The Day To Day of Being a North American English Language & Culture Assistant in Spain

What’s It Like To Be An Auxiliar de Conversación Extranjero (de inglés) en España? Part I.

Note: Everything here is actually taken from journal entries on the days specified. One huge plus of a 12 hour workweek is that you have time to reflect on this once in a lifetime experience you’re about to have. As such, I’d highly recommend journaling of some kind!

September 20th.

The 2nd thing I realized, after finding out that double cheek kissing was actually real, was that my name (Bayard) was going to be a real issue for Spaniards. My go-to trick since kindergarten, “It’s like ‘Bear’ with a D on the end,” wasn’t going to serve me here. I became “Berto” instead. This worked okay, until people trying to be more formal asked if it was short for “Alberto,” and I would jokingly say “no, it’s short for Bayard.” You don’t realize how big of a deal saying someone’s name correctly is until nobody can pronounce yours. 

Take the time to learn how to pronounce your students’ names correctly. Then ask that they do the same with your name.

Take the time to learn how to pronounce your students’ names correctly. Then ask that they do the same with your name.

As I walked down Calle Santa Clara that night (which, interestingly enough, is the main street in downtown San Jose as well—my hometown in California) which was bustling with real Spaniards, not those in my Spanish textbooks, I realize this is actually happening: I’m about to spend 8 months living in Europe. Another problem: I haven’t really spoken Spanish in 4 years and probably have, at most, an A2 level of proficiency.

September 21st.

I’m in Zamora right now at a cheap hostel. 22 Euros a night for my own room with a double bed, TV and sink, as opposed to 20 euros to share a room with five other people in Madrid. The city looks like it will be fun. It’s very European—cobblestone streets, you can walk everywhere, public transportation got me there from Madrid, people are well-dressed, people don’t wear shorts—ever, and everyone has black socks, even in the gym! It’s about half the size of Davis, California in area (Journal fact check: False! Zamora is 57 square miles, Davis is 10), but with the same population (Journal fact check: True!). Tomorrow I’ll be apartment hunting- my first appointment is at 9:30 AT NIGHT! How random is that?

Hostel XX in Zamora, Spain (Currently Closed)

Hostel XX in Zamora, Spain (Currently Closed)

October 15th.

Here’s what I did in my classes today:

Teacher: Verónica (Primero de ESO)

  • Talked about spice (as in food). In Spain, it’s hard to explain the difference between something being “spicy” (hot) and something having a lot of spices in it, because their food is kind of soso overall. Verónica said most of the time when you hear “spice” in Spain people think of the “Spice Girls.”

  • I said my favorite food was red bell pepper. My students didn’t understand, so I spent 10 minutes describing the different types of pepper. I eventually broke down and just said “I like pimiento rojo,” even though we aren’t supposed to use Spanish. Verónica suggested I try pimientos de padrón and the class agreed. 

  • I was asked, again, by students if I have a wife, husband, or kids. How old do they think I am??? (I was 23 at the time.)

Pimientos de padrón. One of my most important discoveries of the year.

Pimientos de padrón. One of my most important discoveries of the year.

Teacher: Christina (Segundo de ESO)

  • We were on page 13, exercise 10.

  • Christina asked me during class, in front of the class, “Is the right way to say it ‘make an article for a newspaper?’ or ‘make a picture for a newspaper?’” I told her neither sounded correct- and that I would say “write an article for a newspaper” and “take a picture for a newspaper,” but she didn’t seem to agree. I thought maybe it was a British/American difference and said so- as I didn’t want to dismiss her answer (after learning that “needent” and “shant” were actual words yesterday), nor did I want to embarrass her by saying I was right and she was wrong.

  • There were 3 different conversations going on among students while I was teaching at one point. This wouldn’t fly in my middle school. Mr. DeLong would have asked students to be quiet.

  • It didn’t seem like students were paying attention while Christina was teaching. 

  • When Paula spelled Sara’s name wrong on the board, Sara said—albeit completely jokingly—“NO, I KILL YOU!” (My American brain is flashing *SUSPENSION* *SUSPENSION* but nothing happens.)

  • When Christina told Sara you say “by car,” not “on car” when describing how you get somewhere, Sara said “I don’t care” to Christina… But nothing happened! In the US, I would have gotten detention, they would have called my mom, and I would have had some serious ‘splainin’ to do.

IES Claudio Moyano in Zamora, Spain. Yeah, that’s actually where I worked!

IES Claudio Moyano in Zamora, Spain. Yeah, that’s actually where I worked!

Teacher: Maite (Segundo de ESO, B)

  • Her class was having a quiz, so I had some free time. She also said she wouldn’t need me next week. (This was fairly typical as an auxiliar–I’d say once a week one of my teachers would say they had a quiz and wouldn’t need me. Sometimes I would end up going to another class if they told the department chair, sometimes I would just hang out if they didn’t tell anyone. I would prepare for another class, study Spanish, grab a coffee, or read a book.)

Teacher: Luis Ángel (Primero de Bachillerato)

  • I read several chapters of the textbook out loud about American history. We talked about the Declaration of Independence and the Mayflower. 

  • I’m embarrassed because these students honestly know more US history than I do… Case in point, I mistakenly said Madison was the second president, and got called out on it.

  • Ricardo had some awesome comments about the differences between US and Spanish governmental views today.

