Eight Reasons Why You Should Teach English in Spain NOW

The most common question I get when meeting new people in Spain is, ‘Why did you originally come here/go to Spain/decide on Seville/move abroad to work as a teacher?’

I could answer this question in volumes, but it’s just easier to say, to travel, to learn Spanish, and to try out teaching English as a foreign language.

In March 2007, I found out about the Auxiliar Program, known in the United States as the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program. I gathered the recommendation letters, drafted a letter of intent in my best 101-class Spanish and sent off a packet to Madrid. Spending a year in Spain for 631€ a month sounded like a good plan.

This is where I shake my head and think, If only I knew that this was the start of everything.

I spent three years working as an auxiliar de conversación in a high school in Olivares (Seville). It has been, to date, my favorite job, one which I looked forward to going to every day. I got to talk all I wanted, plan activities as diverse as a gap fill about Evil Knievel to a Halloween party, and my coworkers bought me breakfast every day.

My last day at IES Heliche was gut wrenching, but I came away with skills I didn’t think I’d ever acquire, and the job has led to others in the same sector in Seville. There are many nay-sayers who are quick to blame the program for its lack of organization or slow payment process, but I firmly believe that  you get out what you put in.

And now they give you materials about how to teach. I was thrown to the lions (lions that looked a lot like 13-year-old kids).

I receive emails everyday about teaching abroad. Given how difficult it’s getting to stay under the radar without a visa, I always recommend the auxiliar program or a similar gig which grants you a student visa and health insurance, along with a stipend. There are 3,000 jobs up for grabs around Spain which will pay you between 700€ and 1000€ a month in exchange for working 12-16 hours, and now countless companies are offering similar positions.

Let’s practice a bit of first conditional, in which we talk about circumstance which can be true in the present or future.

If you go to Spain to teach,

You’ll learn Spanish.

Immersion learning is one of the best ways to acquire a language. From dealing with the bureaucratic mess that can be the Spanish government to living with international students or workers, there is no doubt that your spoken Spanish will improve. Try turning off the subtitles on the TV, reading the local paper and chatting up the abuelos in the bar down the street. When I first met the Novio, he told me my castellano was gorgeous, but my mistakes made it difficult to understand me.

Nowadays, he’s threatening to not take me to anymore Betis games because my potty mouth is too much for the other fans around me. Spain is a great place to put your textbook Spanish from high school to use (and you’ll finally get to exercise the “Oh, they only use that in Spain” vosotros form!).

Spain is also home to several dialects and even another language, so if you geek out about linguistics, Spain will be an audible treat for you. 

You’ll have ample time to travel.

Ever heard that Spanish people love to party? It’s true, to an effect, but there are multiple holidays that will make a long weekend (you’ll likely work just four days a week) even longer. There are a dozen national holidays that fall within the school year. Plus, you’ll get local and regional holidays off, plus two full paid weeks during the Christmas holidays and another during Holy Week. If you’re in Málaga or Bilbao, you also get another week off somewhere because the local festivals are during August.

You’ll travel for cheap.

The running joke when I was an auxiliar was, “Where is Cat going this weekend?” Since coming to live in Spain as an English teacher, I’ve been to every autonomous community and 20 countries. Budget airlines abound in Europe, and Spain has several hubs along the coasts and in Madrid. Sign up for offers from every airline that flies out of your nearest city, and you’ll be surprised how cheap it can be to get around Europe.

Apart from that, Spain’s network of public and private transportation is top-notch. All major cities are connected via rail, and private bus companies are a comfortable way to travel both long and short distances.

You’ll have people looking out for you.

When my mother first met my boss from the auxiliar program, Nieves, she gave her a hug. It had been three years since I’d worked in Olivares, but Nieves and I have remained close. My mom thanked her over and over for looking after me when I first arrived to Seville without a single contact and flailing Spanish skills.

Now that the language assistant program isn’t new, its participants know you’re likely in your 20s and far away from home. I was taken care of like one of their own, even offered winter coats, free rides to work and the opportunity to take part in several cultural experiences (I spent the first weekend in Seville betting on horses at the Pineda racetrack and then stayed out until 8am). That said, everyone has a different experience with regards to coworkers, but attitude can go a long way to forging healthy relationships with them.

