Over in Spain, the school year is coming to an end. The school term in Aragon finishes on 19th June, and the students will have nearly 3 months to relax and spend time in the swimming pool. This is partly because it is too hot for school and also due to the fact that there are no half terms. However, my time is already up in the schools, and last week was a week of farewells as I left my schools. This year I have been working in two state schools as an English language teaching assistant for the British Council. The British Council send thousands of assistants to schools in over 15 countries throughout the world. The language assistant is used in State schools to help improve conversational English and promote British culture. I have had a wonderful time teaching the students of a small Aragonese town just outside of Zaragoza called Zuera. The British Council Language assistants programme is definitely worth doing of anyone who wants to live in a foreign country and wants to learn more about a different culture and lifestyle.
The typical language assistant works 12 hours a week, teaching several groups. This year I spent 4 hours in a primary school and 8 hours in the high school. It may not seem too many hours, but the work can be time consuming due to lesson planning and extra-curricular activities. In the primary school I spent the whole year with the same classes; two year 5 classes and two year 6 classes. As English is taught to Spanish students from the age of 5 (or 3 in some schools), the level is quite good for their age. The students are comfortable speaking about a range of topics. Due to the great tools available in Spanish primary schools, the classes were very interactive and we could use a range of resources. For example, as all students in year 5 and year 6 have access to a laptop, the students were able to make power point presentations or search for information on the internet. The interactive whiteboard also allowed us to increase participation in the class using computer programs. Throughout the year, the teachers have noticed an improvement in the students’ oral skills. They were confident talking to me and the boys were particularly interested in English football, wanting to know as much information as possible about the Premier League.
The High school was a little different but equally fun. Due to the size of the high school, unfortunately I was unable to teach in every class. In the first half of the year I had one time table and then in the second semester I changed to be able to teach as many students as possible. I taught the majority of students in the high school, the equivalent of year 7 – 11. However, I didn’t teach the Bachillerato students (A level), as the emphasis is on grammar in these school years and there is no oral exam. The High school classes were very enjoyable and I will definitely miss them. As their level was higher, and they were capable of having a conversation with me, I was able to do a wide range of topics that increased their knowledge of British and American culture. In general my classes followed the units that the students were studying in class, but I was free to prepare anything. Some weeks we talked about topics such as technology or mobile phones, and other weeks we looked at British topics such as the London Olympics. For the older classes, we were able to look at video clips from St Patrick’s Day or Bonfire night. Also we worked with new songs from British artists such as Jessie J and Coldplay. It was great to see that some students had gone home and researched more about what we had done in class, which showed their interest was high. The classes were great fun and the students behaved very well with me; they would speak to me in the streets and really opened up about themselves.
The experience has been very rewarding, and it has helped me to understand more about Spanish culture. Whilst programmes such as Erasmus allow students to live in other countries, normally, Erasmus students are surrounded by other foreign people or university students. The Language Assistant programme allows you to get fully immersed in the society. Not only do you get to know how the children live in another country, you interact with other teachers, parents and support staff. Aside from the classes, you can participate in the school life by helping on school trips and participating in School activities. For example, I have participated in Carnival in the primary school, where the schools wear fancy dress and perform for their parents. This year the older students performed thriller by Michael Jackson, and another class performed a Grease Melody.
The Language assistants programme is a great opportunity for language students doing their year aboard or recent graduates who want to experience living in another country and learn another language. Also, Spanish, French and Germans can also participate in the programme by working in a school in the UK teaching their language to high school students. Here is the website for the pre requisites and how to apply.
My final week in work was something I will never forget, with many students sending me cards and giving me presents, thanking me for my time. It has been a great year for me and hopefully the students have improved their English and they have gained more enthusiasm for the language.
http://cpzuera.educa.aragon.es/ IES Gallicum http://www.gallicum.es/