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Learning and Teaching in Equal Measures

Creativity Language Assistant

During my two years as a Language Assistant, I learned as much as I taught. The phrase “you get what you give” seems very appropriate for this invaluable internship and I’m going to tell you why. Being a Language Assistant is more than a placement: it’s an opportunity. I never felt dread on a Sunday evening at the thought of going into school on Monday. I never begrudgingly spent time with my energetic and eager students. However, I feel like that wouldn’t have been the case had I not put in time and effort planning my lessons and building relationships with my colleagues and pupils.

So, what skills do you need in order to get the most out of your experience?


This is one of the most valuable skills you can have. As a Language Assistant, you will have lots of support: the Meddeas team, the tutor at your school and a network of other Language Assistants. These people are all there to help you, especially in the early stages when you are settling into a new city and school. After this initial stage (one or two weeks), in my experience, I didn’t need much support at all from these sources. You will be expected to use your own initiative to find resources and prepare your own activities. Overall, by showing initiative you also demonstrate that you are mature and autonomous.

Plasticine vegetables in the classroom
Plasticine vegetables in the classroom

When you help to teach in a school, you are a small part of a big team and there is always something going on whether it is an exam, a school trip or a special visitor doing a talk at the school. Sometimes you will find that you have more or fewer students than usual, that the classroom you normally use is occupied or that you don’t have your class at all that day. You should expect to be advised about any changes most of the time, but with such a large school network there are bound to be unexpected changes from time to time. My advice is to take these unforeseen circumstances in your stride: be calm, sensible and logical.

Having a Back-Up Plan Can Save You!

Another good idea is to have an arsenal of quick and easy games to play with the students when something doesn’t go according to plan. Plus, on that note, always have a backup plan if you are relying on technology!

One day in my school, there was a power cut and we happened to be studying the topic of technology – how ironic! We were in the middle of an interactive game on the whiteboard when, suddenly, everything cut out. Luckily, there was a lot of natural light, but, of course, we couldn’t continue with the interactive activity. I used this inconvenience to my advantage by asking the students to imagine what our lives would be like without technology. We got into a big discussion about it and made a mind map on the blackboard to explore this theme. By actually having no electricity, I think it was easier for the students to complete the task! The important thing for me was not to be angry or confused about the power cut, and just adapt what I was doing without a fuss.


Your school will provide you with a timetable outlining your teaching hours and breaks. In the first few weeks or when terms change, your timetable may be adjusted due to many factors: new subjects, student exchanges or changes in staff. In my experience, I have always tried to be accommodating and flexible with all the requests. The reward is that when you have your own commitments, such as holidays or appointments, the school will be much more likely to accommodate you. For example, on two occasions I came in earlier to do extra classes before exams. Later in the year, I asked to leave a few hours early one day to catch a flight and my school said it wouldn’t be a problem. It works both ways.


Being with children and young people can be tough. Depending on the age group you teach you will encounter different challenges and rewards. However, one thing you need no matter who you teach with is patience. When teaching the little ones you need to be patient when all of them want to speak to you, hug you and are wandering off around the class constantly! With teenagers, you need to be patient when they aren’t motivated or are frustrated that they don’t understand something.

I have found that when the students know that you have time for them, they will make time for you. That is, if you listen to what they have to say and let them stay behind after class every now and then if they are struggling with something, as time goes on, they are more likely to pay attention in your class, do any homework you assign and generally apply themselves to your subject.


Young people’s creativity is truly impressive. You will encourage your students to express themselves and be motivated by tapping into your own creativity.

Creativity Language Assistant
By changing the way you present the material to the students, they don’t see it as repetition

There are often great resources available in textbooks at my school that I can use in my class. However, if you use the same textbook in every class, the students soon get bored. Therefore, I often use the textbook as inspiration and change the activity slightly by making it into a game, worksheet or interactive activity. We could be doing the exact same activity, but by presenting it to the students in a different way they are more interested from the beginning. I would say that it is also a good idea to use a different medium in each consecutive class. For example, if you use the textbook on Monday, use the interactive board on Tuesday and a board game on Wednesday. You could be teaching the same learning objective but by changing the way you present the material to the students, they don’t see it as repetition.


Teamwork is a really value skill
Teamwork is imperative!

