Not Just an Assistant

Whenever people ask me why I’m in Spain, I always say “I’m an English teacher but the real reason is to learn Spanish.” Teaching English was a logical way for me to do that. A way to find legal work in a foreign country and get to stay for a while. I was hoping I would really love teaching and therefore maybe finally have a more clear idea of what I want to do when I grow up. The reality is that my life as a Language Assistant is probably not an accurate representation of what life would be like as a full time teacher.

Because my job requires very little preparation on my part and is essentially stress-free, I haven’t thought much about whether or not I like it. I tend to show up, do what I’m asked, and go home. But something happened today that has changed this for me. Being in front of a class full of little humans, I often find myself wondering a lot about who they will become. I wonder how their lives outside of school are: do they play sports, who are their friends? And for some of them, I wonder if they live in loving, safe homes – not because I prefer these individuals over others, but because sometimes it’s clear that something is not okay. I thought these thoughts were just regular old curiosity, but today I was told that one of my students is not coming back to school due to issues at home. My heart immediately sank. I am so sad that I won’t see him again. The thing is, I had a suspicion this boy had a bad home life. He always showed up late, often fell asleep in class, and seemed to have some delays in learning. The general level of English among the students in his class is low, but he always impressed me whenever I asked him a question. He had some of the highest comprehension and speaking abilities that I have seen in comparison to his peers. I was always so pleasantly surprised by him.

I started thinking about what my job was like one year ago today. November is the height of the busy season as a Study Abroad Advisor as the students are in a mad dash to get their visas before the winter holidays and their upcoming departure. This time last year I was sending and receiving hundreds of emails a day, mostly pertaining to immigration issues and whether or not a student was going to be able to share a dorm room with their best friend in Barcelona. It never felt meaningful, probably because I never met any of the 600 or so people I was responsible for working with. This made me realize that the job I have today is really important to me. I’m not just an assistant who comes in, says some words in a language that not many of the students understand, and leaves. I’m a person working face to face with real people. I’m an adult in their lives, and maybe I can be a positive influence in a life that doesn’t have one at home. And I really care about these kids. When I think about my original intent for this year abroad, I realize that it doesn’t matter whether I do this for one year or for 40. Today I found meaning in my work, and that is immensely important to me.