A day in the life of a language assistant

This weekend has been a fairly quiet one for me. I’m meeting my boyfriend in Bilbao next weekend and being visited by my parents the next, so I stayed in Logroño to save my pennies and plan the next 3 weeks worth of lessons!

My position is auxiliar de conversación, aka language assistant. I have absolutely no teaching qualifications and received two days of training before I started. In Spain, there are no teaching assistants in schools, so I don’t think the teachers know quite what to do with me and most refer to me as a teacher. ! Having to spend my free-time planning is a pain but I shouldn’t complain too much as I’m not expected to mark work or to discipline the class. Also, I really enjoy giving classes. Usually the only guidance I’m given is to make the children speak, so I’m pretty much given free reign as to what activities and topics I can cover. It’s lovely when one of the kids tells me that they really enjoyed my class (suck up!), or when a teacher tells me that there was a moan of disappointment from a class when they were told I wouldn’t be taking them.

Despite doing absolutely nothing remarkable, I don’t feel very rested from this weekend. Planning so many lessons took up a considerable amount of time, and I also met up with friends for drinks, lunch and to see a movie because I don’t like being stuck in the flat all weekend. I haven’t been miraculously cured of the homesick-bug; I have days when I feel positively warm towards the city, but others when I want nothing more than to be back in Blighty. I’ve had some lows this week, probably because hanging around in Logroño has given me more time to think of what I’m missing. Skype chats with family and friends and the arrival of a big box of goodies from home were definite pick-me-ups!


The other result of a quieter weekend is that I’ve been left to wonder what I can blog about! I’ve realised that I’ve only been blogging about the extraordinary (/interesting!) things, and not so much about what day to day life is like! So, here is a day in my life! I’ve picked yesterday, as it’s fresh in my mind and was a fairly average day…

7am: Alarm goes off. Inwardly regret that I didn’t take a study placement and mourn the extra hour an a half I could have had in bed before deciding whether to go to a 9am lecture. Give myself at least six 5-minute snooze periods, but lie half-awake wincing in anticipation of the next round of awful beeping.

7.30am: Finally force myself out of bed. Rush around the flat reminding myself that I should try harder to be a morning person!

8.20am: One of the teachers picks me up and gives me a lift to school. The car is usually full, and conversation is flowing. I find it difficult to follow conversations involving more than two people, and this early in the morning I have no chance! I sit with a placid grin fixed on my face and nod and “mmm” at what I hope are appropriate moments.

Faux pas of the week: explaining that my favourite cereal involves a group of friends who live together. The conversation is about television but everyone looks at me with their heads slightly cocked, trying to work out whether I’ve made a mistake or am trying to make some bizzare pretentious metaphor between  cornflakes and people; I am an arts student after all!
…The word for cereal is very close to that for series!


8.40am: Arrive at school. I sit awkwardly in the middle of the staffroom wondering whether someone striking up conversation with me would be a curse or a blessing!

8.50am: Classes start. I don’t always have a class at this time, but I usually come into school for the 1st period anyway as I can get a lift. The bus takes longer, and costs money!

09.40 am: Have a coffee at the canteen. The lady who runs the kitchen is absolutely lovely, she calls me cariño (honey) and always makes the effort to talk to me, listening and deciphering very patiently (although I improve dramatically after my coffee hit!).

11.50am: Conversation class with the teachers. Some of the teachers want to learn English, and two hours of my contract are dedicated to leading conversation with them. It should be the easiest two hours of my week but it’s actually quite difficult because, unlike in my other classes,  there are a huge range of levels. It’s hard to steer the conversations in directions which allow everyone to talk but are not too patronising for the more able ones.But, it’s fun and it’s sociable and usually involves tea. Lots of people here marvel at how I drink it with milk. (“I thought it was just a stereotype, I didn’t think you actually drink it like that!”)

1.00pm: I have a lesson with the naughtiest class in the school; the class from which at least one student is usually excluded and about which the other teachers complain the most.  They look at me with pity as I leave the staffroom. In general, the children behave quite well in my lessons because they beat doing exercises from the book, but today they have been overexcited by an argument at break. I think I’ve turned things around by producing a ball to catch as part of a question and answer activity (the excitement a ball can stir amongst even 16 and 17 year olds is hilarious and it usually works really well) but they then try to kill each other by throwing it as forcefully as possible. They ignore my pleas in both English and Spanish and the Head of English eventually takes over, telling them they’re very rude and don’t deserve a fun lesson with me. They moan as I’m sent out of the class  like the naughty schoolgirl I never was (I was a bit of a swot at school!), leaving me feeling fairly useless.

1.50pm: Arrive at my next class feeling slightly down, but this time the students are angelic and the activities work really well. Leave with my confidence restored.

2.45pm: The school day ends, but on Mondays and Wednesdays I give private lessons at school in the evening so I hang around in the staffroom while my pupils are at home having lunch or a siesta.

4.30pm: I have two hour long classes with an average of five students in each. They’re supposed to be conversation classes but the levels (and attention spans!) of some of the youngest students are so low that I have to teach vocabulary and plan games so that we can work up to the very simplest of conversations.

7.00pm: I catch the bus home, grab a quick dinner and check my emails. One is from my tutor reminding me of the requirements for the Year Abroad Dossier module I’m taking. Consider doing some research for my cultural essay while I have my tea but the thought fills me with dread; all feelings of regret at not taking a study placement go out the window!

8.00pm: Meet a couple of friends at what we now consider our “local;” we go several times per week and now get a friendly nod and a bit of conversation from the waiter, but we’re not yet considered “regular” enough for free stuff. It’s a work in progress!

10.30pm: Get back to the flat, and have to clean the kitchen because it’s (as always) a state. My Spanish flatmate has recently imposed a cleaning rota, and it’s my turn to clean this week. She insists that she’s super-limpia (clean); this is her favourite phrase, and she seems to think saying it at every possible opportunity makes it indisputable. She is definitely the least clean of us! Imposing a rota is pretty much her way of making us clean up her sh*t. I didn’t argue because I like a harmonious household … but on her week I will be making a mess!


11pm: Skype home and chat to my boyfriend. Regret not having an early night!

11.30pm: Crawl into bed and toss and turn regretting that 8pm coffee; remind future self always to choose wine!