How did I end up teaching English in Madrid, Spain for a year? I was looking for a little more adventure after college graduation before settling into a full-time position, and I had fallen in love with Spain after a previous visit. I also wanted to practice my Spanish and I love kids, so working in a classroom for a year didn’t seem like a bad idea. Now, near the end of my program, it seems like a dream that I’ve gotten paid to live in sunny Spain for a year.
I work as a English Language Assistant for a program called BEDA, which stands for Bilingual English Development & Assessment. BEDA is a branch of the Catholic Schools of Madrid (Escuelas Catolicas de Madrid), so the program only works with private and semi-private Catholic schools in Spain. BEDA supplies these schools with native English-speaking teaching assistants to help improve the English fluency, pronunciation and conversation skills of Spanish students. Intrigued yet?
- A Bachelor's Degree (in any subject)
- Native level of English
- Student visa to live and work in Spain (which you apply for after getting accepted).
*There are separate requirements for this, like a notarized working-with-children background check and a signed doctor’s note that you don’t have health issues that would prevent you from teaching, etc). The background check is only to confirm that you can legally work with children and you have no record indicating otherwise.
Perks compared to other language programs:
-You don’t need a TEFL certification, unlike many other teaching abroad programs.
-BEDA accepts applicants regardless of nationality as long as you have a native level of spoken English.
-There’s also no maximum age limit to apply, but most language assistants are in their twenties or early thirties.
-You don’t have to speak Spanish to participate in this program, but having at least a basic level of Spanish will help you with teaching and just living in Spain.
You don’t need to be Catholic to participate, and most Language Assistants (including myself) aren’t. The students do some religious activities throughout the school year, but that doesn’t interfere with English classes.
The role of a Language Assistant varies a lot from school to school, but you usually help out in English classes and sometimes in other subjects that are taught in English at bilingual schools. This could include planning classroom activities and working with individual students to practice speaking in English. When I take students out of class, I review class concepts like grammar, but I also try to connect with them through things that they’re interested in, like the European fútbol leagues and where they want to travel.
There are over 500 BEDA Language Assistants placed in 365 schools; 300 of which are located in Madrid.
You select your regional preferences when you apply, but since the majority of placements are in Madrid, that’s probably where you’ll be placed. You could be assigned to a school in the city or just outside Madrid. My school is only about a 30 minute metro ride from where I live in the city center, but most of my friends have a slightly longer commute. I even have a friend who works in a small town outside of Madrid in a school that’s located in a monastery built in the 1500’s. All of the former kings of Spain are actually buried in the tomb below her classrooms. So you really never know where you’ll be placed!
I recommend living in the city center to be able to enjoy weekends and nightlife in Madrid.
BEDA’s application opens in November to start in September of the following year. For example, this year the application period was open from November 30, 2018 until January 31, 2019 for positions starting in mid-September 2019. The application is available for a couple months but I recommend applying sooner rather than later, especially because it’s fairly simple to complete. Besides some logistical questions, you only have to submit a resume and a short written statement about why you want to be a Language Assistant.
In your application and resume, highlight any experience you have working with kids (like in a classroom, as a coach or at a summer camp), even if it was a few years ago. It’s also important to mention any previous international experience you have, like studying abroad, traveling long-term or even just working with people from a variety of backgrounds. And if you have a degree in education, Spanish, English or something related to journalism or communications, definitely include that as well. If you don’t have any of these types of experiences, try to emphasize your desire for wanting to work with children to improve their language skills.
BEDA is more selective than other programs, so showing passion will help you stand out.
If you’re already living in Madrid, the BEDA staff will ask you to come into the office for a group interview, but most interviews are done via Skype. My Skype interview with one of the program coordinators lasted only about 15 minutes and was pretty laid-back. I was asked to explain a little bit about myself, why I wanted to do this program in Spain and one lesson plan idea I had for Spanish kids. I found out that I was accepted in mid-May, and I arrived in Spain in early September.
Before arriving to Spain, you’ll have to visit your nearest Spanish consulate office to apply for a visa that gives you the right to live and work in Spain for the school year. There are several steps to complete your visa application before going to the consulate, but BEDA provides some direction on what you need. I didn’t start the visa process until I was accepted to the program, but I recommend doing this as early as possible once you’re sure that you’re going to Spain.
