Since I moved to Spain to teach English over two years ago, I’ve gotten lots of questions about the program I’m here on, so I’ve decided to do an FAQ, soon to be followed by a pros and cons list… cause let’s face it- there are lots. Here it goes!
What’s the program called and what’s required to participate?
The program is called the North American Language and Culture Assistants program, or Auxiliares de Conversación. It is offered through the Spanish Ministry of Education and it is a part time English teacher assistant job.
There are other similar programs with slightly different schedules and other details. The first is the “Teach in Spain” program through CIEE. It’s the exact same job as the auxiliares program, but you pay CIEE $1,000+ to do your application and have the possibility of an orientation. Another one that’s pretty popular is the BEDA program that places applicants in private schools in Madrid, but that’s pretty much all I know about it… I’m an auxiliar expert 😉
To be an eligible applicant, you must have a bachelor’s degree. That’s honestly the only actual requirement, but there are other skills that will give you a leg up, even though they aren’t required.
A beginner level of Spanish will be helpful, for obvious reasons. The program tells you that you should have an intermediate level of Spanish before coming. They never “test” it, but many instructions for applying, forms, and orientations once you get here are in Spanish so you’d be at a slight disadvantage to not know anything. That isn’t to say it can’t be done- I know a girl who came here knowing basically no Spanish and she made it through. Brushing up on your own over the next several months will make the application process smoother, and the adjustment process easier once you’re here.
It’s also not required to have any teaching experience, though I’m sure you can imagine why this would be advantageous. It can be intimidating to step in front of a class of kids of any age, so at least being comfortable with and liking kids is pretty much an unwritten requirement.
How does the application work?
In early January (it varies every year) the application goes live. For the 2014-2015 academic year, the application opens on January 9th, 2014. On the program website you’ll find extensive instructions on how to do each and every step of the fairly complicated application on the Profex website. You’ll have to create an account, fill out your CV (résume), and upload documents like a transcript, recommendation letter, personal statement, a copy of your passport, and a medical certificate.
After uploading the documents, you choose your preferred regions of Spain. The preference selection sheet looks like this:
As you can see, there are three groups that include all of the autonomous regions of Spain. You must preference each group, and then select your preferred region within each group. As you can see, it’s a bit inflexible and not all regions are participating. For example, if your first choice is Madrid and your second choice is Andalucía, you’re pretty much shit out of luck, as they both fall into Group C and you can only choose one.
After “preferencing” a region, you’ll state your preferences in terms of urban vs. rural and high school vs. primary school, though NOTHING is guaranteed, take it from me.
Once all is filled in and submitted, you receive a PDF with an application number. Its a long string of letters and numbers on the top of the PDF, and the last one to four digits are your application number. This number is your golden ticket, and the lower it is, the better chances you have of getting your first preferences. The program is gaining lots of popularity and people are on top of the application like frosting on a cake so low numbers get scooped up fast! But don’t worry- even if you get a really high number (like 3 or 4,000s) there is still hope! People this year have been getting placed all the way up until November and December, even though the program started in October and most people get their placements in the summer.
How much does it pay, and is it enough to live on?
Auxiliares in all regions (except madrid) get paid 700€ a month and work 12 hours a week from October 1st- May 31st. In Madrid, they work 16 hours a week from October 1st through the end of June, but get paid 1000€/month. I’ve found 700€ to be a decent amount as in both towns I lived in rent averages 250€-350€, less if you just want to rent a room in a place (aka live with roommates). On top of rent, you’ll need to pay electricity every two months, and water every three, plus internet. Some places may include the price of electric and water in the rent which can be great. In general I’ve found groceries and cell phone plans to be cheaper than they are in the US so thats also a good thing.
If you want to travel, eat out occasionally, and shop, you’ll probably want more income. It’s relatively easy to find work giving private English lessons in the afternoon, and since you’ll have so much free time (12 hours of work a week is nothing) you’ll probably want to fill up your afternoons with some classes to rake in some dough. Try posting an ad on tusclasesparticulares.com when you get to Spain and when you have a phone number. Spaniards much prefer calling to emailing so you’ll have a lot more success if you provide a number to be contacted at.
Do you have a visa? How does the residency work?
Once you apply for the program, get accepted and get your specific school placement letter (carta de nombramiento) you can apply for a visa in your assigned Spanish consulate. You’ll apply for a short stay Schengen visa that’s valid for three months. Then, when you get to Spain, you’ll apply for a residence card before your visa expires which replaces your visa and is valid until the end of the program. The general visa requirements can be found on the NY Spanish Consulate website. Of course you’ll want to check the consulate website for the consulate that covers your state as the requirements and vary a bit.
Make an appointment to apply for your visa (you must go in person!) ASAP ’cause the appointments can get booked really far in advance. Then gather all of the documents required and bring them to your appointment. You’ll need to leave your passport at the consulate and provide them with a mailing label so they can send you back your passport and newly affixed visa. They say it can take a couple months to get sent back, though in my experience it’s taken much less time.
Once you have your passport and visa in hand you’re ready to go! Make sure to have copies of EVERYTHING because you’ll give the consulate lots of originals and copies and you’ll want to keep some for your personal records, and bring them to Spain with you to apply for you residence card, or NIE/TIE.
What’s the job itself like?
The job itself is extremely hit or miss. As I mentioned earlier, your preferences don’t always get taken into account, especially in terms of urban/rural primary/secondary. I requested a secondary school in an urban area and I got sent to a primary school in a town of 30,000 people and I was terrified. Turns out I actually much prefer having younger students so I’m glad they didn’t listen to me.
Over the summer or in September someone from your assigned school should be in touch with you. If they’re not, don’t freak out, and just show up at 9am on October 1st! I know that sounds crazy but they’re expecting you. You will be given a schedule of 12 hours, and if you’re lucky your coordinator will have your hours back to back four days a week. If you’re not lucky, your hours could be spread over 5 days with hour long breaks between classes forcing you to be at the school all day every day even if you only have 2 or 3 classes that day. Both situations have happened to me and there are pros and cons to each.
Your responsibilities will vary based on your school, and each teacher will have different expectations. I have been assigned to English and Science classes for the most part. My first two years I was at one primary school and worked with 3-4 teachers. For the most part I would go in and lead the kids through their English book which didn’t require any planning, and occasionally the teachers would ask me to prepare a lesson about a unit they’d be doing next week so I had advanced notice. On special holidays I’d give powerpoint presentations and review holiday vocabulary, and maybe do some sort of easy craft. I had an overall positive experience at that school and felt like a part of the school.
This year I’m in two primary schools on alternating weeks so it’s been more difficult to feel connected to each school. In one school I do all English classes and there is only one English teacher, so I’m with him all day, but my schedule is great because all of my hours are together so I can come to school late and leave early every day. The other school’s schedule isn’t as great so some days I have to be there all day, and other days I can leave a little early. At that school I work with a few different English teachers, and with the older kids I take them in groups of 5 to practice basic conversations.
So, what other questions do you guys have? Did I forget anything? Leave a comment if there’s something more you’d like to know and I’ll definitely do my best to answer! And check out this Pros and Cons list about the Auxiliares program.