Thursday, 24 October 2013

Being an English Language Assistant (ELA)

At the moment I am working in social science classes (Geography and History) and English classes for a variety of ages. The social science classes are taught in Spanish, but the textbooks are in English because the school is multilingual. In these classes I read the textbook aloud for the pupils to hear the correct pronunciation and help them with any words they don't understand. As the lesson is taught Spanish I do struggle to understand sometimes, but the pupils speak English very well as most of them have been learning it since they were three years old. The majority of pupils seem very well behaved, especially compared to the UK, although I was told that I have been put into the higher level classes, which tend to have the best behaviour and that bad behaviour does exist within the school. I am hoping that as the lessons progress perhaps I may be able to organise some activities for these classes, because as a student of International Development Studies I feel that I have a fairly good knowledge of these subjects.

When I tell people what I am studying, most people don't know what it is and for some reason jump to the conclusion that I study Business, which is almost the opposite of what I actually study. International Development is the study of the development of greater quality of life for humans, particularly those in third world countries. This therefore includes foreign aid, governance, health care, education, poverty reduction, gender equality, disaster preparedness, infrastructure, economics, human rights, environment and issues associated with these. I believe the majority of businesses are solely profit orientated, whereas International Development is people orientated and critiques businesses for being profit orientated and consequently lacking corporate social responsibility.

I only teach social science classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and I always look forward to Wednesdays, when I also teach English. The teachers in the English classes have allowed me to plan and conduct my own lessons, which felt very daunting. However, through planning thoroughly and trying to organise a variety of activities to keep the pupils focused throughout the lesson, I haven't been too nervous and the lessons seem to go by really quickly. For example, I start with a summary worksheet about the topic, follow up with an individual worksheet such as filling the gaps or crosswords and finish with a group activity such as giving each pupil a piece of paper with a question or answer and they have to find their matching pair. One of my colleagues said she has been teacher training for 6 years and has never seen someone make their own worksheets! However, organising this for each class is very time consuming and I can understand why teachers wouldn't do this very often.

I am learning how incredibly frustrating it is when you've spent a long time trying to prepare a lesson that is both fun and effective for their learning and the pupils in the class can't be bothered to do the activity or start doing homework for another class in your lesson, both of which have happened to me. I must say that generally most pupils engage and seem to enjoy my lessons. However, Jack, the other English Language Assistant (ELA) at my school seems to have gotten himself a fan club of teenage pupils who demand for him in every class and ask me for his personal contact details!

The sizes of the classes in which I teach vary, the smallest being around 20 pupils and the biggest 36 pupils. I couldn't believe it when I walked into the classroom and saw 36 pairs of eyes looking back at me. The room was so full of desks that its almost impossible to get to the blackboard and even more impossible to try and keep an orderly classroom! Today some of the teachers have gone on strike and when I asked why, I was told the Spanish government are planning cuts in education due to its budget deficit and with Melilla only having 127 teachers and classes as big as 36, I can understand why people would want to strike.

There is a British centre and an adult learning centre in Melilla and English is probably one of the most popular languages to learn, therefore there are many English teachers. Whilst socialising with some of the other ELAs I have met some other teachers who are native speakers of English and after hearing how well they have picked up Spanish here, I am hopeful that I will be able to do the same. One of the teachers at the school has asked if I want to do adult English classes outside of school, which would give me the opportunity to obtain another perspective of teaching and earn myself some extra money. I am already doing private classes for 2 adults and two 7 year old twins and its interesting to see the different ways in which people want to be taught. Someone people just like to sit and have a conversation and others like to use books and study grammar (although I can't really say that I know much about the complexities of the grammar of my native language!)

I definitely know that I want my future career to contribute to society, improve the world's quality of life and challenge people's thoughts, but at the moment I don't feel that I can be more specific than that. I've really enjoyed my teaching experience so far, so maybe that could be the answer.

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