Day-To-Day Life Teaching at a Thai School

by Leesa Truesdell

Diego AmbrosioDiego Ambrosio and I had the chance to catch up for his second interview Finding the Perfect International Job. He had participated in a few Thai regional tournaments since we last spoke. He went to Bangkok, Thailand to judge a spelling bee competition and a group of his students participated in a music competition in Pang Na. His group won a gold and silver medal in the competition! He wrapped up his school year and is getting ready for exams. Diego has learned so much about what it is like teaching at a Thai school over the last year. He remembers when he first arrived and how much he has grown as a person and as a professional since that day. 

Read more about what Diego said about his day-to-day life teaching at a Thai school: 

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Each public school in Thailand generally follows the same morning routines before class starts. In my school, students must be present in the main square starting from 7:30 until about 8:10 in order to observe and respect the various routine ceremonies. These include a display of rigorous respect for the Thai National Anthem in a “Stand to Attention” position and music performed by the school band, a Buddhist prayer, and finally a list of ten “commandments” to always remember. The morning ceremony ends with the school jingle played by the music band. Each lesson lasts about 50 minutes (a period) and the school day consists of eight periods. Teachers must stay in the office until 16:30. The school entitles teachers to about one hour of lunch break. There is also a school canteen if necessary.


How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

 We currently have nine teachers of different nationalities In the Foreign Teachers English department. There is one teacher from Poland, one from France, one from Morocco, one from Australia, three from the Philippines and one from Canada. The Canadian teacher is the coordinator of the English department. This year I received an assigned eighteen hours per week teaching eight classes for a total of five different courses. However, our contract provides for the possibility of having to cover up to 20 hours of teaching per week. In any case, we must cover the hours of the other teachers if they miss class due to illness or personal reasons.

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I consider myself a lucky person from this point of view because I was able to immediately establish excellent friendships with my work colleagues.  I consider myself a naturally sociable and peaceful person, as well as extremely empathetic. Sometimes we organized meetings outside of school and ate together on special days of the year. For example, last December 26th, we all had lunch together on Christmas Day.

thai teachers

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

The most pleasant moment of the day is around the first afternoon hours, after lunch. I usually go for a digestive walk around the school campus. The campus has various nature trails. The school has become a lovely place because it sits inside a beautiful natural reserve of mangrove trees.

How is the material being taught to students? Do you use a specific method?

My school follows the conventional teaching method found throughout almost all Thailand English language teaching programs. The lesson plan includes four main phases that we call “warm-up,” “present,” “practice,” and “produce.” 

teacher abroad

The “warm-up” phase is generally short-lived (five to ten minutes) and includes the “call of attendances,” “introduction to the lesson,” a possible “ice-breaker” or “review of the previous lesson.” The second phase, “present,”  is the one in which the lesson is presented. Teachers explain the most important contents in this phase, through the use of projectors, audio-visual material, and obviously, the blackboard. The third phase, “practice,” consists of guided exercises to understand the contents explained, through individual or interactive exercises. Teachers must constantly monitor these activities and assist students the best they can. The final phase, “produce,”  is the final production of the learning contents learned by students. It can take place through the presentation of projects or individual works aimed at the development and improvement of oral skills and content presentation.

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

I always prepare my lessons with care. Preparing ahead helps me feel well-organized. I have everything ready well in advance so that I don’t have to run into unpleasant or unexpected events. As I explained above, I prepare my lessons through a specific template provided by the school which includes the four main processing phases. In addition, I also like to always look for new ideas and materials. Thanks to the Internet, I can always have an endless source of teaching material available. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Does the school teach English as a subject or throughout all classes?

The English language is taught in all the classes. This means my school is ultimately a kind of bilingual school. However, there are several types of classes that have access to different levels of teaching quality. The two main programs of study for the English language are called the “regular program” and the “English program.” The regular program includes the teaching of the English language, but not through foreign native English-speaking teachers. On the other hand, the English program provides for the presence of native speakers, therefore the enrollment cost is significantly higher.

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

Like any educational institution in the world, Thailand’s school system has parameters for the student assessment during the course of the entire school year. Teachers evaluate students at the end of each semester. My school has two semesters per year. Each student can earn a total value of 100 points. They can earn these with scores from two main units (25 points + 25 points) plus a mid-term exam for a max of 20 points and a final exam with a maximum score of 30 points. Based on the total score obtained, the student will be able to access a grade ranking that ranges from a minimum of 1.5 to a maximum of 4.

I want to clarify an important detail of the Thai school system, namely that students cannot be rejected or repeat the same school year. The school promotes each and every student, no matter what. Whenever a student earns a score lower than 50/100, the teacher becomes responsible for taking care of the student by organizing an extra lesson, project, or exam for the student. The student must complete them as proof of resolution of the low score. Even if the student fails to successfully complete this phase, he will still be promoted. This aspect makes us reflect a lot, since it shows a big flaw in the process of education and growth of the Thai child. There is a very high possibility of an unprepared student reaching the upper levels of an academic course.

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself in the classroom this year?

There is always something new to learn with each passing year. I can still remember who I was as soon as I arrived at this school and how, day after day, I managed to improve the quality of my teaching together with improved creativity and constant participation within various school events.

Recently, for example, I learned that the morale with which you start your lessons has a decisive impact on the progression of the lesson and on the learning that follows from the students. So it is really essential to always start in the right gear and have the best intentions.

Wrap Up Working at a Thai School

Due to the recent coronavirus pandemic, the minister of Thailand mandated that schools in Thailand be shut down until May. Diego wrapped up his final week of classes by giving final exams. He had originally planned to go back to Italy in April for his break. Since Italy is a major epicenter of the coronavirus, Diego will not be able to go home and plans to remain in Thailand for now.

Stay tuned for more on Diego’s Thailand teach abroad adventure.


