RealJobs: Ellen Willemin

The decision to live and work in Spain after college was not a difficult one to make. My May 2011 commencement was fast approaching when I got the acceptance email in April to be a language assistant, or “Auxiliar de Conversación,” in Madrid for the 2011-2012 academic year. I called my parents, thought it through, and later that night I had concrete post-grad plans. Phew!

The Auxiliares de Conversación program is effectively a year-long paid grant by which the Spanish government brings native English-speakers into classrooms to bolster its bilingual education program. Our duties include helping students with activities, planning lessons or a fun activity a few times per week, and never speaking to the students in Spanish—in fact, ideally, they won’t even know that we speak Spanish at all! Our duties do not include the more official teacher things—planning a curriculum, grading, and disciplining the students. There is a certified teacher in the classroom with us at all times, which takes the pressure off, so the program is a great way to get hands-on teaching experience for those of us who aren’t yet certified.

Though schedules vary from school to school, I work every Monday through Thursday for the entire school day, 9:30AM-4:30PM, at an elementary school in Majadahonda, a pleasant suburb about 20 minutes outside of Madrid. This includes a half-hour coffee break at 11:30 and a two-hour lunch break from 1-3PM. Wait, two hours for lunch??? You read correctly! Though it may seem like a long time, this is the quickest two hours of my day. I spend an hour or so planning activities for my classes at school or for my private English classes, then eat lunch, and before I can finish my coffee, the music is playing again, signaling the start of class.

Every day after school, I proceed to teach private English classes, which start between 5-5:30PM. Teaching an English class at school and teaching a private one-on-one class are two completely different things, both of which I love. In school, I stick to the curriculum and make things fun by adding a game of “Around the World,” or “Jeopardy” for review the day before a test. In my private classes, I am the only teacher, and can therefore decide what sorts of things I want to study with my students, and how to go about studying them. I prepare grammar activities and speaking exercises to practice new sentence constructions, and use articles and videos to stimulate discussions.

I work with three other Auxiliares in my school, and the Spanish teachers and administrators that work with us are endlessly helpful and caring. The perks are great too—I have Fridays off, and I am in Spain! Speaking of which, it’s Thursday evening, and tomorrow morning I am leaving to spend the weekend in Salamanca, Spain’s biggest university town, for a friend’s birthday. ¡Hasta pronto!



2 responses to “RealJobs: Ellen Willemin

  1. This sounds awesome, Ellen! How did you find this opportunity? I’m an English and Hispanic Studies double major as well, and I would love to do something like this when I graduate! Do you know if you’re going to stay abroad next year or move back to the US?

  2. Hi Meg! Groovy that you have the same double major, there aren’t a lot of us. I found it because the girl who ran the Casa Hispánica last year turned me onto it, so I googled it and eventually applied. It is a really fun and neat experience for a year. Though I don’t think I will be over here next year, it has been and continues to be a lot of fun!

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