The two most popular things people visit my site for are VIPKid and work as an auxiliar. While I’ve tried to be good with my posts on VIPKid, I’ve definitely slacked when it comes to talking about my experiences as an auxiliar! There’s been a lot going on in my work life and personal life that’s distracted me in the past few months so I haven’t been posting as frequently as I thought I would. As I mentioned in my Six Month VIPKid update, I am also currently getting my online TESOL certificate which takes up a lot of free time. Still, I want to take the time for my Auxiliares de Conversación readers to talk about my experiences at my school and what my job is like in the classroom. This may be helpful if you’re considering applying for next year or sometime in the future.
Last year (2016), I was assigned the community of Madrid, which was my first choice with application (inscrita) number 775. I chose Madrid as my first choice for a number of reasons. The first reason is that Madrid is the largest city in Spain. Coming from a small town in Montana, I’d never lived in a large city before and I really wanted to try it out (turns out, I don’t love it all that much, but that’s another story). I also wanted an area well connected to the rest of Europe for travel and there’s no doubt Madrid is the best for that. The cheap flights in and out of here are amazing! Another reason was that Madrid pays the assistants the most (and we work the most). There are also the most assistants who work in Madrid, since there are so many people and schools here. I figured that would make it easier to connect with fellow expats. So, for all of those well thought out reasons, I chose Madrid and that’s where I’m currently sitting as I write this post! So let’s talk about my job as an auxiliar in Madrid.
My school actually has three buildings, but this is the one I work in with my 3rd and 4th graders.
First off, you should know that even if you get your first choice of Madrid, you are getting the whole region, not the city center itself. While a certain number of lucky auxiliares find themselves in the center of Madrid, odds are against you. My school is actually in a small village called Villanueva de la Cañada, most visited in the summer because of its water park. Its population is just under 20,000, so it’s pretty small (like Montana towns!). It’s about 30-45 minutes by bus away from Madrid’s center. I was a little upset at how far away it seemed when I first got my placement, but in reality, if you get a location less than an hour away from Madrid’s center, consider yourself lucky.
Before moving, I connected on Facebook with a current auxiliar who told me exactly how to get to my school and gave me great tips on where to live to make my life easiest. From there, I started figuring out the logistics. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I got myself all set up to live here through a company called Pack to Spain. He only works in Madrid, but he found me an apartment, set me up with a phone plan (SIM card), opened a bank account for me, and got my abono (transportation card) all for a bit over €200 (pricing as of 2016 – he could charge more if he wanted)! He even picked me up at the airport when I landed. It was a great deal and it made the transition of moving to a foreign country so much better than I could ever imagine. If you’re moving to Madrid, I would highly recommend checking out his services!
When I first arrived in Madrid, the bilingual coordinator reached out to all of us auxiliares and offered us a day to come look at the school. I ended up being the only assistant who went in that day, haha, but I was glad I did! I was a bit nervous about the bus system and how that all worked so I wanted to have it under my belt before the actual first day of class. I also struggled finding the “bell” the coordinator told me to ring for “the main building” to get inside the gated school, which was also unclear… When I arrived the day before school started, it was a bit before 9am and I had taken the 8:20 bus so I figured that ~35 minutes was about the time it took… What I didn’t account for was that traffic would be worse when school actually started in October because that’s also when the universities started (I didn’t know that). I ended up taking the same 8:20 bus and being late to school on the first day… whoops. Luckily, my coordinator was really chill so I texted her on the bus letting her know I might be a bit late and she was fine with it.
I wasn’t aware we were going to do pictures that day, but oh well. Here are my fellow auxiliares and me at my school this year! I was squatting because I thought my head would block the guy behind me, so I look a bit silly, haha. We look like such a diverse group of teachers, which is awesome. English speakers come in every form!
After finally arriving about 10 minutes late, my coordinator sat us all down and let us choose the schedules that we wanted. I initially wanted 4th and 5th graders, but that wasn’t an option, so I took 3rd and 4th grade with the majority being 3rd grade. My schedule had Fridays off. There were five total auxiliares and three of us had Fridays off and two others had Mondays off. Each year the calendar varies slightly and realistically, Monday would have been the better day to have off this year, 2016-2017, since there were more school holidays that fell on Friday, but I didn’t mind. I actually love my students so I’m happy with the schedule I chose. That being said, here is a week in the life of an auxiliar (me!) in Madrid:
9:00 – 9:45am English with 3B
9:40 – 10:30am Science with 3B
10:30 – 11:00am Break
11:00 – 11:45am Science with 3A
11:45 – 12:30pm Social with 3C
9:00 – 9:45am Science with 3A
9:40 – 10:30am Social with 3A
10:30 – 11:00am Break
11:00 – 11:45am English with 3B
11:45 – 12:30pm English with 3A
12:30 – 2:30pm Lunch
2:30 – 3:15pm English with 4A
3:15 – 4:00pm English with 3C
9:00 – 9:45am English with 3B
9:40 – 10:30am English with 3A
10:30 – 11:00am Break
11:00 – 11:45am Science with 3B
11:45 – 12:30pm Social with 3B
9:00 – 9:45am Social with 3A
9:40 – 10:30am Science with 4B
10:30 – 11:00am Break
11:00 – 11:45am Art with 3B
11:45 – 12:30pm English with 3C
12:30 – 2:30pm Lunch
2:30 – 3:15pm English with 3B
3:15 – 4:00pm Art with 4A
As you can see, I help teach in some of the classes that aren’t strictly English. I also teach in Social Studies, Natural Science, and Art! Those classes are just like regular classes but held in English. Usually I assist with pronunciation, games, and reading with the students. Also, I end two of my four work days early at 12:30pm and two days at the end of school at 4:00pm. All of the auxiliares at my school have two long days and two short days. In January, we were also given English workshops for one day per week for an hour of our lunch break for the remainder of the school year. I have some mixed feelings about the workshops. Technically we aren’t supposed to be left alone teaching kids like that, but it’s a bit murky because we are allowed to pull kids out of class and practice. My biggest issue is that I had seven lower level English speakers who are only eight years old and they get get distracted easily which makes it a bit of a pain. While I’m helping a few of the kids next to me, the ones on the other end are distracted and playing and not getting anything done. I’m not a trained teacher (I went to school for marketing and media arts). Plus, an hour is a long time for eight year olds to stay focused. Their classes are only 45 minutes. But it is what it is, right? Overall, I absolutely loved my school and my students and my coworkers. We all get along very well and have fun together.
