Written by Mike
Wow, this school year is on an accelerated trajectory into oblivion. My first day of school, way back in October, seems like last week and each proceeding week and month since, like a brilliant flash. And so, this super-sonic journey of my second year as an auxiliar has brought me within close proximity of the finish line with well over over two-thirds of the school year gone! Though I am not one to dwell too much on days gone by, I do find some intrinsic value, if not just for the entertainment value, in surveying past events. Like the development of traditional sonata form, I find great fascination with the linear delineations of time with it’s repetitions, thematic variations, and sometimes for better or for worse, all-out surprises.
Here in the Now
I am at the same schools this year that I was at last year. Last year when I was re-applying for the auxiliar program, the decision to go back to the same schools was based on a pretty even ratio of me liking the students and the teachers I worked with. But as I would find out, tenure is not a concept applicable to most teachers in Spain. In a ironic, but humorous twist of fate, ALL the teachers, at both schools, that I wanted to work with for a second year, were moved to other schools by either career advancement, or the bureaucratic powers that be. Go figure. The silver lining of course is that their replacements are good teachers and all of my favorite students have returned! I did, however, have some different options for transport to and from schools this year. Last year, the train was my only option for my furthest, most southern school in Alfaro. This year, there was an opening in the carpool. Initially, I decided that I would change it up a bit and try this share-ride option. All of the riders were teachers that I knew and liked, and it was a fun little hangout to and from school, as well as it being a good opportunity to practice Spanish. Practicing Spanish however, at my level, requires a special turn on switch that refuses to budge to the “on” position early in the morning as well as after teaching all day resulting in being mentally drained. I started thinking more and more about how tranquil, decompressing and comfy the train rides from last year were, and how productive I was working on various tasks at school while waiting for the train. So, after a week of carpool, I relented and succumbed to my apparent need for productivity and tranquillity. Viviendo la vida del tren!
Speaking of practicing Spanish, I found that translating certain concepts, vocabulary and passages into Spanish for the younger students is one of the more efficient ways to help with second language acquisition. This is also a win for me since I must, as coherently as possible, occasionally speak Spanish to the students. I didn’t come to this realization until the end of last year, and there are a couple of reasons for this delayed revelation. The first and foremost is that all I heard from various sources, before starting this program, was to ALWAYS speak English during the classes. I suppose this insider information was based on a grossly misguided sink or swim approach to teaching English. Obviously, as with any school, there are different levels of classes and students with a multitude of influences and reasons dictating their level and ability to learn. I found this approach to be gradually frustrating and a complete waste of time, especially with the very young students who are ALSO trying to learn their native language. Just because a student doesn’t ask for further clarification, and doesn’t look confused, doesn’t mean they aren’t. Additionally, there have only been a few teachers that I’ve worked with that have been mindful enough and understand the value of translating when I cannot. Second, I’m not a trained teacher. I have lots of experience, but mostly just by trial and error, observation, conversation, some resources, and paradoxically, occasionally presented with a sink or swim scenario. (I’m pretty good with improvising on the fly, so I’m cool with the occasional “oh shit!” moment.) I suspect that if I had some formal training I might have recognized the folly of the approach sooner and relied on more effective ways to teach. Again, trial and error.
The auxiliar program does not require prospective teachers to have any experience in academia other than completing a Bachelor’s degree in any subject. Though I have never completed any formal teacher training and have some fixable shortcomings as a teacher, I am a good orator and feel extremely comfortable talking in front of any crowd regardless of age and/or numbers. This ability for public speaking is probably a bit of a crossover from my youth as I leaned towards a more lippy personality that rightly endowed me the nickname “Mouth.” (My mother can give you the details if interested!) Though I tend to practice a more stoic disposition these days, I suppose every teacher, regardless of training, ties to succeed according to their talents. Speaking of all things talent-wise, I also realized that I possess the innate ability for purposely making an ass of myself for the sake of variety, levity, and colorful commentary during my lessons. Nothing crass or too over the top, just lots of goofy voices and choreography, which has served me immensely, especially during story telling time. As kind of a joke I tell myself that part of my success with teaching younger students these past two years is because I, on occasion, think like a child. I’m a big believer in “maturity” being an over-hyped, unsubstantiated concept handed down to us by some phantom panel of elders in the make-believe land of Miserable Adult. Funny that I mention this now as one of my students wore a shirt this week that said “Growing up, it’s a trap!” No truer words have ever been printed.
