8 Mar 2009

Teaching in Spain...

So, among the many things I do to keep myself more than busy, for the past 4 months I've been working towards getting my teaching certificate to be a Biology and Geology teacher in Spain. Teaching is one of the many options I'm considering in the "what to do with the rest of my life" category once I finish with my damn PhD (others include continuing in research -either in an institute or a university-, environmental education, consulting, conservation work, writing... and finding SOME way to get myself back to the Antarctic ice).

Becoming a teacher (jr high and high school) in Spain is just a little bit complicated (who am I kidding, it's a lot complicated!). You have to have a university degree in your subject and then you have to get your teaching certificate via a course (taught in the universities) called the CAP (curso de aptitud pedagógica). Currently a 4-month course, as of next year it changes to a full 12-month master's (we think, they've been saying the change is coming for years now). And although I think the 12-month would be much more useful (the current one is a bit "light" on content), since I'm not sure I want to go into teaching and I'm doing this for the "just in case", I figured I'd better get it out the way now, before I end up having to dedicate another year of my life just to decide if that option is for me or not...

The CAP has a theoretical and a practical portion. The first had 10 hour classes in IT applied to the classroom (which is what got me started on this blog, had to write a post as homework!), a 10h class in education sociology and a 20h class in teenage psicology. Very interesting peeks into these fields (particularly since I knew nothing about them), but just enough to whet your curiousity and make you aware of certain sitations, problems, theories, but not enough to be really useful once you become a teacher. We were a mix of students from many different areas of study so it gave room for some interesting discussions -when people could be bothered to open their mouths-. And then after Christmas a 40h course specific to each our subjects (in my case bio+geo) during which we basically worked on the different aspects of what consitutes the school curriculum, how it's put together, the different administrative levels involved (lots of boring legislation) and how to create our own for the competitive exam (will explain later). I had been hoping it would be more specific on how to teach certain aspects of biology, more information on ressources available (he did bring a few of his books and magazines, but no online info). Interesting but not nearly useful enough.

Now I'm in the midst of the practical phase. I've been shadowing a teacher for a couple of weeks now. Am so grateful I managed to get a school a few blocks from my house (as opposed to on the other end of the city like I was originally supposed to have, ugh!) as I have to be there at 8am, and I'm no longer used to getting up so damn early!!! I've been accompanying her to most of her classes, taking notes on how she structures her classes, deals with students, exams, department meetings etc., and occasionally helping answer students' questions when she's got them doing exercises in the classroom. One more week and then I step in! Yikes! Kind of scared of that part, and feeling lazy 'cause since she wants me to go more in depth in the material on two of the book chapters I can't use it (the book) as a basis so I have to prepare all the written material for the students! Fortunately it's on the seas and oceans so could talk for hours about it off the top of my head, but still... And fortunately I only have to deal with one group, 4º de la ESO (age 15-16, the equivalent of high-school sophmores in the US and 2nd in the French system, in Spain it's the last year of obligatory schooling, the next 2 years of "bachiller" are optional). So it will be 6h (one of which will be the exam) with 20-odd rowdy teenagers, not very disciplined, and who knows if they'll pay much attention to little ol' me once I get up there in front of them... gulp! I think I'll write more about how all this prep is going another day.

