Problems with the School

This was a 3-part blog about all the problems I had with my school. I moved it into one big post here. I had worked as an Auxiliar in Andalucia and had minimal problems. This was after I moved to another location. If you have any questions about the Auxiliar program in Spain feel free to ask. 

The Auxiliar program is an assistant teaching study-grant program. If the Spanish teacher is scheduled to see a 1st grade class at 3pm then you go with them at 3 pm to the first grade class. Maybe one person explains something then the other person plays a game. Or more often they sit in the back while you lead the whole class. I’m not complaining about that. What I’m saying is that you’re the same room and you’re working together-ish.

There is no reason at all, that you should be alone in the classroom. And even less reason for them to say “I’m not scheduled for 1st grade at 3 pm but YOU are.”

On the first day I met my coteachers they said I would take small groups of high school students to a room right next door and do lessons with them. This is against the rules but it’s reasonable, small groups and within shouting distance. No one ever said I would do this with primary or preschool kids. They also told me they wanted to hire me for extra classes. “It will be easier than finding private lessons on your own.” This seemed like a good deal.

Later (like the next day) they said I would take older primary (4th, 5th, 6th) alone but never 1st or 2nd grade – “they’re too young” were their words.

Then before I knew it, I started working preschool alone (4 and 5 year olds). Which they had never said would happen, but it just happened. One minute I was talking to her and the next she left me in a room and said “so here’s the room you’ll be alone with them in.” She was operating under the assumption someone had already explained this or was just tricking me.

I explained I’m not supposed to be alone, I’m not comfortable with this (only high school kids), but my coteacher just rudely stated “that’s how the school has always done it. No one has ever complained before” (other teachers have, indeed, complained before, I asked them) She placated me by saying “well you don’t have to take a lot, just 4 kids and we won’t ever do it with 3 year-olds, then, okay?” Sure, I agreed. 4 and 5 year-olds are much better than actual babies. I felt like we were compromising but I was obviously just being taken advantage of.

Then I started taking 1st grade groups alone. I don’t know why this surprised me when I was already taking preschool but I had implicitly been told not 1st or 2nd by that very teacher. Then later they talked about making me take small groups of 2nd grade, not for English, but for art. So what she had said was worth nothing. The other teacher might have been a misunderstanding but this one wasn’t.

“I’m not supposed to.” “This isn’t allowed.” “The auxilar program says…” But they always said“That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Or they would say it won’t happen but just do it anyway.

One day I was told I would be taking 3, 4, and 5 year-olds alone for 2 solid hours. Our agreement to not do 3 year olds was broken. And the coteacher wouldn’t even be in the same building. She was not even scheduled to be in English class during that time. Remember that thing I said at the top? She would be teaching 2nd grade math while I coordinated taking random kids out of random preschool classes and leading classes for 2 hours.

I talked to her about this and she was, like last time, rude. “You’ve already done it before what’s the problem!?” Well, mostly because I was basically forced into it because I didn’t even know what was happening, and I was never given a chance to say no, just dropped off at classrooms.”We need to teach together.” We can’t teach together, that’s not how it works. We’ve always done it like this and Little-Ms-Last-Year never complained. * (I talked to Little Ms Last Year and she quit the day before school started this year, and she wishes she had complained sooner).

I push back but am still a pushover

I went home and had a good think about what I was willing to do, how much I would fight them; and what I cards I could play (quit the extra hours [which hadn’t been fully arranged] or straight up report them to the government).

I should have been aiming high and simply said, “I’m not doing this anymore”. Instead I settled on two things

  1. I would absolutely not teach a class that my coteacher wasn’t scheduled for.
  2. I would never teach 3 year old (or 2 year olds) alone like they said I wouldn’t do back at the beginning. But SMALL groups of all other grades would be okay.
  3. It has to be small groups like we originally agreed

Yeah I was dumb enough to keep agreeing to doing everything else. I thought I was compromising. You said a lot of things, I agreed to a lot of things (or was tricked into doing it). You changed what you said but I’m still willing to do some of those things if you just meet me half way. I could have told them to stuff it with every class. But I didn’t.

I told them what I wanted. And they flipped out.

  • “What’s the problem with her not being in the same room!!! She’s just in the building next door if you have any problems.”
    • “So I’ll just walk over if I have a problem???”
  • “No!!!  Because you can’t leave the kids alone.” Uhhh you’re proving my own point, here. 

