A Typical Day in the Life of an English Language Assistant

Life as a language assistant is pretty easy – a short working week, speaking your native language and not having a great deal of responsibility sounds perfect, right? I spend the vast majority of lessons playing some sport of Spiel (game) with the year 6 classes, ranging from Hangman to Simple Simon says, or if I’m extra lucky, I join in with a song-singing session. Taking all of that into consideration, it seems like I don’t really have any grounds for complaint. I’m definitely not over worked or stressed out or  but sometimes my job can be extremely frustrating. I thought the best way of explaining this would be to describe a typical school day in the life of an ELA. So here goes!

It’s 7.55am in the morning and I’m already in school. Yes, school starts early over here and after 6 months of waking up at .. o’clock I can’t quite decide if it will make 9am lectures next year easier, or harder. There will be a lot of time time in bed to make up for my ‘lost’ beauty sleep!

So here I am, standing in the corridor, surrounded by the 5. Klasse (Year 6) running around in circles, pushing each other into the wall and generally wreaking havoc. Meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder how on earth they can have this much energy, so early on a Monday morning. You may be wondering why I’m just standing by and not actually doing anything about this chaotic behaviour. Six months ago, I wondered the same thing. I was amazed and shocked at the same time, by how noisy and disorderly the children were, before and between classes and couldn’t understand why the teachers didn’t do anything about it. Now, being part of the school myself, I can see that that’s pretty much the norm. It does put my school experiences into perspective though – they seem incredibly strict with rules such as ‘stay on the left hand side of the corridors’ and ‘….’

Anyway, finally the school bell chimes, marking 8am and the start of lessons. I see the teacher making her way along the corridor, dodging the children, and having to navigate the scattered rucksacks and coats that are strewn across the floor. After unlocking the door, the children don’t wait to let the teacher into the classroom first. Oh no, quite the opposite! Eventually I find my way into the classroom, almost always the last person to enter (my inner Brit doesn’t know what to do in these scenarios, and on numerous occasions, I actually act as a doorman with of course, no form of thanks in return). Despite their rather boisterous nature, this class are one of my more enthusiastic classes and usually my conversation sessions with them run smoothly and according to plan. 

We make it past the ‘good mornings’ although as per usual the same thing occurs.. 

Teacher: Good Morning Boys and Girls

Students: Good Morning *clap, clap, clap* Mrs ..

Teacher: (points to me)

Students: (half the class have already sat down by this time and the other half, still standing manage a feeble) Good Morning Mrs.. Miss… um.. Victoria

I remain standing somewhat awkwardly at the front of the classroom, whilst the teacher relays what the structure of the lesson will be. Once that has been done, the teacher looks at her lesson plan to work out which group will be with me first this week. Whilst she is busy doing that I am bombarded by a group of young girls, asking if I have decided which group has won the ‘English drama competition’ – I now regret making this exercise a competition(!) – and if I have bought them chocolate bars as a prize. When I say that I haven’t, they yet again explain to me that the prize needs to be chocolate, because one girl in the group doesn’t like Haribo and that the chocolate should be plain, because they all prefer it that way. One girl adds that actually she wants white chocolate and asks if I could buy her a separate chocolate bar to the others? Um, what?! 

Finally after much fuss, I am handed the first group of students and we make our way to the classroom, in which our conversation class has been held for the last 6 months. Like always, the kids race off ahead and storm into the normal classroom, only to find a sixth form class already in there watching a film. This is typical! Classes and classrooms seem to be constantly in motion over here; room changes due to Klasuren (exams), swapping of rooms in order to use the projectors or sometimes (I swear) just because they fancy a change of scenery. Anyway, shamefully the children re-emerge and off we go in search of another classroom. Ten minutes later, having checked more than a dozen classrooms, and listened to a number of complaints of how many steps they had to climb (there was no evidence of this being a problem before, when they were chasing each other up the stairs), we find a classroom on the 3rd floor and make ourselves comfortable. 

This morning I’ve been asked to go over question words with them, in preparation for a visit from the American exchange students who will be in their class next week. We covered the words pretty quickly and the students then spent a short while asking each other questions before we moved on to my next, improvised topic. 

So guys, what do you know about America?”

This, along with much of what I say to them in English, results in complete silence, broken with a chorus of ‘Was?‘ (what?). So I repeat myself a number of times, before giving in and asking in German. Typically this is met by a wave of acknowledgement and the look, which I interpret to mean ‘Why didn’t she say that in the first place?’. Anyway finally we start collecting some ideas and words they associate with America and I must say, on the whole, they knew quite a bit – though we had a few confused ideas, namely the national dish being ‘Fish & Chips’, California being the capital, Nelson Mandela’s (!) ‘I have a dream’ speech, along with NYC being named ‘The Big Cherry’. 

After 3 more groups and more of the same, my time with the 5. Klasse is up and it is 9.30am. This means break time. I wander off to the Staff room and sit myself upon my usual chair. Yes, that’s another thing – each member of staff has an assigned seat in the staff room. Seeing as I was never actually given one, I’ve made myself at home in the kitchen area, where I am occasionally joined by a member of staff or two. Do not be fooled into thinking that this means we actually talk to each other. No! Most of the time we sit in silence until the next bell rings at 9.50am marking the start of the 3rd period. Today, nearing the end of break, I am approached by the next teacher who informs me that her class is not taking place today due to Klausuren – I definitely sympathise with the kids, I’m pretty sure that they seem to have exams every other week! Now, it can be argued that the cancellation of a class is a good thing – it means I can go home early and don’t have to face sitting in the sixth form lesson on Shakespeare – but these types of cancellations happen all too often for my liking and frequently I have turned up to school for the first lesson, only to be told that the class are writing a test and I’m not needed. Welcome to the ELA life my friends!