You’ll gain international experience.

Getting a job in America seems scary competitive, so having international experience on your resume will be a great talking point in an interview. Apart from learning Spanish and trying out something new, be sure to tell a potential employer that you’ve picked up valuable problem-solving skills and explored diverse interests. Network on LinkedIn before returning home, keep a blog of your experiences and be sure to make your year or two teaching in Spain stick out.

You may just get sucked into it, too.

You’ll learn about Spanish culture, and not from a textbook.

They say experience is the best teacher, so forget all of the business you learned in high school from your textbook. Without a doubt, living in Spain and working as a teacher has given me first-hand knowledge of Spanish schools and Spanish life. 

 As a tutor, I became friends with several of the families who employed my services. This meant offers to attend first communions, family luncheons and even ride in horse carriages during the Feria. Inviting me into their homes meant I got an idea of how Andalusian families lived, from crowding around their braseros when it got cold to checking out what Spanish kids ate for merienda. While I only moonlight tutor now for one family, I’ve remained in contact with several of the households who once paid my groceries and travel habit.

You’ll have the visa and health insurance figured out.

Coming to work in Spain legally if you’re a North American is difficult. The various teaching programs offered to native speakers have the advantage that you’re awarded a student visa for the duration of the program which is available for renewal, as well as private health insurance during that time. I’ve had all sorts of work-ups and check ups done, just for the sake of milking it for what it’s worth. The student visa will also entitle you to student discounts and the ability to travel around Europe longer than a Schengen visa can provide.

To be clear, the auxiliar program through the Spanish government employs you for either 12 or 16 hours a week, which also gives you time outside of work commitments to try other things. I’ve taken flamenco and French class, worked for a student travel company and still found time to do tutoring and partake in the siesta culture.

You’ll get to live in Spain for an academic year, and you’ll get a stipend to do it.

You get paid to talk in your native tongue a dozen hours a week. If that’s not reason enough, I don’t know what it.

Not too keen on an assistant teaching position, or you’ve already gotten around the visa issue? In Seville alone, 26 new English language academies opened for the 2012-13 school year, and it’s a growing sector. Once you’ve got a TEFL degree, finding a place to work is far easier. There are also many alternatives to the auxiliar program that still get you the necessities to live here, and I’ve broken them all down for you.

If you are an auxiliar, tell me about the good and the bad of your position. Would you recommend it to a friend?

Applying to to the Auxiliares Program: How to Apply to be a Language Assistant in Spain

Six years ago, I began researching a way to make it back to Spain. I was a senior at the University of Iowa, finishing a degree in journalism and “how the hell do I get abroad.” 

Fast-forwarding to the present day, I’m sitting in the sunlight basking into my apartment on the fifth floor with a café con leche. My one goal post-college was to move abroad, and thankfully the North American Language and Culture Assistants gave me a visa, a job and the ability to make Spain my hogar dulce hogar. And since it began nearly a decade ago, loads more teaching programs in Spain have begun.

Remember Mike? He wrote about his intention to start a new life in Spain through the same program, and has gladly shared his experience of tackling the application process.

Well, the application period for the Auxiliares de conversaciones extranjeros en España finally opened up. However, I felt that I was going into this application process basically blind. All I really knew is that I had to login to Profex (the application system they use), and upload documents. Everything I had read of various blogs and forums said that you should apply AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE! Basically, once someone applies they are assigned a number, and then once the application has been approved, placements in regions and schools are given out in the order of the application received. First preference being given to those who are renewing their current placements.

The website has a program manual that outlines the application process and a Profex manual that detailed each screen on Profex and how to navigate the page. Once I was actually in the process of applying, these documents were actually very helpful. I was able to begin working on the list of documents on the website which needed to be submitted for the application:

  • The main page of a U.S. or Canadian passport
  • A copy of college transcripts or college degree
  • Letter of intent or statement of purpose
  • Medical certificate (if not a U.S. citizen) – to be turned in during VISA application process
  • Letter of recommendation

Before the application period opened, I was diligently working on the collecting all the items above. The passport page was an easy photocopy, as was the copy of my college transcript. I browsed many forums and blogs, as well as the Facebook group for this year’s auxiliares to see if it mattered between the transcript or the degree. Everything I came across said that it didn’t matter as long as one was uploaded. Needless to say, I chose the transcript. The letter of intent was fairly simple, as I had to put into words why I wanted to teach in Spain. However, the only glitch with it was that it had to be 300 words, so my 750 word first draft had to be significantly reduced. Who knows if they really even read it though?

