My last day of teaching


Teaching in Spain has been a rollercoaster of hilarity, intimidation, confusion, misinterpretation, frustration and exhaustion. Incidentally, I have also learnt that most Spanish kids struggle to pronounce words ending in ‘tion’.

In all honesty I’ve loved the experience about 64 times more than I ever thought I would. Equally, I would never want to do it again. 8 months was the perfect amount of time, the perfect amount of responsibility and pressure. I know that being a proper teacher is significantly harder, I mean I worked just 12 hours a week, speaking my native language at a slow pace and loud volume, occasionally whipping together a PowerPoint entitled ‘What is a Roast Dinner?’. I’m fairly sure professional teachers have to work a lot harder than that.

I like to think I imparted a lot of wisdom throughout my time here, and hopefully I did a lot to improve my students’ English. What I can be sure of though is that I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot myself. Ironically, I am now better informed on British, American and Irish culture as I had to give lessons on various cultural topics. Never before had I researched the story behind Halloween, the history of St Patrick’s Day or the rules of cricket (we did an entire lesson on this), wikepedia has definitely been my friend.

Perhaps less surprisingly, I have also learned a whole heap of English grammar. At the beginning of the year I’d be asked, on the spot, to explain the use of ‘the future perfect tense’ and I’d stare blankly at the teacher for a good four minutes. We know and use so much grammar instinctively but when it comes to explaining the rules or the reasons behind our bizarre language it gets quite complicated. I’ve learned about countable nouns, uncountable nouns, the present continuous… the list is endless (and tedious) but it’s been enlightening nevertheless.

There have also been numerous amusing classroom moments, some of which I have already shared here, here and here. Last month there was a listening task in which students had to identify sports from audio clips. The sound of a bat hitting a ball was clearly tennis, hearing quick footsteps on tarmac was obviously jogging but Judo was less straightforward; the clip was a medley of rude-sounding grunting and shuffling on the floor which prompted a class of stifled laughter, me included. Another case was when students were given titles to invent their own storyboards with; one group was given ‘Getting Dirty’ and thankfully wrote about a dog swimming in a puddle. Less innocent students could certainly have taken the title in a very different direction and I was VERY grateful it was a young class. My friends working at neighbouring schools have not been spared the amusement either. One of Emmy’s 13 year old students was asked about her weekend and answered “On Saturday night I sleep with my friend Lara” to which the Spanish teacher corrected “NO! You SLEPT with your friend Lara, past tense!” before Emmy had to correct them both and said “I think you mean you slept at your friend Lara’s house?” It’s never-ending fun.

The highlight of my teaching experience however, as I’m sure most non-monstrous teachers would agree, has been the students. They were (mostly) funny, cheeky and kind, occasionally hard working, attentive and studious, often challenging but never boring. I’d be lying if I sad I didn’t have favourites; in every class there’d be at least two or three particularly funny or sweet kids who would make the lessons so much better. In the younger classes I had really cute ones who would make me paper flowers or drawings, in the older classes there were girls who filled me in on the school gossip, giggled with me over mutual love for the attractive Portuguese teacher, there was Juan-Manuel the Pretty Little Liars super-fan who I discussed episodes with. Having these allies was also integral to discipline, whenever I spoke these students would yell (in a passionate Spanish way that I could never replicate) for their classmates to shut up and listen – VERY useful if you’ve ever experienced the sheer chaos of a rowdy Spanish high school.

I will also undoubtedly be using my teaching experience in any future job interview; it has tested so much more than a year at university ever would. Can you give me an example of a time you when you had to work under pressure? Insert Spanish teaching experience here. Tell me about a time where you had to think on your feet? Insert Spanish teaching experience here. Please explain how you would handle a challenging working environment? You get the idea..