They insultingly tried to give me an illusion-of-choice (something you usually do with toddlers) “which room would you rather teach the 3 year-olds alone in? The playroom or the art classroom? The playroom or the art room!? Choose! Which one do you choose?!?”  They also said rude things like I should count the number of stairs to see that I was ONLY four steps away or that I really needed to open my eyes because there are other teachers in the school besides me.

They talked about me in Catalan for a while. The languages are similar so this is just rude. But they decided to double down regarding the extra hours they would pay me for (of which I hadn’t started doing yet). If they were paying for extra hours, they figured they could control ALL my hours.

  • Well you work for us and we’re telling you you have to do it.”
    • “I don’t work for you I’m paid in a student grant by the government.”
  • “No, because you’re taking our extra hours and we’re paying you for the extra hours.”
    • “It doesn’t matter, I shouldn’t be alone with students. The government says-“
  • “Well it doesn’t matter what they want because it’s our money and we’re paying you and we’re telling you you will work with them. That’s why you signed the contract- you work for us.”
    • “I didn’t sign a contract.” They were speechless. At the last minute the principal said I didn’t need to sign a contract and they would just pay me the way they usually did. (and yes I see what a big red flag that was).
  • “Yes you did sign a contract!” she screeched at me.
    • “I absolutely didn’t sign a contract. Not for this job or the new hours.”
  • “Yes you did!!!!”
    • I was actually worried my name had maybe been forged at this point.

Did I mention this argument happened while the students were in art class? Yeah one of my coteachers left her 2nd graders alone to come shout at me and team up with the art teacher against me during our 1st class. Children are literally painting in the back of the room and 25 kids are alone in the other room.

  • “But none of it matters. The only thing that matters is what the principal says.”
    • “Again I don’t work for this school. At least for all of the hours. I’m going to contact the people I work for (the government)”
  • “No you won’t! It won’t matter what they say, the only thing that matters is what the principal says.”
    • “Well I’m still going to contact the government.”
  • “It doesn’t matter. You don’t really need to do that. ”
    • “I’m. Going. To. Talk. To. Them. First.”
  • That’s not necessary. What the principal says is what we will do, you work for us with the extra hours.”

Those red words above are three big red flags. “Don’t contact the government”. Do I detect a subtle we-know-we-shouldn’t-be-doing-this?

I got my decent coteacher alone for half a second and laid down all my chips “If I talk to the government I’m going to have to tell them that I’m working alone in all the classes. You know that, right?” Last chance.

“Yes, but the principal will ultimately be the one to make the decision.”

I was on the phone with the government faster than you can say consellería.  They were, predictably, unhelpful. “Send us an email detailing what’s going on.”

The next day no one mentioned any call. But this is how the super mature adults I work with handled it: “Since you don’t want to work then we just won’t pay you. And it’s your choice to just get paid less.”

Then an hour later “We’ve decided to change the other infantil hours, since you’re not comfortable, we’ll be together in the same room from now on with infantil.” Did they get a call? I’ll never know.

Slower than molasses

I kept teaching alone. Technically I had gotten what I wanted: not teaching alone with little kids. So things were okay for a couple days.

Then my coteachers started saying weird things like “well we need to figure out which parents are paying…” “only the kids who pay extra…” I asked but they said nothing. Someone explained it long after I had started doing the extra hours. The school had said they wanted me to help teach extra classes so more classes would have more English exposure. Instead they had organized private lessons only to the wealthy kids. Parents were paying 20-30 euros an hour for my class (classes I planned for and lead completely for 50 minutes) and I was only making 14 an hour for these classes. So that loud class of 17 little shits? Yeah the school made over 340 euros on that class and I got 14 euros.

The school had organized some private school within a public/private school thing for-profit. Within a week I stopped seeing the other kids. Only the privileged wealthy kids were allowed to go to all of my classes. Even the publicly funded ones. Since they couldn’t accidentally give the non-paying kids a private class (that wouldn’t be fair to the paying ones) so they said they started giving me larger groups of the non-paying kids so those kids couldn’t have small classes (like a private class).

Not only is this morally wrong but goes against our agreement that I wouldn’t take large groups. I never agreed to 30.

I contacted the government again but had to keep waiting.  How much was illegal? I didn’t know. If I said anything anyway the school they would just shout at me or make something up to make things seem like they were changing for the better. Again.

