The day to day life of an 80% full time high school teacher includes many coffees, copy machine confusions, and a reasonable amount of relaxation. This Monday to Thursday teaching schedule is a quick peek into my day to day life as a high school teacher at IES As Lagoas.
When I am not at school, I am often teaching private lessons, working out at the gym, in a cafe working, taking a nap, or cooking. I am also having quite a bit of fun from Friday thru Sunday, but these adventures will be documented in other blog posts focused on weekend travels, experiences, and friends.
Before continuing to read about my experience as a high school teacher, there are two very important things to understand:
First, I am teaching in a secondary public institute or high school. My school contains six different grades: 1ESO, 2ESO, 3ESO, 4ESO, 1Baccalaureate, and 2Baccalaureate. These grades correspond with 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade. This current term, I am teaching English classes to 4ESO and 1Baccalaureate. I will never teach 2Baccalaureate because they spend the entire year preparing for exams to enter university. In the coming terms, I will also teach 3ESO and 2ESO in English class. Currently, I work with 2ESO and 3ESO in music classes and 4ESO in ethical values class.
Second, it is a law in Spain that a teaching assistant may never be alone with a class. During all of my lessons, I fully control the content; however, the main teacher of the class sits in the back doing other work. Technically, I am not allowed to discipline students. I would never be responsible for removing a student from the classroom or creating a punishment. I am responsible for classroom management, meaning that I keep the students respectful, focused, participating and working. So although I am not directly responsible for the students or their safety, I am still in control of the classroom and delivering all academic content.
A Week in the Life of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant
8:00 Wake Up
For breakfast, oatmeal + strawberries and a banana. I put on a casual outfit of jeans and a sweater, and I’m off to school early to make copies before class starts.
9:20 English Class with 1st Baccalaureate F (Juniors in High School) with Maria José
This is a very kind class to test out each week’s lesson plans. Every week, I choose one topic for the lecture. So far, my bilingual coordinator has selected my topics which nicely complement Fulbright Spain’s mission of teaching human rights. My topics have been:
1. Introducing Myself (1 week)
Omaha, family, University of Nebraska (Husker football & Chi Omega), undergraduate education: majors, minors, & research, my education abroad, a few of my favorite things (ice cream, dogs, friends), then the students each introduce themselves to me
2. The Second Amendment & Gun Control in the United States & Abroad (1 week)
I begin by asking students what their impression of gun violence in the United States is & how violent they feel that the United States is when compared to Spain, Europe, & the world. Then, I introduce gun control vocabulary, explain the constitution & the second amendment. I ask the students to interpret the amendment & to consider the time period and historical setting in which it was written. Following, I show the students an example of a test to acquire a fire arm. We then watch a Vox video The state of gun violence in the US, explained in 18 charts before showing the students a graph of the population of the United States compared to the number of guns. I explain my personal experience with firearms (hunting, stepfather’s weapons, friends experienced school shooting), and we watch The Guardian’s Students across US walk out of class in gun violence protest. I ask the students their opinions about having guns in schools & available within society, their opinions regarding the use of and availability of firearms in Spain & in the United States, and if they perceive that there exists a problem with gun violence in the United States. If so, how can it be solved? I also ask students if the laws regarding firearms should be the same in the United States & Spain.
3. Christopher Columbus Day vs. Indigenous Peoples’ Day Debate (1 week)
I begin by explaining Columbus Day in the United States & when/how it is observed. I ask the students how they celebrate día de la hispanidad on October 12th (also a holiday with no school)? Next, I introduce relevant vocabulary for the conversation, explain the source of controversy in the United States regarding Columbus Day, explain the history of Indigenous People’s Day, and explain the significance of Columbus Day to Italian-Americans. We then watch a TEDEd video, History vs. Christopher Columbus. The video provides and introduction for the coming debate. I divide the class in half (one side defending Columbus Day, one side defending Indigenous Peoples’ Day). Students on each side (a different student speaking each time) give an opening statement, three statements in defense, and a closing statement.
4. Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking (2 weeks) *based upon an Amnesty International lesson plan
I begin class by explaining that we will be talking about human trafficking which is a serious subject and a problem throughout every community in the world. Then, I split students into six small groups & instruct them to spend the next three minutes writing a definition for one assigned term (either child labor, bonded labor, forced labor, forced marriage, descent-based slavery, or sexual slavery). One by one, the groups present their definitions to the class and read the full correct definition from my powerpoint. I then explain the definition of human trafficking to the students, and we watch the European Commission’s video Human Trafficking – European Union Home Affairs. Next, I introduce The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The students read each right taking turns as we go student by student around the classroom. I ask the students if there are any human rights on the list that are not guaranteed in Spain, explaining that access to healthcare is not guaranteed in the United States. Depending on the class this can turn into a full discussion about corruption or will end after I call on three students. Finally, I introduce case studies about four victims of human trafficking. The students work with a partner to read their assigned case study, answer questions, and then share and discuss answers as a class when every group is finished.
5. Halloween (1 week)
I begin by asking students how they celebrate halloween in Ourense, who bought costumes and who will attend parties. We then watch the History Channel’s video Bet You Didn’t Know: Halloween | History and review halloween vocabulary. I then begin to explain my halloween experience from the United States with examples of classic & contemporary halloween costumes, an explanation of trick or treating, haunted houses, and pumpkin carving. I show examples of my past halloween costumes & explain how I normally celebrate. I then tell the students that halloween movies play every day of october on american cable television (examples being: hocus pocus, halloween town, the adams family, and the nightmare before christmas). We watch a Hocus Pocus video I Put A Spell On You, Michael Jackson’s Thriller (the shortened version), and The Monster Mash. Following these Halloween videos, I change the conversation to Day of the Dead as an important holiday in the Americas and growing to be more popular in the United States as the Latino population increases. We watch National Geographic’s video What is Day of the Dead? before I explain further what are oferendas, calaveras, and pan de los muertos. After this, we play quick game of halloween vocabulary bingo. I bring candy for everyone, and extra for the winners as we watch Ariana Grade at a Haunted House.
12:20 Meeting with Manuel
Manuel is a music teacher that I work with every week for five hours, the most of any teacher. During my meetings with Manuel, he turns on a tape recorder and reads from a music textbook. I correct any words he mispronounces and answer his questions about the significance of words. This is part of my job requirements as a teaching assistant, helping teachers to gain stronger English skills. Occasionally, we use this time so that I can write test questions in English for his bilingual music classes.
*Manuel begins a month long English course in Canada in November, and I will begin working with his substitute shortly. It is possible that I will spend less time with the music department over the coming month. The substitute is named Rafael, and he is very interested in maintaining my participation in his classes.
13:10 Meeting with Raquel
Raquel is a music teacher at IES As Lagoas, but our time together is used for Raquel to practice English in conversation with me. This is one of my favorite hours of the whole week. The conversation is unstructured, and we often end up sharing about our families, interests, current events, and she will explain anything to me that is happening at school that I do not understand. Raquel is the mother of a young girl, Kayla, and every day at 13:50 we leave school and walk to Kayla’s school so that Raquel can take her home for lunch. Raquel is trained in piano, and one of four sisters from a family of talented musicians. We discovered that I had seen her sister perform on the first day that we met. Her sister Christina Pato a famous pianist and bagpipe player from Galicia who played with Yo-Yo Ma at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln four years prior during an EN Thompson lecture. Raquel is the best, and I look forward to spending much more time with her.
On Monday’s after school, I head to Beka’s Cafe across the street from the university (University of Vigo – Ourense Campus). I order a burrito & a coffee. I then eat & work on my computer until my private english class begins 2.5 hours later. Beka’s is the midway point between my school and the home of Bruno & Martina. It is much more convenient for me to stay on this side of town instead of going home for lunch.
16:30 Private English Class with Bruno (age 4) and Martina (age 6)
At 4:30 p.m., I arrive at Ester’s apartment. She is the mother of Bruno and Martina. For 60 minutes every week, I sing, read, and encourage her children in English. So far we have learned to sing the Alphabet, Head Shoulders Knees & Toes, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Baby Bumblebee, Bingo, Hokey Pokey, I’m a Little Teapot, Itsy Bitsy Spider, If You’re Happy & You Know It, Old Macdonald had a Farm, and This Little Piggy. We have also read Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, the Lion and the Mouse, and the Ugly Ducking. Bruno is too young to focus, so most days he runs around like a tornado, shouting and banging on things randomly. Martina is too shy to talk to me. She will not answer my questions but she will read whatever I point to & repeat everything I say.
