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How To: Be the Cool and Confusing English Assistant

I’ve always been a bit of an odd case – a cross between the serious, debating, thoughtful type, and the goofy, ridiculous, and childishly curious type. It’s extremely hard to embarrass me, which might be why I’ve come to find that working as an English teacher/assistant with primary students has been the perfect fit for me. Though my students’ tricks would easily get to many other personality types, they just amuse me. In fact, I’ve been known to dish what’s been given to me, to teach them some tricks of my own, and act as more of a teaching-friend than a teacher. Luckily, it’s worked quite well, and I’ve noticed many of my students – who previously spoke in only Spanish – now automatically communicate to me in English. The best part of my job? I get to actually do my job whilst having fun.

Living in a kid’s world.

One thing that’s been especially amusing to me, as of late, is how easily confused my kids will be in regards to me. At the beginning of the term, I was told to give a short presentation about myself to each class, and allow them to ask me questions about my life and country. Although every question about me has been answered – including the typical “tienes novio” (“do you have a boyfriend”) one – my kids like to pry more and more information out of me as the days go by. As a way to keep things interesting, and to keep them intrigued (and thus more keen on practicing English), I’ve used the following things in my daily routine:

1. Insist you only speak English… at first.

To force my kids to speak to me in English, I spent the first couple of months shrugging when anyone said something to me in Spanish. I played dumb – very dumb – although I sometimes slipped up when I responded to a question said in Spanish. However, I’d always make up an excuse for it, and got to seriously use my acting skills. As I also teach French at my school (which, oddly enough, I teach to them in Spanish), some of the kids found out I’m actually multilingual. Despite that, I tried my best to keep up the act… and still do. In some classes, though, I’ve started letting them know that I understand them completely. One day, a teacher at my school told me I was allowed to tell them instructions in Spanish as I had to supervise them alone, and so I did. Not only did the kids all gasp when I said my first Spanish words to them, they all applauded and decided it made them want to practice English even more. The funny part? They’re definitely even more confused about my origins now, with many insisting I’m Spanish (having my ambiguous look doesn’t help), though I’ve had to reassure them that I’m really who I say am. All in all, the experiment’s been going well, and now all the “why don’t you speak Spanish?” questions have been put to rest.

2. Play along.

I’ve never been the tattletale type. In fact, even at times when it’s been warranted to tell a tale, I’ve usually brushed things off. Sometimes, this doesn’t work in a school setting, but I’ve found myself being a little harsher on the students who truly deserve some discipline. Most of the time, though, infractions are minor enough to not get too upset about. I’ve seen some English assistants get extremely riled up over silly things, whilst I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest to not be overly dramatic. If a kid says something a little stupid to you? Take it on the chin, and say something ridiculous back. As the goofy and weird person that I can often be, I’ve found this to be easy to do, as is laughing most things off.

3. Don’t get weirded out if you find out a 9 year old loves you… or thinks the teacher loves you.

Schools are an extremely weird and confusing place to be, sometimes. The walls are thin, and as everyone sees each other so often, things can get a little wild. So far this year, I’ve heard of multiple little boys in my classes supposedly liking me (with some displaying that with constant hugs), and on the other end of the spectrum, thinking me and their teacher are dating. Think it gets any weirder than that? Well, it does, when the kids all start asking you extremely personal and inappropriate questions. In the end, it’s not as horrible as it sounds, and really just comes back to one truth: your students think you’re cool enough to talk about.

4. Speak in an American accent without actually being American… then wear something Americana.

This one’s a bit of a sore spot for the anti-American English speakers out there, but as someone who isn’t against the USA, I find it amusing. I’m Canadian, which means I’m really not that different from Americans – this is especially true when it comes to my accent. I’ve been told I say a total of two words very differently from the “standard American”, and that in general, it’s assumed that I’m American before I mention anything about being Canadian. When my kids make the mistake of calling me American, I immediately correct them, to which they always apologize. To make things fun, though, I showed up to work one day in a sweater with the American flag stamped on it. Their reaction? Several asking me if I was actually from the US, specifically Hawaii and California (as I had mentioned living in California before and that I had an interest in surfing). End result: it keeps them talking… in English.

