A Glimpse Inside My Classroom

In thinking about leaving education and trying something different, I sometimes think that teaching may really be my thing. After all, I love kids, adore the ones I’m teaching this year,and feel good when I plan a fun unit and my kids laugh in the classroom (who wouldn’t show Kip’s Wedding Song from Napoleon Dynamite to teach “I love” in the classroom?).

For the record, I teach full-time at a bilingual elementary school. This kind of thing is de moda in Spain these days, and this is why I’ll have a job speaking English until the day I die, if I so choose. It’s both a blessing and a curse, as it also limits what people think I’m qualified for. So, I spend my daily grind speaking shouting over two groups of rowdy but adorable six- and seven-year-olds. They get half of their curriculum in English, so I divide my team between English, Science, PE, Art, Music, Math review and sometimes Values. Two classes, totalling 44 students, are at my cargo, so when one group of 22 is with me, the other group is with the Spanish teacher, ane vice-versa. It’s a good set-up when the kids actually remember to take all of their school supplies and books and bags and jackets during our once-daily switch.

I’ve had experience writing curriculum since my second year as an auxiliar de conversacón, and I have a TEFL certificate. In a language classroom, classes should be dynamic, with lots of recycling (asking students to reproduce material they learned earlier in the year, or even in earlier courses) and with plenty of motivation. Stickers, candy, or watching a video in English work wonders with young learners, and a daily question-and-answer with my high schoolers was always fun (if not revealing).

It also helps to have oodles of materials. As we all know, a student of any subject can learn in a multitude of ways, so I try and have plenty on hand to help my niñitos learn. The basis of my curriculum is a series of books for nearly every subject I teach, with the exception of PE and Values. Though I didn’t pick out the books when they were chosen, I have come to enjoy the methodology and have fun teaching them. For English, I use Kid’s Box 2 (Cambridge, ISBN ISBN-13: 9780521688079), which is packed with fun illustrations, plenty of filler and warmer activities, catchy songs and lots of photocopiable materials for me, the T. Science is MacMillian Natural and Social Science 1 (MacMillan, http://www.macmillanelt.es/Macmillan-Natural.2396.0.html), which I liked for its objectives and beautiful presentation in the book. A solid curriculum that focuses on oral and listening skills can make all the difference in grasping the concepts laid down by the school.

I also try to have a lot of visual cues around the room, though we can’t put anything on the walls. I use both doors, windows, the three cork boards and even my desk to display student work, prepositions, there is/there are and a character wall for my students to get an easy, visual reminder of tricky structures and concepts we’ve worked on this year.

My first graders are learning some basics of reading and writing in English, so we’re using the book Chicka Chicka Boom boom to review letters, and have a weekly spelling bee to reinforce letter names (again, recycling is important in young learners).

Each week, one student is asked to present the letter (in this case, J), and read three words we’ve learned with this letter. They’re a little more graduated in Spanish and refuse to believe there is no Ñ in English, but it’s helping them to learn that you don’t always read what you see. J and G are confused, Y seems like a foreign concept, and water is always spelled g-u-a-d-e-r to them, but we’re getting there.

I’m also trying to focus on using the English they know, similar to bit of intelligences. Please don’t tell me, seño, no tengo lápiz. You know the structure have not got, the word for pencil, and the first person, just the same as you know to say can+I+have. I flat out ignore kids who ask to go to the toilet in Spanish, which motivates them to use a few palabras sueltas. I also have a chart in the room for each class that tracks the oral English they use in class. Ask for scissors in English? One tick for you. After 15, they get a sticker page, and each month will have a small prize for the student with the most points. I did this with tickets for behavior during the first five months of the year to reinforce good behavior and being a good classmate (Spanish kids seem to be very selfish with their colors and erasers). My name is at the bottom of the list for the kids to police me speaking in Spanish.

The above activity I stole from Forenex, the Summer camps I work for. After listening to a story about animals, kids had to draw an invented animal and then describe it, thus recycling everything to body parts to how animals move to colors. I was pleasantly surprised at their enthusiasm and accuracy in describing them.

