A sigh of relief

Riding the bus out through the mountains surrounding San Martin, I felt nothing but a sense of relief.  It was as if my own mountain-sized burden had tumbled off my back and was left there, dust settling around it, as we rolled on homeward to Madrid.

I said my final goodbyes to the village and school yesterday.  After the books were stacked, papers and files sorted, I enjoyed one last beer with my two fellow auxiliars.  Our exit seemed perfunctory; as we walked out of the teacher’s room that last time, we laughed at the anticlimactic nature of it all.  No one gave us a second glance.

For me, it was an extremely difficult year.  Not only was I teaching an age group I was largely uncomfortable with, I felt a lack of support from many of the teachers I worked with and was disappointed by the absence of any real feedback.  Despite spending 1-2 hours a night preparing for the next days’ classes, it seemed like any effort was largely disregarded by both the students and my superiors.  I often felt I was just there to entertain and not to actually teach.  This is one of the major problems I have with the auxiliar program here in Spain.

I think overall the auxiliar program is viewed by both Spanish teachers and students as a novelty.  The majority of participants have no experience teaching which wouldn’t otherwise be a problem if the desire were there.  But I think a lot of young college grads see the program as a way to have a paid gap year and don’t put much into their role.  With that precedent set, it’s hard to establish yourself as an authority figure regardless of what you’re bringing to the table.  I was overwhelmingly discouraged by the blatant lack of respect from most of the students.  In some classes, I ended up essentially teaching only one or two of them because they were the only ones listening out of a classroom of 20.

Near the end of the year, to preserve my sanity, I ended up telling myself I wasn’t going to make so much of an effort anymore.  I did the work the teachers asked with the small groups I taught.  Then, instead of doing something creative afterward, we would play Uno.  We played a lot of Uno this past month.  However, rather than making me feel relaxed and off-the-hook, this shift caused me to suffer from some serious cognitive dissonance.  I’m not OK with being bad at my job.  I’m not OK with not making an effort.  But I was also killing myself with stress and anxiety to do a job that was giving me no returns.  The students, with the exception of a small handful, didn’t care.  My teachers didn’t seem to care.  I didn’t even know if they thought I was doing a good job.  So I made the decision to more or less give up, for lack of a less depressing explanation.

But the thing is, I like teaching.  I like designing materials, creating games, making my students laugh and seeing their progress.  I was in an atmosphere, though, where this was very hard.  The behavior and apathy was a huge hindrance to doing anything of substance.  It really made me question my future in teaching and if this is what I would encounter everywhere I went.

So after some contemplation, I wrote a post on one of the auxiliar Facebook pages.  With over 18K members, I figured at least one person might identify with my struggle to reconcile my interest in teaching with the experience of the past year and the daily dread I felt leaving the house to go to work.  As with every social media post that’s launched to a large audience, I was worried about how it would be received.  But the response was staggering and overwhelmingly positive.  Not only was I not alone in questioning my future as a teacher, I found there were others with much worse experiences.  There was also a lot of helpful feedback and words of support.  It was one of those times the internet finds a way to redeem itself.

Meeting with my yoga teacher turned friend today for lunch, we talked about the conclusion of the school year.  She, too, worked as an auxiliar while completing her Masters in Teaching.  During our conversation, I was surprised when she looked at me earnestly and told me my post had made quite an impact on people.  I was confused.  Apparently, a friend of hers brought up a post he had read and how he connected with the realness and rawness of it.  That many people gloss over their experiences as language assistants but the truth is it’s a lot less glamorous than it’s portrayed.  She realized then that he was referring to what I had written.

So with this school year finally behind me, I can begin to relax and bring my focus back to things I had seriously neglected.  No longer will I feel too sapped of energy and, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, feeling to do what I love to do and what truly reaches people.  I often take writing for granted and wrongly so, as it’s such an important outlet for me.  It’s a form of therapy.  It’s something that allows me to see the world for what it is and isn’t.

I have an exciting summer ahead of me before some big changes and decisions unfold.  For now, I’m trying to enjoy this newfound freedom and remember what it is that really moves me.

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