5. Always say hi, especially when you see them outside of school.

If I were to begin counting how many times I say “hi (insert student name, followed by a wave)!” a day, I would probably be up all night. One thing I’ve always known is that kids appreciate being seen, and want you to know their name. Even more importantly, you must say hello to them every time you see them. Bonus points for when you see them on the street, and loudly acknowledge their presence. It makes them feel special, and makes heads turn (literally).

Regardless of the tools you use, it’s fairly easy to have fun at the “teaching English” gig, especially if things aren’t taken too seriously. It helps to get to know the teachers, though I know that at many schools, the staff isn’t as friendly as mine. The experience is what you make of it, though, and why not make it the best it can be?

Are you an English teacher/assistant?

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28 thoughts on “How To: Be the Cool and Confusing English Assistant

  1. Hey Ghezal!

    I’m a 21 year old guy from New Zealand interested in teaching English in Spain next year. I just stumbled across your blog and love it so far!

    I’m wondering if you have any advice or could do a section on meeting people/making friends in Madrid? One thing that I would hate is to get to a foreign city on the other side of the world and be lonely and miserable! Is it best to meet other people through shared student accommodation? Is it difficult to find good accommodations with cool roommates?

    Thank you 🙂

    Sebastian

    • Hi Sebastian!

      Thanks for stopping by! I haven’t done a post on that but I will soon. As for finding friends, I think facebook groups come in handy. If you search ‘auxiliares in Madrid’, a ton of groups come up. That’s how a lot of us meet when we first get here. There are also special groups for those of us who like football or films etc!

      I think idealista.com is the best place to look for accomodation, but you wouldn’t really get in contact with renters until just before you’re in Madrid/ready to see places, as things here are done quite quickly. Student accomodation isn’t a very good idea when you’re here to work, but that’s my opinion. Students here lead a very different life!

      I’ll be sure to get on a post on that, so be sure to check back soon. I think you’ll really like Madrid! 🙂

  2. Thanks for the reply and advice!

    It’s cool that you like football too! I am in love with the game and cannot wait to have as many kick arounds as possible with the locals in Spain! Do you play for a team or do you just play in your spare time/socially with a few friends?

    It’s interesting that you mentioned that about students in Spain. I first thought that it would be good to stay with students as most English teachers in Spain will probably still be several years older than me. Probably not a huge issue though. I will have to do a bit more research!

    Thanks again Ghezal! I look forward to more posts!

    Seb

    • You’re going to love it here, then! I just play for fun now when I can (sometimes this includes one of my fellow auxiliares at the school, we just kick around when we’re bored). There aren’t as many opportunities for girls here. One thing I don’t like about Spain is that football is kind of seen as a man thing, so not a lot of native girls play. I have played with Spanish men though – one of my favourite memories involves playing on a beach in Cadiz! They’re usually shocked I can play, which is a bummer… I think girls should be more involved here!

      Oh, if you mean fellow English assistants, that’s fine! Students here are a little wild, so unless you don’t value your sleep (which is important when you teach), it’s better to live with professionals or fellow assistants. I suggest living with at least one Spanish speaker so you can practice. My favourite living arrangement included two Spaniards (in addition to my friend and I, both Canadians). Spaniards who are around your age are less likely to be on your level than those who are a couple years older… at least that’s been my experience!

      It’s all very exciting! I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

  3. I agree with you, girls should definitely be more involved! It’s a shame that women’s football isn’t a big thing in Spain. It also doesn’t make a lot of sense how a football mad country like Spain doesn’t support women’s football too much. I think even the New Zealand women’s team is only ranked one spot below the Spanish! Crazy! Our men’s team would probably easily lose by at least 10 goals to the Spanish national team! …. Ahhh sounds awesome, I love beach football 😀

    Thanks for the advice.. Hopefully I can find a good accommodation arrangement (which may be very difficult) with other young English teachers + a native Spaniard to improve my Spanish! I live in a tiny city in New Zealand so the thought of moving to a HUGE city in a foreign country is absolutely terrifying (but exciting too).

    How long are you planning on staying in Spain if you don’t mind me asking?

