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Here's how Americans can teach in Spain

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The Spanish Government's North American Language and Culture Assistants Programme is popular but far from perfect. Photo: Jorge Macri
16:54 CET+01:00
Thinking about signing up for the Spanish government's North American Language and Culture Assistants Program? For The Local's latest JobTalk, we spoke to Spain-based English teacher Cat Gaa about the positives and the pitfalls of taking part.

It's not easy for people from the US or Canada to find work in Spain, but Spain's North American Language and Culture Assistants Program is one option available. 

The programme, which is run by Spain's Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, gives North American native English or French students the chance to assist a teacher in English or French programmes in Spain's elementary, secondary or language schools.

Teachers work 12 to 16 class periods a week — giving them enough time to get involved in other activities — and generally stay for a year or two, although priority is given to first-year applicants and some applicants even manage to wrangle a third year.

These language assistants receive a salary of €700 ($950) to €1,000 a month. They are provided with an orientation course and full medical insurance but have to pay for their own travel to and from Spain.

While the programme is mainly aimed at people aged 21 to 35, older applicants can also sign on. But take note: people aged over 35 can't work in Madrid. 

You also need to be in good health, have a university degree, or be in the process of completing one, and undergo a background check. Basic Spanish is also expected.

"I had a very positive experience of the programme," Catherine Gaa from the US told The Local.

"It's very difficult to work as a US citizen in Spain but the programme provided me a with a visa, a salary and basic health cover," she says.

"I was treated like another teacher and got to know my students and colleagues very well.

"I also wanted to get involved in curriculum development and the school where I was working let me do that."

But Cat warns that there are negative aspects to the programme — including the clunky bureaucracy of the  application process and the critical issue of payments. 

"It's important to be aware that your payments won't always won't come in time, or sometimes come in a single lump sum, which means there could be money management issues," she explains.

Other problems with the programme are mostly due to its booming popularity, which Cat puts down to the lack of jobs in the US since the economic crisis kicked in.

"Overall organization of the programme is pretty poor and I don't think the Spanish government has the resources to plan it.

"They also need some sort of job description, as the programme is growing so fast and there is no one single definition of what it entails," Cat says.

The huge popularity of the programme has another downside. When people apply, they can nominate which Spanish regions they would like to work in. With more and more people applying, however, many people are not getting their first choice.

"I think attitude has a great deal to do with how successful the programme is," says Cat. "I tell people to be prepared to not get their first choice and be open."

In terms of general advice, Cat says it's important to bring enough money with you, and to be prepared for things to be different.

"Come with an open mind. Spain is not the US and it's not always easy."     

The online application process for the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program for the 2014–2015 school year closes on April 9th.

For more information on the programme and how to apply see Spain's Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport website here. To read about one person's experience of the complicated experience of applying for the programme, see this post on Cat Gaa's blog, Sunshine & Siestas.             

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