Teach English in Spain
Overview of Teaching English in Spain
Spain is one of the most popular destinations for people wanting to teach English. Great food and wine, a wonderful climate and a stable economy are just a few of the attractions. Jobs are not as plentiful as they once were, due to many Spanish citizens now being qualified to teach English. However, there are many international and language schools, particularly in Madrid and Barcelona, that continue to hire native English-speaking teachers.
Since Spain is a European nation, a high percentage of English teachers in the country are from Britain and Ireland. However, Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders are also hired. Experienced teachers are more highly sought after, but there are also opportunities for those just starting out in TEFL. To increase your chances of getting a good job, you have to increase your marketability. You can do this by getting hold of a teaching certificate. It’s possible to obtain a certificate in TESOL by taking an intensive one month at any number of language institutions throughout the country. A business background can also be useful, since business English classes are very popular in Spain. Taking classes to learn Spanish will enhance your job opportunities still further. Such classes will also be useful for everyday life, as you will be expected to use English-only in the classroom, when you are teaching.
Many people dream of working in one of the resorts on the Mediterranean Costa Del Sol. Although jobs can be found in the places, most opportunities exist in the larger cities, in particular Madrid and Barcelona. Work in the cities tends to offer better salaries, but the cost of living is also higher. State schools also tend to be more lucrative than international schools.
The people in Spain are warm and friendly, and most visitors will adjust to the culture very easily. Generally speaking, the cost of living also tends to be lower than in most other western European countries.
EFL Teachers in Spain are in high demand. They are wanted in nearly every area in Spain, and the jobs vary from part-time (8-10 hours) to full-time (25-30 hours) and some even come with the “offer” of being an au pair on the side.
However, how do you sort through the hundreds of tefl jobs on different websites on the internet and how do you know where to go if you have never been to Spain before?
This question is of course a personal one, and depends a lot on where you want to go. Considering the weather, cost of living, culture, and travelling back home or around Spain/Europe and the opportunities for professional development within your possible school are just some of the important factors before deciding where to go and start (or continue) your life as an English Teacher abroad.
Weather and Climate in Spain
If you are looking for somewhere warm, sunny, cheap and with a lively outdoor culture to start your life as an EFL teacher in Spain then hit the south of Spain. Andalucía boasts temperatures of mid-to-high 20 degree temperatures from March to October and in the middle of summer; the climate regularly reaches mid 35 degrees. In the winter months temperature goes to around 10-15 degrees, which although “muy frio” for the locals, for anyone comparing these temperatures to the joy of English weather, you’ll find that you are quite happy wondering around without your coat on all year round.
If that heat is not something you can quite handle, consider Northern Spain. The climate is cooler, yet still better than that of the UK! Average temperature in the summer months is 20-25 degrees and in the winter, it’s between 8-12 degrees. It does rain more up north though, and you’ll find there is a certain difference in the attitudes of people between North and Southern Spain.
Due to the weather, it’s very common for everyone in the South to be out in the streets all day. All the bars are on the street, all the best entertainment happens in the big squares, and you’ll always find that people acknowledge each other on a regular basis. However, up north, it’s cooler and the rain does come more often and as such, people are not always out and about on the streets. That’s not to say there isn’t a lively nightlife/culture up there as anyone who has visited/lived in Northern Spain will tell you, the bars are often bigger inside and have better quality parasols for when the rain does come crashing down!
Live entertainment in the streets in Spain is common wherever you go. Spanish culture is rich in tradition and you’ll quickly see sights you have never seen in England, and attempting to explain to people why for a week at Easter people dress up similar to that of someone out of the KKK is not easy, but, trust me, it happens.
Semana Santa happens in the week leading up to Easter Sunday, and it’s an event taken very seriously across all of Spain and if you live in the centre of any city/town or near a large church, don’t expect a lot of sleep that week. You will also see a lot of capirotes, who are people dressed in a very distinctive style with large cloaks and very tall pointy hats that also cover their faces. Churches within the area spend all year practising carrying a large table like structure which has 15-20 people underneath. This in itself is a sight to see, but then when Semana Santa comes around, these large tables with 15-20 people under it, then have a 5-6ft religious figurine put on top, surrounded by candles and various religious artefacts. Behind all this is a large brass band playing one song (that after a week of hearing this 5-6 times a day, becomes quite haunting) who travel from one church to another across town, displaying their commitment to God. These processions are not quick moving, and if you are trying to go to work, allow extra time during this week as guaranteed you’ll get stuck behind at least one. Good news is that your working week as an EFL teacher is guaranteed to be shorter as the end of the week is a public holiday.
