Auxiliares de Conversación in Spain: an Interview

The Auxiliares Program, officially called Language and Culture Assistants in Spain, gives the opportunity to anyone to teach his or her own native language here in Spain for 8 months, basically for a whole school year. 

Candidates will work in a bilingual school and help students improve their listening and speaking skills for the most part.

But, what do assistants really do once they are inside a Spanish classroom?

I asked some questions to my friend Jessica, who worked here in Madrid, in order to enlighten parents and anyone who might be interested in applying for this experience.

Take your time... It's long and really interesting!

Here it goes!  

How long did you work as an 'auxiliar de conversación'? In which kind of school?

I had the opportunity to work with the public school IES Manuel de Falla in Coslada, Madrid, for one school year.

We know from the
web page  of the Comunidad de Madrid that the assistant's basic duties are:  
-To assist the regular staff at class
-To conduct conversation classes in the foreign language
-To supplement the classes with exercises in reading, dictation and oral composition
-To give pupils an insight to the way of life in his/her country.
-To prepare material.
-Assistants may also be asked to participate in extra-curricular activities such as workshops, field trips, music and theater performances, or sports events.

What did you really do?

I assisted the main teachers in Art, History and  English Literature classes. This included creating presentations or activities to supplement the existing coursework and textbook lessons. Often times I would work on reading and speaking skills with small groups while the main teacher taught the rest of the class. One of my favorite lessons in the upper level art class was going over design vocabulary and having the students create their own logo. It was great to use my graphic design background in class and the kids really loved being able to create their own business idea/logo. I was also responsible for holding an after-school conversational English class for any teachers that wanted to improve their English skills.

Let's talk about students for a moment. How did they interact with you? Were they engaged by the whole experience of having a real native speaker who was there to talk about her own culture?

Most all of the students responded really well to having a native speaker in class. They were all very inquisitive and loved to learn about the U.S. Some of them were shy or a bit embarrassed when trying to speak English because it was a challenge for them, but they did get more comfortable with time and by the end of the year I saw a lot of improvement in all of my classes. 

What was the best part of your English teaching experience?

My favorite part about teaching in Madrid was definitely helping the students to get excited about language learning. I personally love to learn new languages and know what it’s like to be in a boring class with endless grammar lessons. Being able to engage students and see them use their creativity to explore the English language was incredibly rewarding. It was also wonderful to be able to give them a new perspective on my country, the kinds of culture the U.S. exports aren’t necessarily the best representation of America, so it was neat to teach them about some of the less well known figures and places.

In your opinion, what should be taken into account, from a student's point of view, to enhance the program? 

As far as my school was concerned I think I had one of the best experiences of any of my friends that did the Auxiliares program. Other students complained about not being paid regularly and having little to no direction. Most of the teachers I worked with were incredibly helpful and the school fully supported me and gave me all the materials and direction I needed.

However, one of the few things I struggled with was learning some of the material that I was expected to teach, particularly in the history classes, rather than helping with activities or conducting conversations I was expected to teach for an entire class after being informed of what sections of the book I would be teaching just the day before. For someone that doesn’t have a great history background this required a lot of reviewing and often I didn’t feel that I knew enough to really teach a class effectively. Working outside of the classroom wasn’t the issue, I knew going in that I would have to prepare lessons and activities after school hours, it was more that the teacher didn’t know how to incorporate me into the classroom so they just split up the lessons and when I was there they let me teach. It would be great if the teachers could have more training on what to do with English assistants.

Another challenge was helping some of the students in the lower level English classes. We were instructed only to use English when in class, but for the lower levels many students had come from middle schools where their core classes were not taught in English so they had a very hard time keeping up. I found myself having to use Spanish at points so that I could quickly explain things, but even then I think that there are a lot of kids that are caught in the middle and did not get good grades. Not because they couldn’t handle the material in most cases, but because they couldn’t learn well in English. Right now the Spanish school system is transitioning into having more bilingual schools and it’s hurting students that can’t keep up. I suppose that’s more of a problem with the system than with the Auxiliares program though, but perhaps there could be better ways to use English assistants in lower level classes. Otherwise my experience was really wonderful. The teachers made me feel very welcome and the students were great!

Intriguing, isn't it? Are you thinking of applying for the position? 
Read a little bit more then...

While I had a wonderful time teaching I think that there are a lot of students that go to Spain with unrealistic expectations of what they’ll have to do and how much time they have to dedicate. It is not easy to teach a class, especially one with 20 or more students so I think having English speakers that have some training in Education or language learning would vastly improve the quality of the program, or at least giving them spots first when they apply. 

There are a ton of people who I know in the US that applied to the program and didn’t get in because it’s first come first serve. Spain could be a lot more picky with the selection process, or at least provide better training for the assistants and it would help everyone involved. I received my TEFL certificate before going to Madrid and think that I would have struggled a lot more without that experience. 

Also, the program should tell students to expect to do at least half an hour of work outside of class for each class they teach. Some assistants think they’re just have to show up and speak, when really to give the best experience to the students the position requires you to prepare outside of class. Yes it is a fun job, but the program should be a bit more realistic when describing the duties so that students know what they are getting into when they sign up.

Download the Language Assistant Handbook for more details

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Lucy dedicates a lot of time and love to thinking about and writing the posts she shares with all of you. Because she believes that a better teaching is the key for a better future. If you find any help, value or joy in this blog, please consider becoming a supporting reader. A donation, in any amount, will be gratefully accepted. 



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