Tag Archives: Language Assistants

Reflections On Life As A Language Assistant

16 Oct

As many of you are starting your time as a language assistant in Spain I offer some reflections on my own past experience. The views I share are entirely my own and are meant to serve as a creative way to express myself as well as being a subtle criticism of the North American Language Assistant program in general. I don’t claim to have all the answers on how to improve the program (although I do have many suggestions), nor do I want to start blaming specific people for my experiences because the program’s weaknesses spread from the top down.

I encourage readers to comment about their own experiences (good and bad) to give a more accurate feel for the program. What has surprised you these first few weeks? Do you think your school was well prepared to receive you?

Welcome to Carmona

The explicit graffiti and prison like gates throw me off a bit. I’m looking for a small town’s high school and this isn’t quite what I expected. It takes me a good ten minutes to figure out how to get inside the building—I’m from a small town where people keep their doors unlocked and this buzzer/intercom system is foreign looking and intimidating. Finally, someone rings the buzzer and I sketchily follow him inside.

School or Prison?

I’m greeted by the conserje who, only after two years of working there, I understand to be a mix of doorman, janitor, and office assistant… a jack-of-all-trades. I communicate who I am, thinking that perhaps someone is expecting me on my first day. It’s not the case but he hands me off to the English department with a smile.

Don’t Run For Cover (Yet)

A wailing sound comes out of the loud speakers. I jump and cover my ears. I’m pretty sure the fire alarm is going off but no one seems concerned. After thirty seconds of deafening noise it stops. As I see students and teachers rushing around I realize the horrible sound was just the bell, a signal to change classes. Why it has to sound like a bomb warning is a question I still have.

Students sprint through the small halls to let off energy. The majority of them don’t actually have to change classrooms (the teachers are usually the ones who change) but they aren’t allowed to stay in the classroom alone between periods. So they run, jump, wrestle, and flip while others eat chips, candy, donuts, and sandwiches from the school cafe. They shriek and scream and make passing through a living nightmare, complete with shoves, flying food particles, spilled liquids, and body odors. What should only last three minutes is often drawn out to ten or fifteen, as many teachers arrive considerably late to class. After unlocking the door, taking attendance, checking homework, and quieting the students it’s not unusual to have only thirty minutes left of the hour-long period.

Feeling Useless

The students are talking over me, again. I try to reel them in—“Please, listen! Be respectful!” I ask. But they don’t understand me. The few students that want to listen give me an embarrassed smile of apology on behalf of their classmates. They accept that the majority rules and unfortunately the majority do not want to learn English; they’d rather study for their chemistry test next period. Meanwhile, I’m stuck in front of a class of thirty teenagers, prohibited from addressing them in Spanish, and basically talking to myself. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, I try to make eye contact with the classroom teacher. No such luck, she’s too busy correcting exams in the back of the classroom. The buzz grows louder and I stop trying. Perhaps finally realizing that I am no longer talking, the teacher bangs loudly on a desk and shouts, “Quiet please! Prestad atención!” There is a thirty-second lull in the various conversations and study sessions, and I am suddenly being grilled by thirty sets of eyes that read annoyance. And they told me teaching would be rewarding…

Redemption: The Small Things

It’s 11:00– break time. Call me antisocial but I prefer not to go to breakfast with the other teachers. I use my thirty minutes to disconnect a bit from the chaos and enjoy some fresh air. Carmona is a beautiful town for a walk.

A Beautiful Place to Take a Stroll

It’s a week before the town fair and a woman approaches me. I recognize her as a teacher here, but I don’t remember meeting her. “Lorén!” she shouts, “I hear you don’t have a flamenco dress for the fair so I made you this!” She gives me a handmade pin, a flamenco dancer in a vibrant blue dress. It’s beautiful and unexpected. I wish I could express how much her kindness has impacted me, but I make due with a “Muchisimas gracias! Qué bonito!”

It’s my last week of being a language assistant and after each lesson I explain to the students that my time with them has come to an end. Some look disappointed, others could care less, and the majority is just anxious for the bell to ring (or wail). Occasionally, I get a few questions about what I’ll do next, if I’m going back to the US, and if I’ll ever come back to Carmona. After one class two girls approach me. They thank me profusely for my time with them (which, by the way, was only one hour every two or three weeks) and they apologize for their inattentive classmates. They ask for my email and I give it to them. They express their desire to visit the US one day and I encourage them to immerse themselves in English TV, books, and music. When I say goodbye they start to cry, they are thirteen after all, and it’s touching to see I’ve made some sort of impact.

11 Best TEFL Resources

21 Aug

Since so many people found my post on advice for an auxiliar helpful, I thought that everyone would appreciate the links to my favorite TESOL/TEFL resources. Hopefully it’ll save you time and effort in sorting through the millions of websites out there! As I’ve mentioned, I arrived in Spain after taking a month-long intensive TESOL course through SIT. The course was very well taught and I learned a lot about effective teaching methods for small ESOL classes. But here in Spain I just wasn’t teaching that way. This is not a TEFL program! I faced classes of 30 or more teenagers, usually made up of completely mixed levels of English and definitely mixed levels of motivation! I was then told to plan hour-long lessons for these classes… what to do? (As I explained earlier I should have just said NO to start with; the classroom teacher should have helped me plan.) In addition, I also had some private classes at night that ranged in ages and levels from beginners to advanced and from children to adults. Basically, I needed a big variety of good resources.

