Teach English in Madrid UCETAM

UCETAM English Assistants Review: Teach in Madrid

Are you interested in teaching English in Madrid, Spain? I spent 2 out of my 5 years in Madrid teaching English as a Language Assistant through the UCETAM program. Keep reading to find out the pros and cons of my experience.

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

Pros of Teaching English through UCETAM in Madrid

To begin, 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 I 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 more of an actual teacher than an assistant – 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, according to the program 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. Free private healthcare was also a nice bonus.
  • Teach other classes besides English – I not only taught English classes but also taught Science and Art. In addition, I prepared high school students for the Cambridge FCE speaking exams. I definitely enjoyed teaching project-based Science classes. Other assistants even helped with Physical Education classes.
  • Some of my Spanish co-teachers were fantastic – I had the opportunity to work with about 12 different teachers. A few of them were really great. However, that wasn’t always the case.
  • 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

Cons of Teaching English 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, unfortunately, some teachers placed these students in desks in corners and basically ignored them. 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.
  • You are more of an actual teacher than an assistant – as 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.
  • Some of my Spanish co-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. 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 2021-22 school year should be available now. 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 you are being left alone in the classroom.
  • 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. Each class had up to 30 students. 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. 

If you have any questions about teaching abroad, please email me at Jamie@eslteacher365.com.

More resources to help you teach English abroad

How to Get Started Teaching Abroad

Teach English in Spain

Teach English Abroad After College

ESL Teacher 365 Online Courses & Memberships

Teach Online in 10 Days Mini-Course

A step-by-step 10 lesson mini-course that will teach you how to become an online teacher so that you can life a life of freedom & flexibility - with unlimited income potential!

TEFL Teacher Roadmap Teach Course

A proven step-by-step formula that will teach you how to move abroad with confidence & clarity. A self-study online course for anyone asking "NOW WHAT?!" after completiting their TEFL certificate.

Teach Abroad Club Membership

Ready to start your teach abroad adventure? Teach Abroad Club is the ONLY monthly membership & community that supports you through the teach abroad process - every step of the way. 

Follow ESL Teacher 365

More Posts from the Blog

Teach Abroad in China 2024

Teach Abroad in China 2024

How to teach English abroad in China – a complete guide to visas, types of schools, salaries and benefits of teaching in China.

Thanks for visiting ESL Teacher 365!

Thanks for visiting ESL Teacher 365!

Certified Teacher & Founder of ESL Teacher 365

I am passionate about helping people teach abroad & online so they can live a life of adventure!

I’ve taught in 6 different countries and love sharing my teach abroad (and online) tips and tricks.

The world is yours to teach and explore!

– Jamie


Disclaimer: ESL Teacher 365 participates in Amazon Associates and other afilliate programs. This means I may earn a small commission if you use one of my links, at no extra cost to you. This helps me continue to provide helpful resources for teachers. Thank you!