Written by Michael
2 November 2017
On this day, one month ago, I was sitting on the train riding to work on my first day as an auxiliar. I was heading to a town I had never been to, to work with people who I had never met. I was speeding southward bound to teach English to a younger student population (first through sixth grade) that I wasn’t sure if I had the patience to deal with. I had only been in a country where I spoke little to none of the native language for a very short time, and was still reeling a bit from the chaos and stress of our previous misadventures. I tried putting on a bold front while placating my self-doubt, and as usual, the torrent of what ifs stumbled around in my mind like drunken phantoms: “What if I can’t communicate effectively? What if the students are complete hellions? What if the teachers totally suck?” But once again my paranoia could not be any more off the mark! The minute I walked into the school I was greeted by the nicest people I could’ve hoped for and began working with the most engaged and curious students ever!
As every auxiliar finds out in the first week, each school placement is very different in practically every facet. Some of us get placed at one school while others get placed at two schools in different villages. At some schools, the teachers just want you to assist with classroom activities, and at other schools the teachers want you to take over the teaching entirely while they either leave, or sit aloof at that back of the classroom. Some auxiliares prefer to take on the entire lesson plan while others do not like teaching and would rather just assist. Your role as an auxiliar is also partially dictated by the age group you are working with as well, so in all honestly, it is a total a crap shoot as to whether or not you get a placement you like! Then comes the fiasco of figuring out your commute. Some auxiliares get lucky and teach in the town where they live. Then some, like myself, have to commute great distances to get to their placements. Those who are lucky enough to teach in the town where they live can either walk to work or use public transportation, which is usually very good. The rest of us either have to find a car pool or use the very sparse train and bus options in La Rioja to get to our destinations. In my case, I have been placed at two schools south of Logroño which alternate every other week.
School Number 1: Obispo Ezequiel Moreno
This school is located in Alfaro which is on the far south-eastern tip of La Rioja, and is about a 55 minute train ride from Logroño. I teach ten hours a week at this school, Monday through Wednesday and work with all primary students. In both of my schools, students leave their main classroom and go to an adjacent classroom designated for English lessons. It is in this classroom where another teacher (who is usually proficient in English) and me work with the students for one hour. I do most of the teaching for the full hour but have, on occasion, just assisted in classroom activities. Most of my lessons are in the form of power point presentations, and if time allows, games and/or Q & A sessions. On my first day I was asked to do an “About Me” presentation. But since I did not know what I was going to be teaching the first week, I ended up having to do it on the fly using only Google images and Youtube! By the time I finished my week on Wednesday, I had done this presentation 12 times and was completely burned out talking about myself! For my presentations relating to certain subjects, like Halloween, I’ve had to modify according to the ages of each grade; one version for grades 1-2, one for grades 3-4, and another for grades 5-6 (showing Michael Jackson’s Thriller video to first and second graders will guarantee that you will spend the entire sixty minutes drying tears and trying to convince them that dancing zombies are not real!).
School No. 2: Miguel Angel Sainz
Located in Aldeanueava de Ebro, my second school is also south and between Calahorra (where Karrie’s school is located) and Alfaro. Here I teach 14 hours a week working with primary and secondary students, and unlike my school in Alfaro, the train commute is not an option since the closest station is a little over two kilometers from the school—a walkable distance for sure, but a dangerous hike since the school and train station are connected by a busy parkway inundated with molted snake skins and speeding lorries! Aldeanueava de Ebro is very small by comparison and the number of teachers is very low. Luckily I got hooked up with the only a car pool out of Logroño, and enjoy the trip to and from school as I get to practice my horrible Spanish with the driver! My responsibilities at this school differ in that I do less presentations and more assisting and working with smaller groups. I like this variation a lot since it gives me a break from having to talk the entire class and getting burned out on presenting the same subject over and over again. As with the school in Alfaro, the staff have been incredible and willing to help me with anything I need.