An ordinary school day in the life of an auxiliar, Part 1.

Auxiliary. noun. [countable] a person or thing that gives aid; helper.

Here in Spain our job titles are auxiliares, or auxiliaries. We are also referred to by the Spanish government as "North American Language and Culture Assistants." How much language and culture we are transmitting is at best questionable (the kids--and some teachers!--still think I'm from London), but nevertheless we go to our bilingual primary schools faithfully each day and try to be of help to the Spanish teachers we work alongside and those young minds that are learning (some) English.

School begins at 9:00. Parents congregate in the courtyard and see their children off before the bell rings, and kids run around to the playground at the back of the school to line up. I typically wait in the downstairs lobby area and wait for the kids to file up to their classrooms, giving high-fives and hugs (and then promptly pulling out my hand sanitizer pre-class) and following the kids up to their classrooms. It's a good ten to fifteen minutes before class starts (sometimes even twenty), and because each class during the day is a mere 45 minutes, it's easy to conclude that class #1 isn't going to accomplish a lot. Truthfully, most classes begin this way, because it takes teachers time to transition between classes (teachers travel among the various classes that they teach; unlike the U.S., students do not have one teacher all day), talk to other teachers in the hallway, make photocopies, plan lessons, and show me pictures of where they are planning to honeymoon this summer on cell phones.

I split my time between second and third grades, ages that I didn't anticipate liking. I soon discovered how much I enjoy being in the classroom with seven and eight year olds! If I return to teaching (a big if these days), I would like to pursue elementary education because I love the hands-on creativity that it allows for, depending on the classroom and resources. In second grade English, I pull kids out for the entire class, every class and drill them for an upcoming language exam that all bilingual schools take. Every day, I ask the same questions, varying my speed and intonation and sometimes throwing in something out of the box (i.e., not on the exam questioner's sheet) to try to make them think and to try to maintain my sanity. Questions I ask on a daily basis include but are not limited to:

  1. "What is the date today?" (Inevitably, they tell me the day. "DATE.")
  2. "How old are you?" (Common answer: "I'm fine, thank you. And you?" "No, how OLD are you?" "Cuantos años tengo yo?" "Sí. I mean, yes." Believe me, we've covered this a few times.)
  3. "What is your father's name? How old is he?" ("He is fine." See above, and substitute is he for are you.) "What is his job?" (Repeat with "mother.")
  4. "What is the weather like outside today?" ("The weather is like...[looking out window] ...sunning...and...hot." "Hmm," I reply. It's thirty-five degrees out. "No, it's cold today!" I make shivering motions. Blank stares.)
  5. "What day was yesterday?" ("Yesterday is...Monday." The student didn't catch my emphasis on was, so I repeat: "What day was yesterday?" Blank stare. "Yesterday WAS..." Hear and repeat. A light seems to have come on: "Yesterday was is Monday." Was is? It's a daily battle.)

In second grade science, I prepare the occasional activity with varying success (the water cycle song proved challenging, but the vertebrate/invertebrate posters went over much better). We learn such helpful words as oviparious and viviparous and lately I have been taking small groups of students who struggle with English out to the hallway to talk about concepts and read short passages together. Though we were told by the Ministry of Education that we shouldn't speak one word of Spanish, that seems impossible to do, seeing as their "English" classes (science being one of them) are conducted in Spanish 60% of the time. I help them translate words they don't understand and make up silly songs on the spot to help them remember what the heck an oviparous animal is. 

Third grade is a more challenging group of students. I adore most of these kids individually, but together they are a hard group to work with. One class especially is boy-heavy and extremely rowdy. There are a couple of special needs kids who really need more help than they're given; one is prone to punching other children at any given moment, and the other does a lot of running around the room, flapping his arms and saying "Okay, mckay!" The teacher is very sweet, but classroom management is almost non-existent, and I don't think she really knows what to do with me. As of two weeks ago, we now have two student teachers from local universities in all of my third grade classes (yes, FOUR adults in one classroom, and five adults if a wrap-around is present for special needs students), so now there is even less of a need for me, it seems. I try to help individual students who aren't paying attention, practice English with kids who are bored, and generally attempt to quell what is usually chaos in the room. I've even taught one child who understands no English whatsoever science in his Spanish textbook. If all else fails, I try to look busy. The teacher likes my handwriting and drawing, so I frequently get to write vocab words on the board and draw pictures next to them--and oh boy, do I get excited to have a job to do!

And then there is second and third grade P.E. I accompany four classes to the gym two days a week, and I wonder: why is P.E. an English class? Never mind. I do stretches with the kids, I hold hands (second graders are especially clingy), and (again) try to make myself useful by walking around and making sure kids are on task and doing activities correctly, not punching each other, etc. Sometimes I'm asked to say phrases like, "Touch your SHOULDERS!" or "Throw the ball with your RIGHT HAND!" Occasionally, I cringe because we play games that would be the subjects of lawsuits by 5PM if this was an American school. (Imagine this: one kid standing against the wall, bent at a 90 degree angle, and another child is instructed to jump on the first child's back so that they land straddled over the bent child's spine--just looking at it hurts!) Sometimes the P.E. teacher and I talk, mainly about Spain and traditions, sometimes about travel, and before I know it, the class is over.

We have one break during the day at noon. After all, we've worked a whole three hours. Recreo is when kids go out to the patio to have their snacks (juice boxes and sandwiches with sausage and cheese being the most common snack I see) and run off 50% of their energy, and the teachers congregate in the teacher's lounge. The cafeteria brings in a cart with coffee, hot milk, and sugar, as well as a snack or two, usually fruit and something more substantial. We've had everything from churros to toast with peppers and anchovy heads. I usually pass on the anchovy heads. For an entire half hour, teachers are free from the children and can congregate and get caffeinated, before returning for the last hour and a half of the day. 

If you do the math, school ends at 2:00. Parents or grandparents congregate once again in the patio in front of the school, and walk home for lunch with their kids or grandkids. I think seeing families walking home together is so sweet. Teachers remain for a final hour of planning, grading, or meetings, and then they, too, head home for lunch. 

Really, this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as being an auxiliar goes. So another day, I'll share more of the personal side of auxiliar life.