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Teaching English in Spanish Public Schools

By Danielle E., Auxiliar de Conversación in Murcia 2018/2019.

If you are thinking of teaching English in Spanish public schools, I would like to share a list of 10 things that you should expect about teaching English in Spanish public schools. As I have been teaching in Spain for one academic year, I would like to share my preparation tips. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

10 Things You Should Expect When You Get Here to Help You Prepare Accordingly

1. Understanding some Spanish is Advantageous

Studying Spanish

This may seem obvious, but there are people that don’t quite seem to fully grasp how useful it is, even if you don’t speak Spanish with the students (in most cases you are supposed to speak English only). 

Understanding a little Spanish helps you gauge the classroom more easily as you can understand whether a student is thinking along the right lines when they are thinking out loud in Spanish or asking a friend for help and whether students are being respectful to each other and staff.

If you are someone that experiences a little anxiety if you are not 100% sure what is going on around you, then making sure you can understand the general gist of a conversation will give you a lot of assurance. And this is so not just in the classroom but also with co-workers and your day-to-day life in Spain.

2. Preparation Is Necessary

Prior preparation and planning prevent piss poor performance. This motto is applicable to almost anything and teaching English abroad is definitely one of them. While TEFL certificates are not necessary, simply speaking English natively does not mean you can teach English to your full potential. You need to know how to explain the differences between words and grammatical rules. You might never have had to think about it before, or you will risk looking like a deer in the headlights when you are asked a question.

However, remedying this does not have to be a daunting task. Personally, I read one or two very brief grammar/language tips a day while I commute. One source that’s particularly useful when teaching Spanish speakers English is www.englishontherocks.com as it is aimed at Spanish learners. My favorite website for grammar and language tips is the “everything after z” section on www.dictionary.com, under the grammar page you will find different facts about English grammar and also explanations of common consumables such as “farther” and “further”.

3. You Need to Be Adaptable

This point is not something specific to Spain. You are likely to come across many students each being unique, and each class is unique. You may be placed in different schools or even schools of different ages. As not everybody learns best in the same way be adaptable with your approach and work out what best engages each class. Some may enjoy role-playing activities and games, whilst others may prefer debates, presentations, and comprehension quizzes.

With smaller children, however, often games, songs, and drawings work best and in my experience, the children often have a closer relationship to their teachers than I have seen in England. Obviously, lesson plans are not supposed to be your responsibility if you are an Auxiliar de Conversación, but in many cases, you might be asked to, especially if it’s a cultural topic.

Just know that while it’s nice to go the extra mile sometimes, if you don’t feel well-equipped, or you think they lean on you too much, don’t be afraid to be assertive and say no. If you have taught elsewhere you may find the students are slightly louder here especially in bigger classes, luckily another teacher should always be present, so the responsibility of classroom management does not fall down to you.

4. You Are also A Cultural Ambassador

You are also a cultural ambassador. A great way to make students more interesting in learning a language is to make them interested in the culture.

You can talk about food, history and holidays in your country and show them music.

When you first start it is great to have a few of these things included in a presentation when you introduce yourself or to show them pictures.

5. Many Teachers are not 100% Fluent

Many teachers (most in my experience,) do not have a near-native level of English. This is understandable but as a native speaker, you have an opportunity to help them learn.

If you are going to correct a teacher, it is imperative that you do so subtly and tactfully. If they have made a small mistake with the pronunciation or grammar, wait till they finish talking and then summarise what they have explained or what you have been talking about throughout the class, then emphasize the correct way of saying the word or phrase where the teacher made the mistake.

6. Monthly Grant

Photo from a break in Sevilla

The monthly grant is generous for the hours worked. If you work fifteen hours a week in the region of Murcia you will receive €875 a month, and in Madrid, you will earn €1000 a month for sixteen hours of work a week.

In Spain, the cost of living is lower and so you will easily be able to commute, pay rent, eat and socialize on this stipend. The pay for the month is still the same during the Christmas and Easter breaks. With the comfortable stipend and three-day weekends, you have the opportunity to see more of Spain or Europe.

7. Support Available

You are not thrown in the deep end and left alone, there are plenty of people you can turn to for assistance.

In your school, you can speak to the teacher that coordinates your timetable or the headteacher if you have any concerns.

You can also talk to ConversaSpain about any problems you have. If it is just moral support you need, or you feel lonely, there are many others here teaching English that you can reach out to on Facebook groups.  

8. Days off, National Holidays and Regional Holidays

Although the teachers often try to assure me that the Spanish and English term time are not too different. When you remember that English schools have half term whereas Spanish schools don’t, it doesn’t quite feel like it still. There are different national and regional holidays that seem to pop up pretty regularly often celebrating different saints. Some of these even turn into puentes which translates as bridges, they are long weekends where a holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday and so a bridge is made between the holiday and the weekend, resulting in a four-day weekend! Most language assistants will have four consecutive days of work a week leaving Monday or Friday free along with the weekend. Also, in most schools’ lessons end earlier in the day than in English schools, the two I work at this year both end at half two.

With this very gentle distribution of work, you can plan your time wisely and make the most of it. Enjoy your time in Spain.  With this lenient timetable, you shouldn’t have excuses for unnecessary absences.

9. Bilingual Programmes

I never came across bilingual education but here there are many Spanish public schools that offer a bilingual program where as well as learning English in English classes, they use it in their other classes as well.

You may assist in music, technology, philosophy, biology, art, and whatever other subjects the students study. This seems like a fascinating idea to me, and a great way to expand the student’s knowledge and get them to apply what they learn. 

10. Location 

Spain is a pretty big place (at least compared to the UK.) Where you live and work will have a significant effect on your experience. So, think about what your preferences are when it comes to cities.

Do a little research and read the opinions of others, there are lots of YouTube videos and blogs you can look at to give you an idea of what it is like in different cities. Also, consider whether you would be best suited in a rural or urban placement.

Now you have some idea as to what it is like to teach English in Spanish public schools. If this has piqued your interest, you should look into it and apply. If there is another reason you think has been missed, please share your thoughts in the comments!

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