    • I think Madrid is quite reasonably sized for a major European city. To me, it’s not that big… But there sure are a loooot of people everywhere!

      As for why fewer girls play – Spain still has a ‘macho’ culture. Canada and NZ don’t, so for us it’s a little bizarre. I agree with you – more girls should really play.
      I’ll be here til the end of this school year, but who knows about after that. I’m taking things as they come for now. Have you applied to any programs here yet?

    • hi, the reason why Spain doesn’t support women’s football is because it is seen as a man’s sport, and many males think that women playing football is a joke, it is something we are not used to.

      it would be similar if North American girls suddenly wore helmets and pads and began to play NFL.

      • Yes, I understand that. Although, NFL is just American football – I also played that growing up, as do a lot of girls. Women in North America generally have more freedom with gender roles than women in Spain do. I’m Canadian – a very openly athletic society for women – but my parents arent, yet they always taught me that sports were a part of me just as much as they were a part of my brother. I’m glad I was raised that way, because football along with other sports are amazing for development. Girls in Spain often miss out on the great qualities of team sports. I think it’s a dumb idea that it’s a man’s sport, personally, but hey… that’s only my opinion.

    • you don’t understand it and you think that it is dumb because you have been raised in a totally different culture, so i don’t hope you get it, at least i hope you get an idea of it.

      Spain is not the only country that doesn’t support women’s football…let’s think of France, Portugal, England, Italy, Greece, etc you can’t ask a supporter of Real Madrid, Barsa, Man United, Liverpool or Milan to develop a feeling or to begin to support women’s football as if having a magic wan, quite hilarious.

      are there female cowboys or cowwomen in North America involved in rodeos? do Texans, Kansanians and Missourians support female rodeo? does North America support women playing the sport of NFL?

      again i don’t hope you understand a different culture, just a bit of it 🙂

      happy new year of course!

      • Well, I come from a different culture… but my parents come from a different culture, so I know what more ‘traditional’ societies are like. I don’t think it takes a genius to understand different cultural norms, especially when they were raised in a multicultural household.

        And I guess if you don’t support womens football, that’s your choice. I know men who support women’s football, many of whom are from the countries you mentioned. Did you get a chance to watch the last women’s world cup? It was actually more exciting than the last men’s world cup was – not only in my opinion, but several men I know have said the same.

      • Pedro,

        I don’t know too much about Portugal, Italy and Greece but I know for a fact that Women’s football is supported very well in England and France. In England I think they have a professional league and I also think there is a strong professional league in Germany. Here in New Zealand Women’s football is certainly not a joke and we take it seriously.

        I personally enjoy watching Women’s football (I often watch the Women’s World Cup when Nz is playing). Obviously it is not as physical as the Men’s game but it is still very technical and skillful and enjoyable to watch.

        Interesting that there seems to be this attitude in Spain. A bit of a shame but I guess it’s just part of the culture..?

      • Exactly – well said! I remember Arsenal (ladies) always dominating the English league. Womens football definitely has some support in many countries. Spain just happens to be one of those countries that can’t keep up on that front.

        I’ve always wanted to go to NZ because besides its beautiful landscapes/natural aspects, I hear it’s quite advanced in gender equality!

      • We were the first country to allow Women to vote! New Zealand is a great country, I think you’d like it here. If you like the outdoors it doesn’t get much better than NZ in my opinion! Probably one of the safest countries in the world as well!

      • A friend of mine went there recently and said it was incredible. I’m outdoorsy, so it sounds perfect to me! Funny story, but I flew in Air NZ once and everyone was nice (they were all Kiwis). I’ve never been on a flight with that many genuinely friendly people before.

        Out of curiosity – is surfing as big in NZ as it is in Australia?

      • Yep us Kiwi’s are usually a friendly bunch! Interesting that you flew Air New Zealand! Where were you flying to? I bet you found the accents quite different to Canadian/American etc? My Grandparents from England really struggle to understand me sometimes even though we speak the same language!!

        Speaking of surfing, I’m going to start learning to surf really soon! I’ve always wanted to surf and I’m going to start in the next couple of weeks. So Excited! There is a good surfing spot about 15-20 minutes from where I live in Wellington which will be cool.