Monday evenings are for me to relax, go to the grocery store, cook dinner, go to the gym, and catch up on work.
7:00 Wake Up
This is a hard wake up call. Like always, I have oatmeal & a banana for breakfast. I put on leggings & rain boots with a sweater, and I am out the door on my 5 minute walking commute to IES As Lagoas.
8:30 English Class with 1st Baccalaureate B with Amparo
The english routine continues, I give the same lecture in every single English class during the week. This class is quiet, partially because it is earlier and partially because they do not care to talk much.
9:20 English Class with 1st Baccalaureate E with Maria José
The routine continues, except this class is chatty. I have to wait for them to be quiet longer than most other classes.
10:10 Music Class with 3rd ESO C (Freshmen in High School) with Manuel
My job in music classes is to demonstrate correct pronunciation & ask students questions about what they have just read. The Fulbright teaching assistant last year Matthew attempted to change the structure of the class & was unsuccessful. Although my role is sometimes similar to a human dictionary, as Manuel grows to trust me more, he is adding more singing and is open to me teaching lessons. After a full morning of delivering lectures and facilitating conversation, I do feel that it is nice to come to music class where there is a set routine and Manuel is in charge of the lesson. I am able to contribute how I see fit, but I am also able to sit down and feel less pressure.
*As I said before, Manuel is leaving for the next month. So it is possible that my experience in music class will change drastically.*
11:00 Break (recreo)
Recreo is a time for students and teachers to take a thirty minute break. Students can leave school (some go to the cafeteria for a snack, others go outside and smoke) or stay and spend time with friends.
Teachers go to the teachers lounge. Coffee and a snack, prepared by the cafeteria, is one euro, and every single day that I am at school at this time, I have a cup. Without the snack, I cannot survive until the end of the school day at 2:00 p.m., so I also snatch a few of whatever snack is being served. This time is great for chatting with teachers and catching up on all school current events. I normally spend time with the English, German, and music teachers because they all speak English. I definitely use Spanish at school too, but teachers are so eager to practice English with me that it has become the default.
11:30 English Class with 4th ESO B (Sophomores in High School) with Amparo
The English routine continues. This class is excited about every subject I have presented upon and cannot wait to participate telling me about their experiences and opinions.
12:20 Meeting with Javier
Javier is the ethics teacher. He has great English skills, and he uses every opportunity he has to talk to me to grow better in the language. We have one hour before ethics class to prepare, but we often get wrapped up in conversation about traveling. Javier told me that I inspired him to take his family on a vacation to Hawaii for 20 days the coming summer after telling him that I had a great time on a vacation to Maui when I was 8. When we are not chatting, I am helping his translate the ethics book from Spanish to English. I really enjoy this meeting time with Javier.
13:10 Ethics Class with 4th ESO with Javier
The students in ethics class chose the course instead of taking Catholicism, a semi political decision for sophomores in high school. It is important to know that under different conservative Spanish regimes, ethics class has not been allowed. Only recently was it re-added as a curriculum option. Additionally, students are attracted to take religion class because there is a yearly trip to Rome. So the students in ethics class actually signed up for it because they are interested in the subject. My role in this class is to help with pronunciation, lead discussion, and explain any confusing English terms and phrases. The students have a fairly high level of English and are very eager to practice as well. There are only 16 students in the class, so its one of the few times during the day when I know everyone’s name in the room.
At 2:00 p.m., I head home to eat something along the lines of eggs, pasta, salad, stir-fry…it changes everyday. Today, I had scrambled eggs, fresh bread, and some goat cheese. During this down time, I normally choose between napping or going to the gym; however, today I did neither and cleaned the whole apartment.