Though our values subject has kind of been thrown out the window, I’m taking the opportunity to talk about a different value every month. From respect to tidiness to cooperation, we do a small activity or read a book and have a short discussion about them. I used a house as the example, and that each one of us is a house. Which bricks do you choose? Greed and anger, or discipline and forgiveness? This visual reminder is right next to the board, so a simple finger point at sharing tells kids non-verbally that they have to share their rubbers and not distract the class by arguing.

Please don’t think this classroom is a tranquil haven for a frazzled teacher and her rambunctious students. I have my daily “hasta aquí” moments where I lose my patience and I sometimes slip into Spanish. I’m behind in curriculums and rarely have everything neat and organized. I should be at least on letter P by now. But it’s a fun environment that encourages speaking up and learning by moving and playing, which can make all the difference.

Please share any tips and tricks in the comments below, or ask any questions. As a five-year vet and teacher trainer, I know a couple of things about teaching at nearly every level, but I definitely am glad I did  a TEFL degree to help me with classroom management and lesson planning.

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Any tips on how to motivate ESO students who don’t care about grades and go crazy (uncontrollable) whenever you try to play a game? I’m an auxiliar with a teacher who isn’t even in class with me half the time (or if she is, doesn’t seem to pay attention). Their level is super low and bilingual subjects are proving to be a real challenge ….

    • Thanks, lady!

      I, too, had classrooms like this. At the beginning of the year, I would give them a piece of paper to write down a question they wanted to ask me. I would use the final five minutes of class to let them practice their questions on me. We got to know one another on a much different level.

      I also asked them to tell me their interests, and tried to plan my classes accordingly. Songs, games, asking girls on dates and pick up lines – anything that was fun and communicative. I found Bachillerato classes were the hardest to teach, so we did a lot of mock and role plays – a court case on plagurism, a debate on euthanasia.v

      Also, and I should blog about it, we worked on a living English village. Every month, we’d prepare a different dialogue that was useful for travel – doctor, customs, shops, etc. – and then dedicated a day to having them come in groups and practice with friends. It was part of their speaking grade monthly, and ended up being a good way to motivate them.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Love your blog btw

  3. Kirsten says:

    Just the normal school life, we all love and hate at the same time!! But when you enjoy teaching and do it in the best possible way, the kids will love it and learn!! And knowing you, your kids are blessed!! SO, HANG IN THERE!!
    P.S. I would love to hear more about your funny surviving-stories with the little sevillanitas y sevillanitos 😉

  4. Cute post! I miss teaching and my students :( and I love the creative spelling for English words lol

  5. Jessica Alcorn says:

    So jealous you have your own classroom! I want to apply “walls talk” like activities but its hard when I change classes every hour. However, Forenex helped me immensely in prepping for my classes this year and coming with creative ways for kids to communicate. Its great to see your classroom though it looks awesome!!

  6. David D says:

    Hi! I have been reading your blog since the fall when I started thinking about applying for the auxiliaries program.

    I’m seriously considering taking a year off from school to do this program. But, after this spring I will only have one more year left! Can you offer me any words of wisdom?

    Everyone is telling me to finish school first, but my heart is telling me the opposite. I studied in Salamanca last summer and fell in love with Spain. I can’t wait… I think a year of experience could help me see if this is really what I want to do.

    I’m a Spanish Major and will have a tesol certificate after this spring. I would love to teach EFL as my career. I’ve also considered going into secondary ed in the US (if I ever come back) and teaching Spanish, but I don’t anticipate myself being proficient enough to teach it once I graduate without some more time abroad.

    awww!! what should I do?

    • Hey David, thanks for reading!

      As far as I know, if you’re American, you do need to have a degree before starting the program. BUT! Apply early for next year after you graduate. I did the program for three years in Seville and had an overwhelmingly positive experience, but there are other whose schools aren’t prepared for a native assistant, or they didn’t get paid for months. And Spain’s unemployment is making it tough for Americans to work (apart from the auxiliar business). I’m kinda married, so that was easily taken care of for me.