Resource Guide for Teachers: Non-Bilingual Students

I spent the summer before my first year of teaching English in Madrid tossing lesson ideas back and forth with secondary school teachers I knew, and saved a spot in my suitcase for activity books with creative writing prompts and unique vocabulary words. However, being placed at a non-bilingual school with a generally lower English level meant that I would have to shift my lesson planning focus. While this took some time, through trial and error I found compromising teaching methods that were both enjoyable to older students and English level-appropriate. Here are a few of my favorite ESL lesson planning tricks to serve as a resource guide that could be a success at any type of school:

Presentation Resource Guide for Non-Bilingual Students

Ah, PowerPoint. I still remember getting so excited about making my own backgrounds and adding only the wildest animations to my presentations in elementary school. But after 5th grade, my fear of public speaking was more powerful than my love of rainbow gradient backgrounds.

resource guide make teaching plans fun

By learning to tailor my presentations to my students’ needs, I was able to engage them thoroughly and gain confidence in my public speaking when they reacted well to my lessons. My presentations included a little bit of everything.

  • Templates
      • Google Slides: This was my go-to. Its format is straightforward and easy to use.
      • Prezi: A little more complex than Google Slides, students will be amazed by its signature, unique transitions between slides
  • Questions: Adding a question to info-heavy slides gets students involved and keeps their attention
      • ESL Conversation Questions: if you’re at a loss for ideas, this website has discussion question ideas for a wide variety of topics
  • Videos: including a video is a great way to add variety to a presentation! They are great for practicing listening skills and sharing a bit of your own culture.
      • LearnEnglish Teens: I love British Council! Their entire LearnEnglish Teens website is interesting and relevant, especially the Video UK section (under the UK Now heading). Its videos are divided by skill level, so you can easily find something that any class would enjoy.
  • Grammar: If you include review exercises every few slides, new info is certain to stick.
      • English Club: Groups of exercises with a wide range of difficulties and topics. These can break up long stretches of teaching. My students loved getting to come up to the computer to solve a problem.
      • ESL Games World: If students picked up on a lesson really well, I would reward them with a game week. They loved the chance to beat their classmates! This works best with smaller groups so that everyone gets a chance to participate.
  • Projects: I like to conclude my presentations with a project that involves all the new skills students have learned. Students can review everything while getting to express a bit of creativity. Here are some of my personal favorites:
  • Talent Show: Have students write a little description of a talent they have that must include a number of relevant grammar or vocabulary. Then, they can each present for the class. This can be done periodically throughout the year, as they keep adding to their English skill set.
  • Memory Book: Give the students a theme to write about, such as vacations, birthdays, or their school year. Have them pick four specific memories related to the theme, each of which must include a different past verb. They can draw pictures if they want, or if they are completing the activity over a longer period of time, bring in their own.

Contact YOUR Teachers

When I began to encounter situations in the classroom that wouldn’t occur at a bilingual school, I reached out to my high school teachers with whom I am friends with on Facebook. They ARE professionals in the field, after all! Even if your former teachers have never taught ESL, they have years of experience with lesson planning, discipline, and engaging all types of students. They can act as excellent support systems and mentors if you find yourself overwhelmed by the expectations of working at a non-bilingual school. They can serve as your own interpersonal resource guide.

students teaching abroad lesson plans

Competitions for Non-Bilingual Students

A fail-proof way to motivate students is winning, and what’s a better way to do that than through competition? After my competition-based lessons, I’d be able to hear the winning team bragging to their friends for minutes afterward. Alongside the joys of winning, students get to practice teamwork skills in the process. A wide variety of strengths can shine together while playing a game. No resource guide would be complete without these classics.

Here are a Few of My Favorites for Students:

  • Categories: divide the class into teams. On the blackboard, write a theme: this can be literally anything, from general grammar points like adjectives or present continuous verbs, or a specific vocabulary topic. Each group then gets two minutes to think of as many words as possible that fit this category. Students receive points based on the number of correct answers. Whichever team has the most at the end of a few rounds, wins!
  • 20 Questions: this is a great game for students who are just getting started with English. I have even played it before with kids who are on their first lesson, but it can be a great way to introduce new vocabulary to anyone. Divide the class into teams, and give them a word. The teams then take turns trying to guess the definition by asking yes-or-no questions. Whichever team guesses the correct definition gets a point.
  • Scavenger Hunt: this game is best for classroom vocabulary, but if you can get permission it can really be played anywhere on school property. Divide the class into teams and give each one a vocabulary list of things to find and label. If the game is taking place in a larger space, have each team take photos of what they have found. Whoever finds and correctly labels the most things on their list wins.  Bonus: if the game does take place in the classroom, you can keep the labels there for the year and encourage students to always refer to these things in English.

Practical English Lessons

I think one of the most exciting things for me while learning Spanish has been being able to use the language in my daily life. Having yourself in the classroom as a native English speaker gives your students this same unique opportunity. Conversational lessons can be one way to incorporate this well, but teaching practical skills in English can go beyond simply asking students questions.

The best thing to remember in this resource guide about practical English is that just about any topic being studied in class can easily have real-world applications. To practice food vocabulary, have them design their dream menu and then act out a restaurant scene. If they are learning directions, have them tell you how to get to their favorite place in their town. If possible and with permission, you could even start a pen pal program with a class at one of your old schools to practice letter writing: this is a practical English assignment that would actually have an effect in the real world! When students build confidence in various practical interactions, their general conversational skills will improve as well.

Creativity is a Must for Students

Having just graduated from college when I started teaching (and therefore not having been too far removed from high school either), I remember how long the school day could feel. Often, the last thing that students want to do is sit through yet another lecture or complex project.

art class teaching abroad lessons

When I could tell that my students were restless, a creative lesson would be the most productive means of teaching. Mixing up the routine got students enthusiastic and less likely to drift away as the class went on. Students also enjoyed getting to use their language skills to do something other than taking notes.

