The first day of school is never easy for anyone. There are so many new faces, names, and information that one can hardly keep track. Students, particularly new ones, are especially nervous to make friends, navigate their new surroundings and assimilate into the social hierarchy with the other students.
For new teachers, the nerves are much the same. But they have the added benefit of trying to navigate the politics and administrative hierarchies of their particular school. Furthermore, they have the added pressure of pretending that they know what they are doing when standing in front of the class.
But what happens when one is neither a student nor a teacher? Yet, somehow, they are expected to take on aspects of both roles--particularly the worst aspects. Add to that the joys and trials of moving to a new country and you will begin to understand the life of an English Language assistant in Spain.
Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda
After two years, I should have known to expect chaos. I should have and it coming and prepared for it. Yet, the other side of me knows that the very nature of chaos means that it is unpredictable. Therefore, there truly is no way to prepare for it. That being said, while it is true that during the past few years, I have faced more than my fair share of bedlam. But so far, this year is by far the worst.
How It Used To Was
While there are thousands of Language assistants in Spain and various different programs, I have gone about this experience in a most unique way. Usually, if people chose to in Spain, they will remain with the same program. I have chosen to change programs every year. The reasoning for this is varied and complicated, but there is one upside. It has enabled me to live in three different cities in the past three years.
Each year has come with a particularly unique set of challenges or inconveniences. In Madrid, I thought that I was roughing with an hour and a half commute to a pueblo in the middle of nowhere. This did not include all the time I spent commuting to private lessons all over the city.
In Minorca, I had the benefit of being able to walk to school. I also had a lot of time off. This should have made things easier for me. But even paradise has its downsides—especially in regards to travel. Unlike its sister island Mallorca, which has the third largest airport in Spain, during the winter, Minorca only had two flights on or off the island daily. This made traveling, one of the main points of coming to Spain, rather difficult. This makes getting off the island more than a little difficult.
Before I arrived in Valencia, I thought that I had finally found a middle ground. It seems to combine the best of both Madrid and Minorca. Like Madrid, it is a large cosmopolitan city. And like Minorca, there is a beach. What types of complaints could I possibly have?
Well, I’ll tell you. For starters, I am not teaching in Valencia. I am teaching in a pueblo 37 minutes outside of the city. This isn’t new to me. My commute resembles my previous one in Madrid. As I now only work two hours more a week than I did two years ago, I imagined that my lifestyle would be much the same. But I was wrong.
This school is not in the city of Sagunto proper. When I was first told this, I was not bothered. I told myself that I could just take the city bus to and from school from the train station. That is what I did in Madrid. In fact, this is the way everyone that I had ever known in this country commuted back and forth to school. But the efficacy of this plan predicated on there actually being a bus. To be fair to the humble little pueblo, there is a bus. But there is no city bus from town to school. In its stead is a school bus. But because we are in Spain, the bus isn’t actually run by the school.
In A Pickle
This left the other English Language assistant and me in quite a pickle. For the first two days, we were not sure whether or not there would be room for us on the buses. If there was no room on the bus, there would be no way for us to get to school. You would like that this would be an issue that the administration would be very concerned with. But, like I said, navigating the hierarchies of school politics can be especially troubling when one is neither a teacher nor a student.
You are treated with the same nonchalance that adults give to children and the same level of respect that is often reserved for teachers by society as a whole. In the end, space was found for us on the bus. But at 31 years old, I’d like to think that I am just a bit too old to be riding the school bus with children. This suspicion was confirmed by a three-year-old fellow passenger named Lola.
On the Bus
As I sat at the back of the bus, trying my best to hold onto any semblance of dignity, Lola spoke to me. Facing backward and twirling her fingers around her curly locks, she looked me up and down slowly with the judgment and shade of a drag queen ten times her age. When her gaze returned to my eyes, she finally said, “¿Cuantos años tienes?” How old are you?
But being humiliated by a three-year-old was the least of my worries. The real problem was trying to come to terms with my lack of freedom. For the previous two years, I had been lucky enough to avoid the siesta or long lunch. But my luck had run out. Not only did I have hours long breaks between some of my classes, I also had no way to leave the school and enjoy my free time. In effect, I was stuck at the school for forty hours a week but was only getting paid for 18 of them.
No fucking bueno. This was definitely not what I signed up for.