Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It's all fun and games...

Until Monday morning when you have to go to work. :/

So, what is allowing me to stay legally in this country for 10 months is a job through the Ministry of Education of Spain. I am working at two secondary 'institutos' in Valdemoro- a town about 25 minutes south of Madrid. A secondary institute is pretty much like a high school. The students range from 12 to 18 years old, and their English levels vary from absolutely no English to fluent. So as you can imagine, teaching can be quite a challenge. And everyday I am challenged. Some days, I feel rewarded by the learning exchange and understanding I help to foster. Many times the students are actually interested in what I have to say, they ask questions and maybe even learn something! Other days, I feel so exhausted and hopeless, not only with English language education, but with the entire future of the world- left in the hands of these undeserving, careless teenagers. It's an emotional roller coaster.

In resume, my day ranges from screaming at 12 year olds to stay quiet and in their seats (even if they could understand what I was saying, they wouldn't listen), to having pleasant English conversations discussing, say, politics, law, healthcare, etc. And also an hour and a half commute by bus to Valdemoro and then back again to Madrid- which 90% of the time I spend dead-to-the-world asleep.

In the beginning, I was nervous about my lack of qualification and experience teaching English as a second language. I very quickly realized that my teaching skills easily take the back burner to behavioral and classroom management skills. In a way, my short patience has helped me to control the classroom. But some days it feels hopeless. The students don't care, don't listen, and don't want to learn. Teacher burnout has completely infected both schools, and I was initially shocked at the levels of despondence from my coworkers. But my amateur judgments of my burnt-out, exhausted, and most times apathetic co-workers have been replaced with understanding, empathy and forgiveness. My eyes have been opened to the difficulties of teaching in an under-resourced school under an education system which is being disputed by all citizens of the country. (Just last week I arrived to school to find no one in the building- apparently students and teachers were striking a new set of laws passed which raised tuition and added more standardized tests nation-wide). So, in many ways, the large language and cultural barrier aside, the job is difficult.

Thankfully, I only work until 2:30pm Monday through Thursday!! At first glance, this sounds pretty awesome. It was awesome, until I started to see my money disappearing left and right- groceries, rent, utilities, transport, it is impossible to live in the city with only a part time job. So, Nacho helped me to place announcements online for individual English classes and tutoring. Because of the crisis, Spain is responding with a MAJOR push in investment in the English language. The need for native English teachers is overwhelming, and I received dozens of responses after day one of my ads- ranging from parents of three year olds to adults to companies wanting to teach business English to their workers.

So it's been a hectic few working weeks, and I am still working out the kinks in my schedule. Although my job at the schools is only part-time, energy-wise I feel as though I work overtime every week. I come home exhausted. And in a sleep-deprived stupor I shovel in a late lunch and head back out to start evening classes. Some of these are enjoyable, some are monotonously boring, pretty much depends on the student. I spend time working at different academies, and also go to peoples homes. All in all it is interesting and fun. I think once I get used to preparing for the classes and finding where they are, it will become even more enjoyable. I will get used to my schedule and it will become easier.

Slowly but surely I am making my way in the city- earning my stay and learning how to get around. I spend about 5 hours a day commuting on buses, trains and the metro- so I've been reading a lot (when I'm not shamelessly asleep)! In all honesty, many days I feel as though I am just keeping my head above water. I come home around 9pm to have dinner, and then I have to prepare for my classes for the next day. Any any free time I have I try to spend absorbing the amazing opportunities I have outside my door and spending time with Nacho and his family and friends. It's a lot, but it's amazing and fun.
The CaixaForum Vertical Garden

I am happy to be challenged everyday, and I am happy to be busy and with a lot of opportunity to earn my stay. And without Nacho's support and help every step of the way I wouldn't be able to do any of it. Thanks for reading my complain-y work post- I will try not to make too many of this kind. :) XOXO to my family back home!


  1. Wow, Erin, it appears you have many challenges, and it is disheartening to hear about the apathetic attitude that seems rife in the student body. Don't the parents follow through at home with anything? The administration doesn't back you up at all? I would last about a week in your shoes before I had somebody by the throat against a blackboard.
    But Madrid must be an interesting city with a lot to see and do, even if it is currently on a shoestring budget. And Nacho is your local support team, which is so important, and your family back in the States all send love and energy your way. I have been spending 4.5 hours a day commuting, and that adds up to about 3 1/4 YEARS of my life spent on various modes of commuting. As a Florio would say,"Ooooofah....." If you get really fed up, La Casa Flanagan tiene dos dormitorios flanagan adicionales para usted para elegir! Hang in there, we love you.


  2. Hello Erin,
    I enjoyed reading your blog entry for October 30. You never know what a difference you are making in the life of a young person - especially the ones who don't seem to care! I am sorry I don't really have concrete suggestions for you to be able to make teenagers listen, participate, and excel in English, but what I do know is that you need an inner conviction that you can and are impacting them in ways that are hard to measure. You know the proverb you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Stay the course, don't let an apathetic teenage attitude bring you down, and most importantly fill your well.
    Enjoy Spain and your new love!
    Tracy Burns
    Mystic, Connecticut