Go-To Games: a Resource Guide

  • Mad Libs: everyone, including me, seemed to be obsessed with these when I was in elementary school. The basic concept is that there is a story with blanks throughout it. Students select a word from a word class to complete the story without receiving any details of the story. Then, read the story with students’ word suggestions: it’ll likely make no sense! If a student has a high enough English level, they can then write their own Mad Lib. There are plenty of templates online, but you can write your own as well and cater them to specific lessons.
  • Pictionary: another classic that can be played with any lesson. Divide students into teams, and give them words to draw. The rest of the team has to then guess what the student is drawing. If the student who is drawing’s team cannot guess correctly, the other team gets the chance to guess and win a point

art by non bilingual student


Get Personal With Lessons

During conversational lessons, I would get excited when students started asking me questions about myself. To an extent, I was an open book with them: toward the end of the year, I even asked one of my older classes for opinions on houses my family had been looking at buying when we moved to New York. Having someone new and from a different country in the classroom is exciting for students, and in my experience, they were super curious about my life.

Even if you’re not willing to share a lot about your personal life with students, there are ways that you can use a personal touch to spark interest in conversational English. If you have a talent, share it with your classes. I often brought my ukulele to classes. If they completed lessons without problems, I would play them a song.

Grammar Lessons – a Resource Guide in Finding Structure

Have your students get personal in their speaking lessons too! During grammar lessons, I included writing assignments that incorporated the topic and always had students share something about themselves. Games like Two Truths and A Lie can also add structure to speaking lessons: have students think of three things about themselves, two of which are true and one which isn’t. Then, make the class guess what each lie is. By encouraging students to direct lessons toward their interests, conversations will happen more organically.

Final Thought For Our Resource Guide: Non-Bilingual Students

Most students I worked with were excited to have someone new in the classroom, especially from a different country! With a strong knowledge of what works–and doesn’t work–for your audience, tapping into your students’ curiosity to make the most of your time together will be simple. I hope this resource guide provided new opportunities for you and your students!

private lessons abroad ellen hietsch
Dress-up from my Halloween private lessons—Marceline the Vampire Queen.

Teaching in the Community of Madrid: Part Two

by Leesa Truesdell

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Teaching Abroad  in the Community of Madrid

Teach Abroad is a three-part series that shares the different perspectives of native-born English speakers teaching abroad. In part two, my Dreams Abroad colleagues here in Spain discussed their roles at their schools and what it is like to teach in, and for, the Community of Madrid. Over the course of the school year, we’ve visited several different cities and shared the teachers’ stories. If you missed my first part of the series which I speak about how I adjusted to teaching abroad in Madrid, please take a look.

Meet Leesa, Dreams Abroad Founder:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“Each day at my school is different in the Community of Madrid. I work with a different class and a different grade level each hour of each day. I see my students typically once a week. If they are in my theatre class I see some twice a week. It’s important to make a note of this in the beginning, as my school is not a bilingual school but is a part of the program.

We teach English as a subject which means that I am teaching English grammar or assigning English reading projects. I am not teaching English in science or in any other subject in the student’s curriculum. Since I have a master’s degree in education that specializes in English as a Foreign Language, I feel blessed to be at this school because each day I am using the English language in ways that I never thought I would. I love what I do.”

How many people do you work with (auxiliars included) and how many classes do you teach?

“I work with my vice principal who also teaches English, seven teachers (English coordinator included), and one auxiliar. Auxiliars are language and culture assistants hired by the Community of Madrid to enhance the language acquisition process. Typically, the teacher in the classroom is not a native English speaker. The auxiliar acts as a native speaker and is there to assist with language and culture in the classroom. This, of course, is speaking generally. Some auxiliars are doing more and some less.

I am fortunate to work with a variety of teachers. I have learned a different style or method of teaching from each one. They all use a similar method of teaching however their approaches to teaching are unique. For example, one of the teachers has been teaching English grammar for a very long time and knows how to teach it better than I do. When we work together, we each use our own approaches to teaching. This creates a great rhythm in the classroom. I am so grateful to be working with skilled teachers who know their craft but who are also open to new ideas. This is when teaching and learning become not only beneficial to the student and the teacher but also is fun!”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

forming bonds with students

“We have an online group chat where we ask one another questions or send out community information. However, we do not get together outside of school. Most of my colleagues live in the southern part of the community of Madrid, where we work, but I live an hour north, in the city center. Because we live far from each other, it makes it difficult to do things outside of work. In addition, my coworkers have families with children. On the weekends, they are usually spending time with their kids, being parents.

At work, however, we have a very strong bond with one another and have learned to work well together. I know their methodologies and respect them so I can adapt my lessons to complement their style of teaching. Because there is a level of trust among us, we share lessons and give one another feedback regularly.”

Are you forming bonds with students in the Community of Madrid?

“Yes, I am forming bonds with students in most of my classes. In particular, my second eso classes and my second bachillerato classes. The students in my middle-range classes (such as third and fourth eso), are at that age where they are constantly playing around during class with classmates. In the U.S. this is around 9th grade and 10th grade. Once the fourth eso students pass all required classes and exams, they complete secondary school.

students abroad

Junior and senior year (bachillerato) are optional for students once they pass fourth eso. Students who plan to attend a university must complete all levels of secondary school. This age group, in particular, has been a hard group for me to establish a connection with. No matter how fun I make the lesson their mind is not on English, it’s somewhere else. Most of the time, I can see they are focused on friends in class. Sometimes they’re more interested in what’s happening during a snack or recreo break or with passing notes.

I realize that this is a challenging age and, initially, I felt that perhaps I lacked control of the class. However, since I teach in someone else’s class, I can only use a limited amount of discipline for control and management. In most classrooms, it’s the teacher’s role to know when to let things go and when to step in. Learning is supposed to be fun; however, there are times when students try to test those boundaries. That’s when I become silent. When my students get too loud during a fun conversation, I won’t speak until they get quiet. At first, this made me frustrated, but now, I feel like my students understand that being loud and talkative when I am explaining something they are excited about is considered poor manners.

