Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Auxiliar Diaries: What to Expect

Before my auxiliar exchange I read a zillion blogs about every aspect of the experience. Some were helpful, and some were really not! So here's my guide on how to be an auxiliar in Spain, based on my experiences.


So it turns out, what I had envisaged for these last eight months of my life was pretty much nothing like what it turned out to be.  Maybe I missed the key points of everything I read, or maybe, true Spanish style, there was nothing of substance in what I read, so in some ways the program wasn't exactly what I was expecting, and in others Spain wasn't what I was expecting!  So I thought I'd share a few thoughts on things to expect in the auxiliar program here in Spain:

1. You're not the _English_ teacher...
I had, not unreasonably, kind of assumed I'd be assisting the teachers in the ESL classes - you know, teaching English.  What I did NOT realise is that these are bilingual schools, where classes are actually taught in English, and THAT's what you're expected to help with!  I never studied science past Year 10, so to find myself teaching Year 9 biology has been a bit confronting, to say the least.  History and Geography classes have been easier, since the teacher wants me to talk about the same time periods and phenomena as they occurred in and influenced Australia.  Anyway, be warned - you won't be explaining past participles in English class, you'll be explaining the pronunciation of 'glomerulus' to your science class.  Yes, I had to look that one up too.

2. The Spanish and organisation do not mix
There will be times when class will be cancelled, and the only way you will find out is by attending an empty classroom.  There will be times where the class will have an exam during your timeslot, and the only way you will find out is by walking into the middle of an exam.  There will be times where you walk into the classroom, the teacher pushes the textbook into your hands open to a particular page, and walks up the back of the room to wait for you to begin class.  Basically, there's no loop to be in here.  People will forget to tell you things, not think to tell you things, not really plan ahead where you're involved, and generally leave you wanting to strangle someone or something until you get used to essentially getting screwed over a lot.  Ask for a list of public holidays and school-free days, find out where the teacher's noticeboard is and learn to check it so you know who's on camp and when, and be prepared to smile and say, "Not a problem," when someone apologises for the general Spanish apathy making you look the fool yet again.  After four or five months you learn to just go with the flow and not get mad when things don't work right - the entire Spanish nation apparently runs on this principle, from what I've seen.

3. WorkChoices does not exist in Spain
Yes, we have a contract.  No, that contract is not much use.  Nothing is really spelled out clearly, so  exactly what our job entails is up for debate.  Supposedly we work 12 hours a week, and schools can allocate that time as they please, whether it be for classes, English tutoring sessions or meeting with teachers.  Theoretically our job also includes class prep.  Whether those 12 hours and that class prep intersect is one of the great unknowns.  In my case, I was given 12 hours of class, so anything else comes out of my own time.  Teachers also don't co-ordinate my classes with each other, so there have been weeks with no prep work whatsoever and then weeks with hours of reading and research to do.  Oh, and then there's my favourite - if you miss a single class through illness or other reasons, you're obliged to make it up, but the school can cancel any number of your classes with no warning and no such concessions are made to you!  Basically, be prepared to possibly be screwed over, and if you stand up for yourself, be prepared to potentially have your own contract used against you.

4. Not all teachers are created equal...
It's been one of the bigger revelations of the year for me, but there's a wide variety of teachers and teaching styles, and some are light years ahead of the rest.  The good teachers are a joy to work with, but be prepared for the less delightful teachers as well.  Some of the bilingual teachers 'don't speak' English, some can't or don't control their classes, leaving you standing awkwardly at the front of chaos, some teachers seem to think YOU're the teacher and THEY're the assistant and suddenly have no clue what they're doing once you're in the room.  There's really not a lot you can do - you can't really reform bad teachers, though you can try and insist on a modicum of preparation and advance warning from the teachers.  Otherwise, just don't be surprised when you suddenly find yourself in front of 30 noisy, rowdy teenagers with no teacher in sight.

So those are more or less the biggest surprises I had once I started classes!  Did anyone have their own "Oh..." moments once they started at their school?  First-years, any things you've been wondering about your transition from student to teacher?

Thursday, 26 May 2016

¿Mujer o hombre? Gender roles in Spain

From a sociological standpoint, Spain's quite interesting.  A conservative country with Catholicism deeply rooted in the culture, as evidenced by the plurality of my students called Inmaculada, Lourdes, Carmen del Corpus and Santiago, Spain was nonetheless the third country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage over 10 years ago, well in advance of 'progressive' Australia.

In that vein, it's interesting to see the differences in gender roles here in Spain.  Strictly speaking, the traditional gender roles don't exist - it's quite common for both Mum and Dad to work, since both are home for lunch with the kids anyway - but other aspects of gender are much more binary and entrenched than their counterparts in Australia.

