My First Days at School as an English Language Assistant

I’m beginning to perspire, and it’s not because of Madrid’s thirty degree September heat. It’s my second week at school as an English Language Assistant. I’m standing in front of a class of twenty two-year-olds, about to teach them alone for the first time. They sit unnervingly still, they can smell my fear.

English Language Assistant
My very serious identification badge

I’ve arrived armed with Thomas the Tank Engine toys and Mr Happy from my collection of Mr Men books, both prized childhood possessions. I was sure they would impress the kids during our first few solo classes together.

“I’m in the next room if you need anything, good luck!” The tutor shuts the door behind her and I throw a nervous glance towards the silent two year olds. I wonder to myself was I right to take part in the Advanced Programme, with the daunting prospect of taking classes of up to thirty students all alone now becoming a terrifying reality.

Now that it’s just the kids and I, silence fills the air. A stand-off ensues. I wonder who will crack first… I take a deep breath and am about to break the deadlock but am beaten to it. At first I’m not quite sure what I’m hearing – a gentle, high-pitched whine which rapidly crescendos into a deep growl – a noise now as familiar as my daily 6:45am alarm clock (and one held with the same amount of fondness) – “mamaaaa, papaaaa!”

Having such limited experience teaching children, let alone two year olds who don’t speak my language (and in many cases, nor their own just yet), I let my instincts take over: I run over to the weeping child and lift him up in a naïve attempt to comfort him. Seeing as I’m an intimidating, unknown figure to this scared, baffled child who’s craving the embrace of someone familiar, my attempt at tempering his distress results in an even more hysterical wave of crying.

English Language Assistant
Learning how to paint with our hands, practicing how to stand with our feet

Then it really begins. On seeing their comrade plucked from his seat by this ginormous stranger, the other petrified infants react to the fear that the same fate awaits them by doing what petrified infants do best… “mamaaaa, papaaaa!” Before I know what’s happening, I’m standing in front of twenty wailing two-year-olds, sheepishly half-singing, half-whimpering the lyrics of ‘If You’re Happy and You know It’ while attempting the accompanying dance. Suddenly the stuffy, yet comparatively blissfully serene, office job which I left in order to “challenge myself” seems very palatable.

Pretty soon I have been introduced to what I’ve termed the ‘Holy Trinity’ of infant bodily fluid, – I’ll spare you the details – all within the first five minutes of my first solo class. As I rush towards the door to summon help to deal with the wailing, toileting toddlers, I can’t help but smile wryly at my carefully selected teaching materials. Mr Happy and Thomas the Tank Engine are of no help in dealing with the liquid all over my hands, jeans, and shoes.

Deep in concentration making our Thanksgiving day headgear.
Deep in concentration making our Thanksgiving day headgear.

Now, after surviving the first term as an English Language Assistant – fifteen weeks of the sharpest learning curve I’ve ever experienced – I can look back at this horror-show-experience and chuckle. Despite that fact that this baptism of fire led to me locking myself in the bathroom, staring at my reflection and wondering what in God’s name I had just got myself into, I very quickly became accustomed to interacting with such tiny beings. And I’ve been loving it ever since. Of course, there are still difficulties. Showing scary Halloween videos to two-year-olds is an effective way to find yourself re-acquainted with the ‘Holy Trinity’ of bodily fluids, for example. But no matter how tired or how sick you are (and you will be sick: I’ve been assured that in one’s first year teaching one picks up every bug around, before building up an unbreakable immunity), nothing energises you like the beaming, bristling, and boiling daily enthusiasm of a class of infants.

For every bad day, there are countless brilliant ones. From my limited experience so far, I think the key is to keep this mantra in mind any time you have difficulties. And if that doesn’t help, just think of my early experience and remember that it could be worse.

2014/2015. Posted by Dennis H.

15 May, 2020

An experience that will challenge you, teach you, and change you


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