        I’m not too sure how it compares to Australia. I know that we have a few quite famous surf locations where professionals compete etc and we often produce a handful of professional Kiwi surfers. I think Raglan (An area on the West Coast of the North Island I think..) is regarded as one of the best ‘left break’ surf spots in the world. I think a beach called Piha in the West of Auckland (Our largest city) is the most famous surf spot in New Zealand.

        Just a guess but I reckon Australia probably has more famous surf beaches. It would be bigger in Aus too but still quite big here. However in Nz we have the coast everywhere we go so there’s heaps of spots and you are never far from the beach wherever you are. I think the furthest place in Nz from the beach is only like 130 kilometers (80 Miles?).

      • NZ sounds great to me! Actually, my flight was from London to Auckland via LA (I was getting off at the LA stop), hence why so many passengers were Kiwis. The accent sure is very different – I like it. I think I may have to finally find the funds to go there (and Australia).

        Also – get on that surfboard! You’re really lucky to be so close to a beach. My dream is to live near a warm surf spot. Let me know how the learning goes!

      • Ah I see! London to Auckland is probably our most popular flight for Kiwis.. Lot’s of UK connections and British expats over here.

        Do you surf? I heard that San Sebastian is a pretty good spot for surfing in Spain

        Yep will let you know 😀

      • I don’t surf yet, but I plan on moving somewhere surf-friendly to learn! Spain definitely has lots of surf spots, and you’re right about SS. There’s even a surf beach over there – it’s really nice!

        Can I ask you what’s prompted you to make a move to Spain? I always like hearing why people choose to do it!

      • Surfing just looks like so much fun doesn’t it!

        Sure! I’ve always loved exploring, traveling and experiencing new things. I love it down here at home in New Zealand, I think it’s an amazing country, but I’ve always wanted to live overseas for a while. I visited the south of France and parts of Spain a few years back and thought it was such a beautiful part of the world. I took a Spanish language paper and a Spanish history paper at university and this sparked my interest in living abroad a bit more. I also think it would be awesome to be fluent in a second language! Not many Nzers speak two or more languages (probably because we are so isolated).

        A lot of people don’t seem to like being around kids but I feel like I’m probably the opposite. I coach football to kids/teenagers and for the most part I really enjoy it.

        What better way to live overseas, experience a new culture and learn a new language than getting paid to teach English to kids! Obviously it will probably be a lot harder than I anticipate (teaching English/living abroad) and there will be ups and downs but I think it will be an awesome experience!

        I could think of so many other reasons but I’d probably be writing for a long time!

        Why did you choose to live abroad/ move to Spain?

      • Very true! The learning another language aspect is a big appeal, and I’m definitely glad I did it for that reason alone (if nothing else). I’m like you – I like kids, so I think you’ll enjoy it as long as you’re placed with primary students. The secondary students may also be good for you since you coach teens!

        I went on a whim. I thought about doing something like this for a while before, but for some reason didn’t really plan it. The opportunity to teach in Korea came up, but then a professor of mine at school mentioned Spain to me and it seemed obvious to do it (I actually applied at least a month late but got a position anyway). As a kid, I was obsessed with Spanish culture (well… now, I realize it was mostly Andalucian culture), and always felt the need to go to Spain. I thought it was a good time to go, just as you do! However, once I was older, I definitely wasn’t in love with Spain the way I was as a kid, but I decided it was worth it if only to learn Spanish and travel a bit. It’s definitely been worth it, as I’m sure you’ll come to find too.

      • I know this is a late response to an old post but… actually there are female cowgirls on the rodeo circuit in the US(there is even a reality show based on one group) and there is a small female American Football league as well. Also England has several female football teams that are very well supported.