The program runs for an academic year, which means mid-September to mid-June. However, I arrived in Madrid in early September because BEDA leads a mandatory two-day orientation to help first-year Language Assistants with residency paperwork and preparation for your role as a Language Assistant. This was also the time when I looked for a place to live for the year. BEDA doesn’t provide accommodation, but they direct you some helpful websites and Facebook groups to start your search for housing.
What are the kids like?
Although you’re asked on your application which age group you prefer, you could be assigned to students who range in age from preschool to high school. I teach students who are between 12 and 14 years old and I absolutely adore them. I work with six different classes and I have each one four times per week, so I’ve gotten to know my students pretty well throughout the year.
They’re smart, energetic and hilarious, and they’re definitely my favorite part of the job.
You work between 18 and 24 hours of work to earn a monthly stipend of between 900 and 1200 euros per month (before taxes). This breaks down to about 12.15 euros per hour. 18 to 24 hours doesn’t seem like much per week, but you may end up being at school for longer than that. I’m assigned 24 hours of work, but with my school’s morning coffee break, the lunch hour and some gaps in my schedule I end up being at school for a total of about 36 hours per week. I’m only working for 24 of those hours though. However, some of my friends have better schedules, so it really depends on the one that your school coordinator makes for you.
Those who work less hours than me usually have either Fridays or Mondays off. I wish I had a four-day week, but there are quite a few breaks and long weekends throughout the school year – one per month, on average, in addition to the two-week winter holiday break and a week-long break in the spring –
so I’ve still had plenty of time to travel.
For me, the monthly stipend is enough to live on with some room for travel and fun like going out with friends in Madrid. I also supplement my monthly income with a few private lessons per week after school, which a lot of Language Assistants do.
There’s a high demand for teaching assistants in Spain nowadays, so there’s quite a few programs to choose from.
The largest and most popular program is run by the Spanish government and referred to as the ministry program or “auxilliares de conversación” program. They have assistants working all over Spain, but if you’re placed in Madrid you receive 1000 euros per month for only 16 hours of work per week, so you usually only work four days per week.
However, BEDA has a much better reputation for paying their assistants on time than the government program. Payment with BEDA is always reliable and direct deposited into your Spanish bank account within the first five days of the following month. In September and June you only work for half of a month, so the payment is about half that of a regular month.
Both programs have their pros and cons, so why did I choose BEDA?
I applied to the government program as well and was placed at a school in a small town in the Andalucía region in the south of Spain. Even though I had put that region as my top preference, I wanted to live in a city. I now know that it’s hard to be placed in a city with that program unless you apply very early or preference the Madrid region. If I was applying all over again, I would have put Madrid as my top regional preference, and if I had been placed in the city of Madrid, I probably would have chosen the government program because they pay more per hour than BEDA and you only work four-day weeks.
That being said, I’ve had a great experience with BEDA overall because of the support they offer. Besides their help at orientation with the paperwork to get your Spanish residency card, they even make the appointment and accompany you to the immigration office to submit it. With the government program, you’re pretty much left to figure this out on the your own. And also unlike that program, I can email the BEDA staff with any questions I have throughout the year and usually expect a response within a day or two. If you want to teach abroad in Spain,
I’d recommend applying to both programs so that you potentially have a choice between the two (or you have a back-up in case you don’t get accepted to one).
Another random thing I like about BEDA is that they provide private health insurance with a company called Sanitas. Having this has allowed me to go to the dentist, dermatologist and doctor’s office all for free. I just have to show my health insurance card. No co-pay!
What happens after the school year ends in mid-June?
You can work with BEDA for up to four years and they don’t ask you if you want to renew or not until March, so you have plenty of time to decide. Some people only do the program for one year, but many stay for more. I’ve even met former teaching assistants who fell in love with Spain (or a Spanish man) and went on to get their Master’s degree to become a teacher in Spain and apply for Spanish residency. Maybe you’ll want to teach abroad for another year.
Or maybe you’ll feel like me, incredibly grateful for the experience but with the feeling that you’ve gotten as much out of the assistant position as possible. Even though I’m only teaching abroad for one year, it has been a beautifully transformative experience for me and Madrid will always hold a soft spot in my heart.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions!