I spent 2 out of my 5 years in Madrid teaching English as a Language Assistant through the UCETAM program. When I think back on my years with UCETAM, the title of a famous Western comes to mind: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

If you are considering teaching in Madrid, especially if you are thinking about teaching with UCETAM, keep reading to find out what my experience was like

Please remember that this is just one person’s experience. Some language assistants have a perfect experience, while others have so many issues with their school that they pack up early and leave. Unfortunately, with UCETAM it really seems to be the luck of the draw.

Teach English in Madrid with UCETAM

The Good: Teaching through UCETAM in Madrid

Let’s start on a positive note. Here are some of the pros of teaching through the UCETAM program.

  • The pay – I received around 1,500€* per month for teaching 26 contact hours per week. While it might not seem like a lot, you have to consider that I earned more than the full-time Spanish teachers we worked with. (*the current pay is actually less, at 1,300€ per month which is surprising since housing prices have nearly doubled since I lived in Madrid in 2011).
  • Spanish kids are a lot of fun to teach – Spanish kids are very active and enjoy interactive games, dialogue reading, and competitive activities. Of course, there were some shy students, but in general, most kids were willing to participate in almost any lesson I threw at them.
  • You are the teacher – this can be a good thing or a bad thing. For me, I am a licensed teacher so I felt comfortable planning, teaching, and marking 100% of the lessons I taught. However, you are supposed to be a language ASSISTANT. My school definitely took advantage of me, but because I was passionate about teaching I went along with it. If you don’t have much experience, I would not recommend working for UCETAM.
  • Benefits – we got free healthcare and school lunches. The school lunches were actually amazing – swordfish, soups, identifiable vegetables, and even gazpacho in the warmer months. 
  • Teach a variety of classes – I not only taught “English” classes, but also taught Science and Art. In addition, I prepared high school students for the Cambridge B2 First speaking exams. I definitely enjoyed teaching project-based Science classes.
  • Some of my Spanish co-teachers were fantastic – again, a bit of good and bad. I had the opportunity to work with about 12 different teachers. Only 5 of them were any good, but at least they made my life at school better.
  • I lived in Madrid – luckily, I was placed in a school in the Vallecas neighborhood. I was able to live near Retiro and commute via bus and metro. However, UCETAM chooses your placement and some of their schools are REALLY far from the city center.

Classroom in an UCETAM school

The Bad and the Ugly: Teaching through UCETAM in Madrid

Next up, some of the cons and red flags from my time spent in UCETAM charter schools.

  • Complete lack of support for kids with special needs – at the school there were some kids who were either impacted by severe poverty (especially Roma and Moroccan students) as well as students with behavioral issues. Instead of receiving any kind of support from a qualified individual, I kid you not, teachers placed these students in desks in corners and basically ignored. It was heartbreaking to see this and I tried to incorporate these students as much as possible, but the Spanish teachers told me to ignore them because they were “stupid.”
  • You are the teacher – like I mentioned before, this could be something positive if you are a qualified teacher looking for classroom experience, but it isn’t in the job description. The role of a teaching assistant is to support the Spanish classroom teacher with their lessons. However, the majority of the teachers I worked with (except for the good ones mentioned above) simply used their classroom time with me to sit at their desks, kick back and relax, occasionally screaming at the class if they got too loud.
  • The majority of the Spanish teachers were horrible – because UCETAM works with charter schools, this means that teachers essentially make an upfront payment to secure their jobs. Once they have made this payment, they cannot be fired and therefore have no motivation to actually be good at their job. I worked with teachers who screamed at their students, humiliated students, swore at them in English, made inappropriate jokes in front of primary students, and more. I taught at my school from 2011-13 and I hope that things have changed since then.
  • You can’t choose your placement – again, I got lucky. By lucky, I mean that I had to commute to my school for 1 hour each way. Some other people in the program simply missed out on living in Madrid because their school was so far away.

How to apply

While I didn’t have the perfect experience, for me the pros outweighed the cons. Not only did I get to do what I love (even if it was challenging!) but I also got to enjoy living in Madrid in my early 20s. Madrid is such a magical city to live in.

If you’d like to apply to be a language assistant through UCETAM, here’s what you need to know.

Applications for the 2020-21 school year are currently closed. However, applications for the 2021-22 school year should become available towards the end of 2020. You can find out the exact details for the application on the Cooperative Bilingual Schools website.

The application has changed since I did the program. Applicants are expected to complete an extensive application including personal details, short answer questions, and an essay.

You also need to submit a letter of recommendation, a resume, and an “English Language Assistant Profile” which details your preferences like 18 or 26 teaching hours per week, previous experience, and more.

More information about the UCETAM Language Assistant Program

  • You can teach at an UCETAM school for up to 2 years (like I did)
  • You aren’t supposed to be left alone with your class. A Spanish teacher should be present at all times. However, this doesn’t always happen. It’s actually a huge liability if you think about it. Imagine if a child got hurt, had a seizure, etc. when you were alone with the class. I would recommend talking to your school’s director and UCETAM if this happens.
  • Your school may have you follow a book or just create lessons out of thin air. There isn’t really a set standard, so just be flexible. 
  • You will most likely have A LOT of students. I taught 1st-6th graders, with up to 5 different classes per grade. That’s a lot of names to remember.
  • Prepare to spend most of Monday-Friday at school. Although my contract was only for 26 hours, I had huge unpaid gaps in the middle of the day. Since I didn’t want to spend another 2 hours commuting back and forth to Madrid, I spent my time lesson planning, visiting the local shopping center and studying for my Master’s degree (the first year) and learning French (the second year.) Unlike the government “Ministerio” program, you won’t have a day off. Take advantage of the numerous public holidays to travel!

Final Thoughts

Living and working in another country is something that I think everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. As a teacher, there are so many opportunities to go abroad. The hardest part is choosing the right program for you.

As I mentioned before, teaching in Madrid, no matter the program, requires a lot of effort and luck. If you are willing to take a risk, I highly recommend trying it out. 

As always, if you have any questions about teaching abroad, please email me at ESLTeacher365@gmail.com

Happy teaching!


UCETAM English Language Assistants Program Review

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