    • you still don’t get it….it’s not a matter of deciding whether or not to support women’s football…it’s a matter of a country’s tradition and most of its citizens.

      of course there are men and women who may support it in Spain or England, but they are a tiny minority in a world, Europe, full of supporters who are raised to watch football as a man’s sport, as clear as water as we Spaniards say.

      i didn’t watch the World Cup of women…do you really think that in Spain there is a public (for free) TV channel that broadcast women’s football? none TV channel, say, TVE,T5, Antena 3, Cuatro, etcccccccccc have ever broadcasted a women’s match, nor have they broadcasted a game of baseball or NFL.

      in Spain if you want to see women’s world cup, baseball or NFL you must get pay per view TV channels that broadcast those foreign things along with cricket, Australian football, etc

      i don’t want you to think that there is a bad behaviour towards women, it hasn’t got anything to do with it, just like in Australia their football is a man’s thing, and Australian women don’t get offended i think.

      • Yeah, but AFL isn’t an internationally played sport where several other countries encourage the women to play it. Spain not supporting womens football isnt just a cultural thing – it also shows how behind it is in that way. To be frank, Spain isn’t the most equal country out there… living there has taught me that. I hope you dont get offended by that, but there’s no beating around the bush when it comes to that. The culture is very macho, as I said before…

    • not to worry, i don’t get offended….i always respect others’ opinions even if i don’t agree with them….that’s freedom of speech, and it’s great that you allow that freedom on your blog, thanks 🙂

      yes i agree that Spain is not the most equal country, and as for being “macho” or “machista”…well it depends on the region mainly and their people, for example Andalucia is full of machismo and many guys often treat their womens as if they were their home slaves, above all Spanish gypsies and Moroccan immigrants.

      • Well, I also appreciate your input!

        You have a point – certain regions have more of that culture than others do, but I think as a whole… Spain is certainly more machista than many countries are. It isn’t the most traditional or unequal in gender terms (definitely not), but it’s shockingly behind what it should be in my opinion. I also realize, though, that Spain has undergone a (relatively) recent revolution, but within the next 20 years, some things will definitely have to change.

    • Sebastian,

      i think that women’s football in England is semi-professional since the 1990 only.

      anyway i don’t want to appear as if i were against women, far from that! i am being honest about it……to have a pofessional or semi-professional league doesn’t mean it’s got support from a country as a whole, i mean, in Spain we do have a baseball league with its fans, but i can tell you that no-one in Spain cares about baseball if i mean Spain as a whole….we also have an american football league or NFL game in Spain with its fans, but it does share the same darkness and indifference with baseball.

      i think that we disagree because you seem to talk of the fans of a certain minor league, whereas i do talk about the country as a whole…..in England there may be as you say a women’s league with some sponsorships, but i can tell you that England as a whole country with both men’s football and rugby reigning over any other thing, women’s football is a tiny minority, just like in Spain, France or Italy…remember that i mean a country as a whole.

      Ghezal,

      Spain is not machista as a whole….let me tell you something please: much of the machismo or macho culture comes from both Flamenco and Bullfighting…..Flamenco is a music with the Gypsy culture involved in it, and male Gypsies are total machistas…..the same with bullfighters, all bullfighters, and i mean ALL of them are very well known and deep-rooted machistas…..and do you know what? many foreigners who come to Spain go to Andalucia and they experience both flamenco and bullfighting, everything that is round it, so that’s why there is the famous Andaluz stereotype among tourists that they mistakenly apply to the whole of Spain, an unfair and terrible stereotype i don’t feel comfortable with.

  4. We actually have to do things a bit different in terms of applying to be a language teacher if we’re from New Zealand. The auxiliaries program is only for US/Canadian citizens I believe?

    It may sound crazy, but to actually get a job we have to be in the country and apply in person. It sounds pretty risky but apparently there’s still lots of jobs for us (native English speakers with proper qualifications) if we go at the right time during the major hiring season in September. Luckily for me I have a European passport so I actually don’t need a visa or anything, which should make things a bit easier for me.

    Sounds like a bit of a hit or miss but hopefully it works out!

    .

    • I think there’s different auxiliares programs for different nationalities, but I think you can apply to it as a Kiwi. There’s also the BEDA program, which is very reputable and also open to you!

      You having a European passport will make things very easy for you, though, as you skip all the visa and legal nonsense. You could probably even come to Spain and talk directly to academies about teaching English, though I think you may require a teaching certification for that. If you want to be an assistant, you should just try to apply through BEDA or the auxiliares program! Either way, you’ll be hired!

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