One of the beauties of living and traveling abroad is the ability to experience the habits and customs of other countries. Hopefully, this gives us a greater appreciation for some aspects of our home culture while also encouraging us to consider alternative ways of living. For example, undoubtedly, the lifestyle in Spain is more relaxed than that of the United States. This more laid-back approach has much to recommend it. While it may initially seem excessive, a three-hour siesta in the middle of the day is far superior to the American style of workers eating lunch at their desks. Additionally, as someone who is perpetually running behind schedule, I appreciate that Spaniards don't mind if I arrive 10 minutes late to something. Nevertheless, the slower pace of life also has its drawbacks, which have unfortunately impacted the quality of my experience and that of the other auxiliares at my school. The absence of any sense of urgency has resulted in us being more than three full months into our time as language assistants and still without a clearly defined role or purpose -- something I fear at this point we will never have.
However burdensome they may seem at first, weekly or bi-weekly meetings between language assistants and teachers are an absolute necessity. I find that teachers and administrators at my school feel like things can always wait until tomorrow, next week, or next month. However, delaying these meetings has made it impossible to adequately prepare activities or be incorporated into the classrooms. Instead, we learn what the lesson of the day is upon walking into the classroom. Most of the teachers have not thought of how the language assistants might complement their work inside the classroom, so we are simply sent out into the hallway with students to review an exercise in the workbooks or ask conversational questions that we try to make up on the spot. We have no opportunity to use our creativity to design innovative lessons that engage the students.
I have also worried that the reason why we are not more consciously incorporated into the classrooms has nothing to do with cultural differences, but is in fact because teachers do not really want us there. Rather than see my presence as a help, I fear some teachers see me as a bother -- as if finding a role for me in their classrooms is just one more thing added to their to-do lists. Sending me out into the hallway is an easy way to appear to engage me while actually just getting me out of their hair. I regret to say that I have also on occasion been left standing at the back of the classroom for 45-minutes while the teacher talks to the children in Spanish on a random topic. Indeed, teachers and auxiliares must invest some time in figuring out how they may work together in ways that complement each other's skills and roles. However, if a school is unable or unwilling to invest that time, I wonder why it wants to continue participating in this program.
Ironically, a few teachers have acknowledged that they haven't been as prepared for us as they should be. However, they all seem to fall into the same trap that befalls us all on occasion -- procrastination. After all, we will be here for nine months. Yet, days quickly turn into weeks, which turn into months, which turn into the entire school year gone and everyone has had a dissatisfying experience. Faced with such a dilemma, the natural first step would be to try and speak with the bilingual coordinator at the school. However, in a twist that everyone saw coming, both of our invitations to spend a Friday afternoon casually chatting over beers or coffee about how things are going were rejected on account of there not being enough time at the moment. Consequently, any such meeting has been indefinitely postponed. After all, in true Spanish fashion, there's always next Friday.