“-Miss, how did you get so good at Spanish? +Well, maybe because I’m the Spanish assistant.” After having had that conversation about a hundred times, I think that the pupils at my school now know who I am and what I’m doing here. It’s your turn!
When I finished high school, I didn’t know what to do with my life. Really. Not a clue. But then I realized I loved languages (especially English) so…I chose English Philology. Then I spent the next four years telling myself I didn’t want to become a teacher because I didn’t like teaching at all (or that was what I thought) but after giving some private English lessons (money doesn’t grow on trees, I had to do something to get it) I found out that I actually enjoyed it quite a lot.
That’s why, when I saw an offer for an assistant position at the Royal Hospital School, a boarding school an hour away from London, on the Eastern coast of England, I decided to apply for it, and…here I am! My job is basically to give speaking lessons to the students in Year 12 and 13 (Primero y Segundo de Bachillerato), but I also have to talk to small groups of pupils from all the other year groups. Oh, and I forgot to tell you; my name is Elena, but the students here call me “Miss Blanco” because they are not allowed to call their teachers by their name.
Since it’s a boarding school, everything here is a bit different. Apart from giving lessons, every teacher here has some duties at the boarding houses. If you don’t know what a boarding house is, just think about how the most famous boarding school in the world is divided into four houses… Yes, I’m talking about Hogwarts, and it’s basically the same here. Except for the magic, unfortunately.
Train to Hogwarts
The school has 10 houses. One of the things I like the most here is that, like in Harry Potter, I can give and take points from each house to punish or reward the pupils. There’s not a real house tournament and they just get Amazon vouchers at the end of the year if they have enough points, but I still like the system a lot.
I don’t often take points away, because students here are very polite. That’s another thing that I like, and it surprised me a lot, because, let’s be honest, my class wasn’t known for its good behaviour while I was at high school. These pupils greet me with a “Hi Miss” every time they see me around the school, open the door for me whenever they see me, and even thank me after finishing every lesson! Even if I have been torturing them with grammar for an hour, they still say “thank you, miss” before they walk away from the class.
I also love the fact that the school is very international. I have pupils from Germany, Italy, China, Russia, South Africa… Seeing how each of them learns Spanish in a different way is a very interesting experience, and apart from teaching them, I can also learn things from their cultures. It’s also very challenging, because some of them are here to improve their English, so imagine having to teach Spanish to someone who doesn’t know the language at all and is not really good at English either!
Another thing that I like is the importance given to languages here. There are two other assistants, French and German, because the school considers it very important for students to learn the language directly from natives.
The other assistants and me with the school behind us…Nope, the blonde one is not German…surprise!
Talking about languages, one of the things that surprised me the most is the way languages are taught. They put a lot of emphasis into speaking and actually practising the language, so British kids don’t really know anything about grammar (think about how much you hate analysing sentences in Spanish…they don’t know how to do that in their own language). They don’t even know how to distinguish verbs from adjectives, nouns…etc. That’s why it’s really complicated for them to fully understand how a different language works.
However, even though it’s really hard for them to learn a foreign language, people who choose to become language teachers have to know two foreign languages and be able to teach both of them. This was very surprising to me because in Spain teachers normally teach only one.
Since the educational system is very different, I was also amazed by the amount of work that pupils in Year 12 and 13 have. Here, they only have to choose three subjects for Year 12 and 13! Three subjects! Only three! And they still complain! I would love to see them studying in Spain… I still remember struggling to survive during Bachillerato as I had a lot more than three subjects!
It was a bit hard to get used to the life here at the beginning, but even though I miss the Spanish sun (do you think Valladolid is not really sunny? Live in England for a while and you’ll think twice about it) I really like this place and the relationship I have with my pupils.