Hola a todos, I’m Rachel, the new Careers Service Administrator. It’s great to be on board! I’ve come home to Wellington after four years living in Madrid, so I thought I’d share with you how it was that I initially ended up over there in case you’re interested in doing the same thing!

I came across a flier one day on the notice board outside my Spanish tutorial class in Von Zedlitz. It outlined a programme offered by Spain’s Ministry of Education whereby you could become an English Language and Cultural Assistant in a school in Spain without having to have a specific English teaching qualification. The hours were part-time and paid very well by Spanish standards, and it seemed to me the perfect opportunity to be able to live immersed in the language and culture in Spain, while at the same time having the means to be able to support myself and the time to really get to know the place and to make the most of being in Europe and travel. It was. The Ministry programme places Assistants in public schools. I was placed in a high school teaching all ages and levels of English.

I enjoyed my experience so much that I ended up renewing for the following year. I was once again placed in a high school, but this one also offered Adult Education evening classes which I taught. Two years was the limit with the Ministry programme, so when I wanted to go back for a third year I switched to another programme: Beda. Beda places Assistants in Catholic schools, and I was placed in a school that ran from kindergarten to high school, giving classes across the board.

There are various English Assistantship programmes in Spain, each differing slightly in their entry and ongoing requirements, hours, pay, placement, what the programme provides you with (health care, qualifications etc), what paperwork they take care of for you and what you’ll need to do yourself.

These programmes place native English speakers in schools throughout Spain (including the islands) so that learners of English will have exposure to native English speakers in Spain’s attempt to raise its level of English proficiency. Through these programmes you can be placed in either kindergarten, primary, high school or adult education (or a mix!)

These are the main ones:

You could also be hired directly by a private school but this gets more complicated in terms of visas and what qualifications you need.

Important: Please ensure you do your research before making a decision as to which programme is right for you.

My own experience was that I found Beda provided Assistants with a lot of support. They helped with the bureaucratic side of things, they held ongoing meetings throughout the year, there was always someone you could contact if you needed to and you knew who these people were as they ran the meetings themselves and you could go in and see them at the offices. They were extremely knowledgeable and obliging and most importantly, available. With Beda I felt like I wasn’t just a number. You could also work towards a qualification with the Beda programme.

To make transitioning into life in a new country that bit easier, I would have liked to have had this support in my first year when I was new to Spain, the language and the way Spanish bureaucracy works (or doesn’t). In Spain there is a lot of red tape. This tongue in cheek clip sums this up quite well:

Some of the difficulties I encountered along the way as a Language Assistant included resentment from some people. This was due to the economic crisis in Spain which had hit everybody hard. Spain reached its highest level of unemployment while I was there. For this reason some people saw us as taking jobs away from Spanish nationals; however the role of a Language Assistant as a native English speaker is one (99% of) Spanish people can’t do. The goal of the Language Assistantship programmes is to help Spanish people to learn English and thus ultimately make them more employable, but not everyone understood that or thought our role was necessary.

Some English teachers also felt threatened having a native speaker in the classroom. I found the way to avoid any animosity arising was to sit down with each teacher I would be working with, before we started in the classroom together, and go over exactly what my role would be. This varied from teacher to teacher, school to school, although there were some basic rules set out by each programme such as Language Assistants were not allowed to be left alone with a whole class of students. I also asked each teacher how they would like to be corrected should they make a mistake. Some preferred to be corrected on the spot so that their students could see that it didn’t matter if you made a mistake in another language, others wanted me to note down any mistakes they made and go over them with them at the end of class once everyone had left.

The people who really want the best for the children’s education, parents and good teachers, will be your biggest fans in Spain. After the children themselves that is. Prepare yourself for school stardom!

Being an English Language and Cultural Assistant is a job that’s challenging at times, but immensely rewarding when you see the progress your students are making and the interest you’re sparking in them about the wider world. Living immersed in authentic Spain, the language, country and culture, is a unique and life-changing experience. If this opportunity sounds too good to pass up to you, then get out of your comfort zone, grab the toro by the horns and go for it! ¡Olé!

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Advice, Interest, Personal development, Video, Work overseas

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