Welcome to the second part of my three-part interview with Ali Pelczar. As I’ve gotten to know Ali, I have really come to appreciate what a good friend she is. She is insightful, caring, and up for almost anything (we are going to tackle camping in Iceland together relatively soon!). She is probably going to go on to get her master’s degree next year, but it’s not goodbye for several more months to come (no crying… yet!). If you remember from her first interview, she is a repeat auxiliar this year.
We both work in non-bilingual schools yet we have had different experiences. Usually, I work in the classroom alongside the teacher in a team-like approach. It seems that she works outside of the class quite often, focusing on smaller groups of students at one time.
We both also used to work for Vipkid, an online English teaching platform for Chinese students, but Ali is no longer about that life. She is moving onward and upward and I will let you read on as she elaborates on her answers in response to my questions.
What is a typical day at your school like?
“My school’s hours are from 8:30 to 2:10 with six class periods. There’s a twenty-minute break in the middle (recreo). I usually only have four classes each day, so I can come later or leave earlier. For most classes, I take six students to another room. We do speaking activities, work on oral presentations, and play English games. During recreo and when I have a free period, I usually hang out in the teacher’s room with a book or plan my private lessons.”
How many people do you work with (auxiliaries included)? How many classes do you teach?
“I work with all six English teachers at my school and I teach a total of 15 classes a week. I am the only auxiliar at my school.”
Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?
“I have good relationships with all the English teachers. I worked with three of them last year as well, so I know what to expect from them. They all do a great job providing me with activities or telling me in advance if they want me to prepare something. I feel that they utilize my presence and time well. The other three are all newer teachers and with them, I’m more active in suggesting activities or figuring out my own.”
Are you forming bonds with students teaching at a non-bilingual school?
“Because I’m the only auxiliar, I only see each of my 15 classes once a week – that makes for a lot of students. Some of them, particularly those I had last year as well, I have gotten to know better. I don’t think I have a particularly strong bond with any of the students, though.”
Does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships inside and outside the classroom?
“Again, my time with each student is so limited that this is difficult for me. I don’t interact with students outside of class unless they’re shouting a greeting to me in the hallway. When I am working with any group of students, though, I try to make up for this by giving them all of my attention and effort for that hour.”
What is your favorite part of the day? Why?
“Every day is so different, depending on the grounds I have, that this is difficult to answer. My favorite part of the week is a class of 2nd bachillerato. The class is called amplicación and it’s a small class that the students take in addition to their normal English class, in order to practice speaking and listening more. The small class size and age of the students, combined with their greater motivation to learn and practice the language, makes for a great environment. All of the students truly want to have meaningful conversations with me and with each other, and they are capable of doing so.”
How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?
“I am almost never in the classroom with the entire class, so it’s difficult for me to talk about methods. From what I’ve seen, it seems that the classes rely heavily on the textbook and workbook, particularly in younger classes that don’t have the language to do less structured activities. The students do a lot of the exercises in the book and teachers rely on it heavily during class time.
Their time with me is their opportunity to do speaking activities. We cycle through the class list alphabetically to create the groups of six that come with me, so all the students have a chance to practice. The teachers often ask me to do the speaking activities from the current unit and the students will practice speaking in pairs or prepare dialogues to read. For example, in a unit about comparative adjectives, they may simulate choosing a holiday destination from among a few options. Sometimes, we will do the reading activities in their textbook. With such a small group, I can have each student read a section and I ask lots of questions to ensure that they understand the text. I supplement these activities with short grammar reviews, games to practice vocabulary, and anything else I see a need for.”
How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?
“I only prepare lessons for holidays such as Thanksgiving. Sometimes the teacher asks me to prepare a presentation about something else, such as education in the United States, which is very rare. I have copies of the students’ textbook so I can prepare by glancing at what sort of topics they’re currently learning. There is a lot of improvisation as well since the teachers usually don’t tell me in advance what to do – they often hand me an activity or worksheet as I’m walking out with that week’s group.”
Do you work at a bilingual school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the community of Ciempozuelos?
“I do not work at a bilingual school. This means that I’m only assisting English language classes, that is, classes where the only subject matter is the English language.”
What standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?
“Classroom teachers use written exams to measure their students. Their speaking mark usually comes from a short oral presentation that students give each term. Participation and behavior, including during their sessions with me, are also a component of their final mark.”
Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?
“If there is a written list or something similar, it has never been shared with me. Each teacher has their own style and methods. One encourages students to develop general public speaking and communication skills. For example, before the students prepared oral presentations, I gave a lesson about effective presentation skills. The other teachers focus more on traditional language instruction. Very few students plan to take official English exams such as the PET, so exam preparation is not part of the curriculum.”
Looking back at our first Teach Abroad series interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain and/or Europe both in the classroom and out of the classroom?
“In the classroom: If you’d asked me this question a year ago, when I was in my first year as an auxiliar, it would have been a lot. My first few months were a huge learning curve for me. This was because I didn’t have any teaching experience when I started. In the first trimester of this year, I’ve continued to grow as a teacher. I’m more comfortable using redirection and other classroom management techniques. I’ve never liked the idea of being the “shouty” teacher. Luckily, I’ve discovered that I don’t need to be that way in order to control my classroom. In general, teaching has shown me that I have a great capacity for patience, or at least I’ve developed one. It’s something that I’m very proud of. No matter how trying a class can be, I always strive to let this experience bring out the best in me.
Outside the classroom: Last year, I was very focused on traveling to as many places as possible, and sometimes it felt that I was checking experiences off a list. In the past few months, I’ve moved away from that mindset. I’m learning to value relationships more, both with people and with places. I’ve learned more about what is important to me in a job and in my daily life. Again, if you stretch this question back to a year ago, this includes so much. In my year and a half in Spain, I have learned so much about being independent, traveling, maintaining my mental health, and managing relationships. I’m really excited to see what comes next.”
Wrap Up on Teaching at a Non-Bilingual School with Ali Pelczar
I, too, am excited to see what comes next for Ali. I appreciate the friendship that we’ve developed together. Wherever she goes and whatever she does, she will always have me watching from afar, cheering her on. I really admire her for striving to adopt a non-shouting strategy. It is a tall order as every educator knows. It’s cool to watch others do well and exceed in life. I continue to wish her the best. In a few months, we will be getting a glimpse as this chapter closes and another one opens. Tune in again around June-ish to see where life is officially taking her.