Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Teaching In Spain

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Dear New Auxiliar,

First of all, is auxiliar even a word? My spell check says no, but that is what you’ll probably be called for the next 9 months of your life, so add it to your personal vocabulary. Technically, the position is called English Language and Culture Assistant. You’re probably thinking what the heck does that even mean? If you are like me, you will assume it has something to do with teaching English language and American culture to children. The reality can be quite different. Allow me to explain. Here are ten things I wish I knew before teaching in Spain.

  1. Don’t get your TESOL/TEFL just for this program. You won’t need it! This is not a program to teach English! It is a program that helps Spanish teachers in a variety of subjects (even P.E. and music classes) teach their subject with a part of the class in English or using English content. Even if you are chosen to assist in an actual English class you should ideally plan the class with the head teacher and he or she should always be there with you to help and supervise.
  1. Do come with materials (maps, brochures, pictures, etc.) Just because you don’t have a TESOL certificate doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t come with some awesome TESOL resources. There are some great websites out there with tons of ideas for games and activities. Some suggestions to bring from the US are pictures, brochures, games like Scattergories or Apples to Apples, dice, flashcards, magazines, etc. Anything in native English can be used as a tool and you won’t be able to find it there!!!
  1. Do not do too much too soon. This was my biggest mistake. My school was on year zero of the bilingual program, meaning that it was their first year and I was their first assistant. Bilingual classes didn’t even start until the following year so they didn’t know what I was supposed to do and just dropped me into twenty different English classes. Fresh out of my TESOL course and with the typical American overachiever attitude, I proceeded to teach full TESOL lessons that I spent hours planning the night before. The teachers didn’t help me with anything and the kids didn’t understand anything. My work was basically for nothing and I was miserable.
  1. Don’t do too little work either (although tempting). This wasn’t my case, but many assistants spend their time on facebook or sitting at a student’s desk listening to a lecture about plants. It might sound cool to get paid for doing nothing, but it’s also a waste of time and energy. Speak up if you aren’t being used in your classes and ask to change to others. If you aren’t doing anything you shouldn’t be there… 12 hour requirement or not.
  1. Negotiate a decent schedule. My first year I started work at a different time each day. Sometimes I had to be there by 8:00 and other times at 11:30… needless to say my sleep schedule was destroyed. I hated it but I didn’t complain. I should have. The second year I asked for a three-day schedule (they’re only 12 hours after all!!!) but I was told four days were necessary. I was disappointed, but at least negotiated a 10-1:30 schedule each day. Finally I had a routine (and a good night’s sleep!)
  1. Don’t expect guidance. No one will automatically help you find a plane ticket, an apartment, the school’s address, your bosses name, open a bank account, get your NIE, see a doctor… nothing. You might be lucky and have a helpful boss or principal, but it isn’t guaranteed and no one takes care of you. It’s time to be independent, hooray!
  1. Be assertive and speak up if they are asking too much. I never did and that didn’t get me anywhere. It’s probable that no one realized I was doing way more than the requirements. We should have communicated better.
  1. Call in if you are really sick (and find out how). We are really not given any sick days but obviously we Americans get sick too. The Spanish employees are quick to bring a doctor’s note at the slightest hint of a cough, but I worked my first year with strep throat and even mono. I hated having to go to the doctor’s office to get a note when all I really needed was rest, but that is how it was. Your boss may be more lax, many are, but if not suck it up and go to the doctor (it is free after all!) Also, be sure to ask the first week who you need to contact if you ever do need to call in. I always called my boss, but sometimes she wasn’t even at the school yet and the teachers I was supposed to assist were never even notified!
  1. Do speak Spanish sometimes, even if they tell you not to. I was told no Spanish ever because the kids needed to learn English. This resulted in all of the other teachers thinking I really didn’t know any Spanish and never talking to me. I felt really isolated my first year. Also, it is proven that sometimes translating a word in the classroom is effective. I would say the kids should know you can speak both languages and you should use Spanish if and when helpful or necessary, but never when it negatively affects their learning!
  1. If you don’t like your school don’t repeat there! If after trying to get involved, teach well, and encourage the kids you just don’t like your school’s environment… don’t tough it out! I did, primarily because I was too scared of getting moved out of Seville, but if I could go back I would have requested a transfer. It might have been a risk, but I could have also had a much better and different second experience. Most people who switched were very happy with their decision.