The website had a guide for how to write and submit the letter of recommendation. The letter had to come from a professor or former professor unless the applicant has been out of school for over 5 years. I contacted my former professor and faculty advisor. She was ecstatic to be writing the letter for me. I was thrilled because I had been nervous that since I could not ask her in person she may say no or put it on the back-burner and finish it later than when the application opened. My professor wrote the letter in the format they requested and mailed it in. I asked that she send me an electronic copy so I could upload it online just in case it got lost in the mail. Luckily, she obliged and I was able to upload a copy when I was applying.

On January 10th and 5:01 p.m. here in Milwaukee, WI, (00:01 a.m. in Madrid), the application period finally opened. I began logging in and creating a user account, while following the Profex manual. After I had created a username and began entering my personal information, the system started to load very slow and kept shutting me out. I attempted to login a few times and kept receiving an error message from the website. Quickly, I began searching forums to see if others were having this problem, and I found out that others had the same exact problem. It seemed as though the mad rush of applicants had overloaded their server.

I attempted to login nearly every hour, sans when I briefly slept; however, it was to no avail. The same error message popped up every time. Since it didn’t work through Friday Spain time, I figured it would be down through the weekend, which it was. Although, it did not stop me from constantly checking to see if for some reason it would work! On Monday, I was able to login and finish my application. The Profex Manual was a breeze to follow with actually having the web page up in front of me. Most of the fields that need to be filled in are personal information, college information, any teaching experience, and any study abroad experience, fairly straight forward.

After all that information was completed, the fun part began: selecting regional, type of city, and school preferences. For regional preferences the applicant put each group in order of preference, from 1 to 3, and then selects one region within each of those three groups. The options for regional placements are:

Group A: Asturias, Cueta y Melilla, Extremadura, La Rioja, Navarra, País Vasco

Group B: Aragón, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Cataluña, Galicia, Islas Canarias

Group C: Andalucía, Castilla y León, Islas Baleares, Madrid, Murcia, Valencia

The regional preferences are followed by the type of city preferences, which allows the preferences of a rural community, medium sized community, an urban community, or no preference. Then, the school preferences consist of primera, secondaria, or no preference. Personally, I found this to be the most exciting part, as I was actually selecting where I would prefer to be located. Now, I know that I may not get placed in any of my selected preferences, which is perfectly fine with me. I was just excited to be actually submitting something that said where I would like to go and what I would like to do.

Once this part of the application is finished, Profex generates a .pdf print out. It is necessary to print this out and sign it because it needs to be mailed in to a specified regional coordinator along with a checklist that is initialed and signed.

An application becomes Inscrita once the online part is complete. When the regional coordinator receives all the documents the status is changed to Registrada. This is where my application is at this point. Admitada is the next stage, which is when all the submitted documents have been accepted. So far, no one that I know of has been placed past this stage this year.

According to everything I have read, it takes a long time to reach the next stage, Adjudicada, which is when they send the autonomous community assignment that the applicant has been placed in. You have seven days to accept or reject this placement. Assuming it’s accepted, the status becomes Aceptada. The final stage is when you receive your Carta de nombramiento, your school placements. These latter stages of the Profex application process are exciting to think about, but still seem far off for me. I’m just looking forward to being Admitada!

This whole Profex process was not actually as difficult as I had anticipated. Current auxiliaries de conversation blogs and forums were incredibly helpful and reassuring throughout the process. Unfortunately, I discovered Facebook group for those applying to teach after I applied, otherwise that would have been pretty helpful too. In the end, I wound up with number 780. While it’s not the best number in the world, I still feel as though it is respectable and feel very comfortable that I should get a placement. I’m checking my applications status every hour, if not even more frequently, and I look forward to keeping everyone updated with my thoughts about this whole process.

Hasta luego.

Got any questions for Mike or me about the program? Have you considered doing  an internationally recognized TEFL degree to help you be effective in the classroom? 