Things obviously got worse. I’m never supposed to grade any students’ tests (like I’m not supposed to be alone in class) but they would do illusion-of-choice and say “well you can either grade these 70 tests or you can make up the class another day.” I graded them. The next day the illusion of choice was worse “well you can either grade these tests now or after school at home.”

If I got it my way there would be consequences. She would grade her own tests but I had to teach her whole class with only seconds to prepare.

Why not just quit the extra hours immediately? Or quit the whole job?

For one, visas. If I quit I would have to leave Spain.

If I pissed them off they wouldn’t approve me for renewal. God knows I wouldn’t renew with this school but you have to get a good evaluation to be allowed to renew at all, even if you’re changing schools. So me quitting the extra hours and taking away their extra 1,600 Euros per week income source would probably piss them off. I needed the government to back me up with their laws and their rules. So I kept waiting.

The Final Straw (because all the other ones weren’t final straws but should’ve been)

If a co-teacher is sick, I’m not supposed to go to class. She had to leave for a small emergency and said “you’ll teach the whole class alone.” So far I had only been given 20 or so kids alone. Or someone had sat in the back. But I finally hit a breaking point for some reason.

    • “No, if you’re not there, I’m not there.”
  • “Right, a different teacher will be there to watch but you’ll have to lead the whole class, so start on page 17-”
    • “No. If you’re not there, I’m not there.”
    • “we’ll see about that.” She said with a mean smile and she left. I ended up teaching a different class during that hour and everyone was rude about it. I think she organized this.

I later asked if she was feeling okay after the emergency and if she would be at school for the afternoon classes. She didn’t respond so I didn’t go to school. Soon enough she sends me texts saying where am I. “You didn’t say if you would be there so I’m at home.” (I’m trying to prevent myself from getting suckered into teaching alone). She sent 4 eye-rolling emojis and a bunch of rude words. I got my ass to school.

I had emailed the government again and called them 3 times but no one was helping. I called the government one last time that afternoon to tell them I was quitting the extra hours and needed assurance they would help me renew for next year.

“We’re going to send an investigator. So we need you to just keep teaching alone and we’ll send the person next week. So keep us updated on all of the new changes and we’ll take care of this next week.Then we’ll give you a new school and they won’t have an assistant anymore. ”

I immediately sent them a very detailed email of everything else that had changed. I keep good records because teaching alone dictates, you know, keeping track of names and times. So I could tell her the exact numbers of students I was working alone with. I told her about how it had become a private lesson cash grab and I wasn’t even working with the “poor” students on the government’s money. I told her the school was pocketing the extra money but no one had told me how much I was even being paid (it was a different number every time).

I didn’t end up having to wait for the next week. A few hours later I finally got a call from the investigator and he arranged me meeting him in a location away-from-my-school the following morning.

I was interviewed in Spanish which I think left a lot of things unresolved (my Spanish past tense is shit, plus I don’t know how to do reported speech “She had said that I would…”. I really couldn’t communicate anything correctly.

The good news is that I was assigned a new school. The bad news was the investigation eventually found the school hadn’t done anything wrong. The labor board decided they hadn’t done anything illegal by hiring an American (illegal in the EU but I hadn’t signed a contract so this was okay?). And the education board found they hadn’t done anything illegal by having me teach alone (even though I’m not licensed). They also informed me I hadn’t been “forced” to do anything. I felt like tricking someone by leaving them in a classroom or changing the rules/procedures at the last second is basically forcing but okay. Of course this is frustrating.

During their investigation I had a whole week off (deserved, honestly). The government finally called to say only 2 of 15 schools didn’t have an Auxiliar so they had to ask the school if they even wanted me (and they said yes).

I texted the new school and they texted back within an hour. They were excited. They had been told they wouldn’t have an auxiliar teacher this year and now suddenly they would. I arranged to meet them the next day. They admitted later they were pretty nervous about me coming because they figured (or had been told) that something was wrong with me. Not that I was leaving the school because of a government investigation but that the school had removed me. I was the loose cannon auxiliar or something.

What have we learned:

  • It doesn’t matter if you communicate, some people are just going to trick you into doing what they want (like leaving you in classrooms or saying 10 kids will come but 30 come).
  • The government is going to side with their own over you, but they will put a bandaid over it (like changing schools).
  • Don’t take extra hours through a public/private (CC) school. They are FOR PROFIT. Even if they are Catholic.
  • Study more Spanish in case you have to participate in a multi-departmental investigation.

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