Teaching English to the little minds of Spain

A drawing one of my students made for me for my birthday!

A drawing one of my students made for me for my birthday!

I had no idea to expect when I signed up for this teaching-English-in-Spain program, as far as the actual job was concerned. I’d volunteered some with little kids before, and I like kids, but I’d had zero training or studies in education. Thankfully, though, three weeks into the job, I’ve found myself comfortable teaching kids, and I just love their enthusiasm and energy for learning English!

I got a bit lucky with my school placement, in a few regards. I am an English teaching assistant as CEIP Fernando de Los Rios, which is a bilingual primary school (preschool through grade 6) in Getafe, just outside of Madrid. I was lucky in that my school has used auxiliares before, and in fact one of the current auxiliares I work with, Katie from Scotland, is in her second year at Fernando de Los Rios. Because the school has been a part of the program before, the coordinator Marta/Martha was awesomeee in communicating with me before I arrived in Spain — making sure I knew how to get to the school, what to bring, etc. A decent number of auxiliars in this program show up at their schools on Day 1 and their schools don’t even know the TA is coming — so I’m glad mine did know about me!

I was also lucky in that my school is a bilingual school: The kids have been learning English since they were in preschool. Bilingual schools have become really really popular in Madrid in the past few years. The way they work is, they teach Spanish language and math in spanish, but everything else is in English — English language, science, arts and crafts, religion, what have you. And the teachers at my school are really good about it: When they’re in English class and the kids try speaking in Spanish, the teacher says, “You know I don’t understand any Spanish…” just so the kids have to find a way to express themselves in English.

But the kids, they’re soo good at English! I was pretty impressed with their abilities from Day 1. I actually assist in 4 different classes — two 4th grade classes, and two 5th grade classes. Probably in each class, there’s 2 or 3 kids who have perfect English, as close to fluent as they can get without the full vocabulary. A lot of the kids are extremely comfortable speaking English and listening to it (which is my biggest problem with español), even if they’re more shy when it comes to speaking. I can think of this one student I have, Danny, who speaks perfect English and who just may know more science than me haha, he’s so smart!

Most days for me are usually spent just helping the kids with their grammar and enticing them to speak English. There’s a few troublemakers in each class, either in the sense that they just raise a ruckus or they refuse to speak English. And sometimes when I’m given a small group of like 5 students to take to another room and work on a composition, the group will just rebel and barely do any work. But for the most part, they’re good kids. ¡Y qué energía! Jesus these kids just run around all day and they are so excited to speak English with an American and they’re never tired… makes me wish I was just a kid again!

Right now my main focus with the 4th graders is helping them write out an essay on one topic that they’ll have to write and present orally at the end of the year. At bilingual schools, all the kids in grades 2, 4, and 6 take these Trinity/Cambridge year-end exams that are pretty tough and test their English, so that’s our main focus. Also, the 3 other auxiliars at my school and I are planning a Halloween play!! It’ll be Hansel & Gretel this year, so we’ve got to get to work on our script and costumes, and on how we can scare the kids!!

But in general, work’s not too bad. It’s only 16 hours a week and every weekend’s a long weekend, sin viernes; the only downside is I have to wake up at 6:45am every day to make my hour-long commute and get to school by 9am. And because I’m such an absurd procrastinator I even procrastinate going to sleep, so I neverrr get to bed before 2am. But again, I can’t complain.

Probably the biggest challenge in teaching English to these kids is the fact that all non-Americans learn British English. And then we Americans come in to the schools and we’re supposed to correct whatever pronunciation and grammar things just seem wrong of the bat to us — but often, they’re just components of British English! A few examples:

  • Brits say “30” as it’s spelled — with a hard ‘t’, in the middle, “thur-tee.” But Americans make that second ‘t’ more into a soft ‘d,’ so it comes out as “thur-dee.” I can recognize that the british pronunciation isn’t wrong, but I think it confuses the students to hear such different pronunciations. For instance, I’m gaining a bit of British pronuncation just for the sake that my kids can understand me when I tell them what page to turn to in their books.
  • Simple verb construction — Brits tend to throw in the word “got” into a lot of sentences, it seems like. For example, we’re working on describing people’s appearances in English. I tell the kids to write, “Jack has brown hair,” but they always write, “Jack has GOT brown hair,” which is correct in British English. To me, having the word “got” in there is definitely wrong, I would’ve gotten marked down in my 5th grade class if I had written that. But here, I don’t know whether I should even bother to tell them that we do it differently in America, because the teachers speak with the “got” thing, too.
  • Simple, obvious differences in pronuncation, i.e. with “vitamins.” Just takes some getting used to.