Establishing Bonds

Overall, my students, in the Community of Madrid, are great and the bonds we established will be some of the most memorable. For example, my English theatre students are all very good students. They work hard so I choose to give them the lead on how they want to work on the play. I go to class and listen to their ideas about what I had previously outlined for us to work on that day in the syllabus. The only way to really get your students to love a language is for them to want to use it.

I use a student-centered approach in this class and it has worked so far because my students come to class with smiles from ear to ear, ready and eager to work. For example, the bachillerato students have been assisting me in co-directing while the younger students have helped with play editing and modifying character roles. I am proud of this group because it is the first full school year class that I have taught while living abroad since receiving my degree.”

Does the school foster the creation and development of these relationships with the students inside and outside of the classroom?

“Yes, my school encourages students to participate in seventh-period activities. I have spent the year working with around ten students in a theatre class. We are working on a play where the students have been able to assist with its production.”

What is your favorite part of the day?

“I don’t have any specific part that is my favorite. However, I truly enjoy working with the bachillerato first and second students. They are at the level where they can really work with the language in creative ways. For example, I worked with a group of students (generally, ages 16-18) on skits, job interviews, debate, and most recently, news reporting. They enjoy these types of creative activities and also work well together in pairs and groups. The more proficient students are able to assist lower level students.

language in creative ways

I also enjoy working with my theatre class students. I work with them once a week for 7th period, which is technically after school. This class is the only class where I am able to teach on my own. It is an extracurricular class and probably the class my students enjoy the most. It’s a great point of pride when a student says they look forward to your next class. I am proud of my work so far with this group and I am certainly taking notes on my curriculum.

I ask myself: if each class were fun and not graded, would every student pay more attention and want to attend? Are we forcing students to do things they don’t want to do and therefore getting poor results (i.e. students with anxiety and stress disorders that lead to bad tests results and poor attendance)?”

How is material being taught to students?

“Each English teacher is different with regard to how they prepare and teach. Therefore, when I am asked to prepare a lesson, I collaborate with the teacher ahead of time on the unit and topic. If grammar is the focus of the week, I make sure that I stick to the grammar point and only the grammar point. Then, at the next class, I work with the grammar in conversation. For example, I just finished teaching the present continuous tense to the youngest group of students in the school. When I teach grammar points, I make sure I have an activity and a worksheet to go along with the grammar point.

Student-Centered Lessons

Because I rotate between classes, I make sure that I am always keeping the lesson as student-centered as possible. On the other hand, most teachers at my school have a tendency to be teacher-centered. Since I do not have full control of the class, I have to modify as best as I can. Sometimes I have to compromise if the teacher wants me to teach the grammar point in a teacher-centered way then create a student-centered activity afterward. For a student-centered activity, I will, for example, get the class paired into groups of two or three and ask for examples of the topic.

This week, I have assigned two different classes two group projects. From there the students will have two weeks to prepare the topic to present in class before our spring break. These projects include bachillerato first presenting their weather reports as news reporters to the class and third eso presenting their Incredible Journey to class. This is a project where each group had to research four to five places they would like to visit and tell the class why, for how long, and what they will do in each place.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

“I prepare for each lesson a week before that class. When the class finishes, I take notes about where we left off that day in class and then I coordinate with the specific teacher about my idea for the next lesson. He or she will give me their input and then I make my lesson. I prepare between 10-12 new lessons a week and then continue with the same topic in some of the classes that are doing group work or presentations. Each week, I have about three to five extra hours of planning added on to my work schedule for new lessons. In addition to the lesson planning, editing and directing the play takes about an hour to two hours of planning.

Brainstorming  Ideas

We are now getting into the acting portion of the course so the edits are more or less over. However, each week I brainstorm ideas and think of other ways we can do things before the big production day in May.

brainstorm ideas being a teacher Community of Madrid

I enjoy lesson planning for all of my classes because it means that I have control of what I will be teaching. I like going through each class and designing what I teach. It allows me to be creative but, at the same time, it also keeps me organized week by week. There are many things about teaching that you cannot control however, when it comes to lesson planning, I always have my initial lesson plan in sync with a back-up lesson plan. For example, my school encourages the use of technology in the classroom. But, eight out of ten times, I go into a classroom where the computer is broken or the Wi-Fi has a weak signal. On these days, the back-up plan is used.”

Do you work at bilingual school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the Comunidad of Madrid?

“I do not work at a bilingual school. My school has an English department with certified English teachers who teach English as a subject. Since English is part of the core requirements under LOMCE law, all of the students in the school must take English at every level. It is not an elective course.”

What standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

Spain uses the Common European Framework of Reference (CERF) for languages. The framework states that students must have at least two foreign languages in addition to their native language. Therefore the standards are applied by grade level according to the CERF standards. My school follows these standards in addition to La Programacion (our school guidelines) which they send out to the parents at the beginning of the year. This lets the parents know the aims and specific goals for each department.

My school, in the Community of Madrid, uses performance-based learning assessments, which are quarterly exams based on the book information that has been taught to assess a student’s proficiency. In a student’s fourth year (fourth eso) the student’s proficiency will be tested based on CERF standards. All four skills will be tested (reading, writing, speaking, listening) to asses the student’s overall academic competency. At the end of fourth eso the student has the option to graduate and move on to work, vocational school, or continue on to the next level in secondary school. The next two levels are called bachillerato first and second. The student’s proficiency level at this age in their academics is important in order for them to continue their academic studies should they choose to. Foreign language is a requirement in bachillerato one and two per CERF standards.”

With regard to lesson and unit standards:

 lesson planning Community of Madrid

“Before each lesson, there are no written descriptions of what students are expected to know or be able to do. The aims and objectives are listed in the textbooks and each teacher explains the objectives in their own way with regard to trimester tests. For example, we will have an exam in December on chapters one through four. These cover present simple and past continuous tenses. Obviously, the student should be able to know this material.

