Having spent an unsuccessful two months meticulously editing cover letters and labouring over lengthy job applications, when I arrived in Madrid in September and flip-flopped into a language school armed only with a crumpled CV, I didn´t hold out much hope of getting an interview. As such, I was gobsmacked when after a chaotic twenty minutes I left with a job. After talking to other teachers, I soon realised that their TEFL qualifications (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) are the result of a four week residential training camp. In comparison, my seventy hour online TEFL certificate seems flimsy to say the least. Indeed, when I started the course I never anticipated that I would actually end up teaching - part of me had hoped that my half-hearted efforts to secure a position in a language school would fall flat and I would be able to retreat to the familiarity of working in an Irish pub. Instead, I have had to confront the laughable reality that I am a teacher.
In addition to being hideously underqualified, I also feel ridiculously young to be a teacher, and I quote one of my students here: “You´re not actually a teacher are you?” To say I´m learning on the job seems to be something of an understatement. After four weeks I´m still far from comfortable with blackboard, chalk and a roomful of expectant faces. Although all of the classes are exclusively in English, I have found it hard to relax into the comfort of my mother tongue, and often find myself freestyling my way through confused explanations of English grammar. Despite studying English, when it comes to explaining the idiosyncracies and foibles of a language, my knowledge fails me. Phrasal verbs have become the bane of my life. Sometimes there just is no rhyme or reason as to why things are the way things are, yet when faced blank incomprehension, the explanation, “this is an exception to the rule”, isn´t quite substantial.
My three hours of classes with children are also something of a challenge. Although gaps in my knowledge of English are less apparent, being bubbly and enthusiastic about farmyard animals at 7pm is a difinitive struggle. After a painful few weeks inflicting worksheet upon worksheet upon reluctant ten-year-olds, I have resorted to non-stop games. I´ll take games and smiles over education and frowns any day!
Grammatical improvisation and children aside, its not all been bad. I have generally been blessed with lovely, understanding, encouraging students. One invited me to the dress rehearsal of the National Orchestra of Spain, where I spent a surreal Friday morning sitting amidst the orchestra as it played Mozart´s Requiem. Another, mortified to learn that I don´t eat jamón, whisked me off to a vegetarian restaurant for a two course lunch after class. My apprehension about intensive one-on-one private classes also proved to be misplaced. I have found myself having long chats in beautiful flats with incredibly interesting people, including most recently a journalist who travels the world producing documentaries.
I am slowly coming round to the idea that teaching could be a better option than pulling pints in an Irish pub. Despite the fact that by teaching English all day my level of Spanish is remaining stubbornly low, my standard of English is coming on in leaps and bounds, and I am slowly adjusting to being the one conducting the class. In fact, now that the tables have turned on me, I keep having nostalgic pangs for university. As an unsympathetic student I would frequently criticise stilted lesson plans or boring lecturers. Now, I know I would be much more forgiving!