A Guide To Teaching Abroad in Spain
The Spanish way of life sounds almost too good to be true: late-night fiestas, tapas on a balmy terrace, weekly street festivals, and a population with a never-ending enthusiasm for life. Who could be so lucky as to enjoy all this and make a living? Teaching English in Spain is the opportunity of a lifetime, and not only for the endless supply of sugar-dusted churros. Whether you’re a TEFL-certified teacher with years of experience or a novice who’s curious about Spanish culture, teaching is the perfect way to experience la vida español.
Choosing a location to teach English in Spain is easy because every corner of the country is filled with lively plazas, historic landmarks, and unique local cultures. Add in a gentle Mediterranean climate and a tendency for mid-day siestas, and it’s easy to see why Spain is such a popular destination for both work and play.
Spain’s capital city, Madrid, is one of the largest cities in Southern Europe. Teachers who choose to teach in Madrid will experience the Spanish lifestyle to its fullest amidst modern architecture, acclaimed restaurants, and world-class museums. Whether you choose to take an afternoon stroll through Parque del Buen Retiro or spend an evening dancing in Malasaña, you’ll never be bored in Madrid. And if you want to take a break from the colorful city chaos, a weekend in the countryside is only a train ride away.
Many teachers gravitate toward Barcelona, the second-largest city in Spain which is situated in the semi-autonomous Catalonia region. When you’re done with lessons, explore the mind-bending Parc Güell, lounge on a nearby beach, or stroll down Las Ramblas while snacking on a bocadillo. You’ll also want to brush up on your Catalan, as this local language is spoken widely throughout the region.
Along the southeastern coast, Valencia boasts one of Spain’s largest historic centers and has a youthful feel due to its many universities. This translates into an energetic nightlife and cheap eats; a filling plate of local paella valenciana is never far away. When you’re not teaching in Valencia, you can escape the city and go hiking in the nearby mountains.
Seville, a laid-back city in Spain’s Andalusia region, is an enticing option for teachers who want a mix of history and culture while teaching English in Spain. Founded by the Romans over 2,000 years ago, Seville’s history is ever-present today, found in squares filled with ruins and the sweeping Alcázar palace. Make sure to take in a flamenco show or participate in the Feria de Sevilla, a week-long street festival famous for dancing, drinking, and socializing.
Teaching jobs in Spain aren’t difficult to find, but well-paid contracts are more competitive in larger cities, like Madrid and Barcelona. It’s important to note that you may not have a choice in your location. The Ministry of Education, for example, assigns teachers to schools, and you could end up teaching English in Spain in either an urban center or a rural town.
The Spanish possess a notoriously laid-back attitude, but don’t let that lull you into thinking your time teaching in Spain will be all fun and games. Teaching is hard work, and you’ll need to be on your game to engage students in the classroom. Luckily, teaching jobs in Spain are available for individuals with all levels of experience.
One of the most popular teaching opportunities in Spain is run by Spain’s Ministry of Education, which hires individuals to work as language and cultural assistants in public schools. Assistants are typically placed in primary or secondary schools and facilitate conversation lessons with an emphasis on their native country’s culture. Other teaching jobs in Spain entail similar tasks but are based in private schools and include Spanish language study or TEFL certification.
For those who don’t have a lot of teaching experience or who are looking for a more immersive cultural experience, in-home private tutoring is a good option. In this case, you’ll live with a Spanish family and teach private lessons several times a week. Not only a conversational exchange, tutors are expected to plan lessons and provide direction to their students’ studies.
If you’re TEFL- or CELTA-certified, contractual teaching jobs in private academies are an option. These positions usually include a monthly salary, benefits, and vacation time; however, you’re also the primary instructor for the course and must have prior teaching experience. These teaching jobs are easier to obtain if you already have permission to work in the country.
Your time teaching English in Spain won’t be all work; even language teachers get time off! Those hired by the Ministry of Education will work 12 hours a week, while other assistants and private school teachers should expect to work around 25 hours per week. If you’re teaching English in Spain at a primary or secondary school, you’ll also benefit from school vacations.
Certification isn’t required to teach English in Spain. Assistant and tutor positions only require you to be a native English speaker, but certification is usually needed to work in an English language academy or private school. Some teach abroad programs in Spain provide certification courses at the beginning of the program, which allows you to gain some experience before jumping in.
When you ask someone why teaching English in Spain is the best, you’re going to hear a lot of reasons, but “amazing pay” usually isn’t one of them. Your salary may not be very high, but life in Spain is rich no matter how many Euros you have in your pocket.
The bottom line is that most people don’t teach English in Spain for the pay. An assistant typically gets a monthly stipend of about €700 whereas a teacher in a private academy can make anywhere from €1300 to €1800 a month. That being said, the cost of living is relatively low. A bottle of water costs less than one U.S. dollar, a bus ticket is €1.50, and you’ll be able to load up on fresh produce at the market without breaking the bank.
Unlike some English teaching programs around the world, Spanish programs usually don’t cover airfare or any living expenses. For that reason, it’s important to bring enough money with you to cover at least one or two months of living expenses.
Finding housing in Spain can take a bit of effort, but will pay off in comfort. Some teach abroad programs in Spain pre-arrange housing for participants, either with a host family or reduced-cost accommodations on school property. Other teaching opportunities offer incoming teachers assistance in finding a place to live, while some provide none at all. Knowing in advance if you’ll receive help is useful, especially if your Spanish language skills are minimal.
In any case, it’s much easier to find an apartment once you’re on the ground, and most teachers end up renting a room in a shared, furnished apartment. This is a great way to improve your Spanish, make friends, and learn about Spanish culture. Make sure to book a few nights in a hostel or hotel before you arrive so you’re not homeless while locating your future casa!
Visas vary depending on your teaching job and employer. Assistants sponsored by the government can apply for a one-year student visa, while teachers working at an academy will be required to obtain a work visa. It’s important to verify with your employer in advance what type of visa you’ll need and if they’ll be sponsoring you, and to remember that visa processing can take several weeks or more. Check out GoAbroad's Spanish Embassy Directory for more information.
Teaching in Spain is a great choice for beginners in the field of ESL. Many teaching programs offer certification in addition to teaching experience in the classroom, which serves as a great jumping-off point for a teaching career anywhere in the world. That being said, arriving with some knowledge of Spanish, if not actual teaching skills, will greatly enhance your experience.
Teaching English is a great way to live abroad, but it’s not for everyone. Teaching requires effective planning, patience, and enthusiasm. Make your job easier and prepare before you depart by collecting teaching aids, such as newspapers, magazines, restaurant menus, and other pieces of realia.
Be selective in choosing your school. While most language schools in Spain are legitimate, some are better than others. Evaluate each school’s accreditation, find out what kind of support teachers receive, and study your contract. It’s in everyone’s best interest that you work in a legal and supportive environment.
Teaching English in Spain is a great way to experience Spanish culture while practicing your skills as an ESL instructor. You may fall in love with the country and stay forever, or you may take your newly acquired skills and put them to use somewhere else. Whatever happens next, a year in Spain is sure to be filled with energetic nights, hundreds of tiny tapas plates, and more grammar worksheets than you can ever imagine.
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