What’s It Really Like Teaching English in Spain?
| Teaching House Nomads Blog
Teaching English in Spain is a popular option for ESL teachers, but what is it really like? Spain can be an amazing place to live, with great food, super weather, and plenty of ways to keep you entertained, but it’s not for everyone.
I’ve taught in Seville for 13 years and I’m settled now, but it took me a while. I struggled with the language, the unsociable teaching hours, and being treated as a guiri – foreigner. But I stuck with it, and now I’m as happy as Paco (there are a lot of happy Pacos here).
The most popular places to teach English in Spain are the major cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, and also Valencia. Each has their own pros and cons. Until you’re living there, it’s tricky to know which place will suit you. Here’s my insider overview on what it’s really like teaching English in Spain.
The demands of the Spanish TEFL job market
Learning English for Spanish speakers has become a necessity. A few years back, when I first started, English classes were a luxury. People learnt English to help them at school, maybe find work, and even because they loved English.
Now, having a high level of English is vital if Spaniards are to progress in life and find employment. Students need a minimum level of B1 before they can obtain their degree, and most jobs now ask for a level of B2, especially in Barcelona and Madrid. Parents are paying for their children to have private English classes in language academies so they have the required level when they reach university. English is a business, which adds to the pressure of teaching.
The pros of teaching English in Spain
Wherever you end up teaching English, you’ll never get that perfect class of students. But I’d honestly say that 90% of students in Spain are up for learning and motivated to be in class. Of course you get the odd bogie classes which will push your boundaries, test your knowledge, and drive you to drink, but in general they’re not a bad bunch. I find that the firm but fair approach works best. Be strict, get them to do the work, and then give them a reward with a game or song.
Outside of the class, the lifestyle can be fun, engaging, and also relaxing and healthy. You can have a quick check on the internet for the weather of each region, but you’re pretty much guaranteed that it will be better than your home country.
I’m a huge fan of the Mediterranean diet and enjoy eating out in the many tapas bars here in Seville. The teaching timetable gives you plenty of time to fit in some exercise as well.
The general outlook on life is quite relaxed, sometimes too much so. People here tend to work to live, rather than live to work, and that’s the same for most English teachers as well. You might not earn a bucket-load of money, but you begin to appreciate the finer things in life such as free time, becoming cultured, learning Spanish, and, the best part about Spain, tasting jamón serrano.
Spain is full of lovely places to visit. I’ve seen most of Andalusia and a lot of Northern Spain. I used to travel a lot at weekends and also in the summers before my two Spanish kids came along. I’m hoping to see more in the future when they are at an age where travel stops being stressful, and they don’t ask me if we’re ‘nearly there yet’ every five seconds.
Plenty of holidays
Let’s face it, the main advantage of being a teacher is the amount of holiday you get. In Spain there are plenty of breaks. The summer is long, sometimes too long to be fair. Most language academies operate from September to June, and then a lot of teachers find work elsewhere in the summer. You can work in Spain in summer camps, but because the schools are off from July until the middle of September, most language academies shut then.
Apart from the summer, you’ll likely get a couple of weeks off at Christmas, one during Easter, and then depending on the region where you live, at least another 5 or 6 random days off during the year. Sometimes these days fall on a Monday or even Thursday and Friday, which means you get a long weekend. Having a random Tuesday or Wednesday off too isn’t bad either as it breaks the week up. The only downside is that most of the city shuts down too.
Just make sure you find employment where you get paid holidays. In my first year I worked for a company which only paid the actual hours I taught, which was illegal, and I got short changed during the months with long holidays.
The cons of teaching English in Spain
Spain is not for everyone. Over my 13 years here, I’ve seen plenty of teachers come and go. People decide to leave because they want to teach back in their home country, they struggle with the language, or they don’t like teaching Spanish kids or teens.
Here are a few things to be aware of before you decide to teach in Spain.
Demanding students — and parents
Just as the students are a decent bunch, they can be very demanding, especially the adults. I really noticed this in my first year because I was inexperienced. I’d been teaching in South America and Asia but had never been quizzed so much about grammar rules. In the end I had to spend ages studying the English language before each class because I kept getting caught out with random, but totally valid, questions. To be fair it wasn’t until I did the Delta that I really mastered the rules and ways to teach.
Parents can be demanding as well. They want their children to either improve at school or get the official exams, so there is definitely some pressure flying about. I’m experienced now in all the exam levels and know where the students are heading, but if you’re new to the game and get an exam class, then ask your colleagues for help. There’s plenty of advice and stuff online too.
Running all over the place
The TEFL industry is notorious for having to work unsociable hours, and that’s no different in Spain. The typical timetable is from 4pm until 10pm if you are teaching young learners, teens and then adults. However, you might find that you’re teaching scattered hours all through the day.
In my first year I had a class at 8am, 12pm, and then from 4pm until 9pm. Now I do extra classes in the mornings at 8am, and also work some weekends to bring in extra cash (kids of your own are expensive).
Friends of mine who have worked in Madrid and Barcelona say travelling a lot during the week is very common. You can spend all day whizzing about the city to various business sites or schools to get your hours up. Add this to being in front of the class for several hours, and you’ll realise just how knackering teaching can be.
The longer you are in a place, the more settled you’ll become and can normally find the best schedule and company that suits you. Some people like working through the day with large gaps to do activities like exercise, writing, painting, or just simple Netflixing.
Having to teach a bit of everything
In Spain you really have to be a ‘jack of all trades.’ If you work for an academy, you’ll probably have to teach young learners, kids, teens, and adults all in one day (hopefully not all in one class – if that’s the case then strongly consider changing employment).
To be fair, I like the variety. I prefer teaching adults, but a whole day of adults would do my head in. This year I’m going to be teaching 5 year olds for the first time. In part I’m dreading it, but I’m also up for a new challenge. My own son is 5, so I’m hoping I can bond with them in some way. It’s only for 40 minutes too, so what’s the worst that can happen, right?
Teaching in Spain is highly fulfilling, challenging, and allows you the freedom to enjoy your life outside the class as a TEFL teacher. I’d highly recommend Spain, and also Seville, as a great place to teach English and live.