Like waitressing, I can tick ‘teacher’ off my future career list that’s for sure, however, now that the time has come to leave I’m actually quite emotional. As cheesy as it sounds, it has been so nice to make connections with students who I would never have met otherwise and will realistically never encounter again. Yesterday was my last day and it was very special, I taught 3 classes the ‘ChaCha slide’ dance routine and we did lots of goodbyes and present exchanging. In one class four of the students had clubbed together to buy me an impractical but adorable HUGE pink teddy bear. It’ll take some serious packing tessellation to get him home but I’m determined to do it. I’ll remember these 8 months forever and I can’t wait to read my diary in years to come to relive ALL the memories, both disastrous and wonderful.



The Spanish summer has begun

photoExtremadura is known for it’s extreme temperatures (as the name suggests) and I am finally appreciating why. We are currently experiencing spell of extreme heat and its almost unbearable. It was 40 degrees today, it is also May. The locals are wearing shorts and all conversations begin with ¡Qué calor!, so you know it’s pretty serious. I checked the weather and it’s currently hotter than Morocco, Greece and Uganda. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the school classrooms were hotter than the Earth’s core.

The main problem is that it’s very dry and desert-like here; there’s no nearby beach, no lake and very few trees around the town. Unfortunately I walk to my students’ houses for private classes at around 3.30pm each day and I’m fairly sure I’m the only human braving the sunlight at this scorching hour. Everyone else is sensibly en casa with the shutters down. I actually have to apply sun cream for my ten-minute walk down the road, I also have to arrive an extra two minutes early to allow for cooling-off period during which I lurk outside the students’ house for necessary brow-mopping and water-guzzling.

I’ll try to find some silver linings to avoid sounding too whiny and spoiled: I’m lucky to be getting a healthy glow, I am grateful that this town is not at all hilly and I am pleased to have quite a decent deodorant.

But madre mía, any increase in temperature and I’ll have to be forcibly removed from the town fountain. Seriously.


Monday musings #11

Believe it or not, when I’m not travelling or sunbathing I’m actually working here in Spain as an English language assistant. Last week I helped in a class based on pronunciation. The teacher rightly told the students that they can get by in England with a Spanish accent but they need to pronounce words more or less correctly in order to be understood. In English there are so many words that sound similar but can give completely different meanings so it’s important that the difference can be heard. There’s a ridiculous amount of these words if you think about it and for those learning English these words sound mostly identical, causing all kinds of confusion. For example, bird, beer, bar and bear all sound the same to many Spanish students. English is a lot tougher than we realize.

So my job for the day was chief enunciator (or something), I had to read out lists of subtly different words and the students had to repeat after me. So there I was slowly repeating perk, park, peak, pick, peck and puck doing my best to emphasize the difference in sound. The students struggled so much with differentiating between park and puck so I repeated them with excessive emphasis paaaarrrk and puuuuuuck so many times that I sounded like I’d developed a speech impediment. After the 34th time I’m fairly sure the students pretended that they heard a difference between the two, to save hearing my drawn out vowel sounds for a minute longer.

We then moved on to ‘notoriously difficult words for Spanish speakers to pronounce’. This mainly consisted of the ‘sh’ sound in words like procession and a personal favourite, the adjective social. I had to repeat the word so many times that after a while I was struggling with the different ‘s’ sounds as much as the kids. They try to say sho-ssial and after the 50th attempt I was starting to mix up the sounds myself. Disastrous. I’ll probably never be able to say it normally again.

To make matters worse the teacher enforced silence (a rare phenomenon in Spanish schools) so that the students could listen intently to my pronunciation. I felt the responsibility of exemplifying correct pronunciation because I am effectively the only access most of them have to natively spoken English. It didn’t help that the teacher gave a long lecture about how I speak ‘standard’ English because I am from Surrey and it’s important for the students to copy exactly what I say. Under all this pressure I definitely crumbled and some questionable examples of correct English were given.

What I have concluded from this experience is that a) when standing in front of 30 pairs of expectant eyes it becomes difficult to function normally b) English is really very difficult and I am eternally grateful that its my mother tongue and not a language I have to learn.