My Journey Back to Spain…again

My desire to live abroad was coupled only by my worries for how to make it happen. Thankfully, my study abroad office at the University of Iowa gave me the information on a relatively new program to teach English in Spanish public schools. I threw out my plan to follow my friends Matt and Brian to Ireland and began brushing up on my Spanish.

Five years later, part of my morning coffee goes to helping my readers find a way to make their dreams of sunshine and siestas a reality. One such reader, Mike, and I have been in contact for quite some time, and he’s finally decided to quit his job and apply for the Auxiliar de Conversación program that brought me here initially. Here’s his story:

Before I get started on my story, I’d like to thank Cat for being so gracious and allowing me to write a guest post as I’ve been an avid reader for a while now. Hopefully, everyone will enjoy my post as a guest author and find it helpful in whatever capacity they are looking for. I am currently applying for the auxiliar de conversación program in Spain.

However, my story begins long before me just recently pulling together my application materials.

My Story

Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my mom had always told me that she was forcing me to study abroad when I was in college. She had studied in Copenhagen, Denmark  and told me it was an experience that everyone needs to have. During my junior year in high school I was afforded the opportunity to go on a week-long trip through Spain with my Spanish class. It was then that I fell in love with the language, people, cuisine, and culture. I knew I would be returning to Spain at some point in my life.

A recent shot of Mike in America

When I was in college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, I took a Spanish class during my first semester. It was extremely difficult for me, and I ended up dropping the class. I thought I was done with Spanish and did not enroll in the class again. After a couple different major changes, I found myself with a foreign language requirement that had not been met. Thinking it would be an easy class since I could remember some basic Spanish from high school, I enrolled in an Introduction to Spanish course. After the first class, my professor noticed that I was ahead of the others who had never taken Spanish before and recommended to me that I move up a few levels. I was cautious, but ultimately agreed. The higher level course was naturally more of a struggle, but it was far more rewarding as I rekindled my love of the Spanish language. Following the course, I applied, was accepted, and studied abroad in Granada, Spain for a semester in the spring of 2010.

Studying in Granada, Spain

 

My study abroad experience was undoubtedly the best experience of my life,  and ever since I returned to the US, I have been yearning to return to Spain. After graduation, like many people out there, I applied for a bunch of jobs and eventually was offered and accepted one. It was a desk job, doing something that I thought I may be interested in; however, it was not for me.

Mike and his host family in Granada

Since accepting the job, I have dabbled with the thought of applying to teach in Spain, but have not been fully committed to it, until now. There have been plenty of reasons that kept me from applying, primarily that my job is steady, secure and well-paidl. Essentially, it is a job that many would probably die to have, but that’s not me. It’s a job that most would imagine themselves having when they are 40 years old or mid-career professional, and I do realize that I was lucky to land in it. This has held me back from applying to teach in Spain for over a year, but I had enough. While many may die to have my job, I would die to teach in Spain.

Over the past year, I have consulted with Cat as well as anyone I could find who taught in Spain or even another country about what one needs to know before teaching abroad. It has been a huge help to me in making my decision to take the leap, so thank you for everyone for your advice. The number one piece of advice that nearly every single person echoed was that if you don’t do it, you will always regret not doing it. I truly believe this is the case because I can picture myself always regretting it and wondering “what if” had I not ever tried.

Applying for the Auxiliar Program

Once a current auxiliar directed me to the website for applying and I found it, all I could find was information for the school year 2012 – 2013 program, whereas I would be applying for the 2013-2014 program. I started to panic because I figured I was doing something wrong and simply could not find it. I thought I was missing something obvious and was going to be late in applying. I checked the website just about hourly to see if it changed or if I missed anything. Then, one day, November 5 th to be exact, there was finally an update. It said they were working on the call for applications for 2013-2014, and that the application period would open up on January 8th, 2013. It also noted the manual for the application would be posted soon. I felt an enormous sense of relief.

As for now, I have been using the 2012-2013 manual and application checklist on the website to begin to pull together my materials. I realize that some of the materials may change, but I figure this will give me a jump-start for when the application period opens. If I end up doing something that is no longer required, I’m fine with that because it’s exciting doing it since this all part of me going back to Spain to teach! The two primary pieces I am pulling together are my letter of recommendation and my statement of purpose. An applicant also needs a copy of their passport and their college transcript or diploma.