With regard to enjoying your experience, teamwork is imperative. It is important to integrate with the school from your first day. Teachers and staff should welcome you and you should try to take an interest and be receptive to their welcome. Make an effort to get to know the staff too, to feel part of the school community. Even though speaking Spanish isn’t mandatory to be a Language Assistant, it is nice to have a basic level in order to communicate with colleagues who don’t speak English. On top of that, even if there are language barriers between you and other staff, always say “hello” in the corridor with a smile. That’s a language everyone understands!

By feeling like part of the team, you will feel more comfortable in the environment where you will spend many hours a week. You may even end up socialising with some of your colleagues, too, which can help you get to know your area and keep up to date with the latest events and national holidays.

Overall, there are many soft skills that can not only help you be a better Language Assistant but also enrich your experience and make your time in Spain memorable for all the right reasons. Try to remember that you are part of a bigger picture, a role model for your students and a valued member of the school community. If you always arrive at school with a smile on your face, a plan, a back-up plan, and an open mind you will have a rewarding and unforgettable experience.

14 Responses

  1. Absolutely spot-on. So many people ask me about the skills or experience needed to be a successful language assistant, and the thing is really you don’t need any! As long as you have the right attitude and the personal qualities needed then you will be successful at this, and anything else you try in life. The greatest gift is that not only will you be successful in teaching your school and your students, but as mentioned, you will learn so much yourself and have a successful experience during your time in Spain.

  2. I think patience and flexibility go hand-in-hand and are essential skills for this experience! Often times you need to just go with the flow. A class is canceled? Ok. Now they want you to just have the kids for 30 minutes instead of the full hour? No problem. They want you to go to this class instead of the one you normally do. That’s fine. Just knowing that things are changing in the school and sometimes on the fly you have to adjust what you were planning on doing with your students is important. Obviously most weeks you will have your normal schedule and see all your students, but with exams and holidays, don’t be shocked if things change on you!

  3. I definitely agree that patience is a necessity. There are some classes (especially early morning classes) where my students are quiet and focused, but later in the day I need a bit more patience to deal with some of my more energetic classes. Starting the class with some type of game where my students have to move around often helps them release some of the energy and they are more focused after that! I also recommend creating a system to get the attention of your students, such as a clap and response, in the beginning of the year so that you do not have to raise your voice to get their attention. You aquire a great deal of skills throughout the year, and I have learned as much from my students as they have learned from me.

  4. All the reasons above are why I love my job! Being a language assistant allows a lot of independence and freedom to do what you want in the classes! I plan and deliver all of my classes solo while a teacher sits in the back and just pitches in whenever necessary. For pre-k, I pull out groups of 4-5 students into a private separate room. Because of this flexibility, I’ve been able to create a bunch of creative lessons based on holidays and games and paper activities like word searches, crossword puzzles, etc. Every so often, I read story books to the children, which they LOVE!!

  5. Awww I love this post! I completely agree, you get what you give. The more you put into it, the more rewarding everything feels when working with children, and for sure every little bit of effort feels worth it!
    I love making activities into a game, I have more fun and of course my students do too.
    Great advice and insight, thanks Rebecca 🙂

  6. Definitely agree that it is important to integrate yourself to the work environment and with the other teachers at your school. Feeling involved makes a difference

  7. I totally agree with the points you’ve talked about here. Taking initiative is essential for your growth as a teacher, and obviously greatly benefits your students. While living with a host family, I learned the importance of initiative through that experience as well. Sometimes it’s best to do things without being asked! ????

  8. I also look forward to work everyday! Taking the initiative is huge here, and I have discovered that when I put more time in making my lessons, I enjoy my job more.

  9. Yes, these are all skills you definitely need while teaching in Spain! Having a back up plan and willing to be flexible are so crucial, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished a lesson with ten minutes still remaining or the computer wasn’t working that day! Thanks for sharing your experience Rebecca!

  10. Patience is a HUGE factor. I think one of the biggest challenges in the classroom is the extent to which kids talk in classes, not out of disrespect but just because of the culture. I thought I had patience before coming here, but I’ve developed it tenfold since starting. I’ve learned to take advantage of quiet moments and the loud ones by watching other teachers’ techniques!

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