English Teacher Interview: Lindsay

Lindsay is an English teacher in Barcelona and works for Up Teach International Education. She has some great insight to living and teaching in Spain!

1. Where are you from?

I am from Toronto, Canada. I have a BFA degree and a TEFL/TESL certificate.

2. What made you decide to be an English teacher in Spain?

After living abroad in Italy for school in 2013 I fell in love with travel and the Mediterranean lifestyle, so teaching English was the perfect job to keep me on the move and Spain was a great opportunity to once again be in Mediterranean Europe.

3. Which program hired you?

I am employed through Up Teach International Education.

4. What region are you placed in?

Last year I worked in Andalucía in a town of 40,000 people. This year I requested to be placed in central Barcelona.

5. Had you been to Spain before teaching with Up Teach?

When I lived abroad as a student in 2013 I travelled to Barcelona twice, and Madrid and Palma de Mallorca once, so I was acquainted with Spanish culture both on and off the mainland. 

6. What grades do you teach?

I teach Primary level grades, so ages 5-12.

7. Before the Up Teach program, had you worked with children in education in the past?

Before I began teaching abroad, I had only taught kids in a camp setting and my professional experience was rooted in clothing and museum retail.

8. What surprised you the most about the Spanish education system?

I was most surprised with the age at which kids start English education in Spain and school in general. As early as 3 years old they are spending entire days in the school with the bigger kids, some handle this transition very well and for some it can be traumatic and this created challenges I could not have anticipated as a teacher for this age (bathroom problems… behavioral problems etc). Be warned: if you are teaching 2 year olds, your job is more akin to a nanny and professional potty-trainer than a teacher!

9. What is your favorite part of the job?

The best part of my job are those little moments when you become the student in the classroom. When children take it upon themselves to teach you about their language, traditions, culture or food etc and learning becomes a mutual thing in the process. Also, kids are hilarious and say the most amazing things. I love it when I´m caught off guard by a child´s surprisingly sarcastic joke in English or they invent a way to describe a new English word. (In one of my classes we had a discussion about The Ugly Butterflies because one six year old boy didn’t know what to call a Moth)

10. What is your least favorite part of the job?

My least favorite part of my job is having to discipline bad behavior. Explaining why certain behavior is unacceptable is EXTREMELY hard with a language barrier and a non-cooperative child.

11. What is your favorite word or phrase your students use?

I find it extremely hard to keep a straight face when my younger students (ages 5/6) use the word ¨Hombre¨ to express exasperation with each other. I saw a little girl assess her partner´s coloring skills to find them unsatisfactory and her automatic response was a shake of the head and ¨Hombre!…¨.

12. What is your favorite part of living in Spain?

Architecture is a big focus for me when I travel and choose places to live. I love the variety of styles in Spain from the white plaster houses of the south that always reflect the color of the sky, to the Arabic-influenced churches in Granada, and the combination of contemporary, modern and old classical architecture in the big cities. I also love the weather in Spain (warmer than Canada for sure!!).

13. Do you plan on renewing for another year?

I am considering renewing with my agency for a third year again as perhaps staying in Barcelona. It is the perfect location to continue exploring Europe and the rest of Spain from as most of the cheap airlines have low cost flights out of El Prat airport and Barcelona is such an intricate city that it is impossible to see and do everything in only one year. My current school is also fantastic!

14. What advice would you give a prospective language assistant/teacher in Spain?

The advice I would give to prospective teachers in Spain can be a long list of things I have done wrong.

Firstly, I would suggest that if you have lived abroad before and handled the process of applying for a visa in your own country, arriving in your new location, registering with the police etc. then perhaps it is best to apply to teach through the Auxiliar de Conversación program through the Spanish government and not an agency. The agency is there to hold your hand and attempt to make the bureaucratic nightmare than comes with working in a foreign country a little easier, but they cannot make the countless government appointments easier or processing times faster. The only helpful angle they provide is that they keep your records on file and when you decide to renew for multiple years of teaching you can do so through them without going back to your home country and starting the application again from zero. Their grants are usually less salary money than the government-run programs because they take commission from the schools for providing them with teachers.

Spain is one of the most bureaucratic countries I have encountered and everything requires an appointment with a government official in some office building. No documents can be submitted online and everything must be done on paper in person. Print multiple copies of everything you ever hand over and expect slow responses and processing times. Do not expect the same form of treatment or speed from your home country; be patient (this also means that they can be less strict about legal policies which can work to your advantage). This is the way things work here and if you are to happily live within this ¨manana syndrome¨ society you must learn to adapt to wait-times, inefficiency and legal curve-balls and just vent your frustrations to your friends via skype.

Due to this system I recommend you have the equivalent of 2000E saved to tide you over for a month or two because many times, while paperwork is in processing, schools are unable to pay you for a month or two. They are always genuinely sorry, and they do NOT do it to screw you over. They appreciate your work in the school and the government or your agency simply hasn´t transferred them the money to pay you yet. Keep asking questions but do not get frustrated with your directors or fellow teachers.

Moving to a new place and starting a life can be difficult. I highly recommend joining a language exchange or taking classes in your town/city to meet people and create a schedule for yourself socially. When I lived in the small town in Andalucía I joined the local dance class (held in the back room of a bar) and learned salsa, bachata and cha cha cha for the year. This allowed me to have a network of people, a fun outlet to practice Spanish and an opportunity to be social while learning a skill. Latin dancing is becoming very popular for young people in Spain and there are many clubs, bars and studios in which to practice all over the country.

Lastly: Take all opportunities to travel. Once in Europe transportation can be very cheap especially with cool options like over-night buses, Bla-Bla Car, and discount airlines. I use GoEuro.com as a jumping off point in planning all trips and estimating costs and I always stay in hostels to meet cool people and save money. The more you travel, the more you learn and the more you learn, the more insight and experience you can bring to a classroom.

So the main points I suppose I have tried to make with this are:

– Consider not using an agency

– Expect bureaucratic delays

– Bailamos Salsa!!!

– Travel

Thank you, Lindsay! 

If you are a volunteer, language assistant, or English teacher abroad and would like to participate in an interview, let me know via the contact tab!

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