The very first thing I noticed in Spain was pierced ears.  Every woman has her ears pierced.  But not just women.  Even little girls, some just months old, lie in their prams in pink rompers with gold earrings.  It's like some kind of conspiracy (and makes me extremely glad I was NOT born in Spain!)

The cutesy doesn't end there.  Young siblings are often dressed in small matching outfits, especially little girls.  Said outfits are also often extremely non-weather-appropriate (think dresses in winter) in favour of being very, very cutesy. There's usually lots of bows, pink and ruffles involved in these outfits.  Also hats, stockings, scarves and any other accessory that can be made cutesy and feminine.

The most exaggerated version of this is in the outfits for confirmation.  Spain being Catholic and all, making one's confirmation in church is still a big thing, and there are entire stores dedicated to clothing for the special day, and not just for little kids either.  While the gold-trimmed sailor outfits and pink-sashed tulle dresses are cute as a button, they're also very, VERY gender-specific, and very, very common.

On the other hand, men in Spain are far more affectionate than they are in Anglophone countries.  While men giving the traditional besitos (kisses on the cheeks) is not as common as between two women, men here hug, link arms, lie across each other, and generally do a whole slew of things that would be shouted down as "Gay!" in other countries.  I'm not just talking about grown men, either.  I see this all the time at the high school amongst teenagers, who in Australia are most notorious for being insecure in their masculinity and least likely to be physical or affectionate with one another.  So, I guess Spain's gender binary is not all bad.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Auxiliar Diaries: Getting Settled

Before my auxiliar exchange I read a zillion blogs about every aspect of the experience. Some were helpful, and some were really not! So here's my guide on how to be an auxiliar in Spain, based on my experiences.


Moving to a new country can be scary, and there's a lot of logistics to figure out in getting your new home set up. I found some things I did worked out really well for me, and others could have been better. Here's my tips for making the transition as smooth as possible.

1. Plan to arrive early
The biggest favour you can do yourself as an auxiliar is to give yourself plenty of time between arriving in Spain and school starting.  Between submitting your residency paperwork, finding somewhere to live, organising utilities, phone, and internet, outfitting your new apartment and preparing for classes, all in Spanish, you're going to want a little legroom.  I arrived in Spain two weeks before classes began, so by October 1 I had the basics of living sorted and could focus on my classes. Do yourself a good deed and don't rock up two days beforehand - allow some time.

2. Find temporary accommodation close to your school
This is less crucial if you're in a major city, though it would still be advantageous to get to know the local neighbourhood and hopefully find a room or apartment in the area, but if you're in a rural area then get yourself out there ASAP. I booked into a hostel in Granada for a week at first, thinking there was nothing closer and I could commute to Baza as needed, but I could have saved myself a lot of money and travel time had I just gone straight to Baza, and the queues at all the services I needed were shorter in a small town anyway.

3. Go old-school house hunting
I did a lot of browsing of websites, looking for apartments to rent, and ultimately I'm not sure I ever viewed any of them. It's too easy to post an online ad and then forget about it for years afterward.  The best way to find places to rent, it turns out, is paper signs tacked around town. Yes, some are dodgy, but you get plenty of local options to choose from. I found my apartment on the door of the staffroom at my school, and it's a great place with awesome neighbours!

4. Use WhatsApp to communicate
I thought I'd be clever and buy a Spanish SIM card for calls and texts to arrange apartment viewings. Truthfully, I didn't need it, and it just delayed the process when I switched to my current provider. Just download WhatsApp, connect it to your home mobile number and run it off the WiFi in your hostel or hotel. Much simpler and easier. Then, once you're settled in, look into getting that Spanish SIM.

5. Get local advice before committing to anything
Prior to arriving, I had my future phone provider all sussed out, I'd looked into the Spanish banks, and done my research into the telcos for my Internet connection as well.  That went out the window when I arrived - my landlady recommended a local company to me, who were able to build a customised phone plan for me and bundle it in with my internet, giving me exactly what I wanted for half the price of the other companies.  So ask your landlord, your school co-ordinator, your neighbours, find out which banks have great staff at the local branch, which companies have the best deals, which shops have good stock or English-speaking staff. Locals know best.

6. Befriend your school co-ordinator quickly
The first day of school will be a lot less stressful the more prepared you are. Not only can the co-ordinator gives you the local low-down and maybe even hook you up with some apartments to rent, etc., but they're the one to talk to about maps of the school, class lists (my school had ones with photos which were really helpful, so ask for those) and introducing you to the other teachers before you rock up to the classroom.

So that's it, folks - things I think you should know about moving to Spain off the top of my head!  Auxiliars, any other gems of wisdom for the newbies?  Newbies, any other moving logistics freaking you out?