The standards are not written on the board and the syllabus does not list a rubric with standards itemizing what each standard is for each chapter. The chapter identifies the aim for the student and the school selects the textbooks based on stages of proficiency outlined by CERF. Each level has specific content that will be taught to the student of a specific proficiency level.

Students are assessed by exams that are given in December, March, and May or June. Standards are not applied to content used in classrooms.”

Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?

“Yes, each department meets before the school year to discuss the needs of each student. The classes are formed and each department creates their section for La Programacion. This is the main document for the school that allows for collaboration among faculty. In addition, the English department meets once a week to discuss what is needed to ensure the success of its students.”

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad series interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain both in the classroom and out of the classroom?

“Since my arrival to the Community of Madrid, I have learned to think on my feet and realize that life does not always go according to plan. If a lesson plan changes due to a technology issue (and it will), I always have a back-up or maybe two. I have also used humor a lot in the classroom. The ‘go with the flow’ mentality that I adopted a few months ago has served me well. A year ago, I would not have been as casual about things that didn’t go according to plan. Now, I realize that I cannot control many of the elements around me. I can only control how I react to them. My job is to be the best EFL teacher I can be in the Community of Madrid.

Continuing to reflect on how to improve while being here has also been very beneficial. I know I make mistakes, we all do, but it’s how we learn from those mistakes. Afterward, is where real opportunity occurs. Then, growth happens. I see this process on a day to basis in my students. That is when I know that they are learning.”

What are your new goals and/or modifications to previous goals for 2017?

Community of Madrid

“My goals are to continue working hard in the Community of Madrid. I will become a better person than I was yesterday. Each day I am trying so very hard to reflect and continue to listen to others about life, dreams, and perspectives. I believe that if we all share consciousness and purpose by communicating frequently than maybe there will be a less negative outcome in our daily lives. Overall, the Dreams Abroad website has been my biggest accomplishment so far. My team is great and I couldn’t ask for more.”

Teach Abroad: Part Three will be the last series for this school year. We will be sharing the series over the summer!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more updates on our favorite Dreams Abroad members very soon! If you have any questions about the Community of Madrid please join our Facebook group.

Valuable Lessons I Learned

by Leesa Truesdell

leesa truesdell paris fashion week travel tales

It’s been a while since my last post, where I spoke about one of my very first pieces: Embracing Uncertainty. Uncertainty means “indefinite or not clearly defined.” When we describe life events fraught with uncertainty such as living abroad, time is a theme that pops up frequently. You have the beginning months where everything seems so new and you feel like a tourist, then, you begin work and establish a sense of routine. Then, seemingly suddenly, the year is about to end! For our time here in Spain, it’s almost the end, and, again, the uncertainty is rearing back up saying, “I am back. Hello, life. What’s next?” I realize that as I get older this type of lifestyle, one that embraces uncertainty, is one that makes me feel like I am growing and learning and not feeling stagnant or misplaced.

“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.” – Margaret Peters

With each day that passes, I grow as a person. With each opportunity that arises, I try to push myself outside of my comfort zone, working towards that growth. My time abroad has shown me that I don’t know myself as well as I thought. Time spent challenging myself has been the reason for my personal growth. I consider time, even though it’s technically free, to be priceless.

About Me and Who I Am

I started this journey looking for more answers about who I am; I wanted to know as much as I could about Spain because my ancestors were from Mallorca. On my first day at work, I made a presentation to my students called “About Me” in which I spoke about my life, my friends, my country, and most importantly my family. Not too long ago, I was talking to my class and I held up a photo of my grandmother, whom I affectionately called Tata. I told my students the reason why I came to Spain, and why I teach. Time moves on so quickly and life can change in a heartbeat. And, in my case it did.

Looking back, I never imagined that I would not be able to see my grandmother again. Those first days in front of my classes were the beginning of my life in Spain inspired by Tata. It’s been a journey that I will always appreciate because I know that she wanted me to be happy, as she told me in our last happy conversations together. As time moves on, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her sweet smile or soft voice. I started to teach English because of her. Her life inspired me. Each day I walk into a class, I carry her with me in my heart. She may not be with us any longer but her story lives on through my work.

Leesa and her grandmother Lessons
Leesa and her grandmother

Valuable Lessons in Resilience Abroad

Spain has taught me some valuable lessons, and one of the most important lessons I have learned so far is that you don’t know what tomorrow might bring. I know that I would not have learned the lessons I needed to had I not come to Spain. My soul opened up and my heart has once again embraced another culture that has embraced me back. I am very grateful to have this opportunity.

I felt extremely blessed to have been able to see Tata one more time before she passed. Remember to tell those people in your life how much they mean to you regularly. If they do something to upset you, it’s ok to be upset. Just remember that at the end of the day, time is all we truly have. There are a set number of days on our calendar that we will be here. Live your life, be well, let go, and carry on.

‘Cause you never think that the last time is the last time. You think there will be more. You think you have forever, but you don’t.” – Dr. Meredith Grey

Student Success While Teaching Abroad

by Leesa Truesdell

morgan-yearoutMiracles start to happen when you give as much energy to your dreams as you do your fears.” – Richard Wilkins

Sitting down with Morgan Yearout two months after our initial interview, I observed an even more confident and relaxed person. She is clear about her role as a teacher and happy with the work she is doing. Furthermore, she cares about student success more than others.

In our first talk, Morgan was candid about how highly she valued the leadership role she last held at a corporation. I wanted to find out more about her thoughts with regard to her previous position and her new auxiliar position in one of Madrid’s secondary schools. I decided to ask her a follow-up question about her role at Hilton after our initial conversation.

You mentioned in your first interview that you were a Senior Manager for Revenue Management at Hilton Worldwide. Your job was to train and develop new team members to be most effective for their careers with Hilton.

