6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Teaching English in Spain 

by Julia Kitlinski Hong

Whether you are drawn to Spain to brush-up on your rusty high school Spanish or support a culture that embraces midday naps, signing up for a teaching program in Spain can be an immensely rewarding experience, but only with the right amount of careful planning and diligent research. All the different teaching options can be overwhelming to consider, from signing up with the Spanish government to finding a spot within a private language school, to deciding whether to teach in Spain for the summer or teach in Spain for a year.

While daydreaming about all the sangria and tapas you will indulge in after class is highly encouraged, ask these necessary questions before you fully commit to any teaching English jobs in Spain.

Barcelona, Spain

1. What type of program best fits my needs?

If you have a bit more dinero to spend, consider signing up with a U.S. based program that will help you with job placement, housing, in-country assistance, and TEFL certification. To find a company that is reputable, it is important to do extensive online research in forums, blogs and with third-party providers to find the best fit possible. The downside is that sometimes former teachers say that these private companies do not live up to their promises and that it is a waste of money to pay extra for an experience that you could have for much less through the Spanish government.

In Spain, another popular English language teaching opportunity is the ones created by the Spanish government in order to promote bilingual learning throughout the country. These teaching assistant programs pair you with a teacher whose grade levels range from elementary to high school. Be prepared to dust off that elementary school knowledge of basic biology that has been collecting cobwebs in your brain, or be ready to face any dreaded middle school gym flashbacks, because subjects can vary from science to physical education.

The benefits of choosing the routes mentioned above,  is that you first and foremost are guaranteed the coveted residential visa that will allow you to work and live in Spain. Another added benefit of these programs is that you will be assigned to a specific school and will have all the logistics of your employment and sometimes your housing taken care of.

The downside is that you have no control over your placement, other than choosing the region or city of Spain that you prefer. You may end up in a school that takes over an hour to get to by bus or you may get stuck in a school that has a notorious reputation for having terrible management.

There is also the option of teaching English at private language schools, where you will be working under the table (en negro) without legal residence, since in order to get proper visa papers schools have to prove that you are filling a job vacancy that no Spanish citizen is qualified for. Instead, you will work on your tourist visa, where you will have to renew it every three months (Hello Gibraltar!).

Granada, Spain

2. Where do I see myself living in Spain?

One of the most hand-wringing decisions (after choosing to teach in Spain of course) is where your casa sweet casa will be. Spain is a vast and diverse country, where specific regions offer many unique highlights. 

Andalucia, in Southern Spain, has no shortage of teachers inhabiting major cities like Seville, Granada and Cordoba to name a few. This region  is popular because it is seen as embracing a more traditional side of Spain with bullfights, flamenco and Semana Santa. Life tends to be more relaxed here than in the north. This lifestyle is not for everyone though and if you want a more modern, urban experience it is best to stick with the northern cities. Another thing to consider is that Spanish is spoken with a very thick Andalu accent and can be difficult to adjust to, even for those who are proficient in the language.

Popular northern regions in Spain, include Madrid (both a city and a region) and Castilla y Leon. The city of Madrid is a great place for big city living, but it also draws a lot of tourists and expats, so the experience may not feel as “authentic” Spain as some might wish. Salamanca on the other hand is a huge university town, which has a greater number of locals in comparison to Madrid and is an ideal city to immerse yourself in the regional culture. 

In the eastern region of Catalonia, the major city is Barcelona and is quite a draw for teachers with its warm weather and close proximity to the beautiful Spanish east coast. This region has a strong separate identity from the rest of Spain, which is noticeable in its culture and Catalan language. Spanish is spoken, but Catalan is much more common and it can be confusing for those who only speak the former.

3. Do I have what it takes to be a teacher?

Being an English teacher in Spain can seem like a straightforward position that comes with a lot of perks (i.e. jamon for days), but it is a lot more complex than it may seem. A lot of English teachers chose Spain because… well, who wouldn’t want to live in Spain? But it is important to ask yourself if you are cut out for this type of work. And yes, it is work.

Besides the potential for having to deal with unruly students, not to mention equally infuriating co-workers, there is also the question of whether you can be a role model for your students and a positive representative of your country. These internal questions are important to think about before you leave because they will gauge how successful you will be in the long run, and help you reflect on your motivations and intentions for finding an English teacher job.

Madrid, Spain

4. Are my Spanish language skills appropriate for a particular position?

For government-run teaching assistant positions, having an elementary understanding of Spanish is helpful, but not necessary. Although you will be teaching your classes in English, it will be helpful to have a more complex Spanish vocabulary in your arsenal, beyond hola and gracias. It is also important to think about how comfortable you are communicating in a second language and if it will be effective tool as a teacher depending on the program you choose.

Unlike some other countries in Europe, Spain does not have a strong English language requirement and students can have a very low level of English, especially the younger ones.

For other non-government teaching assistant programs, there can be a requirement of upper-intermediate to advanced Spanish language knowledge, since you will be working with students who are learning English for the first time.

5. Do I have enough savings?

It can be easy to have the mentality that having a job lined up means that you will be financially secure. Ah, what a common, but dangerous illusion. It can be a few weeks (or months) before you see any of your hard-earned Euros, depending on the payment system and the organization of your school. Most programs tell you to bring $1000 extra, but this can evaporate quickly, especially if you are in larger cities and do not plan on being a hermit.

Plan on bringing around $1500 to $2000 extra to cushion your first few weeks and any extra expenses that might come up throughout your stay. You do not want to be halfway through your trip and find out that you will have to survive on 1 euro bocadillos for the rest of the year, now do you?

To make extra money and supplement your primary teaching gig, you can pick up some extra hours as a private tutor (clases particulares). The best way to advertise your tutoring services is putting up a profile on the website tuclasesparticulares.com. It is important to put up your profile a few weeks before a new school term to beat the rush of teachers vying for similar positions.

Sevilla, Spain

6. Am I ready to move to Spain?

Moving to Spain is no small feat, mi amigo. Yes, it may have some similarities to your home country, but there are also endless differences as well. Logistical things like figuring out where to open up a bank account and where to find the best coffee in your neighborhood are processes that will take time to remedy. An early arrival will allow you to visit your school beforehand and meet-up with your teacher or supervisor to make sure you are well prepared for your first day. If you are working with a provider, ask them when an ideal time to arrive would be to make sure that you have enough time to settle in before starting classes.

Arriving early before the other teachers is also important if you are on your own for finding housing. Getting stuck with the leftover apartments is no fun and can have a significant effect on your overall teaching experience abroad. Giving yourself about a week is plenty of time to sort out all the bumps in the road, including finding a good home.

Teaching English in Spain can be a daunting task, but it does not need to be if you know the right questions to ask when researching the various programs that are available to you. The more prepared you are, the more likely you will be able to fully enjoy your experience abroad.

Once you are ready to take the leap and call Spain your home, make sure to check out all the different program options available on GoAbroad