My first year as a Language Assistant (also known as Cultural Ambassador or Auxiliar de Conversación depending on who you are talking to) was at CEIP Montés del Castellar from October 01, 2016 to May 31, 2017. The school is located in the village of Torres de Berrellén, in the province of Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain. Although I worked in a small village, I had the opportunity to live in the city of Zaragoza with a commute time that averaged about an hour each way depending on traffic. The transition from American to Spanish life was fortunately eased and facilitated by the incredible group of people I met at my host school. The teachers, staff, students, families and neighbors of CEIP Montés del Castellar were absolutely amazing. I would not trade the experience I had there for anything else in the world. I learned so much. I did have my challenges, however the people I met there supported me unconditionally and encouraged me to make the most of my stay. I would advise anyone applying for this program of the following: if you do not get any of your first choices in terms of where you want to be placed, you might be better off. The friendships I formed in Towers (Torres de Berrellén) will be forever.
Despite my incredible time in Torres de Berrellén, I did want to try living in the capital of Spain while in Europe. As a second year applicant, you do have first priority as to where you will be placed. My reasons for wanting to come to Madrid are simple. As I mentioned in my statement of purpose for the program both years, I am especially invested in art and culture, specifically as they relate to film. In particular, I was interested in being placed in Madrid because both could be experienced in greater concentration on a regular basis. As I am also someone concerned with spiritual practices and alternative life modalities, I believed that choosing Madrid would be a great place to explore for at least a year. This decision has not disappointed.
My second year assignment as a Language Assistant from October 01, 2017 to June 30, 2018 is at IES Alameda de Osuna. Just so that you get an idea of scale, there are presently as many people in the high school where I work as there were in the entire village where I was placed last year. I presently have about 390 high school students I personally work with spread over 13 different classes. Four of these classes I see twice a week. Fortunately two classes alternate one of my time-slots every other week, so I only spend 16 hours a week in a classroom instead of what might otherwise be 17 hours. Last year, there were about 156 students in the entire school. Let that sink in for a minute.
The biggest challenge I have this year is learning everyone’s name. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Anything that can help you learn your students names as fast as possible will help you in the classroom. I cannot stress this enough. Last week I actually started using index cards. I decided to make it a classroom activity.
INDEX CARD ACTIVITY
My school has attendance sheets with photos and names of each student enrolled in each class. Start class by explaining that each student will be making a card that will help you learn a little about them. Explain that you will be cutting their photos from a copy of the attendance/class sheet. Tell them to affix their photo to the upper left hand corner of the front of the index card; a glue stick works best. Cut the photo so that their whole name remains with the photo; some might accidentally cut their names off, but don’t let this bother you. They should personally write their first name next to the right of the photo any way they would like. Encourage them to decorate the front of the index card anyway they want using markers, colored pencils or normal pens. On the back of the index card, ask them to write about two points. 1. What inspires them/you? This can be anything. Music, art, manga, food, fashion, etc. This will help you learn something about them easily. Encourage them to write in complete sentences 2. What do they/you expect of the class? Believe it or not, this really encourages them to think critically about their education and helps you begin to listen to their needs. Show some of your favorite cards if you like.
I personally did not have this visual for the exercise. I drew what I wanted on the chalk board. I simply wanted you to have an idea of what was possible and thought it was really cool. This colored marker ID card was made by Hannah Adams and was found here. The great thing about having these cards is that you can use them in class to call on students to participate until you have their names memorized. It’s also nice to be able to read them while commuting to and from work. This activity was first done with 4° of ESO, but I plan to use it with all of my other classes.
What I’m about to say may sound counterintuitive or even contradictory. Be prepared for things changing at the last minute. It happens more than you think. You may have a lesson planned for a certain day only to find out another matter has taken priority over your Thanksgiving PowerPoint Presentation or Martin Luther King Jr. Prezi. Teachers also get sick and under such circumstances you might not be able to do your planned activity because no one else is available that day to be a substitute for the missing teacher. (You are not supposed to give class by yourself.) Don’t take it personally. You most likely will be able to use your activity on another day.
Rumor has it that IES Alameda de Osuna is one of the most demanding schools in Madrid. The school and the teachers expect a lot from their students, and as such I find myself more often than not simply supporting what the teachers have already planned for their classes. I will post other entries about somethings I have either done or facilitated that seemed to work. Remember that our main responsibility is to have the students speak to you and one another in English. Anything that comes to mind is worth a shot.