Do you think working with adults in a corporate environment was more difficult than working with high school students? Why or why not?

“I think there’s a lot of overlap whenever you are in a leadership capacity, whether it is in an office or at a school. At the end of the day, you have to gain people’s trust in order to better understand what each person’s motivations and strengths are and successfully challenge them to be better. It’s all about creating a safe environment by exercising emotional intelligence. For example, practice understanding and not judging, use active listening skills, positive reinforcement, and have difficult conversations when needed.  These things have enabled me to develop strong working relationships no matter what the environment is. Therefore, neither scenario is more or less difficult, it’s all about perspective and doing the best you can with the interactions that you do have.”

What is a typical day at your school like?

“Most of my classes are English, Science, or Art. In English classes, I prepare the full lesson plan but collaborate with the teacher in case there’s a certain topic that they wish for me to focus on. During art class, I simply help with classroom management and speak to students informally as I move throughout the class. In science classes, I usually read part of a chapter, supplement the lesson with a discussion, or facilitate a test-prep discussion.

Several examples of lessons that I prepared and facilitated include: types of American food; Bob Dylan, nobel prize winner; USA national parks; USA national monuments; Myers-Briggs personality testing; presentation skills; homework/education comparison across various nations; diet comparison of the USA versus Spain; culture comparisons between the USA and Spain; how to craft a personal statement; environmental discussions regarding the “Plastic Age”; the obesity epidemic across the world; comparison of Obama and Trump’s inauguration speeches; how to read nutrition labels; and how to establish S.M.A.R.T. goals.”

How many people do you work with (auxiliars included) and how many classes do you teach?

“I work with six other auxiliars and I teach 18 classes (including the one-on-one conversation class with the secretary).”

student success while teaching abroad

Communication in the school and outside of school:

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

“Yes, I have been so blessed to have teachers and auxiliars that love their job and are passionate about ensuring student success. The auxiliars have a monthly luncheon but also meet up sporadically throughout the month, which is great! I did Tapapies with one of the teachers I work most closely with and plan to have dinner together again before the year ends. There is definitely a mutual appreciation and respect amongst the auxiliars and teachers.”

Are you forming bonds with students?

“Yes! It was really reiterated around the Christmas season when two classes gave me handwritten notes thanking me for my assistance in the classroom and letting me know they have appreciated getting to know me! Other students have offered their food, made art projects for me, or simply say hello to me in the halls and ask me about my life.”

Does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships inside and outside of the classroom?

“The school doesn’t really have extra-curricular activities like the USA. Students join sports clubs and language schools off-campus so I don’t see the students outside of class unless I randomly run into them at the gym or in the metro. Within the classroom, I choose to engaged thoroughly with the students because I genuinely care for them and student success. I get students to tell me about their day, weekend plans, vacations, and life in general.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

“I always talk to the teacher about the class content for the week to see if I can supplement it with my presentations. Student success is very important. I have an immense amount of autonomy in choosing my topics. Also, how I want to conduct a class. For my Bachillerato classes, I solicit the student’s input so that I can ensure those classroom discussions are relevant and engaging for them.”

Do you work at a bilingual school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the Comunidad of Madrid?

“I work at a bilingual school. Essentially all classes aside from French, German, Math, and P.E. are taught in English as far as I know. The classes that I assist with are conducted in all English by the teacher and myself. The only time English teachers don’t speak English occurs when clarification is required for the lower-level English speakers. I believe that my school is in line with the requirements of a bilingual school based on the Comunidad de Madrid.”

What standards are the classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

“I am unsure since I am not directly involved with the students’ preparation for the English proficiency tests this year. It is my understanding that those students taking the exams need to do well in order to maintain the reputation of the school and the teacher.”

students learning abroad

Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?

“Not that I am aware of. I presume so, however, these haven’t been communicated to me. “

What have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain both in the classroom and out of the classroom?

“I haven’t really learned much about myself per se. I have become more comfortable with myself in a public speaking capacity. Before, I used to feel ridiculously anxious for presentations, so much so that I would avoid them like the plague. In college, I’d sign up for the introduction and conclusion slides…

Otherwise, I continue to be impressed with my ability to embrace ambiguity. In terms of expectations from me in the classroom and developing ideas for presentation topics so that’s lovely.”

What are your new goals and/or modifications to previous goals in the new year?

“New goals?! Hmm… mainly just experience more of the local culture i.e. I did a walking tour, doing the caves under Plaza Mayor, museum dwelling, rooftop bar adventures, and café exploring. Time is flying so fast so I really hope to make the most of my time here by continuing to foster important friendships and host family relationships.”

I am also scheming more grand adventures! As of right now, I have Venice for Carnaval, Bordeaux, Belgium, Spain day trips, a Croatia solo trip and some other potential master plans that I´m keeping in mind. My ability to speak Spanish is not where I would like but I will continue to try. My biggest goal for the year is to break even with the money I make versus the money I spent making this dream a reality.”

Student Success and Willful Personality

Knowing her willful personality and seeing student success, I know Morgan will always do an amazing job in whatever she puts her mind to. In future interviews, I look forward to looping back with her. I cannot wait to see what she has taken with her from this experience, and especially to see where she is headed next.

The Impact Teachers Have on the Community

“It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.” — Justin Hughes-Coleman

First impressions have an impact, no matter the cultural or social setting. I have noticed that in our group of language assistants, there are not as many male teachers as female. Because of this, I knew I wanted to interview a male participant. I also wanted to interview someone who commuted and worked in the north of Madrid. Therefore, Justin was a perfect candidate. I had not had a long conversation with Justin until our first interview. He struck me as a friendly type. Justin is extremely easygoing with a smile that lights up the room. His first impression was a memorable one.

Justin’s experience in Spain is going to be such a fascinating journey to follow. He is going to be an excellent teacher. His enthusiasm and joy for life will brighten up a classroom. The new challenges that Justin seeks are about to unfold. How exciting.

