These are a few things I’ve learnt during my first year as an English language assistant in Spain. Hopefully they’ll teach you how to be the BEST too!
1. It’s okay to start off strict
When I first arrived, I just wanted the kids to love me. I wanted them to think I was really cool, and fun, and someone they could have a good time with whilst learning. I soon realised that this wouldn’t be the case. In secondary, I’m the youngest teacher by far. I assumed that my youth would make it easier to connect with students, and that they’d respect me more because of it. Some of the 16 year olds have said they find older teachers more boring and harder to relate to, but that doesn’t automatically make me more interesting or relatable.
Respect or likeability. You can only choose one.
I attempted to go for the latter, but structured lessons that actually have focused activities aren’t as attractive to pupils as I had expected. I tried to do one game which involved sweets as a prize in order to engage the class more (we had to stop half way through due to the chaos). Since then, they continuously want to play games and always ask what the prize will be; they’re often disappointed when there is none. My likeability, unsurprisingly went down hill.
By this point, I was a few months in and had missed the boat on respect. An older, wiser teacher advised that you have to be firm and clear on the rules from day one. A little bit late now, but at least I know for the future. I didn’t start as strict as I should have and now it’s a lot more challenging to control the class.
2. Take pride in your plans, but don’t spend hours over it
In the first month of teaching, I often found myself stuck for ideas. I’m not the type of person to do something half-arsed. I want my lessons to be interesting and unique and well-prepped. I need to have a plan sorted and then if I need to improvise in the moment, so be it.
One week, I spent an agonising four hours planning an hour long class, only to decide that I hated it and scrapped the idea completely. I then took another three hours to come up with the final lesson plan. Granted it wasn’t that bad, but I wasted a whole seven hours on a class that only lasted about 50 minutes. I’m quite stubborn and enjoy creating my own classes from scratch, but I’ve learnt that it’s okay to use activities you find online. It’s good to put in effort and take pride in your work, but don’t let it consume all your time.
3. You will never learn every child’s name
It’s impossible! Let alone with Basque names… I’m convinced that half of them are made up.
For the first few weeks, I had them using name cards, but this created a few issues. The eldest felt offended that I didn’t know their names after the first three classes, bearing in mind I only see them for one hour out of the 22 that I actually work a week. They would groan every time I told them to put the name card on their desks.
On the other hand, the primary students often made them into paper aeroplanes to launch across the room. And one genius even decided to write an entirely different name. To this day I’m still not quite sure whether he’s called Alejandro or Aitor.
Of course, you will get to know the names of the trouble makers and the smart cookies. However, the shyer ones with a mediocre level of English often get a bit lost in the background. But it’s impossible to remember them all.
4. Fake it ‘till you make it
Coming into teaching, I had no idea what I was doing. I remember some of my first classes being absolute disasters, because I had never done this type of thing before. However, confidence is key.
If you act like a teacher, people will treat you as a teacher.
As a language assistant, you’re one step above the students, but you don’t quite have the same authority as the teachers. If you go in with confidence and act as though you belong there, then everyone else will believe it too. Go to the teachers’ weekly meetings. Ask to be put in the group chat. Send that troublesome kid to the headmaster’s office. I’ve only just started to do some of these things and wish I’d done it from the start. It would’ve made me feel more integrated and like I am an actual English teacher.
5. Be inventive!
Try out that whacky lesson plan. Do that crazy project. Play that wild game. Nobody likes to have the same repetitive lessons over and over again. So, feel free to experiment and try things out. If they don’t go well, then you know not to do them again. On the other hand, you might just discover a great, new, engaging lesson to use in the future.
If you’re having a good time, the chances are the students are too.
Written by Amelia Carpenter- a Spanish and English Graduate.