Monday Musings #9

Teaching is hard work. Secondary schools in particular require a lot of patience.

The first years in general are really keen, bordering on over-keen, but their excitement is encouraging and it makes for rewarding lessons. However, as you move up the school you come across the rebellious teenage years; the arrogance, the attitude and the eye-rolling.

I’m aware that I sound like a middle aged woman, but I feel that immediately after you exit your own moody teenage phase you realise just how frustrating it is for all non-teenage members of society. That’s not to say I was ever unruly myself (I was pretty much the opposite), but I do remember lessons at school in which we were collectively disinterested and just plain lazy.

Once you emerge from the traumatic teens, it seems that the students reclaim some of their original enthusiasm; the 16-18 year olds are really great. They realise just how important their studies are (I literally sound like a parent) and they actually put in some effort.

To combat one excessively difficult teenage class I have taken to throwing a small furry rabbit (toy) at each student in turn. The rules are simple – when you are in possession of the rabbit you have to talk. It’s much like the conch in Lord of The Flies except that this time the idea is to avoid the eerie silence that follows whenever I ask a question. If I remember rightly Lord of The Flies involved a situation in which there was too much talking. And they lived on a beach…

Fortunately, there’s one boy who shares my interest in the Pretty Little Liars TV series. It’s often tempting to ditch the rest of the class and gossip with him about the latest episode, but I think that would be considered unprofessional. Anyway, I’m learning as I go along – relying on initiative, experimentation and the odd bit of bribery. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

Back to school, blue skies and boyfriends

My walk to school, complete with cobbles, a church and multiple orange trees!

I’ve just finished my first official day of teaching in the school. When I say teaching, I mean that I will be working for the next nine months as a language assistant; helping to teach English to students between the ages of 11 and 18. Today I introduced myself to five different classes (I talked about my studies, why I’m here, my hobbies etc) and then there was plenty of opportunity for the kids to ask me questions about England, my town, my family and anything else they wanted to know.

Today I was with 11 and 12 year olds, and, being in such a small town in rural Spain, their English was quite basic. However, their enthusiasm and friendliness was amazing. Most of them have just moved up to secondary school so they are interested by everything and very excited to learn. When it came to asking me questions, in every class, without fail, one cheeky boy would bring up my relationship status, normally in the form of “Have you boyfriend?” or “You go with boyfriend?” to which his classmates would collapse into giggles. Declaring my single status prompted a lot of laughter in one particular class, in which they’d apparently done a topic on ‘my dream partner’ the week before. A student called Pedro (who is just 12 years old) had written that his ideal partner would be a brunette between the age of 15 and 20 so they found it hysterical that I happened to be compatible with Pedro’s criteria. With the ‘ideal partner’ vocabulary clearly very fresh in their minds (presumably a fun exercise to learn conditional verbs), I was asked “what is your ideal boyfriend like” so I responded “My ideal boyfriend would be funny, kind and taller than me” making it clear that Pedro and I were not to be…

Another student then asked where abouts I was living, however the teacher quickly whispered that it’s best not to give that kind of information to students. Before I could respond to the question she answered for me, saying “Megan doesn’t know which road she lives on, she is new to Zafra and cannot remember her address”. Unfortunately this probably made me seem a bit dim but I suppose it’s good to know that I won’t be receiving any unwanted visitors.

All in all it was a great first day. The teachers were really laid back and my job is literally just to talk in English, listen to students and give them help when necessary. I don’t know what it will be like teaching the older classes but I’ll find out next week. Now, in true Spanish style, after just five hours of work it’s time for a few days off. I’m attending training days in the town of Cáceres tomorrow and then the weekend will be taken up by parties because its the Feria de Zafra – a huge festival here in the town. Did I mention that the King and Queen of Spain are coming for the occasion? I’m excited! Untitled