The first year I spent hours and hours browsing the countless ESL sites out there. My estimate is that 90% are either copies of other sites or junk. Some people basically know that they can post about ESL, use SEO techniques to get their pages to show up in a search, and then swarm them with ads to make some $$ (at least that’s what I think.) But the quality of the majority is horrible!

So save yourself some time. Here is a list of my personal 11 best TEFL resources. I tried narrowing it down to 10, but just couldn’t! I’ve included a description of their content and how I used them. There are many other good sites I have also used, most I don’t have bookmarked, so feel free to do some searching yourselves too. Maybe I’ll post more in the future. For now, I hope these help!

BBC English: I have to start with the best. This is one of the coolest sites for learning English for all levels and ages. It is very interactive and has a variety of tools at both the student and teacher’s disposal. I always recommended that my students use this page at home for extra practice. I often used the “In the News” section either in private classes or I assigned it as homework. I think adults liked the “In the News” because it is real news reporting from the BBC and not “dumbed down” for learning.

Many Things VOA: While this website’s homepage has many categories, I mostly used the Voices of America content. These are podcasts and/or YouTube videos that you can listen to or watch (great if your school has Smartboards) or you can download them as an mp3. The content is great– current and relevant, but the narrator speaks annoyingly slow and is not natural. However, the other people in the series speak normally, making it a good mix! I really like the variety of topics and the fact that the videos have subtitles and podcasts have transcripts. The site also has quizzes and activities to accompany many of the podcasts, although I usually made up my own evaluations based on the class level. You could also go directly to the VOA learning English site, which is also great and has even more selection for advanced levels.

The Internet TESL Journal: This website is fantastic. It is well organized and has many useful categories. The most helpful for me were the lessons and games. I found the games easy to adapt and more creative than other sites in general. The lessons were easy to follow and interesting, with many different parts and optional activities. I used this site a lot when planning big classes.

TEFL Talking Points: This is another site that has a lot of content… but also a lot of ads! This specific part of the site brings you to its “Talking Point” downloadable worksheets. I found them very helpful when I didn’t have much time. I could build off the activities and extend them too. The themes are usually interesting and can promote some good discussions!

Breaking News English: Great site, though flooded with ads… but it is hosted by a veteran TEFL teacher, Sean Banville. Its objective is teaching English based on current events. Although similar to some other sites with the same idea, this one is really thorough, frequently updated, and varied. It is definitely worth checking out, and includes exercises in all competencies: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Oral Activities: Amazing site! No ads and all oral activities. This is amazing because auxiliars really shouldn’t be responsible for teaching grammar… ideally they should be promoting use of English and, above all, oral expression in the classroom. This site can help!!!

ESL Galaxy: This site has a lot of content, but I find all of their advertisements too distracting to spend much time searching. I did, however, often use this section with board games. It is nice to print out a board game sometimes because the students really enjoy games. This is the place to do it!

Macmillan Inside Out: This website provides tools for the Macmillan books and people using them. However, you don’t need to be following the book to find them useful! I used the resources that went with the Inside Out Book and… the American English Edition! (Yay!!!) The lessons range in level, change every week, and vary in topic. All are current and relevant and include some activities to go along with them. They are printable, photocopiable and free! This was a saving grace when I just didn’t have time to plan a lesson myself. Looking through the archives I always found an interesting theme!

ESL Base: This is a website I found by chance and, although you have to be a member to access the content, I signed up since it was free. Thank goodness I did. I would say it is one of the sites I have used the most, not because it has a ton of different resources, but because they are great quality. I love their activities for the conditionals and I’ve adapted a lot of stuff for both large groups and private classes. Awesome stuff!

America’s Library: This site by the Library of Congress is fantastic and also a great example of how your ESL resources don’t have to be specifically for ESL! If you teach 3rd graders, look for American 3rd grade (and younger) websites to find elementary school activities. It’s great because it is real content and not something specifically created to teach English. This site has lots of information for kids about the US, the different states, famous Americans etc. You can modify and come up with a lot of activities here.

ESL Flow: It’s an ugly site and there are some annoying ads… but it is useful! They divide their content into categories and then each category has a ton of links. Unfortunately, many are broken and it is totally hit or miss… but it is worth trying because some bring you to great resources that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Basically a mix of good quality links for every level and competency…when they work!

Ok, there they are. I hope they help you plan some classes, even if only your private ones. If you know of any other great resources please leave them as comments! Don’t forget to bring some of your own physical resources over too… anything written in English can be useful (food receipts, recipes, ticket stubs, birthday cards…) Suerte!

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