John Adams, the second president of the US. Not to be confused with James Madison, the fourth president of the US.

John Adams, the second president of the US. Not to be confused with James Madison, the fourth president of the US.

Teacher: Paola (Primero de ESO, B)

  • Paula wasn’t there, but the class 100% followed what I said. (Yes, I was asked to teach the class on my own without a teacher present, which is against the rules of the program. Although this isn’t supposed to happen, it is very common. In my case, I had prior teaching experience, and I said I was fine with it. If you are not ok with it, I would say this- as there are profesores de guardia (substitute teachers) for just this scenario.)

  • I called on students in order by seating arrangement, and they were quiet and attentive. 

  • We read part of a story about a kid in a “backwards” school out loud and talked about several idioms in the story

  • After we finished, we created a list of rules for an actual school and compared and contrasted these with the “backwards” school

  • One focus today was on using words like: usually, must, kind of, should not, prohibited 


November 30th.

As I walk into school, I feel like a celebrity.

I’m greeted with dozens of “HELLO”s or “GOOD MORNING”s or “HOW ARE YOU?” I know all of my students’ names, all of the English teachers’ names, and a few of the other teachers’ names. The woman who works in the cafeteria knows me because I sometimes buy a bocadillo de tortilla para llevar after school.

 

If my house matched the level of celebrity status I had at school, this is what it would look like… Actually, I’d probably have two boats.

If my house matched the level of celebrity status I had at school, this is what it would look like… Actually, I’d probably have two boats.

Different levels of classroom responsibility of an auxiliar de conversación (as explained with a tortilla española)

I was in a lot of different classrooms with a lot of different teachers. Each one had their own expectations for what I could and should be allowed to do. Figuring-out these expectations early-on is key. Imagine that the role of a classroom English teacher is broken up into 5 trozos de tortilla española. Here were the most common levels of responsibility I was given as measured by trozos the teacher gave me:

Level of Auxiliar de Conversación Extranjero: 1 trozo de tortilla española

Sometimes I’m 30% co-teaching the class. There is always a main teacher, but they are regularly asking me questions in front of the class while they explain grammar or vocabulary, or give examples of culture, or begin a conversational activity. They also ask me to give examples and/or presentations of my own culture. [Level of Auxiliar de Conversación Extranjero: 3 tortillas españolas]
 

At the most basic level, I’m a textbook reader & “does this sound right” question answerer.

Level of Auxiliar de Conversación Extranjero: 2 trozos de tortilla española

tortilla española level of difficulty of being an auxiliar de conversación extranjero de inglés en españa MEC program profex
tortilla española auxiliar de conversación extranjero de inglés  ministerio de educación
 

Other days, I’m a textbook reader, then I outline what the reading says on the board. I also explain things in my own words when students have questions.

Level of Auxiliar de Conversación Extranjero: 3 trozos de tortilla española

tortilla española level of difficulty of being an auxiliar de conversación extranjero de inglés en españa MEC program profex
Other days, I’m a textbook reader, then I outline what the reading says on the board. I also explain things in my own words when students have questions. [Level of Auxiliar de Conversación Extranjero: 2 tortillas españolas]
Other days, I’m a textbook reader, then I outline what the reading says on the board. I also explain things in my own words when students have questions. [Level of Auxiliar de Conversación Extranjero: 2 tortillas españolas]
 

Sometimes I’m 30% co-teaching the class. There is always a main teacher, but they are regularly asking me questions in front of the class while they explain grammar or vocabulary, or give examples of culture, or begin a conversational activity. They also ask me to give examples and/or presentations of my own culture. If I want to play games or do a presentation, I just have to let the teacher know.

Level of Auxiliar de Conversación Extranjero: 4 trozos de tortilla española

tortilla española auxiliar de conversación extranjero de inglés  ministerio de educación
tortilla española level of difficulty of being an auxiliar de conversación extranjero de inglés en españa MEC program profex
tortilla española auxiliar de conversación extranjero de inglés  ministerio de educación
tortilla española auxiliar de conversación extranjero de inglés  ministerio de educación
 

Expanding on this previous description, in some classes I usually have free reign to do whatever, but I talk about it first with the teacher. The teacher tells me what we’re doing the week before.

Level of Auxiliar de Conversación Extranjero: 5 trozos de tortilla española (a.k.a. 4 sad pandas)

Sad Panda because he's an auxiliar de conversación extranjero but is getting bossed around
Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 12.46.36 PM.pngSad Panda because he's an auxiliar de conversación extranjero but is getting bossed around
Sad Panda because he's an auxiliar de conversación extranjero but is getting bossed around
Sad Panda because he's an auxiliar de conversación extranjero but is getting bossed around

A few of my friends had teachers that demanded they teach everything for them every day and grade papers; They handed them the entire tortilla. [Don’t let this happen to you- Immediately report this to the head of the department or bilingual coordinator and your contact through your comunidad autónoma.]

Regardless of the classes you’re in,

it’s so important for you to establish early on with the teacher what role they would like you to play, and what should happen if you would like to take on more or less responsibility. Keeping this line of communication open will solve many problems before they even happen, and lead to a much smoother experience.

Pictures from:
Tortilla emoji by
@ranci

Sad Panda by Nick Bluth from the Noun Project