17:00 Private English Class with Celso (late 20s)
Celso & I meet on Tuesday evenings so that I can help him prepare for job interviews with Puma and Adidas. He is a podiatrist hoping to become a footwear designer, and he needs stronger English skills before he would be able to work for either company. He also has a Master’s in footwear design. I met Celso at an English conversation night at a cafe, along with his two close friends Maria and Will. I have been hanging out with all three friends on the weekend to go to dinner or bars. They have been very inviting, and I really enjoying spending time with them all. During class, Celso and I practice pronunciation & basic skills to gain a job like writing a cover letter, practicing interview questions, and reviewing job specific vocabulary.
In the evening, I cook dinner. I may go to the gym, or on a night like tonight, spend hours writing a new blog post.
7:00 Wake Up
Another difficult wake up call, but once I drag myself from bed three alarms later, I am up making my oatmeal + banana essential breakfast. Most days, I wear lululemon sweatpants that can pass as black dress pants to school. Wednesday’s are most definitely some of those days. I will add my black lululemon define jacket to maintain the sporty look. Point being, there seems to be no dress code at As Lagoas as long as I dress conservatively. Especially because students wear crop tops and shirts with phrases like “B!#&h Please.”
8:30 English Class with 4th ESO A with Amparo
This early morning class is often difficult. I have to give 200% to get the students to pay attention and participate with me. Additionally, they do not have strict rules for behavior in their English class because the main teacher has missed many days of school so far this year. I am always in a difficult situation when the teacher is not at school because I am not allowed to be alone with the students and have to stand in the hall looking for the teacher on guard before I can begin.
9:20 English Class with 1st Baccalaureate C with Amparo
I enjoy this class a lot because there are many bright students who are excited to participate, but we are often slowed down by the absence of the teacher. When class does begin, it is the same lecture as all other English classes.
10:10 English Class with 1st Baccalaureate D with Chus
My English routine continues. Chus has great classroom control. I very much enjoy being in her classes, plus she is really fun to chat with. She keeps me updated on any happenings with the teachers of the English department so I always know what is going on. She is also often on guard and comes to my rescue when I am waiting to begin a class until a teacher is able to supervise.
11:00 Break (recreo)
Another cafe con leche, a small snack (a small almond cookie or fresh baked apple bread if i’m lucky), and time to chat with the fellow teachers is included in every recreo.
12:20 English Class with 1st Baccalaureate A with Chus
This is the first class that I met at As Lagoas. They are extremely kind and responsive, and I know all of the students’ names. For all of these reasons, this is one of my favorite classes every week. I told these students that it is like coming home when I walk into their classroom. They always remain on their best behavior.
13:10 Music Class with 3rd ESO D/E with Manuel
Music class is always the very same structure. I read a sentence from the textbook, and a student repeats. Then I read the next sentence, and the next student repeats. At the end of class, Manuel will have the students sing one of two songs: Mary had a Little Lamb or When the Saints Go Marching In. He will usually bring up any student who plays an instrument, and the the whole class will sing along to student’s playing the electric drum set, piano, and bass guitar.
I return home, maybe grab kebab for 5 euro instead of cooking, and take a short break before teaching continues.
15:30 Private English Class with Ana Clara (age 13)
Ana Clara is my first private lesson. She is very kind and cute. Together we will work on her English homework, look through the apps on my phone (she desperately wants an iPhone but her mother says she is too young), discuss our days, or I will ask Ana for advice about where to go looking for the best dessert in Ourense. Ana Clara has already gifted me with an old hat she got for Christmas last year and has never worn and servings of rice pudding. She lives one block from me, making this the most convenient lesson of all.
17:00 Private English Class with Marta (age 9)
tbd. first class with Marta is tomorrow, october 31st.
On Wednesdays, I might try to hang out with a friend. This coming Wednesday is Halloween so I will be attending a Dracula themed party at my friend’s apartment. Often, I am very tired on Wednesday after two full days of teaching and private lessons so I will stay at home and go to sleep early.