      As for coming back for a short time, you could study abroad again or come for a J-term, or try volunteering or taeching at a summer camp in Spain or Central America. There are likely additional opportunities in your community. Do keep in mind that, while the need is there, pay in Spain is very low. Southeast Asian schools are willing to pay a lot more, like stipends for air travel and housing. Blogs like Boggel’s World and Dave’s ESL Café have good job postings sections.

      Although I vote Spain. Don’t let these responses through you off, but do some thinking to make sure it’s the best option for you!

  7. Melissa says:

    I love your classroom too! I’m a Special Ed teacher and I co-teach Kindergarten on Maui with a girl that did a Boom Chick a Boom Boom coconut tree with colored dot stickers for each letter that each kid learned so by now almost all of the kids have a tree with 26 dots.

    You said you have an EFL certificate – I was wondering what kind? Or where/how did you get it? I’m looking into different programs in the States and abroad – not sure the best aproach?

    • Gah, sorry, long weekend and long week!

      I did my TEFL course thru i-to-i TEFL, based out of the UK. It was about $400 for a 20-hr weekend course and a 40-hr conline course. While I’m no expert, I came into the teaching English think quite blind. What do you want to do with the degree in the end? Stay in the US? Move abroad?

      Let me know, and perhaps I can be of more help!

      • I applied to the North American Language and Cultural Asst program and am looking into other teaching abroad programs – I guess the answer is that for now, I want to go to teach English in Spain but I was wondering if I should take the more expensive CELTA course or an online TEFL class?

        I’m a SPED teacher in Hawaii, but not sure what I want to do when (if?) I come back from Spain – maybe teach ESL or Spanish – so that’s different American degree stuff.

      • For merely teaching in Spain, I wouldn’t do anything but wait and see how it goes! The program has absolutely no consistency with experiences. I was happy to be fully apart of the program in my assigned school – I taught class, gave oral exams, planned excursions and wrote curriculum – so I knew I wanted to stay and keep teaching.

        If you decide to stay and teach in an academy, you’ll likely need a CELTA or, at the very least, a TEFL. From a couple have friends who have done the CELTA here in Seville, it’s intense and usually a month long. If it were me, I would wait to get my bearings in Spain first and then assess what I needed in order to continue.

        Kee`p in mind that you can renew the auxiliar beca for two years, and then keep renewing thru the BEDA program in Madrid, which is the same, but in Catholic schools. I switched to a private school out of luck, but I’m working twice as much for the same pay. Spain, in the end, is not so lucrative. If you’re planning on staying…that’s another story! I got my visa thru a civil union, which allows me to work and pay taxes and kind of be a normal person here.

        Also, if you decide Spain isn’t for you and want to work in the US as an ESL teacher, I would try and get as much experience here as you can. Summer camps, academy work (for which you will likely need a TEFL in bigger cities). You might want to talk to an ESL professional to see what kind of degree they needed, as I’ve only ever had a real job in Spain!

        Hope this helps, Melissa!

      • Yes, Thank you so much! I’ve just been a little overwhelmed trying to do research online and everyone has a different story or opinion – of course based on their experiences!

  8. If I am accepted I plan to do the N. Amer. culture assistant program this October; however, I would be interested in working as a full-time teacher in Spain in the future. I am will graduate in May with a degree in English and a minor in Hispanic Studies (Spanish); would I be qualified to do so? I am taking a TESL class at my college now but it doesn’t provide a certificate; should I take a basic online course? I cannot really afford to take the $1000 Cambridge course (or would prefer not to pay so much). What steps did you take to teach at the bilingual school?

    • I actually didn’t study to be a teacher, rather a journalist! I came for a year as an auxiliar, stayed for a second and came for a third. The experience I got in my school was unparalleled, as I was really part of the process in taking the school from Year 0 to bilingual. Additionally, I got a TEFL and worked at summer camps and gave private lessons. The job at the bilingual school was pure luck.

      Why don’t you email me so we can talk a bit more at length? catherinegaaa @ gmail. com (no spaces)

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