So we all know I like to travel and explore the world. How exactly am I affording it? How exactly did I wind up with a visa to live in Spain as an American?
As many of you probably have guessed, I “teach English”. Or not even. I am an auxiliar de conversación, which means “be paid little to do little but have the legal ability to be in Spain.” Every comunidad autónoma has its own quirks with the program and uses people differently. I’ve been in small-town Andalucía, Madrid, Valencia and currently Bilbao with the Ministerio de Educación program. If you have speak English, have 3 years of college, have no criminal background and apply early when it opens in January, you’re practically guaranteed a spot. In theory, you can only renew once (up to four times in the Basque Country supposedly), but if you’re willing to move around, you can stretch it out even longer. In Madrid, they pay 1000€ a month for 16 hours a week; in the rest of the peninsula, they pay 700€ for 12 hours a week. In most places, 700€ is enough to get by, but most people supplement it with private English lessons.
The job is easy. At the moment, I take students out of English class and do a speaking lesson with them. In the past, I developed classes with whatever English grammatical point they were working on or something cultural about the United States. It’s not actually teaching per se as their main English teacher is, in theory, in the class the whole time for discipline issues and because it’s required by Spanish law. There are no papers to correct, no annoying parents to tell you how bad you’re failing their child.
I could go on a rant about how the Spanish government is ruining an already messed-up education system, but I’m trying to keep a positive vibe here. The program is supposed to be improving the level of English in Spain, but it has a ton of flaws, almost as many as the Spanish education system in general. There is the fact that the auxiliares in the Basque Country get paid the same as the ones in Andalucía when the Basque Country is the most expensive region in the peninsula. I’d be willing to work more hours to get a better salary instead of slaving my way with private lessons that pay my way and corrode my soul. (A zillion life points to anyone who gets that reference.) There is little to no organization whatsoever, and the schools aren’t instructed on how to use us. Everything is as hazy as the smog covering Madrid.
The program has been cut from many comunidades, including Comunitat Valenciana, Catalunya, Navarra, Castilla y León and las Islas Canarias, although you can still be one in those places with a British passport apparently.
When I was in Madrid, I worked with a different program, UCETAM, which I personally loved. Instead of being placed in the public schools, successful candidates are placed in concertados or private schools. (A concertado is a private school that also receives money from the state.) The school used me and my talents, and I was actually teaching instead of being a puppet. I was burned out from a commute and from Madrid and I not getting along. I loved my school. I worked 25 hours a week to make a decent salary, and UCETAM is organized. They are more selective, which means better candidates and a better system all around. However, as they say the law of la Comunidad de Madrid only permits a two-year visa, I couldn’t stay with them (and Madrid was giving me a nervous breakdown.) I found myself back in the MEC program, this time in Bilbao.
My application for next year has been “registrado” (which I was trying to translate as registrated, not registered, as I typed up this entry) for a third year in the Basque Country. I’m content with the school, but I will be moving on to a different next year to ensure a stay in Bilbao. However, I also have an application at a third program called BEDA, which is much more like UCETAM but places people in the Catholic schools. Most of the schools are in Madrid, but there are a few in other comunidades. We’ll see where I end up.
The thing is, I’ve now been in Spain closing in on 7 years. I am wanting stability (preferably in Països Catalans) and a real job, if not writing, at least teaching at a decent academy or school. Most academies don’t want to lift a finger to try to help an American get a visa, no matter how qualified and how good the teacher is. I don’t want to work illegally. So I stay in this holding pattern of instability (which sometimes even means of not knowing when I’ll next be paid!) and travelling as much as I can, as I never know when this beautiful rug called España will be ripped out from under me and I’ll have to leave.
With any luck, it’ll never happen.