My alarm sounds at 9am. I yawn and fumble to silence the overly-energetic jingle. It’s Tuesday, the beginning of my “work-week”. My host family is already at school and work. I go about my morning and eat breakfast in silence. I am ready a few minutes before 10am, which is when I have to be at my placement. Luckily, it’s only a 3 minute to walk to my school. I lock the door behind me and I’m off!
Grades 1, 2, and 3
My first class of the day is English with grades 1, 2, and 3. Yes, my school is small enough to have combined classes. Consequently, I am the only culture and language assistant at the school and work with each grade level. Tuesdays are my biggest work days because I often teach all of the English classes. Some days I do cultural presentations; other days I prepare vocabulary games.
Today I do a presentation on Thanksgiving. I click through a heavily visual PowerPoint for a wide-eyed audience. I show them typical Thanksgiving foods and explain briefly (with the aid of symbols, pictures, and gestures) why it is a special day. I ask them about their favorite desserts and what they are thankful for. “Mi postre favorita es…” to which I respond: “In English!” and repeat the phrase “My favorite dessert is…” for them to say out loud. Hands go up constantly to ask questions and share tid-bits about their life. They are so eager to understand and to share! At the end of my presentation, I divide them into competitive teams to see which group remembers the most Thanksgiving vocabulary. Class ends smoothly.
Technically, I have break for the next hour and a half, but I prefer to accompany my host teacher to preschool. Originally, I used these breaks to plan for my English workshops, but soon accumulated enough ideas to spend the time otherwise.
In pre-k (infantile in Spanish), I do a full daily routine with the students. We sing a “Good Morning” song and then I ask: “What’s the weather like today, Alba?” She stands up and looks out the window. “Sunny!” She totters and smiles. We go through weather flashcards and sing a counting song. Big, baby eyes watch me as we count our fingers and wave our hands in the air. We play a game with number flashcards. Then I pull my face into a frown. “Sad” I say. Sad faces peer back at me. “Sad” they repeat. We do this for several emotions, and then they stand up, sit down, run, jump, and walk on command. Later we might work with the English text–book, play games in the gym, or have snack and play time.
Grades 4, 5, and 6
Next is recreo, in which the teachers take a break while the students play outside. During this time, I have a snack, chat with other teachers, play with the kids, and prepare classroom activities.
After recreo, I have English with grades 4, 5, and 6. I click through Thanksgiving again, but with more detail and probing this time. They are incredulous. “You really eat that much food?” “Do you cook it all?” “What is your favorite pie?” The questions are never-ending. “What do you think settlement means?” I ask on one slide. “The pilgrims wanted religious what?” I ask them to recall a previous slide. “Freedom!” they shout. There is so much discussion that we don’t have time for the review game that I had planned. Nonetheless, I feel that class was a success. My last class is Social Science with the same age group. In this class, I take on a more supportive role. I bounce between groups and help them understand class material in English and put together their projects.
After school, I have Spanish class from 2-3pm and then eat in the school’s cafeteria before heading to an English workshop. The workshop is optional for me, but I like spending time at the school. Children from Pre-k up to 6th grade attend, but I cater to the older kids. We study English pop songs and play games like Hang-Man and Scattegories. In this way, the older kids stay engaged and help the younger kids learn faster.
The workshop complete, I head home to relax. I nap, have a snack, prepare classroom activities, catch up with people in the US, or spend time with my hosts’ daughters. Wednesday evenings, I teach a private conversation class (for which I get paid) from 5-6:30pm. On Thursday nights, I go to Zumba with the oldest daughter and her cousins. Whatever the evening holds, there will always be dinner with the family at 10pm followed by a sobremesa, in which we sit and chat before bed.
My Varied Days
In all, my schedule is pretty relaxed, but keeps me contentedly busy. Wednesdays and Fridays are earlier days because I have Spanish class at 9am on Wednesdays and travel to two other schools at 8:30am on Fridays. On Fridays, I run half of each English class in two other towns—Abejar and Cabrejas. I also run the warm-ups in gym class and teach part of the pre-school lessons in Cabrejas. Thursdays are lighter because my “work-day” starts at 12:20pm, unless there is a field-trip or special event that begins earlier.
Besides volunteering at the school, I spend my weekends traveling, relaxing, and having lunch at my hosts’ grandparents’ homes. I spend Mondays prepping for classes and going to the city of Soria with my head-teacher to go sight-seeing, swimming, running errands, or visiting her family.
It’s hard to be bored on this program. There are always lessons to plan, trips to prepare, friends to make, and sights to see. At the end of the day, I go to bed satisfactorily exhausted and know that it will begin all over again in the morning.