As of today I can no longer call myself an Auxiliar de Conversacion! Here are my thoughts having completed the programme, and the direction it has now taken me in.
My peers would probably be surprised to hear that I had little intention of doing this job for more than 3 months. My plan was to come back to Spain to better my Spanish, teach on the programme to earn a bit of money, and jet off the South America ASAP. Alas, I’ve never been very good at quitting and after a trip to the Peñalara with my soon to be 6th graders, I knew I had to see the year out.
I spent the year before teaching in the private sector, and it killed me a little. I suppose I didn’t realise my passion for teaching and education came from more than just enjoying interacting with, and passing knowledge onto, younger humans. As I tried to avoid getting paint on my student’s suede PRADA coat, referred to parent’s as ‘Clients’, and found myself having to sell my classes as a product, I knew the private sector was not where I belonged. For me my passion for teaching comes from a desire to help, using knowledge as a weapon of empowerment, and as a devout supporter of free education for all, working for companies that charge a bomb per class isn’t my cup of tea. Therefore, the opportunity to teach for the Ministry of Education here in Madrid was a very enticing opportunity indeed.
I have already posted on what a usual workday looked like for me, so I needn’t go into much detail. What I will add is that the normality of working in a very normal public school was actually brilliant. Being in a normal classroom, with a normal bunch of students from all the usual backgrounds you’d expect, alongside normal people in a very standard Madrid suburb was one of the most insightful experiences I’ve had on my travels. There was no romance or wanderlust glitter painted over it – I may have been living abroad in the capital city of one of Europe’s favourite holiday destinations, but there was nothing fancy about my life this. My life was average, and it was great.
Working as the assistant rather than the teacher was one of the most constructive things I could I have done for my career. Nowadays in England there is a huge push for unqualified and inexperienced teachers to work in underachieving schools, because apparently it is totally acceptable to put student’s futures into the hands of fresh faced graduates just because they got a decent degree. Having gone into classrooms with bare minimum training myself, and now having spent a year observing different teachers in the class, I can’t think of much worse. I feel totally capable in a classroom teaching English, but my First class degree did not prepare me for that – my experience has.
Another eye-opening revelation was working within an education system that didn’t seem hellbent on making the lives of teacher’s harder. The teachers I worked with weren’t buckling under stress. They came in, taught the classes, and went home without a suitcase full of marking to get through. For sure stress still came hand in hand with the job, but nothing compared to what is being reported in the UK. Spain is still going by the book, and the pressure of lesson planning seemed to rarely cross their minds. Although this method does not come without its faults, it made me think a bit more about the merits of our approach at home. In Spain teaching is still your vocation; once a teacher, always a teacher. I didn’t meet one that was considering leaving the profession and follow a different path, or some business graduate who was just doing it to reach senior management. For sure this must have something to do with the job market in Spain, and that when they’re given a permanent contract it is a job for life, but even the latter offer I imagine wouldn’t be enough to convince the nearly half of teachers back home that plan to leave the profession in the next 5 years. It has forced me to question whether the UK is really where I hope to end up, but finding a country that will allow me to work full time in their public school system is going to be difficult, so I’ll just have to wait and see…
And then there were my students. I mostly worked with 6th grade, but also spent some time with 3rd and 4th. They sure weren’t as cute as the toddlers I’d taught the year before, but they were equally endearing. They weren’t quite teenagers yet, but you couldn’t call them kids anymore. I got to do the fun stuff – taking them out of class in small groups just to chat, or reading their “los Writings” each week. They cracked me up on numerous occasions; from dating advice to arguments over gender roles, their innocent minds never failed to surprise (or baffle) me. I felt emotionally invested in their progress, and I definitely shed many tears saying my farewells. They were just the loveliest group of tweens, and my future classes will certainly have a lot to live up to!
As for the money, well that was a lesson in itself. Living off 1000 euros a month definitely takes some budgeting and just about every Auxiliar I knew needed to supplement their income with private classes on the side. It really was just enough to pay for rent, transport, and basic living. With private classes it was possible (but difficult) to save – I sacrificed any weekends away this year in order to do that, and felt like I was always turning down fun opportunities. That said, it was all in the name of bigger and greater things and I can come back to Spain any time… The only major trouble I had was each time I came home to visit: being a mileurista in Spain is just enough, but trying to get by on that income back home was a challenge. Going out for dinner with home friends was just stressful; I could not compete with my friend’s graduate salaries and I felt like a party pooper constantly checking my bank account and fretting over exchange rates and train journeys. Otherwise it was fiiiiine.
So overall, my year as an auxiliar was pretty darn great for myself and for my career. The opportunity to work in a public school was invaluable, and it has helped me remember why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place, and made me think more about for how long I want to go down the EFL route. I could easily make a career out of travelling the world and teaching English, but my place and my passion is in the education system I grew up in. Language teaching has, however, surprised me and I am now exploring my options of becoming a language teacher in the UK. That is all for at least a year’s time, and my plans are always changing directions.
For now what I know is that I’m finally on my way to South America in September, and I can’t wait!