Meet Justin, the Soul Searcher, and Teacher

Justin hails from San Diego, California. He went to California State University San Marcos. and graduated three years ago. Since then, Justin has worked in retail, finance, real estate and in AmeriCorps as a legal adviser to families.  As Justin became proficient at each job, his mind would start to atrophy from lack of challenge and overlong hours and his  soul remained unfulfilled. Making the decision to come to Spain pushed Justin to take on new challenges. 

Before his journey to Spain, he had never taught before. Justin decided to teach abroad because of the experience of one of his good friends. Because she had done the exact same program in Madrid, Justin knew she would be a great to consult.

He has two major goals while he is here. Justin would like to learn more Spanish and travel through Europe and see parts of Africa.

map of tres cantosWhere are you teaching?

“I will be teaching at a primary school in the northern part of Madrid in an area called Tres Cantos. It’s a one-hour commute from where I will be living in the city.”

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like for you?

“I try not to think too much about it before it happens. My mom is a teacher. She has taught my entire life. We can’t walk into a store in town without one person knowing her or saying hi. It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.”

What are you looking forward to most with teaching?

Justin looked up with a really big smile and said: “I am looking forward to preparing lesson plans and seeing how my plans impact my students.”

Justin chose to be a teacher abroad to nourish his soul both professionally and personally. He explained: “In the United States I would not be open to creating new lesson plans in subjects ranging from science to American History because I would have a bias as to what a teacher should do and the limitation on the lesson plans they are permitted to teach.

Tres cantos teaching abroad
Tres Cantos, Spain


He added: “However, in Spain, I do not know how their school system works and what is permitted. I can teach from a different perspective that might help the students learn in a different way. So, instead of making lesson plans ahead of time that I might have to change or totally get rid of, I am going to wait for some guidance from my school and use the skills I have learned from my mother to help craft lesson plans that will fit the needs of the school.”

Justin’s ease as he mapped out his hopes for the future masked what I didn’t know then, that he had been going through a difficult time.

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

“The people and other teachers in Madrid are very friendly. I am not used to that. Even strangers are personable. While looking at a piso, a receptionist at the building started speaking to me and asking me about my day.”

Justin’s perceptions should be tempered by the observation that while Spanish people can be very friendly, they can also be very direct. He has a charm which is instantly endearing as I discovered in the course of our conversation.

teachers-teaching-studentsWhat assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here? Have you found them to be accurate or inaccurate?

“I thought Spanish people were going to be more “svelte” looking people, like you. But, in general, they aren’t.”

For those of you who do not know what svelte means (me included), it means thin in an attractive or graceful way. I have to say, thank you, Justin (blushing)!

As we built up our connection, Justin opened up more.

What has been most difficult since you arrived?

“Piso-hunting has been the most difficult. People canceled appointments that I reserved minutes before I arrived. They won’t call to cancel the appointment in advance. Now that I have a piso, the hardest thing to get used to is the directness of the Spanish culture. An example of this was when someone told me I looked very messy on the subway (in broken English-Spanish). I was drenched in sweat.

On the flip side, they aren’t very forthcoming with information or specifics. Getting detailed information from potential landlords during the search was extremely challenging.”

teachers in spain

What has been the best experience of being a teacher abroad?

“Meeting all the new people and fellow teachers, Americans and Spanish alike.”

How do you feel about the integration of the culture so far? Are there things that you have embraced or are hoping to embrace?

“I have integrated more easily than I thought I would, being a teacher. When I got here, I thought it would be very difficult to get around. But that is not the case. I hope to embrace the soccer culture and understand it better. In general, the Spanish lifestyle is slower. When you go out at night you pace yourself. I feel like in America, you either go hard or go home. It’s about getting drunk. Here, it is about enjoying your friends and enjoying the evening. I’m looking forward to that.”

Justin took the leap of faith to go to Spain to find himself. The self-discovery process in Spain is going to be a great one with Justin. One thing we can be sure of, Justin will be encountering and embracing many new challenges in the upcoming months. He will be making friends and meeting other teachers abroad. We will check back with him halfway to find out more.

Stay tuned for our next connection.

by Leesa Truesdell

Personal Growth Teaching Abroad

by Leesa Truesdell

Catching up with Lynnette for our second interview was not like any of my other interviews so far. When Lynnette and I initially met at my CIEE orientation in August of 2016, as mentioned in my first interview with her, she was someone I had to meet. When she spoke, people listened. I realized what my immediate desire to speak with her was for: it was a connection. I am sure many others felt this same sense of connection with her over the course of our orientation because of the candor of her character. She is authentic and she wants people to know her story.

Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” – Farrah Gray

As we look back at Lynnette’s time here in Madrid, we see that her first year of personal growth teaching abroad was a “honeymoon period.” She was in “survival mode” during her second year and from what she explains, an uphill battle for her third year.

What stood out the most about Lynnette after our first interview was her reason for being in Spain. She said she finds joy in helping others. Lynnette continues to thrive on her quest to do just that, but one variable in the equation has changed. She is working to help herself in life so she is better equipped to help others. When I spoke with her and we discussed these last few months, she said, “you can write all this – all of this. I want my story to be real.”

Meet Lynnette, the authentic veteran:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“It takes me about 40 minutes to get to school by train. I usually go over the day and see what materials I need to bring with me for the first two hours of class. When co-teaching, I am in charge of the daily routine which is usually at the beginning of class.

In first grade classes, I’m working on jolly phonics and different games to review their vocabulary. If I have infantil, what we know as preschool, most of our routines take the form of musical play. They are usually my most unpredictable classes but the most fun because the children are learning a little bit of everything and they are more creative.

Second grade classes have a daily routine that is usually more physically interactive. I usually create activities where they have to move around and work in groups. Then I have “coffee break time” which is very important if you are working in a Spanish school. It is a social half-hour for teachers. After the break I usually prepare the rest of my classes. By lunchtime I have all my lessons prepared for the next day. I am currently pursuing my master’s degree, so during my lunchtime I work on my curriculum design for my class or any homework I may have.”

personal growth teaching abroad madrid

How many people do you work with (auxiliars included) and how many classes do you teach?