During the boys’ practice for the Christmas recital, some of my 3rd graders wanted to practice braiding hair!
What I Do in the Classroom
It varies! Most of the time, I am in the classroom with the teacher and helping prepare activities, hand out worksheets, walk around the classroom, help the kids with reading, and even help the teacher with pronunciation! I prefer days where I get to stay in the classroom and help run the class. However, there are times when the teacher will tell me to pull students out to practice English one-on-one. That gets a bit repetitive because I often end up asking the same questions over and over and over again (“How are you?” “How old are you?” “Have you got any brothers or sisters?” “What do you like to do in your free time?”). It can be a bit exhausting. The kids love to ask me for help in the classroom, so I prefer to be in there. I will read out loud for them, help them spell (in English!), and act silly with a lot of body movement (Total Physical Response or TPR). They seem to be learning a lot! In addition, we do teach British English, however, I haven’t noticed too many differences there. The one that gets to me is the “have got” (British) vs “have” (American). For example, “How many sisters have you got?” Rather than “How many sisters do you have?” The kids really do a lot better saying, “I have three sisters.” and rarely answer with “I have got three sisters.” There are also a few spelling differences, but other than that, with the little ones, the British vs American English thing isn’t that bad.
In addition, there are opportunities to go on class field trips and things like that. The only thing I’ve gone to this year with my students was a play on Alice in Wonderland. Last year, one of the assistants got to go to a class field trip on a farm, and there was potential talk of an auxiliar or two helping out on a school field trip to a ski resort. However, the vast majority of time, I am in the classroom with my students.
No two auxiliares will have the same experience. There are some schools that may be very strict with their employees, while others (like mine) are much more lenient. My school is absolutely wonderful and relaxed when it comes to missing a day (seriously, one of the auxiliares I work with missed a day to go to the post office and they were ok with it) as long as you make up your hours. Some schools refuse to let you miss a day and won’t pay you or let you make up hours unless you get a justificante (a permission slip from the government or a doctor or someone). Overall, my experience at my school has been absolutely wonderful – even if it is a bit far from Madrid’s city center! Side note: Because I am over 25, I have to pay €82/month for my abono for my school’s zone: B3 – pricey for those auxiliares who don’t qualify for the joven discount.
I will also mention that even though we are technically working 16 hours a week, that doesn’t take into account all of our breaks… For example, I have a two hour lunch break Tuesday and Thursday and a half hour break all four days that I don’t get paid for. In addition, my commute is long. I don’t get paid for the ~45 minutes it takes me to get there and again going back. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I leave my apartment around 7:30am and don’t get back until after 5:00pm. I think before I came to Spain, I had this vision that I was going to have so much free time! I was going from working about 50 hours a week down to 16… But the truth is that I don’t. Not really. Every Friday, my day off, I spend doing a bunch of online classes with VIPKid and then working on my TESOL online. And yes, I have the weekends off, but that was the same for me in Montana as well. I do get back around 1:30-2:00pm on Mondays and Wednesdays, but I also open up online teaching slots that may or may not fill from 2:00-3:00pm (or 4:00pm if it’s not DST). Those days, I end up cleaning, cooking, shopping, and getting general errands done (because a lot of places are closed on the weekends in Spain). So yes, we are technically working for 16 hours per week, but we are committing to a lot more time than that – something to be aware of.
Feelings About the Program
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I would have always wondered “What if…” had I not come here. It’s not exactly what I expected, but overall it’s a good experience. Part of me does worry that maybe I gave up a good job for this and I feel a bit stressed about that at times. What keeps me happy is my students. Seeing their happy little faces everyday makes me feel like I am making a difference in their lives. Maybe it will be because they loved talking to me that one day they major in English and decide to explore the world or make a difference by connecting with more people than they would have otherwise. When you look into their eager faces, there is so much potential. Children are our future, and for that, I will never regret dropping my life back home to do this.
There have been a lot of ups and downs and questions and second guessing with my time here, but ultimately, this is an experience I can walk away from and be happy I made it. I got really lucky with an amazing school and great coworkers and adorable students, so I was lucky in that aspect! What brought you here? Are you considering the auxiliar program? Do you have any questions I could help answer? Let me know in the comments below!