After four great years, my time as an auxiliar at IES San Clemente is coming to an end. I´ve learned so much over the years, and grown immensely since my time here began in October 2015. I want to use this last post to reflect on my time in the school and share some things I´ve learned over the years.
I came to San Clemente with virtually no experience teaching and no idea of what to expect. I had a vague notion of what the school was like after talking to the previous auxiliar and emailing back and forth with my then-coordinator, Eva. I knew that I could expect a warm welcome, but I was still nervous to embark on a journey that I felt little prepared for. Yet my first encounters with the people I met at the school still exceeded my expectations. Eva was incredibly kind and welcoming, and even took me on a personal tour through the old town the first day we met. It´s funny to think back on that day and remember how lost I felt–I feel like these days I could navigate Santiago with my eyes closed!
The biggest challenge came in the first few weeks of assistant teaching. I was meeting all my students for the first time, and many of them were experiencing classes with a native English speaker for the first time, too. I had no idea how advanced their English skills would be, or how interested they would be in practicing the language. Those first weeks were definitely a big adjutsment period–I struggled to find ways to be useful to the teachers and the students, and I was often very stressed trying to plan activities and create lessons that would be both fun and educational.
I learned quickly that none of the students were interested in basic grammar lessons. All of them had already taken normal English classes–this was an opportunity for them to actually put their skills to the test and practice speaking in a more natural, conversational way. The biggest challenge, however, was planning activities that catered to all students. I noticed that some students had very basic English skills, while others were approaching fluency. Putting aside all ideas of traditional grammar lessons, I started adapting my lessons to cater to students with a wide variety of English skills.
I found that the best way to do this was through games. The students started warming up to me and participating more in class the very first day that I started bringing games. Sometimes I would create quiz games liek Jeopardy to review class material in English, and other times I would bring team competition games like Taboo to get them thinking outside the box. These types of activities allowed all students to participate to the best of their abilities–students with lower levels could contribute just a few words or phrases, whereas more advanced speakers could elaborate upon their ideas in more detail.
My own self-confidence and creativity grew as I developed these activities. I was very doubtful about how effective I would be as an English auxiliar, but I felt better and better as I saw the effect my lessons were having on students. Some of the best days were when I would bring in a video or article to discuss in English, and the students would essentially carry the conversation themselves and occupy the entire class period with thoughtful discussion without me having to force the conversation along. I could see that they were practicing English out of their own desire to do so, not because they felt obligated.
And while these were all excellent experiences, working as a teacher in any capacity, even just as an assistant, has its challenges. There will always be students who are unmotivated or show no interest in learning English. It´s frustrating to see such a lack of enthusiasm, but you just have to remind yourself that you can´t be a perfect teacher for everyone. All you can do is try to involve everyone, and hope that as many students as possible come away having gained something from the experience of practicing English with a native speaker.
Being an English auxiliar is about more than just sharing the language, however. The second part of the job involves sharing culture. While sometimes I would prepare presentations or show videos about specific cultural aspects of the United States, I found that more often than not I would share my culture simply through the conversations that naturally arose while in class. Sharing anecdotes about my childhood or educational experiences, or comparing traditions in Galicia to those in the USA after a student asks me a simple question out of curiosity, were often the most common ways by which I wold impart cultural knowledge of my home country to my students. Even things as basic as the words I chose to use, or my intonation or pronunciation of certain words or phrases, was a way of sharing culture. Sometimes understanding a culture is more about meeting individuals and learning about what makes each person unique, than lecturing about the broader traditions and customs of a place.
IES San Clemente is a special place, and I will always cherish the four years I spent here. I´ve made wonderful connections with not only the staff, but also the students I´ve had the opporunity to work with. I will leave the school at the end of May knowing I´ve become a better version of myself, and I hope my students feel the same.
Thank you for everything, San Clemente. You will be missed.