After a whole seven months without a job, it was about time I returned to the workforce. Luckily, it was still only the expat workforce, and I was actually a little excited to be busy again and have paychecks rolling my way. I was also a bit nervous. My school in Korea didn’t always provide me with a warm and friendly atmosphere, so I was really hoping for a pleasant change here in Spain.
So far, the change has been more than pleasant. It’s been great.
At the same time, it’s been pretty different than I expected. The BEDA program, the one I found this position through, didn’t do the greatest job informing us applicants what would really entail. This was especially true compared to the black and white rules and expectations of teaching in Korea. I sometimes felt a bit confused, and I know many others who have felt the same.
Uprooting your life to move abroad is a big decision, and people deserve to know exactly what to expect. But the trouble is, even within the same program, everyone’s placement is different. Some schools are conveniently located, some are not. Some schools are friendly and welcoming, some not so much. Some people have to teach the entire class on their own and plan for their lessons, some do not. It’s really a toss up when it comes to these programs and how the schools cooperate.
While what I do on a day-to-day basis may give you an idea on what it’s like to teach with BEDA, my experience still differs from some of my peers here. Thankfully, most stories are usually positive rather than negative, and from my point of view, I’m so glad I chose Spain as my next country to call home.
Although I requested to be in a school where I could teach secondary school students rather than primary, I still hit the lottery with my placement. The faculty has a tight-knit, family-like atmosphere, and almost everyone has been overwhelmingly nice. At the same time, not all the teachers can speak fluent English, and sometimes it has been a bit of a struggle (and a blessing in disguise since it makes me practice). Luckily, everyone is extremely patient with the “Spanglish” and I am starting to get to know the other teachers more each day.
My school became part of the bilingual education program only 3 years ago, so they are still working out some kinks. Being in the bilingual program means the students are required to have 3 hours a week with a native English speaking assistant, like me, in their class. They also have to do two other subjects in English, which at my school is science and art. The students who entered the bilingual program from the first grade have made drastic progress in English by the time they’re in third. It’s pretty impressive.
Not all of the teachers are always prepared to “collaborative teach” (I can’t legally be in a classroom on my own) and sometimes I find myself awkwardly standing on the side-lines. Other times I am able to take over the entire class period and have a fantastic time with the students. A few times a week I have to teach ‘infantil’ which means a few hours a week I read stories and teach phonics to the 3, 4 and 5 year olds. Sometimes this feels like a pain, but other times all the hugs, cuddles and kisses make my day. Overall, the children at the school are really smart and pretty well-behaved, regardless of the age.
What’s even more, the native assistant coordinator at my school (who is Spanish) is amazingly friendly and sweet. Since the start she has offered to help me with anything that comes up here in Spain. I also work with another American, who was at this same school last year. We get along great, and I think the three of us will have a fun time together. Next month, we will be getting yet another native assistant to join us.
In Korea, I was the only foreigner at my school. This year, I’m really happy to not be the only one!
The biggest surprise to learn when starting this job had to do with the schedule. When I signed up for a contract of “18 hours” at the school, I figured that would not only leave me with Fridays off, but also probably an early finish some days to fill with private classes. The abundance of free time was important to me for a few reasons. For one, I knew I would need to take on a handful of private classes to make enough money each month. The salary with BEDA isn’t great, especially when living in central Madrid. Secondly, I wanted to be able to keep up with my blog, and one of the best parts of my job in Korea was the amount of free time I had to work on it.
Turns out, Monday through Thursday I teach classes until 5pm. I do have a few free periods here and there, but those are usually spent planning for my private classes or doing a few easy extra tasks the school gives us. The reason the school day goes so long is the enormous lunch break for siesta– two hours and fifteen minutes! In the beginning, this period of time seemed absurd. It also meant school finishing late, which also meant only being able to give my private classes after 5pm.
Thankfully, I found a solution and fit in two private classes a week during this lunch break. This isn’t the norm for most teachers to be able to do, (since most families want the classes after school) but I caught a lucky break.
Here is what a normal week for me looks like:
Within grades, I usually teach different classes of students. A few times a week, I have the same students twice. Also, the teachers I teach alongside change which means I teach with seven teachers in total.
While I have Fridays off from work, I sometimes have classes associated with being in the BEDA program. Other times, I have a million errands I couldn’t find time to complete during the week. When I have neither of those things, I take advantage and travel!
In a post to come I’ll address the private classes I am teaching, the pay I’m receiving and the other obligations (like the classes) I have to complete within the BEDA program.
If you want to apply to the BEDA program, you can find the information here: http://www.ecmadrid.org/en/information
Are you thinking of applying to teach English in Spain? As I get to know the country, and the BEDA program itself, I’ll be writing many more posts on the subject. Subscribe via email or follow the Facebook page for updates.