So there they are, the ten things I wish I knew before teaching in Spain. Hopefully these tips help. If you have any questions at all leave them in the comments. I hope you all have a great year and enjoy Spain!

Comments

  1. I agree with everythng you´ve said – I´ve worked as a private teacher and in a school…luckily my sister in law is a teacher so she “showed me the ropes”, but not everyone is as lucky.

  2. Here’s my advice (and it’s advice from a three-year vet who loved her experience and adored the kids) – bring as much of YOU into everything you do. I continue to have a great relationship with my coworkers and former students because they got a great sense of who I was four years ago and who I am. I did speak Spanish occassionally so that my kids and I could laugh and establish a relationship. Honestly, I got lucky with my boss and the program, but I felt that I helped get it up and running from a Year Zero to a strong program. I even went to a bilingualism conference and my boss was referenced for a project we did, an continue to do, yearly.

    This experience is measured heavily on what you put into it. I wouldn’t just do nothing.

    • Lauren says:

      Definitely true Cat. Your school was awesome, but you also put in a ton of effort! I know it made a difference to your kids… you could see it on their face at the English Day I helped at!!!

  3. I’m about to be a first-year auxiliar, and these tips help a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time agonizing over the job itself, wondering what I’m expected to do for lesson plans, wondering what -exactly- my role is going to be, and your advice definitely clarifies that on a lot of levels. Sounds like it can vary a lot based on the school. Where were you teaching in Sevilla?

    • Lauren says:

      I was placed in the lovely town of Carmona, about 45 minutes outside of Sevilla capital. Where will you be teaching?

      • I’m in Sevilla ciudad, on the north side of town at IES Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente. I emailed but haven’t heard back from the school (wasn’t really expecting to… summer, Spain, quick communication not a priority there) so I don’t really know what to expect!

  4. Amy says:

    Awesome post with GREAT advice! I’m so going to use your tips; it’s my first year!

  5. sweet! thanls for all the great advice!! and i didnt know you could request a transfer…mid-year even?

    • Lauren says:

      I think you could only transfer mid year in extreme cases, but of course it would be worth your while to ask. I was referring more to renewing for a second year. They give you the option to stay at your school, transfer to another in the region (but Andalucía for example is a HUGE region), or transfer to a different region. I wish I’d requested a transfer in the same region.

  6. Liz says:

    Love this, and agree with you 100%! Especially with being assertive-it’s easy to be taken advantage of. We’re not here to baby-sit while the teacher has a coffee or works elsewhere.

    One tip I would add is remember that while this is an easy job, it’s still a job. I knew a lot of people who would call in sick when they weren’t, go out the night before and just not show up, and it leaves a really bad impression of you and your country. No matter how you feel about where you’re from, people will associate you with your home, and I don’t want to be a person who made Spanish people think all Americans are lazy and irresponsible.

    Yes, not all of us (including myself!) are here to improve our teaching skills, it’s great to have an excuse to live in Spain and get paid. Just remember people are watching you.

    Great post, I’m sure it will help a lot of people.

    • Lauren says:

      I definitely agree that everyone should treat it as a job. If you don’t you shouldn’t have accepted it! We actually get paid quite well for Spain if you look at what we make per hour.

  7. Loved everything about this post. My third time in Spain and first time as an Auxilar…however you pronounce that. :) Will be taking all of your advice into account…I need some direction as I start to get nervous for teaching!!

  8. Alyssa says:

    I’m really glad you posted this. I started out in the same position you did-making ALL the lesson plans, on my own, working 30 hours a week, with a shit schedule. I even called in sick one day (with a doctor’s note), and was told by my bilingual coordinator I had to make up the hours on my off day! I complained about everything and got into a big argument with the coordinator, but I think it was better for me (and my sanity) in the long run! It helps to know other people also experienced this and that I was right in sticking up for myself. It isn’t always easy!

    • Lauren says:

      Omg Alyssa I feel your pain! Once at my school a teacher didn’t show up and I was left with nothing to do for an hour, bored out of my mind. I was then told I had to make up that hour!!! It was crazy… I did complain about that one though!

