“Hey, any update on teaching in Spain in 2020?”
“Covid is basically eradicated there, right?”
“You bought plane tickets and you still don’t know?”
I got these questions almost daily this past summer. All from friends and family. So, of course, despite my slight annoyance (and mainly worry that things wouldn’t work out), I knew they were asking because they care about me.
My responses were usually something along the lines of, “I won’t be sure of anything until I step off the plane in Madrid.” And let me tell you, when that moment finally arrived, it felt surreal. The months of preparation, paperwork, and lots of waiting, finally led up to my living outside of the U.S. for the first time.
How I Ended Up Teaching in Spain in 2020
I first decided to apply to Meddeas when I received an email through the listserv in the linguistics department at my university. I knew I was going to take a gap year before grad school, but I’d never considered teaching in Spain in 2020.
But then I thought to myself, hmm. I’m about to get a degree in linguistics and minor in Spanish, I’m going to teach English as a second language after grad school… This is definitely something that’s up my alley. I don’t know why I hadn’t considered it before.
But you know those types of ideas that once they’re in your head, you can’t get them out? I kept thinking about what an amazing experience teaching in Spain would be. So of course, I was super excited when I got accepted. I knew I had a ton of work ahead of me, but I was determined.
Visa Process and Bureaucracy Stuff
I won’t spend too much time talking about dealing with Spanish bureaucracy during COVID, though I know it’s riveting stuff. Basically, I had to gather lots of documents in order to get a Spanish Student Visa. This included a National Background Check, Medical Certificate, and Health Insurance.
I’m extremely grateful for the checklist and info that Meddeas provided me and the fact that they were available to answer questions along the way. Without that, I would’ve been annoyingly asking my parents about everything.
Actually, let’s be honest, I did that anyway. But for good reason! It’s a lot of work, especially during a pandemic. With fewer employees and people working remotely, paperwork took much longer. And it was usually hard to reach people on the phone. But when I finally got my visa in the mail, I gained back that initial excitement I had at the beginning. Things finally started to fall into place.
Perseverance and Bravery
During the visa process, I remember some friends and family saying things like “Wow, you’ve been doing so much work for this. That takes a lot of perseverance.” Once I received my visa and had solidified my plans to move to Spain, where COVID was (and is) still rampant, they started saying I was brave for still doing this.
Personally, I’m not sure if it was really bravery. Sure, it’s scary to move during such uncertain times. (Dammit, I swear that’s the only time I’ll say that phrase here). But to me, it’s basically the only option I was considering.
I could have stayed home during my gap year and worked remotely somewhere. But I wanted to teach in person. And I knew it was still a possibility to teach online in Spain. And that’s still preferable to living in the U.S. (Typing this on Nov 6, as we’re still awaiting election results and their aftermath… I’m definitely grateful to be here).
So, I guess perseverance is a good word to use. Obviously, it’s an important skill for everyone, but I think it’s especially applicable in the field of teaching. And that’s where I’ll transition to the actual teaching part! Finally.
Finally in Spain
Actually, “finally” isn’t a good word to use, because I started teaching less than 48 hours after my plane arrived in Spain. In hindsight, I should’ve given myself a bit more time. But this did force me to fight the jet lag when normally I’d be napping for three days straight.
I live in a house that’s a three-minute walk from my school, with a host family (they’re great. I’ll probably talk about them in another post). One of the teachers at my school was nice enough to give me a tour the day before and explain my schedule, which helped alleviate some nerves on the first day.
I collaborate teaching Infantil, Primaria, and Secundaria (ages 3-16, roughly). And I don’t only help teaching English! I also help with P.E. and music classes. I think I was assigned to those because I mentioned on my application that I love singing and working out, which is awesome.
Having such a variety of age groups and classes means throughout the day, I switch classes every hour or so. I’m not sure if this is standard among Language Assistants. But I really like this schedule. I’ve been helping to teach for about a month, so I feel mostly acclimated to the school environment.
Welcoming and Friendly Spaniards
One of the first things I noticed about this school (but I’m assuming it’s Spanish Culture in general) is how friendly the teachers are. As soon as I arrived, they all made an effort to get to know me. Some texted me after school to ask how I was doing, others offered to show me around the town. One teacher is friends with my host family and told me “mi casa es tu casa“. (Meaning, my house is your house). And that I was always welcomed to spend a weekend at her place if I wanted. This was just a week or two into teaching in Spain!
Teachers offering me support has helped with something I’ve had to persevere with here a lot – my social life. Sounds weird, but I think everyone can relate to the difficulties of seeing friends during COVID. Add moving to a town knowing nobody and that difficulty is amplified.
I’ve been able to meet a few people (Spaniards as well as other Americans/Brits Language Assistants) through Facebook, and we have socially distanced drinks outside. This will get more difficult as winter approaches though. So, that’ll be another thing I’ll keep persevering with.
It is comforting to know everyone’s going through the same thing. So, while it sucks not being able to go out, I know being safe is what’s most important. And again, I live with a wonderful host family with whom I can spend time whenever I want. My 12 and 14-year-old host siblings are always happy to stay in and play games or watch a movie in English together.
My First Week at School
I’ll say one last thing about perseverance, and this time it applies to teaching itself. One of my favorite parts about my first week collaborating with the teacher (and something that continues to happen) is how excited the students were to see me. I collaborate teaching to almost all the students in the school, and I’m the only Language Assistant. So, any time I walk into a classroom or even walk past a group in the hallway, they excitedly wave and say, “Hi, Abby!”
When I start teaching to small groups, most students raise their hands and ask me to help them first. I initially thought this excitement meant my students would be well-behaved and listen to me at all times (yeah yeah, I know). I soon lost that naivety and started understanding the challenges for each age group.
The Infantil kids know almost zero English and get (understandably) frustrated when they don’t understand. The primary kids are full of energy and tend to talk in class. And the secondary kids think they know everything already. So, in the past month, I’ve tried various techniques with, uh, varying success rates. But I think that’s normal. A lot of teaching is trial-and-error, especially when it’s your first time and in a foreign country.
Things I’ve Learned in the Classroom
For instance, I’ve learned how important eye contact and exaggerated facial expressions are with the younger kids. Especially because a mask is covering half my face. (Honestly, the plethora of challenges and funny stories involving teaching with masks will probably inspire a whole separate post later).
I’ve also realized the best way to approach high school students misbehaving is to have an attitude like, “Seriously? I’m five years older than you. There’s no way this is the most mature version of yourself.” Because talking down to them just isn’t effective. I like to be more or less on their level while still establishing my role as an educator.
Teaching in Spain to so many age groups has also given me a sneak peek into who I might want to teach in the future. A month ago, I would’ve said middle school, but now I’m leaning toward high schoolers. Their sarcasm and jokes keep me entertained. But who knows, ask me again in a month and I might change my mind again. (The beauty of teaching! It never gets boring).
I know the idea of perseverance in teaching in Spain in 2020 (or just… life in general) isn’t some epiphany. And I know it’s kind of cliché, but it’s something I’ve thought a lot about lately during the pandemic and after having made this huge life change.
Obviously, it’ll continue to be a big part of my experience in Spain. I’m excited for what lies ahead in my professional, social, and family life. And to keep writing about these experiences. Bye for now!
By Abigail K., 2020-2021.