holiday (the term for vacation/day off) for travel or something else--it absolutely has to be important. For example, some of the British auxiliares requested two days off extra before the Christmas holiday because flights were significantly cheaper to go home and be with family. This is okay! Make sure you tell them in advance because you'll have to make up the hours.
- The kids will NEVER be completely quiet so don’t stress about it! I teach in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th grade. The kids are NEVER quiet. NEVER. Maybe for a couple minutes during an exam or video, but someone is always going to be talking, chatting with their neighbor, playing with their pencil cases--etc. They can’t sit still; the teachers typically yell at them in Spanish if it gets too crazy loud, but if a couple kids are talking here and there the teacher just continues talking over them if the majority of kids are paying attention.
- Spanish kids hug and kiss you, and stare at you. In Madrid, it’s perfectly okay to hug and kiss the students back--to say nice things to them, to play with their hair and kiss their boo-boo’s (hygienically). You will see a lot of affection between the teachers and students--kissing on the forehead, the cheek, and warm and loving hugs. If it doesn’t melt your heart when a tiny human is super excited to see you and throws their arms around you, you may or may not be a robot or an unactivated sleeper soldier. About the staring--coming from the U.S., a lot of Spanish kids have watched American films, dance to American music and might even eat American products, but it’s rare that they’ve met an American before (besides other auxiliares). Back to hugging, believe it or not, tiny humans are powerful in groups--sometimes one student will hug you, then another...and next thing you know you're struggling to balance from the weight of 15 or more students!
- Be flexible everyday. Bahaha, I know this is evilly vague--it’s because I want you to really READ this tiny paragraph. When you come into the school, you’re probably going to work with different teachers in different classes! We all know teachers come in every shape and size and personality. Some might be more prepared or more lax than others. Some days I’m asked to lead the entire lesson with no prep (for example: Social Sciences, they’re learning about first aid and penicillin.) This is fun for me--it means I have free reign to make students come up in front of class and play games! Acting ANYTHING out and being a really animated person is EASY to do on the fly.
- Theatre skills help so much! When learning English in primary school, they are learning things like: emotions, instruments, sea animals, animals, occupations, boy/girl etc. Once they pair the pictures to the vocab words, it’s SO EASY to use ALL of class time “Acting it Out!” Let’s say the students are learning about sea animals, you can call one student up to the room and have them act out the sea animal, have the class raise their hand to guess. Emotions too! I had a small group of 5 students (this is typical, I rotate 3-5 students in a group for intensive english) and I would dramatically act out being sad and they have to guess. Not only does this reinforce their learning, it is entertaining and they are so excited to act out as well. Drama is good in this case.
- Make them RAISE THEIR HANDS!!! If you tell the class “Who can tell me what the weather is like outside?!” Everyone’s going to start yelling or “Me! Me! Me!-ing” at the same time. You MUST tell them to raise their hands as much as you can. EVEN in small groups of 2 children, I’ve learned this the hard way, trust me!
- EVERYONE loves STICKERS! or “pegatinas!”. Be it 2nd grade to 6th grade, they LOVE and would KILL for stickers! Okay, not kill but severely injure! Stickers are super motivating for 2nd-4th grade especially. When I have them in groups of 2-8; I make fun theatre games or read them stories and ask them a question on each page. I turn EVERYTHING into a fun competition where they win points and depending on how many stickers I have, I will give the winner 3-6 stickers of her or his choice, and 2nd to 8th place will have one sticker less than the preceding. They are obsessed with the stickers I buy from “Accessorize!” They’re always excited to work with me whether they get stickers or not--and I haven’t noticed a sharp change in motivation--but it’s always fun to reward them with stickers. They’re certainly more eager to read aloud and try their very best to speak.
- DON'T USE YOUR PHONE IN CLASS. For one thing, this is sometimes considered rude, and most schools will ask that you're not on your phone. Another thing, students are SO distracted by your phone. Sometimes, I'll tell the teacher that I want to show them a video or play a game--this is okay. But if you're texting a friend, or your SO--this is a no-no.
- You should hang out with your fellow teachers! Trust me, I'm sure one or two of them at least want to hang out with YOU! In my experience and in speaking with other auxiliares, most teachers are going to be your age or only a bit older. Either way, they probably know the best bars, best food and how to make the most of Madrid. Why not be friends with the people you work with in close proximity 4 times a week? Plus, you could improve your Castellano!
- No one really knows the term "auxiliar". You're called "profe" or "teacher" or your first name by all your students, and when asked by anyone you meet in Spain you say you're an English teacher or "Soy profesor/a de Inglés". If you say, "I'm an auxiliar" to anyone who's not an auxiliar, they probably won't know what you mean...
- This is one of the coolest "jobs" ever. You get to live abroad in Spain, in Europe! You have over THIRTY days OFF for Spanish holidays and school break where you're free to travel the world. (This is not including the fact that you have 3 day weekends!!! Plus you only work 16 hours a week!? YES, you're going to have those days or weeks when you're gonna wanna scream "I HATE KIDS!", you're students are acting up and can't be quiet for two seconds, and maybe they just plain don't want to learn English. Breathe! It's okay! :) You have this unique opportunity to escape your own cultural limits living in a completely different country and you can also share your culture with others. We can influence a positive sentiment towards the United States. Being an auxiliar does not even feel like a job to me, more like a higher calling to prepare the next generation of bilingual leaders to raise stronger and healthier families.
I’m dying to hear your thoughts and questions on what it takes to survive as an auxiliar!
For more of my adventures, follow me on Instagram! @KamalaAlcantara