“I co-teach with seven other teachers and two other auxiliares. Each auxiliar is in charge of a particular grade level. I have infantil which consists of four- and five-year-olds. In primary I have all of the first and second grade levels. In secondary, I teach 4th ESO which is the equivalent of sophomores in high school.”

What is communication like in and outside of school?

“Communication in the school is something that I have to make more of an effort with. I work in a cooperative school, meaning the teachers are on an equal playing field with administrators. This requires a great deal of communication. Outside of school I only socialize with one of the teachers, partly because it is her first year and we have the same teaching methodology.”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers (auxiliares and teachers)?

“Yes, I am and always have. I think this is the reason I have stayed in Madrid for almost three years. Creating relationships is essential in any job. It also makes the working environment pleasant because you work hard towards common goals you share with your colleagues.”

Are you forming bonds with students?

“I think it’s important and essential to form bonds with your students mainly because students don’t learn well from people they don’t like. Therefore, you have to be sure that if you want to work with children you are able to deal with the responsibility.”

Does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships inside and outside of the classroom?

“I believe the school tries to work with auxiliares in a professional manner. Furthermore, being in a cooperative school means everyone has their own schedule and time is very limited. So the best time to foster those relationships between your co-teachers is coffee break time.”

What is your favorite part of the day?

“My favorite part of my day is working with my two more challenging classes, and they are complete opposites. First, my five-year-olds in infantil because they are unpredictable and learn so fast. Second, my 4th ESO class (15-year-olds) because they keep me young and I learn from them. These 15-year-olds are in that stage of life where they just want to be heard.”

student five year old painting

How is material being taught to students?

“I had two weeks of observation at my school. I went to classes on my current schedule and observed the teachers, figuring out how I would best work with each of them. I was proactive and asked them what they see my role being in their class. I have been lucky to be with teachers who believe in cooperative learning. However, as auxiliares, you have to be very perceptive, understanding that some teachers just teach from the book. There are two reasons for that. One is the mandated law that the teachers finish the books. Secondly, you have to understand Spain’s history. Spain was under a dictatorship for 40 years. The educational system that was in place at the time was meant to teach basic necessities like sewing classes for women and the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Thinking outside the box was definitely frowned upon. The teaching style in that time was very teacher-centered.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

“I am a planner by nature so even on my first day I arrived at school with an animated video and an icebreaker game. For my weekly plan I usually try to organize my different grade levels and plan one grammar game or phonics exercise. I always work on ready activities like popcorn reading. Each week I introduce the new subject and by the end of the week I am doing either a summative or formative assessment.”

Do you work at a bilingual school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the Community of Madrid?

“I work in a school that is certified bilingual according to the Community of Madrid. However, I have to say there is a very interesting thing that my school does in order to not have a disparity caused by learning the natural science materials in English: they also teach a natural science workshop class in Spanish.”

What standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

students books abroad learning

“That really varies by teacher. Some of the teachers use summative assessment meaning they have an exam and they give a grade. Some of the younger teachers use formative assessment, which is more informal. It really depends on the teacher.”

Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?

“The school was established in 1985 so they do have a clear vision and I feel very spoiled with my school. The teachers meet every week to see if they are sticking to the curriculum. The policy is that each grade level is supposed to cover the same material at the same time and that both teachers must take the exam on the same week.”

“Looking back at our first Teach Abroad series interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain both in the classroom and outside of it?

“I have learned that personal development is never-ending. Specifically, I was recently diagnosed with stress anxiety disorder brought on by the number of changes I have gone through in the past two-and-a-half years. However, despite my issues, I still would not want to be anywhere other than Madrid. I feel that I am learning a lot about myself and the culture around me.

Working through the more challenging facets of personal growth I feel that, despite everything, I have adapted well. As part of this process I am learning to respect and retain my authentic self while allowing for growth and development.”

What are your new goals, and/or modifications to previous goals, for 2017?

“My goal is to finish my Master’s in International Education. In a couple of years I can see myself helping and consulting people to be better teachers and students of English as a Foreign Language. I would like to provide seminars on how to guide students through learning as well as helping EFL teachers adapt to their new home.”

Personal Growth Library

While speaking with Lynnette I realized that some of her initial goals are changing and Lynnette is, too.

I followed up with Lynnette about her concerns for possibly losing, or somehow altering her authentic self. She shared that she has realized that self growth is going to happen and she welcomes it, but the pace of the process has caused her “stress related anxiety” about which she spoke. Growth, while always positive, is not always painless.

Personal Growth Teaching Abroad

In the end, Lynnette has been using this third year to hone her teaching craft. She realized that she had ‘skated’ through her first two years, leading her into the harsh awakening she experienced at the beginning of her third year. For many of us, it’s often that we cannot see what is actually happening until our body lets us know. This was the case for Lynnette. Lynnette’s autopilot burned out and she needed to resupply herself with the mental resources needed to live abroad. The transition happened and for Lynnette, like most humans, she was trying to survive and adapt while simultaneously trying to hold on to who she was two years ago back in the U.S.

Lynnette’ personal growth has come a very long way in three years teaching abroad. She is enjoying both her Master’s degree work and the work at her new school. She says her new school has embraced her and given her the responsibilities of a teacher. With the responsibility, Lynnette has been able to focus on her own methodology while using what she is learning with her masters.

While some of Lynnette’s goals have changed since our first discussion, what’s been most eye-opening for me is the transformation of a young woman finding her way abroad in a new professional environment. Since the first time I met her at orientation, up until now, I would compare Lynnette to a caterpillar that is just about to break free from her cocoon to become a butterfly. She is well on her way to personal growth teaching abroad and her new dream aboard.