We’re in the final week before an 18 day holiday for Christmas and New Year’s and it’s incredible to think I’m already two months in. The time has flown by. Obviously only working four days helps but it seems like the same story each week: I’m staring down Monday with that inevitable dread, thinking the weekend will take ages to come around, then the next thing I know, it’s Thursday afternoon and I’m on the bus back to Madrid. As much as it’s great that the school year is slipping away, I can’t help but think everything else is, too.
These first two months have been incredibly busy and as with all new jobs, has come with a learning curve. I’ve found the behavioral issues to be the most daunting, followed by the collaboration with a mountain of different teachers. It’s sometimes hard to keep everything straight and it seems like even two classes in the same grade level aren’t doing the same things, so I’m planning for over ten lessons a week. Some teachers give me a general unit theme and let me do whatever I want that relates to it, and some give me specific pages out of the book to work on with small groups.
For example, this morning, I taught the entire lesson on my own for 1st ESO (11-12 YOs) relating to Christmas in the US. Then two periods later, I was working out of the book with two different small groups in 4th ESO (15-16 YOs). It’s more difficult to make that fun so after correcting the exercise, I had created a memory game with the vocabulary words. It goes without saying that anything competition-based is always a big hit.
I tend to be more lenient and informal with the older groups simply because they have earned it and they are better at self-regulating. After finishing the work with the first small group, four really funny boys and a quiet girl, I let them direct me which songs to play on Spotify on my phone. I have to say, these kids are teaching me, too. But what I’m learning is that music popular among teens today is a load of shite. They got a kick out of the faces I made which then made me laugh. I really do enjoy working with my 4th ESO classes. They’re by far my favorites.
Which brings me to an interesting conclusion I’ve come to that completely proved my preconceived notions wrong about secondary school. Going into this school year, I was nervous about teaching the older teens thinking they would be the most ruthless and worst behaved and that the pre-teens would be the highlight. The exact opposite is true. The 1st and 2nd ESO kids are widely my worst nightmare. They mock my accent, imitate me, talk about me in Spanish thinking I don’t understand. I told my mom that I felt like I was being bullied. A 31-year-old being bullied by children. The struggle is so real.
Being the overly sensitive people-pleaser that I am, I take all that to heart when I absolutely shouldn’t. I’m sure I’ll toughen up with more experience but for now it balances out with the laughs and jokes I have with my older students. The other day after a small group with one of my 4th ESO classes, my co-teacher came to meet me as I was locking up the room we used. “How did it go?” she wondered. “The students came back saying, ‘Andrea is so cool!'” It’s amazing how something as simple as that can completely make your day. Faith in teaching status = restored.
I’ve come to see that I really do love this teaching stuff. It can be challenging, frustrating, and infuriating and some days I leave the classroom vowing never to return. But the times I forge meaningful connections with the kids, see them retain information from my lessons, even hear “hello, Andrea!” shouted intermittently all over the school as I walk the halls during the day — those are the things that make the awful days worth it.
With this newfound passion, last Thursday I started an online TEFL course through TEFL Fullcircle on the recommendation of my friend here. It’s a 160-hour certification which includes 40 hours focusing on young learners. Having it will enable me to teach anywhere in Asia and most other non-EU countries, but most importantly, I’m feeling inspired by the content.
I realized I approached this school year with the wrong attitude, a passive attitude that automatically demoted me below the main teacher. In some of my classes, I am the main teacher that day and because I didn’t set the stage, the classroom dynamics are not what they should be. While I don’t think it’s too late to establish myself as an authority figure, I’m not too worried about the rest of the school year. This has already been a valuable learning experience and as I continue to gain new skills and hone my existing ones, I can be set to enter the next school ready to grab the bull by the horns.
I plan to spend this upcoming break getting ready for 2019 in all the ways one can; professionally, personally, physically, mentally. I’ve been much better recently about taking care of myself and having a defined path and goals have reinvigorated my motivation and given me a strong sense of purpose. If you’re not moving toward a goal, you’re going backwards. When that happens, it’s easy to lose sight of what makes you excited and passionate about life. Even if your goals aren’t totally defined, don’t stop moving in the right direction. You’ll get there eventually. And a lot of times, that journey is half the fun.