  9. Loved this post! I’m a first year auxiliar and have been placed in Ecija. Can’t wait!

  10. What a great post! I definitely am more assertive than I used to be, but I still feel bad and guilty telling people no . . . I’m gonna have to work on that because I 100% want this year to be a good experience. When I was in college I studied abroad in Mexico and it was NOT fun AT ALL. Good to know these things from someone who has been there!

  11. Fritz says:

    I have a question and I’m not sure who else to ask – I’ve tried several people so far.
    I’m about to be a first-year auxiliar placed in a village called Pradollano, Carmona (Sevilla).
    I want to commute there from Sevilla. I’ve looked, but I can’t find buses there. Do you know anything about that? I REALLY appreciate the help.

  12. Fritz says:

    Hi Lauren,

    Thanks very much for that article – it did make me laugh with relief. What is with google maps then?
    I’m also relieved to hear that you were in the same school for your first year. I have so many questions!
    I’m looking forward to more information that you have concerning that specific school (IES Maese Rodrigo). Like you, I’ve tried emailing them several times, but unlike you, I haven’t received any response whatsoever.
    I’m glad to have an insider’s perspective, especially one that had the same school!

    Fritz

  13. Maria says:

    Hi Lauren,

    Thank you for the great tips, it really does help! Im a first year Auxiliar starting in October in Periana (malaga) and I really dont know what to expect, especially because Im finding it hard to get in contact with my school… I spoke to a lady on the phone once but she wasnt very nice and the principal wasnt there.. I havent had any teaching experience so im stressing a little bit in that sense… But we have quite a bit of time for planning so it should be ok right? Did you have any other auxiliares in your school? DId you have the chance to organise things with others?

    Thanks again, Maria

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Maria! First of all, teaching experience is not a prerequisite and definitely not necessary… I’d even say it would be a disadvantage because then you may be used to having and running your own classes which here you most likely won’t be doing. Schools are very difficult to get in contact with, especially in the summer. I would just keep in close contact with other auxiliars placed in Malaga because at some point there will be an orientation and some schools (like mine the first year) don’t tell you about it! Otherwise, just show up to your school on October 1st at 8:00 or 9:00 am and explain who you are and they should hand you off to someone! Good luck!

      • Maria says:

        Hi Lauren,

        Im a bit more relieved to know you don’t need experience. How does it work? Do you just contribute to the classes and help the teachers prepare them? Is it just the english class or any subject?
        I also wanted to ask you, did you find you could live ok with the salary or did you do tutoring as well or did you just have to save up before going?
        Yes I think I will just show up but a week before school starts so that they know who I am and I can organise myself better that way..

        Thanks lots, you are so kind to be willing to help out those of us who have not been yet!

        Maria.-

  14. Jane Conners says:

    What type of clothing did you wear when you taught? Did you have your own class or were you more of an aide to the main teacher? What did the other teachers wear? I am placed in a tiny town in Galicia, and I’m unsure about what sort of wardrobe to bring (I hear the climate is similar to Seattle). Did you do private lessons on the side or after school? If so, were they paid? Thanks so much for doing these blog posts. They are invaluable to so many people.

  15. Great tips!

    As an instructor in Japan (for nearly 3 years), the same is true there as well! I think I am going to have fun when I compare my time in Japan with my upcoming time in Spain :)

    • Thanks for commenting! It’s nice to know that its not only here that things work a little funny compared to the states. I’ll bet Japan was really culturally interesting. It’ll be fascinating for you to compare!

  16. rosie says:

    I have been hired as a language assistant in Madrid, 12 hours. Did you get extra hours from the school or work somewhere else, give a lot of private lessons? This is such a useful article.

  17. Erica says:

    I am so thankful I found your blog. I am thinking about applying for the 2013-2014 year when the application opens in November.

    If you turn your application in soon after it opens in November, would you say that it is likely you would get your preferred region? Say, Madrid?

    I’m looking forward to exploring your blog more!

    Erica

  18. Leigh says:

    I have been teaching in Spain for over 11 years and love it. I came acoss your blog and was impressed with the great advice and info- well done! Please contact me if you´d be interested in being ‘interviewed’ for my website. I am adding a section for Language and Cultural Assistants in Spain and would love some insight.
    Leigh

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