9:00 Private English Class with Carmen (age 60)
Carmen is a retired English teacher from As Lagoas who is practicing her English and learning Italian in her free time. We meet on Thursday mornings and read articles from the New York Times and The Atlantic together. I started Carmen with the book Americanah, and she reads what she is able between each lesson. She looks up every word she does not know, and still, she is able to make it through about 15 pages, dense with metaphors, during the week. Every article we read is about race, class, or gender. Carmen is my most interesting and challenging student. Just last week, she read 15 pages of Americana , NYT The Battle for Congress Is Close. Here’s the State of the Race, and NYT Opinion by Alexander Soros: The Hate That Is Consuming Us. Additionally the week before, I assigned Ta-Nehisi Coates’ My President Was Black. The article was too long for Carmen to make it past the first section, but when we reviewed together, she really was understanding the article and the picture that it painted of Obama prior to Trump being elected president. I really enjoy teaching Carmen, and I hope that I am able to teach her a lot about the reality of race and politics throughout our classes this year.
10:10 Music Class with 2nd ESO (8th Graders) A/B with Manuel
I arrive at As Lagoas right when class begins, and I begin my job as a translator. This class continues similarly to all other music classes.
11:00 Break (recreo) meet with Bilingual Coordinator José Luis
On Thursdays, I meet with my Bilingual Coordinator José Luis during the recreo in the teacher’s lounge. We discuss possible topics for the coming week over the coffee he has bought for me. He is an immensely kind man, and I really enjoy having him as my contact and main supporter in Ourense and at As Lagoas.
11:30 Meeting with Manuel
English lessons with Manuel continue. I listen to him read straight from the textbook and occasionally correct his pronunciation. Sometimes we converse between sentences. Often we only meet for about 30 minutes, and I can have the rest of the time as an extended break before my next class.
13:10 English Class with 4th ESO D with Angela
My final English class of the week is my craziest class. There are many interesting characters in this class. They are wildly hilarious and also extremely difficult to quiet down. I have a lot of fun with this class, especially knowing that my weekend follows directly after.
Often an attempt to clean out my fridge before a weekend trip, vegetables, eggs, breads, cheeses, pesto… There is just enough time to take a short nap or clean up around the apartment.
16:30 Private English Class with Laura (age 6)
Laura is the daughter of Manuel the RELIGION teacher as As Lagoas, so I do not have class with him. Laura is very young and quiet. Last week, Manuel dropped her off at my apartment for the first time. She was very shy about talking or making eye contact. I asked her what her favorite place in Ourense is, and she told me the mall. So we headed one block over to the mall, and we went to Claire’s. I bought her a small stuffed animal cat and headbands with cat ears. Laura was very quiet the whole time, but I think next week she will be more comfortable to talk with me. Presents definitely help, plus I told her we would get ice cream.
19:30 Private English Class with Carla (age 10)
Carla is by far one of my favorite private classes of the week. She is the niece of Manuel the MUSIC teacher. We strictly converse and play games. We get along very well, and never are at a loss for what to talk about during the hour.
She is stubborn about English, because she is bright and knows that she can talk to me in Spanish, and that I will understand her. She understands most of what I say, and she responds to me in Spanish. She is excited to answer my questions and tell me creative thoughts, and it is easier for her to do so in her native language. As she talks, I will translate every work she says. I will often say “in English, please I’m begging you.” This week, Carla gave me some of her Milka Oreo chocolate bar. It is clear that our friendship is quickly progressing. Carla is absolutely hilarious, and I look forward to all time spent with her!
We already have inside jokes too. When I ask her what she will eat for dinner she always says milk and cookies after the first time when I asked her, and she gave this answer confused about my question. Second, she tells me that all she does on the weekends is study and play with her dolls alone. She will say I am going to study and play, study and play, study and study and play. When I asked her who she plays with she told me she plays alone and then pretended to wipe a tear from her cheek. She is quite inventive and thinks it is much funnier to make up silly lies!
Thursday nights are a big night to go out in Ourense. The past two weeks, I have gone to an English Conversation Nights with friends and then gone out to bars following. I never have school/work on Friday. As I continue to make more Spanish friends, I have more reason to spend Thursdays with friends.
Thank you for reading A Day in The Life of Emma the Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Spain. Please continue reading about Friday through Sunday in my upcoming blog posts about weekend excursions! Gracias & Ciao!