Q&A: Teaching & language

Another round of Q&A .. keep the questions coming 🙂

Q: How did you become interested in Spain/embarking upon this teaching program?

A: I studied abroad in Spain in 2004 through a program called AIFS (American Institute of Foreign Study). As part of my dual degree I was required to study abroad (twist my arm), and this program was supported by my undergraduate institution. I chose to study in Granada and it remains one of the best decisions I have made to date. Regarding the teaching program, the information came to me via a mailing list, and upon racing through my emails I filed it in “jobs” to look at later. A few hours later my good friend Katie forwarded me the same message and said: “did you see this????? it’s so you!” And it was. So I took a second look, and applied. I knew I wanted to return to Spain in some capacity, and was about to finish my Masters in Education in May so the timing seemed perfect. And now ..here I am 🙂

Q: How did you learn the Spanish language, and what’s your level of fluency today?

A: Let me start by saying that the Spanish you learn from a book is NOTHING like the Spanish you learn while participating in an immersion program. Sure, many of the vocabulary words were familiar and I knew how to conjugate* the verbs to say what I wanted. But unless Spanish is your mother tongue, you will be in for quite a shock when it first filters into your (un)trained ears. Remember that I am also in Andalucia and they are known for their strong accents, so I really had no idea what was going on at first. Here’s how you learn: you listen, you speak, you make mistakes, you take notes and you do all of this without embarrassment. It’s not impossible. But once you mix up cajones and cojones, you will laugh out loud .. and never make that mistake again. Today I would rate my fluency somewhere around 80%. There is always room for improvement, and although I have my accento Andaluz in working order, I am constantly learning new expressions and turns of phrase (they are full of them down here).

* a side note .. one of the most important things to know about speaking Spanish in Spain is what my first teacher at university told me in January 2004. This tiny raven haired woman with a voice larger than life welcomed us to class specifically: “Hola Americanos! La cosa mas importante aqui en España es que vosotros si existe.” If you don’t speak Spanish, here’s the gist: Hi Americans! The most important thing here in Spain is that this verb tense that your textbooks have been ignoring since sixth grade? Actually does exist and we use it here all the time. So get ready to conjugate, fools!” As my Texas friends pointed out – vosotros is the Spanish “y’all” .. and it does come in handy. Prepare yourselves!

Q: Do you give exams to your students? Homework?

A: My teachers are the ones giving the kids exams, and I rarely assign homework. The activities we do are meant to be in-class and hands on. Sometimes a project will carry over into homework (ie: Pen pal letters or making your own flag, etc). If it involves more research than we can do in the classroom with a dictionary and two teachers – they take it home. The students operate on a trimester system and have evaluations at the end of every trimester. They take several exams throughout the course of the classes, but I am not involved in proctoring or grading – only preparation.

Q: Are you writing lesson plans? How do you know what to prepare?

A: Here is every auxiliar’s deepest, darkest secret. I’m winging it. You may laugh, but its true! We are not required to write lesson plans, and sometimes (depending on the teacher) – there is collective “winging”, so to speak. The faculty is very flexible and some teachers prepare bilingual lessons and others ask me to do the preparing. It depends on the theme and where the students are in their lessons. Remember that I am teaching English, Science, and History courses. To date I’ve prepared some pretty wild lessons that are all over the map. Examples include but are not limited to: raising cattle, the French & Indian War, commerce & trade, the food pyramid, the Industrial Revolution, and alternative energy. Sounds fun, right? Lots of prep time goes into this from my end, and once I get a vague idea from the teacher, I run with it. I love the flexibility in this. I am also improving my vocabulary in the most interesting ways — words from Chemistry, Physics and Geography are now a part of my Spanish arsenal thanks to these classes.

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