Mike hiking in Ronda (Málaga)

While waiting for my transcripts and after pulling together my statement of purpose, all I have to do is wait for the application to open and the manual to be posted. I know it’s only the middle of November, and while it said December, I am still getting anxious and still checking back just about hourly.

I hope to keep everyone updated on my journey from America’s dairyland back to Spain. While Cat and I both came from the Midwest, Chicago and Milwaukee respectively, I can imagine that our experiences will be different since a lot has changed in the five years since she first left for Spain, yet I am extremely hopeful that my experience will be just as astounding and inspiring to others as hers was and is to me.

Hasta luego.

Mike.

Mike will be contributing to Sunshine and Siestas regularly until he hears from the program about his (hopeful) return to Spain. Got any questions for either of us about being an auxiliar or about how to apply to the program? Or about doing a TEFL degree? Leave us a message in the comments, or join my Facebook page for more scoop!

Saying Goodbye

You might say my mind has been made up since last August. For the first time in my six flights from America to Spain, I cried boarding.

Normally, I’m equipped with a travel magazine, a bottle of water and a nervous stomach at going back to a place that I love so much, but this trip was different. Spain no longer held the same excitement and romanticism for me as it did during my first few years there, and I wasn’t looking forward to going back.

It was clear what the problem was: My work situation.

I thought about how many mornings I’d trekked to the foreigner’s office or to the unemployment office or to job interviews during the hot summer months. I remember I told my friend Izzy that I was about to throw in the towel and just go back to America, defeated. Then Refu called back, asking me for an interview. Seven hours, a 13-paged written interview and two classroom try outs later, I was officially given the job at SM’s.

And two school years later, I’m bowing out. Official reason? I don’t want to be a teacher forever. I want to blog. To not have to turn down weekend trips because I have too much to do. To live my sevillano life, lest lose it forever.

Next year will be a transition year: master’s in Public Relations at the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona, 26-hours-a-week teaching gig at a language academy (working in the pm again…weird!) and toying around with this blog. I’ll still be teaching, though I’ve made up my mind that it’s not the career I want forever. At least, not in Spain.

The thing is, my situation – long hours, poor pay, no chance at moving up  – will be the same forever unless I do a master’s in teaching. My school threatened to have to complete a five-year teaching program (as a master’s for primary school teacher does not exist) or to lose our jobs. I did them one better and gave official notice about a month ago, citing that I wasn’t willing to pay for five or more years of schooling for something I can’t see myself doing forever.

Of course, there’s more to the story that isn’t fair to share. No one in my school has been overly abusing of anything else but my time and my self-worth. Sure, I’ll miss my co-workers and the staff at the bar across the street, who never need to ask me how I want my breakfast. I’ll miss the parents, full of compliments and funny stories about the 45 kids I’ve grown to adore after being their tutora for 10 months.

That’s the thing – I’ll miss my kids with locura. Absolute, unending locura.

If I make the count, I’ve taught at least 700 kids in some form – between my five years and three summers teaching. I’ve had kids that make my nerves snap, kids who are mini-mes (and tell me they want to teach English like me), kids who understand where I’m coming from, kids who give me hell. As a director of studies, I’ve put up with fist fights, calls home sobbing to parents, crazy moms who yell at me over the phone…vamos, all in a day’s work. Between the test-giving, the long nights preparing theatres and parties, the endless hours of programming and grading, I’ve found that this is and isn’t where I want to be.

I think about just how far me and the babies have come since September. Having been their English teacher in Five years’ preschool, I already had the confianza of knowing them – and having them know me. They were excited, and I had unhappy preschool parents asking to know why I’d been changed to primary. But I was elated. Finally, my own classroom, a manageable number of kids and a feeling of actually being on the team.

It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies – there were kids who I needed to win over, motivation to keep up and a lot of work to be done. Since my coworker and I have 45 kids, that’s twice the work when it comes to grading and report cards, and an extra class of parents to see. But I enjoyed watching their Aha! moments, rewarding them for using their English blocks of speech (even if just a few words here and there) and how they smiled when we’d play a game (roll the ball in the bucket as a math game? I deserve some kind of award) or take a field trip or make a breakthrough. They, as well as I, have matured and come into their own in these ten months, and I’ll take a piece of them with me when I have to say goodbye next Friday.