Old Habits Die Hard
Probably the biggest change from last school year, is my overall schedule now. I had wondered when my Americanized monkey brain would start to infiltrate my attempts to reprogram my values to accepting a more laid-back lifestyle. It took a little longer than I would’ve expected but the inevitable old way of thinking was always in the batter’s box. Last year at this time, I was waiting for the scraps of extra lessons no one wanted, and this year, I was feasting at the table of teaching offers. I was no doubt truly grateful for these new opportunities, but luckily I caught myself in time and began turning down offers in order to keep myself from being completely time-locked and insanely overwhelmed. With being an auxiliar, teaching privately (I have two drum students this year!) and working as a contracted teacher online, I was teaching seven days a week. Luckily the contract job mercifully ended at the end of January. This obviously was not the preferred schedule nor one I intended to have after leaving the US. And to be honest, it didn’t take long before I felt the all-too familiar presence of burnout lurking around the corner, and for me, burnout leads to indifference.
Unfortunately, I am one of those people that when I commit to something, I see it through, regardless of the effects on me or the eventual degradation of the high standards that I expect from myself– probably negative residue left over from my overachieving past. It seems that I have occasional difficulties differentiating between good quality work ethic and overt unawareness when it comes to working smarter not harder. I should know by now that the bull-rush approach rarely produces quality results. Do I know when to quit and bow out gracefully? Sometimes not. Conversely, I am making extra money. But there in lies the rub. How much is enough (money)? Not to get into personal details, I guess it all depends on one’s situation and goals, which for me, is to maintain a specific quality of life (differing greatly than how I was living in the U.S.) while trying to milk this expat experience for as long as I can. It is a precarious balancing act and the beam is as thick as floss.
So, if things progress as they should, we (Karrie and I) will continue to work in this program for a third year (2019-2020.) During the application process this year, I decided to not return to the same schools for a third year. Whether it turns out for the better or worse, I think it’s time for something new. Seeing that I spent the last two years getting up before the crack of dawn to commute an hour out of town, and having my days elongated by the very, very minuscule train schedule (and in two years having only called off one time because of sickness), I would say that I have, for sure, paid whatever dues the mighty universe decided to beset upon the lowly auxiliares.
I’m already dreading the last day of school and saying goodbye, maybe for good, to the teachers and students that welcomed me, since day one into their fold with no strings attached. If triggered the right way, I can really turn on the waterworks, and goodbyes (as well as cat rescue videos) are usually the number one catalyst…no pain, no gain.
I’ve taught a lot of cool things to my students this year, but I would be remiss if I didn’t list some of the more interesting things my students have taught ME:
- That posturing with a neutral face, arms crossed in silence produces way better results than yelling at kids and telling them to be silent.
- Dabbing and the Flossing (that stupid, plagiarized dance that thankfully succumbed to it’s 15 minutes of fame from that Katy Perry video) is SO 2018, and should be retired.
- That cheating at a game is known as a “Donald Trump.” Their words, not mine!
- That regardless of country, customs and beliefs, when asked if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, each gender still crinkles their face from disgust when presented with such a brazen and horrific question.
- That the rabid devotion and split between the loyalties of the Madrid and Barcelona fútbol teams are rival to the video games Fortnite and FIFA 18, with Pokemon Go as a runner up.
- That I am the King of Poop (Rey de Caca) after I proclaimed myself “King Michael” after beating one of my classes at a game at the beginning of the year, and then recently pulling a devilish April Fool’s joke on them.
- In a “would you rather” situation, most students would prefer to have Youtube for the rest of their lives as opposed to ever owning a mobile phone. Curious.
- That they have not quite mastered the concept and accurate use of the “F-word” in English.
- That Freddy Mercury’s legacy has not surprisingly transcended multiple generations and garnered the admiration of the current generation (and this was evident well before last year’s movie).
- That a hug from a child is the most genuine gesture I’ve ever and probably will ever experience.