Week 1: A Kid with Asperger’s Threatened to Kill Me

Last Thursday I came to the end of my first week working as an English Language Assistant in a Madrid primary school, and I LOVED it. The first thing that struck me was how much we’re getting paid for the amount of time we actually spend working. My friends and I figured out that it works at around 15€ an hour which is more than the proper teachers and we work less! (But of course they’ll still earn more than we do because they work way more.) My school is part of the Comunidad de Madrid’s bilingual programme which means that they are permitted to teach certain subjects in English (except for Maths and another which I can’t remember) as well as teaching English classes. At my school these subjects are Science and Art and I have to say I’m really impressed. Some other assistants I know have been placed in pretty rough schools but I’ve been fortunate enough to have been placed in a really good school with well-behaved kids (even if it is a bit of a commute in the mornings!) I’ve been really impressed by the kids’ level of English. They´re aged 5/6/7 years old and already they´re level of English is way ahead of the foreign language skills of 12 year olds in the UK. Doubly impressive is the crazily high level of Science that they´re studying AND doing it in English. I’m telling you, back in the UK we have problems my friend!

As an English Language Assistant in a Madrid primary school I am expected to teach for 16 hours a week. I really hit the jackpot with the whole situation because when I applied for the programme in Spain I didn’t specify a preferred region. Now over here the monthly allowance for an assistant is 700€ which doesn’t even include student loans, bursaries or Erasmus grants – KERCHING! In the Comunidad de Madrid, if you work in a primary school the allowance gets bumped up to a beautiful 1000€ a month. (Muchas gracias España, I know you’re broke and I really appreciate the cash.) In class I pretty much do what it says on the tin – I assist. Most of the time myself and the teachers I’m working with share responsibility of the class taking it in turns to explain and check work, lead activities and teach new vocabulary. This is how it is supposed to be and the ELA should never be sat at the back of the class uninvolved, nor should they be left unattended to teach entire lessons (except for in exceptional circumstances or emergencies).

My first week was really fun and all the children and staff here are lovely. In the class that I work with the most there is a boy with Aspegers. Most of the time he´s no trouble at all and works like all the other kids. However occasionally he can get loud and aggressive and this particular occasion was my first day – yay… In the middle of an English lesson when he didn’t understand what was asked of him he became very loud, unsettled and eventually violent. He tried to punch another child in the class, a girl, and then threatened to kill us all. A snapshot of the year to come? I hope not. Besides he´s been pretty decently behaved since that intial outburst and I’m learning how to talk to and deal with children such as himself. On my third day at the school came more drama. A girl, who I had presumed to be sweet and well-behaved on account of her quiet and shy demeanor, decided it was her turn to kick off. What we perceive as adults to be minor problems are major issues when you’re six or seven years old and falling out with friends is the king of them all (closely followed by what you’re going to have for tea when you get home from school and how you can avoid eating your vegetables). To cut a long story short this girl wanted to play with one girl and not another and tried to rip a full-sized blackboard off the wall to hit them with. A slight overreaction I feel. She began to hit and kick other children and teachers and eventually had to be locked alone in an office for her own safety whilst her mum was called.

Other than these two isolated incidents my first week was really great! The kids are fantastic (believe it or not) and because the school is quite small I’ve settled in very quickly and almost know all the names of the other members of staff and about half of the children’s names. My working hours are fantastic! I work 10-2 on Mondays and Thursdays, 9-2 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and we get a 30mins break from 11:45-12:15 where we have breakfast and I get to practise my Spanish in the staff room. Most assistants I know work until 4/4:30 and have a 2hr lunch break during siesta, but I much prefer it my way as I get loads of spare time in the afternoons and evenings to do whatever – finish uni work, teach private classes, take naps, go shopping or fly home early for Christmas! :)

This week was less exciting work-wise, although I have started to gain more independence and have been creating posters for the classrooms to encourage the kids to ask more questions in English. On Sunday I went to an Irish pub to watch El Clásico (when Real Madrid play Barcelona) which ended disappointingly in a draw. My flatmate and I also took a trip Ikea to stock up on blankets for the winter which still seems so far from arriving (not complaining!) and spent a significant portion of the visit trying on lion hats. On Wednesday Lena, Rachael (one of our other vegetarian friends) took a trip to vegan restaurant as part of our attempt to try all of the vegetarian restaurants in Madrid before the year is up. I have to admit that I wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic about it and I kind of expected it to be a menu of boiled cabbage, but I was very pleasantly surprised! The menu was so creative and full of old favourites such as burrito, spaghetti bolognese, curry, “ham”burgers and loads of other delicious meals all done in a vegan-friendly way which sometimes involved soya and seitan. I had seitan balls with rice, poppy seeds and fried diced vegetables and it was yummy yummy yummy!

Yesterday, after meeting my friend from the airport, I took my first trip over to Alcalá de Henares which is small city about 40 mins east of Madrid. If I hadn’t got a place as a language assistant I would’ve been studying at the university there and last night we were visiting two friends from university who are doing just that. Alcalá kind of reminded of home (Lincoln) as it was a small city with lots of really old buildings and instead of massive clubs there were lots of smaller ones and large bars with dancefloors. It quickly became apparent that, like Lincoln, it’s the kind of place where you could walk into any bar and bump into at least a handful of people that you know. Even sitting on a fancy roundabout across town at 5am when places were closing, my friends saw a million and one people they knew! I miss that. Back here in Madrid everything is huge and you can meet amazing people that you’re guaranteed never to bump into ever again. This could be good or bad. Don’t get me wrong, Madrid is AMAZING, but I do miss the culture and familiarity of a smaller city.

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