Anyhow, after this is over, if I decide I want to go into teaching in the public sector (to get into the private you have to have really good contacts), I'll have to do the "oposiciones" (competitive exam) in the autonomous Community where I'd like to work (I'm currently in the Comunidad Valenciana, which includes the provinces of Alicante, Valencia and Castellón). These "oposiciones" are a nightmare from what I've heard. You can ace the exam (has a written theoretical portion on subjects you might teach in your course, and a practical where you present your study plan for a whole course to a jury of 5 teachers) and still not get a teaching position as the exam is only worth half your final grade (or maybe 60%). The rest of points you get based on your academic file (GPA), your degrees (I'll have an advantage with the PhD), languages (am good there with 2 extra), publications (done!), extra courses (organised by a syndicate or a university, at least 30h) and most of all work experience in the public school sector. Basically the first couple of times you participate in this competition there's no way you can get a permanent position, but you do get put in the "bolsa de trabajo", a list of substitute teachers if you will. People get called upon in order (of their final grade) to replace teachers that are on medical leave. A friend of mine's been doing this for almost 4 years now (she's done the exam 3 times), and when she's lucky she gets a long substitution, when she's not she's a couple of weeks here, a couple there... hell on earth! But do it long enough and you'll have enough points to get a permanent position even if you just barely pass the exam. This whole damn process is what pushes me away from the whole idea... we'll see about it. I might try out this year just to see what it's like. There's no way I'll be able to study (PhD to finish...), but it will give me an idea of how things work and I'll be able to prepare for it better if I decide to give it a serious try... ja vorém!

Geez, just writing this has reminded me how tiresome the whole process is! Ouf! Well, even if I don't go into teaching having done the course will probably prove useful on a personal level. Anything new you learn is good. ;o)


  1. That process is more complicated than getting a teaching certificate in the U.S. I'm only aware of the certification process in Texas since it differs depending on which state you live in, but most of the time if you decide that you want to teach anywhere between K-12 you do your regular bachelor's degree and "minor" in a teacher certification program. Then, you take the certification tests and your college "recommends" you to the state for certification. After that you aren't actually certified because you have to spend at least one semester (before you officially get your college degree) student-teaching in a public school.
    It is at best an imperfect system. I was formerly a music ed. major, and the irony of that is that the School of Music at my University actually had their own music education courses that you had to take in addition to the general ed. certification courses. They also made it harder by specifying that music ed. majors had to be certified for all of K-12 instead of the regular grade-level divisions of K-5, Junior High, and High School that the other students could go for.
    As for getting a job, where you teach depends on who you know for a lot of the public school jobs, though not as much as if you want to go private. Then there are the districts that everybody warns you not to teach in.
    I ended up changing majors because, among other reasons, I got tired of the bureaucracy. Now, I may get my teaching certification post-bac, but I get to graduate two semesters sooner if I do without it and I'm tired of being in school.
    I am considering going for my masters in Literary Studies or a related field, since my current University offers a "fast-track" program where the last 12 hours of your senior semester as an undergrad can count toward your masters program (and that's a 30-hour degree)...but I'm sort of waiting to see how I do in my new situation before I make any firm decisions.
    It is a smart move to have teaching as a back-up, and I'm actually impressed with the way it works in Spain. It seems like the students are guaranteed a better education just because it takes so much effort on the part of the teachers. I have seen some awful teachers in schools that I observed while I was still doing Music Ed. and I wondered if maybe we make it too easy for people to become teachers when they have no real desire to teach.
    Anyway...more information than you wanted, huh? Good luck with getting certified. It sounds like you're well on your way.

  2. Not at all! I'm interested in the subject so definitely not too much info, thx!

    The situation changes somewhat here as well depending on the Autonomous region (group of provinces) you want to be a teacher in. But although each A.Region organises its own competitive exam to hire teachers (you have to do it in each region you'd think you'd like to work in, although people rarely show up for more than one as dates usually overlap) and has slightly different exams, the general conditions are the same everywhere. Getting the Bachelor's degree and teaching certificate (which can be done at any Uni in the country) and then usually temping (after having passed the exam once) to get enough "points" to be high up enough on the list next time you take the exam to get a permanent position.

    This is all actually for secondary school (junior + high school). To be a primary school teacher there is an actually undergraduate degree for "kindergarten", "music", "foreign languages" or "general". And then they too have to pass a competitive exam (but I hear it's easier to get in).

    Sounds like the "fast-track" for that Master's is a good option! "Voice of experience" here, Master's degrees can be quite useful. I must say though, I've always had trouble understanding how the U.S. university system counts its hours. 30h in my world is a class that barely lasts half the semester! (when we talk hours it's actual hours you spend in the classroom + labs or fieldwork)

    And there, now I've gone and written a loooooong reply as well! :p


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