Recently a few people have emailed me about the teaching program I’m doing in Spain. This topic is tangentially related to Pueblo, so I thought I’d post some info here in the hopes that someone will find it useful. If you’re looking for a job abroad, it is definitely worth considering this. The application is free and as an American it’s one of the easiest ways to legally live and work in Europe.
The teaching grant is sponsored by Spain’s Ministry of Education, and as grantees we are officially called North American Language and Culture Assistants or auxiliares de conversación. (Note: grants are also available for people from England, New Zealand, France, and other countries, but I’m not familiar with the specifics.)
The exact nature of the work varies from school to school, but as an auxiliar your role is essentially to be a cultural representative and language teacher, whether that be in an elementary or high school (or possibly an adult-oriented language school).
So that’s the basic lowdown. Here are some FAQs:
Who is eligible?
In order to participate you must be at least a junior in college and a native speaker of English with a U.S. or Canadian passport. It is also expected that you have an intermediate level of Spanish. I don’t think they really check up on your language credentials, but you will be better off living here if you know some Spanish.
How do I apply?
First, you have to register on the Profex web site and fill out a CV. The site is in Spanish and is a pain to navigate, but if you download the program manual it will walk you through the process. Once you’re registered you have to fill out the program application, but you don’t need to upload any documents because those must be sent as hard copies.
After you’re done submitting the online portion of the application you will be inscrita and have a four digit Profex number. This number represents where you stand in line compared to other candidates (e.g. if your number is 1000, you know that 999 people applied before you and have priority over you, provided they also meet the requirements).
Lastly, you have to snail mail the required documents listed in the manual. Once those are processed you will be admitida. This doesn’t actually mean you are admitted–it just means that your application is complete and you are eligible for a spot. Whether you actually get a spot will depend on your Profex number and how many positions they ultimately have.
Is it hard to get accepted?
No, not really. The key to getting accepted is to apply early (like right now). I don’t think it makes any difference if you have an amazing essay or fancy recommendations. The positions are given out on a first come, first serve basis to everyone who meets the requirements.
As I explained above, it will depend on your Profex number. Once you have your Profex number, you have your place in line, so you don’t necessarily need to rush to get the hard copies mailed. So to recap: do the online application ASAP and then you can relax and just mail in the documents sometime before the deadline. According to the manual, the online application period ends March 31, 2011 and the hard copies are due two weeks later on April 15th.
When I applied in February 2010 for the current school year, my Profex number was in the 1300s. I was accepted in first wave sometime in May, and I think that those who weren’t initially accepted were defaulted to the wait list. The embassy waits to see how many confirmations they get, and then they start accepting lots of wait list people.
They are offering over 2000 positions for the 2011-12 school year, so if your Profex number is 2000 or less you are probably a shoo-in. If your number is higher you still have a good chance, since many people end up declining or changing their plans. In late summer when they are still filling last-minute openings, they send out an email to the remaining candidates (regardless of Profex number) and ask who is still interested. This happened to a friend of mine whose number was in the 4000s. The point is, a lot of people get spots, even with high Profex numbers. The only problem is you might find out late in the game and already have other plans.
Which region should I select as my preference?
That depends on you, but keep in mind that many people do not get any of their top three preferences. I think it partly has to do with your Profex number and is partly just luck. Also, even if you do get your preferred region, it is almost impossible to influence whether you are placed in a city or a town.
But I absolutely must must must live in Madrid or Barcelona or Granada or etc. What do I do?
Here’s the deal. Lots of people want to live in the cities. Some auxiliares end up in them, but many do not. Mysterious Spanish bureaucrats have control over your placement. Once you have your regional placement it is not even in the hands of the embassy anymore, but rather, the regional government (i.e. the embassy assigned me to Andalucía and then Andalucía assigned me to La Puerta de Segura). You could try to email them, but sometimes I feel like those emails disappear into a black hole.
And this is slightly off-topic, but it turns out it kind of works the same way for all teachers in the Spanish education system. For example, within AndalucÃa, a given teacher cannot necessarily choose to work in the town where his or her family lives. In fact, most of our co-workers are not from La Puerta de Segura. Some of them commute here from other towns, but others live too far away to do this, so they rent apartments in town during the week and then go home on the weekends. The system is really complicated and strange, but if you come to Spain and work with teachers, you will probably hear all about it…
What is day-to-day life like as an assistant English teacher?
I work at the elementary school and Ben works at the high school. We work twelve hours per week, Monday through Thursday. Schedules vary for different auxiliares, but three day weekends are pretty typical.
At my school the bilingual program is focused on the 3rd graders, so I spend at least an hour a day with them, either in Science, P.E., or English. The rest of the time I assist in the 1st through 6th grade English classes. Sometimes I talk about American holidays, or help with pronunciation, or go over lessons/homework. Whatever the teachers ask me to do. Sometimes I come up with games or creative projects too.
With a 12-16 hour workweek you will have lots of free time. This is not a job that will earn you a lot of money, but it is ideal for someone who wants to live in Spain and would appreciate having time to pursue another interest, such as music or writing or making a web series…
Also, the bonus of working in a school is that you get to vacation on all the school holidays. If you can afford to travel, there will be lots of time to explore Spain and the surrounding countries.
Speaking of money, how much do you earn?
The stipend is 700 euros per month (the program lasts eight months, from October 1st to May 31st). You also get health insurance.
Is it hard to live on 700 euros a month?
It’s not that hard, but you do have to be aware of your budget. For example, I am typing this in my living room right now decked out in a scarf and winter coat because I would rather splurge on travel than pay for heating in the winter. Ben makes fun of me because I sleep in a down sleeping bag made for cold weather camping. But…next week we go to Morocco so it all evens out.
One advantage to being in the boonies is that the cost of living is cheaper. Many auxiliares teach private English lessons on the side to supplement the stipend, but Ben and I haven’t pursued that because no one’s asked and it’s nice to have the time and flexibility to work on Pueblo. That said, in an expensive place like Madrid or Barcelona, it’s probably necessary to earn extra income or arrive with hefty savings (but keep in mind you can also charge more for private lessons in the cities and there are more potential students).
Also, don’t forget that you will need to save up some money before you arrive, since you have to buy your plane ticket to Spain and pay your first month’s rent before you get your first paycheck.
Do you know of any other programs for teaching English abroad?
I have some friends who’ve done a program in France that is like this one. The application process is similar, but I think they are stricter about French language abilities. And, unlike in Spain, the grants are not awarded first come, first serve. For more info there is a wikibook and an online forum. There is a forum for the Spain program as well.
The only other program I have personal experience with is the Fulbright program which sponsors English Teaching Assistantships around the world. Last year I had a Fulbright in Brazil so I sometimes get emails from people asking about this application too. If anyone has specific questions about the Fulbright or the Spain program or anything else, feel free to ask me in the comments below.