The plan, before I gave notice, was for me to continue onto second grade with my minions. Multiplication tables, reflexive verbs and the solar system were all on the docket, and I had many anxious six-year-olds asking, ¿Serás nuestra seño en segundo? Since my move up to first grade was so unexpected, I didn’t have to lie and say I didn’t know who their teacher would be next year, because it’s all up to the boss anyway. But as I take down their adorable drawings, send home their corrected and completed workbooks, I find myself giving more hugs and kisses, pinching more cheeks and wishing that things could somehow be different.

Teaching and I have a love-hate relationship: I hate the work, but love the reward. I find pleasure in creating a challenging lesson and giving it, like standing up and acting goofy in front of a crowd and crave the daily satisfaction that a young learner’s progress garners. It’s all of the extras at my school that was slowing me down, and it all came to a head with the theatre last week. I cried in front of the kids for the first time all year.

My decision to leave is the right one for me.

Maybe some of my kids who finally started getting results will get blocked with a new teacher. Or maybe they’ll like him more. But I’m confident that the right foundation has been laid for them to be successful.

Now that exams, grades and everything else is done, it’s time to enjoy with the kids who taught me that school can be fun and hands-on, with the ones who read my emotions even better than I do, the ones who say ” I want the holidays to Chicago con Miss Cat!” Boogers and all, they’re still really special kids, and I will miss them dearly.

Preschool, Year One: The Good, the Bad and the How’d I Get So Ugly?

Thomas the Tank Engine is creeping back from my childhood, and not because he’s the 2001 version of Tickle Me Elmo. That’s my daily affirmation that I can push through these last few days of baby school and get through directing a summer camp. I’m beat, I’m spent, I’m a card house waiting for someone to just blow. I think I can, I think I can…

This first year of preschool has seen its share of both good and bad. Good in the sense that I could adapt, use the creativity I found I had in high school with a lower level, receive hugs and kisses every few moments, and watch my kids grow physically and emotionally, as well as intellectually. Bad in the sense that I’ve cowered away from responsibilities, crumbled under pressure like never before, and let my emotions get the best of me. Last week, for example, we had out annual Summer Show. At the last minute, I was told I needed to do a theater in English. I chose the five-year-olds’s favorite song, assigned parts to the most able students and prayed for a miracle. It was a disaster, a complete and udder kaka. The mics didn’t work, the kids froze. I cried, unable to catch my breath or face the parents who so regularly compliment me. It took me till the next day to face up to myself and say, they’re kids, they’re small, they barely speak their own language. I think I can.


There are times when I remember how beautiful it is to work with small kids. Last night at the 5 años celebration, Bea talked about the wonder of letting adults into the marvelous world of a small child. It’s really true. I had students excited to learn English, and every other subject, eager to tell me the most minute details of their lives (including baby brother’s eating habits), willing to do anything for their seño. I laughed, and a lot. I sang until my throat hurt.

baby steps

It’s certainly been a year of discovery  - discovering my own strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, discovering how a child’s brain works. Discovering how to have a bad day and let the kids make it better. And, most importantly, discovering that I could push myself just like I pushed the kids.

I will miss some of my kids dearly, their open minds and their silliness. I will not, however, miss JJ and D play fighting (resulting in A cutting his lip yesterday). I get a whole new crop of babies next year and I worry about taming them and charming them like I have my five-year-olds.

All grown up

For better or for worse, I survived. I have a year of real teaching under my belt, and I landed on my feet in the end. Actually, I surprised myself.

The Difference Between Niños and Niñas

Yesterday, relieved that both Santiago and Nuria were sick, I took the three little ones to the kitchen for a lesson in likes and dislikes. I let little Ramoncito, who is four, color a picture of Santa and a Christmas tree while the older two, Clara and Paloma were given two magazines each to cut out and paste three things they like and three things they dislike.

The girls chose things like babies, purses and chocolate to add to the “likes” column. Ramon sat at the end of the table farting.

They learn these gender roles so early in life, don’t they?

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