Anyway, my kids are great. The feature photo on this post is actually a drawing that one of my 4th graders, Abel, made for me on my birthday, last Monday. Abel is definitely one of the sharpest kids in my class, extremely advanced English skills and enthusiastic to learn. I had a lot of friends who made my birthday weekend very special here in Madrid, but getting this drawing from one of my students was the highlight of my day. Hands down.

(plus, that’s a pretty darn good drawing, no?!! I mean, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that in the 4th grade. He even colored in the letters in “Happy Birthday” in red, white, and blue!!)

Also, some of my kids just surprise me in their quirks. One of my 4th graders, Hugo V., is really good at English and a great student, but he just talks during the entire class!! It’s really just because he wants to practice English, but he really drives my teacher up the wall. And I was talking with another sharp student, Aleksander, and he told me he can make an entire cheesecake by himself! I thought at first he just like re-heats a store-bought cheesecake or something; but then I pressed him further, and he told me his whole process of how he makes his crust, makes his batter, how he has a cheesecake mold, etc. I was blown away. And then the other day he brought in a piece of the cheesecake crust to show it to me!! A fourth grader, 9 years old, cooking one of the hardest baking goods out there. Shocked and pleasantly surprised, is me.

That’s a quick summary of the work aspect of Madrid so far. Soon, hopefully, I’ll be putting up some new pics I’ve been snapping around Madrid! Maybe even an update on in which direction(s) my life is headed nowadays.

Until next time, amigos, un saludo.

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5 comments

  1. Cosette · · Reply

    I absolutely love your blogs!! I’ve been reading for the past who-knows-how-long. I mailed in my application for Auxiliares today, so I’m pretty stoked! I hope I get a spot in Andalucia (my first preference), but I’m applicant 2,400. Yikes!

    This program sounds so rewarding (:

    1. Hi Cosette, that’s so exciting!! In my year, I met people who had inscrita #’s upwards of 3,000, and I think maybe even into 4,000. You should probably be fine with 2,400 :).

      Thanks for the compliment, and enjoy Andalucía for me! I lived in Sevilla a few years ago, and it is definitely my home-away-from-home. Favorite city in the world for me.

      1. Cosette · ·

        Amit, thank you so much for your reply!

        It makes me feel better that I still have hope :p

        How long did you wait to hear a confirmation? The application period opened January 9th and closes April 7th this term. I hope I hear back soon… How long did it take you?

        I’m looking forward to being in Andalucía. Have you spent any time in Cataluña?

  2. I know acceptances are rolling, so the earlier you applied, the earlier you will hear back. I applied on day 1 of the app period during my year, and I heard back in early May; I think most folks heard back by early June, but they’ll continue accepting people even as late as September. It’s a bit of a long time to be left in limbo, but it’s worth it!

    I have spent some time in Catalunya, though only in Barcelona. I loved it! It’s a very interesting place, in that it doesn’t even feel like you’re in Spain anymore — people speak catalán as the first language, and with the flags, etc. Would definitely recommend taking a trip up there to visit and see it first-hand!

  3. Cosette · · Reply

    In May?? Goodness that’s a long time to hold your breath, haha.

    I was going to choose as an option to be in Cataluna pero al final, decidi que no. I knew that they would mainly speak to me in Catalan and I would be staring back dumbfounded.

    Anyway, would you feel comfortable giving me your email? I would like to keep in touch and talk to you a little more about this program, I have lots of questions (:

    If you don’t feel comfortable, no pasa nada. Continuamos aqui (:

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