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Teacher Spotlight: Colin Meldrum

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Meet Colin from Teach Abroad Spain 2016-2017! Check out what he has to say about living and working as a teaching assistant in Madrid:

Where are you from?

I'm from Idaho, but I've lived all over the United States, as well as in Quebec, England, and France.

What was it like to work at your school?

I taught at a bilingual primary school called Angel Leon in the town of Colmenar Viejo, about 30 minutes north of Madrid's city center. I worked with a first grade teacher and two of her classes; I also worked with two fifth grade teachers, one with one class and the other with two classes.

With the first graders, I felt a bit lost at first, but once I learned their names and got a sense of the teacher's routines and teaching strategies, it was really fun to observe such young students learning a foreign language. By the end of the year, they had a very basic but impressive foundation of vocabulary and most of them could answer a couple dozen questions. My participation as an assistant consisted of a) taking small groups out into the hall to review vocabulary with flash cards and games, and b) keeping an eye on the students’ workbook activities in the classroom, helping them with instructions or giving them a nudge in the right direction when they got confused.

With the fifth graders, I especially enjoyed the fact that they were ready and excited to have conversations in English. Their activities varied quite a bit, but usually my participation involved team-teaching lessons from their English language, social science, and natural science text books. In my case, team-teaching usually meant that the teacher was responsible for planning and framing the lessons, but he or she would frequently (and spontaneously) invite me to lead an exercise (for example, if it was a reading lesson this would mean calling on students myself to read paragraphs, correcting their pronunciation, engaging the students by asking questions to get them thinking and to check their comprehension). If I ever had an idea for an activity, the fifth grade teachers were very open-minded about it as long as I was ready to lead the activity myself. This would often involve a spur-of-the-moment change of plans, which is very natural in a Spanish classroom.

I really enjoyed the rapport and friendship I built with the other assistants. We had lunch together nearly every day and became a great form of support for each other.

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Why did you decide to teach abroad?

I was already a teacher of English as a foreign language, and I had already lived in England and France. In fact, I was dying to get back to Europe. More specifically, I wanted to immigrate to France, but life wasn't lining up to allow me to move back just yet. I had always been interested in Spain and had studied Spanish, so things worked out perfectly to teach abroad in Spain for a year. I wanted to have a short experience living in a Spanish-speaking country; I wanted to get more experience working with children; and I wanted to get as close to France as possible while sorting out my options for immigrating there in the near future. The year played out beautifully: I had plenty of opportunities to visit France while also enjoying Spain, and I got accepted into a master’s program in Paris for the next academic year, specifically in teaching foreign language to youth, which I wouldn't have considered studying before working as a Language and Culture Assistant.

Did you get TEFL certified? How did it help you?

Yes and it helped me tremendously. I would never have been well-enough equipped to work alongside my fifth grade teachers as confidently or effectively as I did.

What was your favorite place in Spain?

Honestly, I didn't travel within Spain at all during this year, despite the fact that I had planned to and would still love to. I spent all my travel money and energy on visiting France. However, I've heard so much about Granada and Asturias that I recommend them. And since flights are fairly cheap in Europe, I recommend visiting other areas of Europe that I've visited in the past, like Greece, Italy, and Germany. You'll find that everyone takes advantage of the opportunity of living in Europe in different ways: I've met auxiliaries who were in the process of making Spain their home; I was in the process of making a neighboring country my home; and still others go wild booking whatever cheap flights they can find every month or every couple of weeks and having a blast squeezing everything in that they can before the year is up.

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What is the funniest thing a student said while you were teaching?

Come home with me? – A first grader

What was the biggest challenge of teaching and living abroad?

It’s hard to gauge if you’re living a new experience to its fullest. You never know if you’re spending too little or too much time studying Spanish, sightseeing, travelling, teaching private lessons, interacting with locals, interacting with fellow expats.

What will you miss the most about teaching abroad?

If I were quitting, I'd miss the feeling of helping people communicate effectively. But I'm in this field for good because I can't get enough of that feeling.

How did teaching abroad influence your career and life path?

It made me realize how much I loved teaching and how much more adaptive I was than I had ever imagined before. It also made dedicate myself more to teaching; this helped me to identify myself as a language teacher and make life decisions accordingly. I continue to teach English to this day!

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