Excited to start your new adventure as a language assistant in the land of vino and jamón? Want to make the adjustment a bit easier? These 5 things you should know before teaching in Spain will help you prepare yourself for the school year ahead.
As hundreds of new English assistants are starting their positions this week, I thought I’d share some advice I’ve learned after 3 years in their position. While these are aimed specifically at English assistants in Spain, most of this can also be applied to other teaching programs around the world.
Treat it like a real job.
I know that there are people out there that don’t see this position as a ‘real’ job, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to be professional about it. Arrive at school on time, follow the rules and try to at least appear like you care about your position. You should enjoy your time in Spain, go out with friends and explore, but remember you signed up to be a teaching assistant, so take your responsibilities seriously.
Get a clear(er) idea of your role in the classroom.
Try to spend the first few days of school getting to know your teachers and finding a way to work together. Even if your teacher has had an English teaching assistant before, and has some idea of how to utilize you, it doesn’t hurt to have a talk about what they expect from you. Will you split the class with you teaching a small group, while they teach the rest? Will you be expected to plan activities for the class or will they tell you the activities you will have to do? Can you plan supplementary activities or will you only follow the book?
It’s pretty much up to the teacher to decide your role in their classroom, but hopefully they will ask for your input on the matter.
Don’t be surprised if some teachers don’t like you.
As you’re probably well aware there was a global recession a few years ago, and Spain was hit pretty hard. Hundreds of people lost their jobs, their homes, and many are still struggling to make enough money to pay their bills. Workers in the healthcare and education sectors have had to deal with budget cuts and wage freezes, and it may be a while before Spain gets back on its feet economically.
Why am I telling you this? Well, some teachers may feel that spending money on English teaching assistants (many of whom don’t even have a degree in teaching) is a stupid way to spend what little funds the Ministry of Education has. While not all teachers think this way, and many do appreciate their English assistants, there are also a number of teachers who will treat you poorly or just be rude to you because they don’t think you deserve to be there. Don’t take it personally.
Set boundaries early.
It happens every year. English assistants find themselves being taken advantage of or being given way more responsibility than they should be. One of the most common issues is being left alone in the classroom. As far as I know, all programs explicitly prohibit English assistants from being alone in the classroom with the majority of their students. (The Ministry program manual states you can be alone with a ‘small’ group of children, though what constitutes as ‘small’ hasn’t been defined.) Yet every year it seems that teachers ignore this rule, sometimes even leaving the classroom for the entire lesson on a regular basis.
Another popular complaint is being given a lot of lesson planning, when the Ministry program* explicitly states that isn’t part of the job. While you can be asked to plan an activity for class, public school teachers can’t expect you to plan an entire lesson.
If you find yourself in these kinds of situations, and are not comfortable with it, speak up right away. The longer you wait to bring it up, the harder it will be to fix. First speak with the teacher directly, if that doesn’t help, speak with the coordinator at your school. If nothing happens, bring it up directly with your program’s directors.
*Both the BEDA and UCETAM programs do include lesson planning though.
Remember that there’s no shame in quitting.
I’ve had a pretty good experience as a teaching assistant, but I’ve heard plenty of horror stories. The school you’re placed in has a huge impact on your overall experience in Spain. If you dread going into work every morning, then it might be time to leave. Try to fix the issues the best you can, but if you hate going into work and it’s effecting you emotionally, give yourself some peace of mind and just quit. Yes, you should try to see the contract until the end, but not at the expense of your welling being.
Do you agree or disagree with the tips above? What other things should you know before teaching in Spain?
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