Teaching in Spain is the most awesome experience! A small fish in a big pond is how I’d describe the initial shock I felt in January of this year when I came to teach in Spain as a Language Assistant.
On mid week Wednesday mornings, when it’s almost 8:45am, before you finally get the courage to get out of bed, it’s arriving at school and one of the children from my one year old class coming up to me saying “Hello Sara” -instead of the usual “Hola”-, that makes teaching worthwhile. Or when a three-year-old boy comes up to me and says “¿Cómo se dice ‘te quiero’ en inglés?”, and then proceeds to spend the day telling every man woman and child “I love you”.
Those are the moments that make me want to do this forever and those are the moments that make me already apprehensive about leaving!
The same three-year-old also melted my heart with love for him on February 14th of this year, Día de San Valentín, when he came up to me with a ring and said “Quieres ser mi novia?” (Do you want to be my girlfriend?). Why are men in Ireland not like this?
I’m Completely Immersed
Teaching in Spain has been incredible and I regret nothing. I am learning more Spanish with kids and living with a Spanish family than I ever would in university. Why? Well it’s difficult to explain.
I’m completely immersed: my family speaks English quite well but apart from the conversations I have with Javier (eight-year-old host brother), I tend to speak Spanish for the majority of the time I spend in the family home. Every day I’m learning new words and phrases. Every day there is something different to eat, something with a new difficult-to-pronounce name: “Gazpacho”, “Albondigas” (meatballs), “Pulpo a la gallega” to name but a few. With every new dish that’s placed before me is a new word to learn, so by eating (a favourite pass time of mine), I’m learning too!
Stay with a Host Family
Initially, coming to teach in Spain I knew I was going to find out so much about the culture and the food and the language, which was one of the reasons why I felt the Meddeas programme of staying with a family was ideal. You have no choice but to immerse yourself in everything that is España.
I knew that the life of the people in Jerez would be different to that of what I had been used to in Spain. I don’t think it’s possible to live in Jerez without being constantly reminded of “caballos”, “tinto” and, of course, bull fighting!
Like a Superstar
The initial feeling I received in school was fame. You would think children, from one to five years old, that a pale-skinned ginger-haired girl from Ireland would scare them, that they’d take awhile to get used to you. This is not the case, the more you stand out the more they like you.
Clearly, I can never be mistaken for Spanish. Constantly, I have kids hanging out of me “¿Me toca? ¿Puedo ir contigo? Señora Sara, Señora Sara, Señora Sara” (Is it my turn? Can I come with you? Miss Sarah, Miss Sarah, Miss Sarah) , most days I love it! (Note: Most days). Within my first week, I had marriage proposals and invitations to birthday parties. I was both humbled and overwhelmed by the welcoming I received from the children in my school.
A Piece of Advice to Teach Children
But the experience is not all that rosy rosy rosy. Teaching children who have limited English at such a young age is difficult. I wanted nothing more than to be swallowed alive half way through my first class with the 3 year-olds. I constantly have to remind myself to breathe.
My three and four year-olds are the most difficult to teach as their attention spans are short and their need for movement is quite substantial. Surprisingly, facial expressions, tone of voice and lots and lots of pictures can keep the one year-olds entertained for the duration of the class quite easily.
Side note: Do not say/do anything you don’t want the children to repeat. If you say “Touch your head” and, while you are waiting for the children to do it themselves, you get an itchy nose so you scratch it, your nose will forever be your head in their eyes!
Both Meddeas and the teachers in my school have been amazing. I really have got two families here in Jerez: one with my host family and the other in my school. I’m growing so much as an individual. I love the independence that Jerez has offered. It’s been an incredible experience so far. I can’t comprehend the fact that I arrived to teach in Spain almost two months ago. If someone could please slow down time that would be “estupendo”, I really don’t want to leave!