Deciding to teach abroad is a big deal and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It can be a long process before you even start. The transition from one job to another can also be quite strenuous. So, before beginning your new life as an auxiliar de conversación, or teaching assistant, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Observe the Classroom
Growing up, classroom standards vary depending on the teacher. Spain is no different. Some teachers have excellent classroom management and behavioral strategies while others do not. Get to know your teachers, watch how they discipline students and find out what’s appropriate. Remember that teaching in Spain is both an educational and cultural exchange! What may fly in your country, may not work here.
Tip: Teachers in Spain have much more physical contact with the students in terms of showing love and affection. Teachers often kiss the younger students (kindergarten) and children are not required to be potty trained before starting school here.
All Lesson Plans Are Not Created Equal
Depending on the grade level, hours of lesson planning may not be necessary. Teaching preschool can consist of a Jolly Phonics playlist from YouTube that takes a few minutes to create. Teaching high school can require more advanced English grammar and vocabulary exercises. As you fill out the application, think about your teaching experience and level of creativity and patience to lesson plan. All are helpful indicators of what grade level is right for you.
Tip: The application for the program is based on a lottery system of first come, first served. It's best to submit as soon as the application opens because then you'll have a lower number, and a higher chance of receiving your preferences!
English Levels Vary
Speaking of English levels, some provinces of Spain are new to bilingual education or have never used auxiliares before your arrival. Some students may have a lower speaking or reading level than you expected, especially in Spanish villages. It’s important to meet them where they are, at least in the beginning. Be patient and build rapport with your students to build their confidence to speak English. Hopefully as the year progresses, their English level will too.
Tip: There are several autonomous communities that do not participate in the public auxiliar program such as Cataluña and Canary Islands.
Flexibility is Your BFF
Spain lives by the relaxed, “no pasa nada” (no worries) lifestyle so be prepared for schedule changes or to be placed in subjects that weren’t your first choices. Don’t panic! It’s completely normal for your schedule to be finalized after your first week or two. Just as you are adjusting to being in the school, they are figuring out where to place you. As an auxiliar you are fulfilling their needs, so keep an open mind.
Don’t Be A Pushover
On the other hand... they say “closed mouths don’t get fed” so be flexible, but don’t be taken advantage of. Some teaching assistants get overworked while others are unappreciated. Speak up for yourself if you are unhappy or feeling alone in the classroom. Communicate with your bilingual coordinator, teachers or other auxiliares to find the best way to approach situations. You may just be an assistant, but it’s still a job and a year of your time. It should be enjoyable!
There is no perfect example of teaching in Spain because each auxiliar experience is unique. Some auxiliares love their schools while others do not. And yes, people have left the program early. No one said it was easy, but you’ll never know for sure until you try it yourself. Living and teaching in Spain comes with life lessons both inside, and outside the classroom. Embrace the ups and downs, make mistakes, and be open to what may come
If you're interested in more information about the many teaching programs in Spain, and other helpful tips on making the move abroad, check out the LMDES guide here! Or sign up for Limitless, an online course designed to make pursuing your dreams much simpler and easier!
Sojourner is a 22 year old traveling chocoholic from Milwaukee, WI. A graduate of Bradley University with a double major in Psychology and Spanish and minor in Women’s and Gender Studies, she currently resides in Logroño, La Rioja, Spain as a Fulbright Scholar. When Sojourner is not teaching, she can be found writing, eating or wine tasting her way through life at sojournies.weebly.com. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @sojowhite to keep up with her journeys to come!