However, the event of the year in many towns is Feria. Traditionally, it is a time for horse shows and flamenco dancing and all the ladies in the town get dressed up in their flamenco dresses and try to fit their ever expanding waist lines into these tiny, seemingly very uncomfortable, dresses. This still happens, and during the day it is a giant park filled with all the locals and everyone from surrounding towns. Yet at night, the horses return to their stables, the flamenco ladies go home and it becomes the biggest drinking festival to hit the town all year. Locals here save up money from the day the Feria ends to the day it begins the following year as this is the only place to be. None of the usual places are open within the town centre as staff are working at the feria. It is so important that most people only work Monday-Wednesday and have Thursday and Friday off work to enjoy the Feria even more before it leaves town on the Sunday. Expect a hangover, and possible bankruptcy, that week, especially as once again, part of this week will include public holidays and EFL classes aren’t high on the list of priority for people this week so your class sizes are going to be smaller.
The English Teaching Market in Spain
All of these are great, but if you aren’t happy at your school as well, there is little point in being an English teacher in Spain as you’ll be too miserable to enjoy all these activities!
So, being an EFL teacher in Spain differs from region to region, but in general, expect to be teaching kids, teens and adults. The majority of your students will most likely be kids (4-12 years old) for two hours of your day, followed by about an hour of teens and then an hour or so of adults. Most of the teens and adults will need a formal qualification in English, for teens it is most likely to be B1 and for adults B1-B2. Depending on your school, you will either be involved in Cambridge or Trinity preparation classes at some point during your stay there. If you manage to not have any involvement in this, you may see it as a lucky escape, but these skills look good on your CV so don’t shy away from the responsibility.
What are teaching conditions like as an EFL Teacher in Spain?
It is becoming increasingly common that EFL schools in Spain are not open on Fridays, which is excellent you cry, three day weekend – amazing! Well, yes, but you are still expected to do the same hours throughout the working week. So, if you are contracted to do 24 hours (which is very standard) and your school is open Mon-Fri, then you are looking at 4-5 hours a day, if your school is not open on a Friday then this goes up to 6 hours a day. One more hour may not seem like a lot but teaching straight from 4-10pm with no breaks for 4 days in a row certainly takes its toll.
A very important question that I failed to ask before entering my first school here in Spain was “What resources are available?” Simple questions like: Do you have Interactive Whiteboards? Do I have a space to store my materials in my classroom or do I have to carry them every day? Do I have a CD player/DVD player? Is the classroom I’m going to use going to be shared or is it mine all the time?
These questions are not necessarily thought of before arriving somewhere, as you may be like me and assume that you’ll have your own space and lots of lovely things to use, but you get there and find out that your “school” rents out classrooms from a Catholic state school after their school day has finished, and as such you are just borrowing someone else’s classroom every day, have no storage space and each day you need to return the chairs to the exact space they were in before you arrived and guess what – you’re on a blackboard too. Blackboards weren’t even something I had considered ever working on, but unfortunately for the modern EFL teacher working in Spain they are quite common. Most schools are moving to the IWB format, or even just the standard whiteboard, but this is costly and is taking time, so don’t assume that you’ll be on a whiteboard, find out for sure. Blackboards take a bit of time getting used too but they aren’t impossible, just expect to get covered in chalk each day and expect to find bits of it floating about your flat.
Development opportunities are quite high in Spain for EFL Teachers, which is a great thing. There are a lot of big conferences, including TESOL Spain where the glorious Mark Hancock blew everyone’s mind away in 2013, and EFL schools are quite involved with sending their employees there, because these situations are pretty win-win (you learn more, you teach better, they make more money!) Also, a lot of school are affiliated with other conferences, such as ACEIA in Andalucía, and these are again excellent opportunities to go and learn something new and make new connections with other teachers/schools. Don’t be shy of schmoozing at these events; you never know when your next shoulder rub could lead to your next opportunity. Connections are how the EFL world works, and you’ve got a much better chance of getting a job if you’ve already met and swapped details with school owners and principals.
Do Teachers Need TEFL or CELTA training?
Working in Spain as an EFL Teacher, you don’t necessarily need a CELTA/TEFL but it certainly helps and makes the whole process smoother. There are schools that will take anyone who is a native, with or without experience etc, but don’t expect that school to be top notch and necessarily best for your professional development. Also, if you are not a native speaker (even if you have a C2 level of English) things are not always easy and your students may have something to say about it if they were led to believe that all the teachers are natives so make sure you and your school are upfront with your students.
If you are not CELTA/TEFL qualified then you may want to consider being a Language Assistant instead of an EFL Teacher in Spain. These jobs are also much easier for non-EU nationals to get as well, so that’s something for those of you outside the EU to consider. On average you’ll be at the school you are based from 9-4pm, but you probably will only work 2/3rds of the time during the day. You’ll be expected to “assist” in the classroom when it comes to English classes, yet, some Spanish teachers consider “assist” to mean “teach and run the lesson as if it is your own” and others think it means “help out when necessary” and this is something you will only find out when you are in the classroom as this is completely dependent on the teacher themselves.
How do the salaries compare to other teaching opportunities?
On average, you can expect to earn between €1000 – €1400 as an EFL teacher in Spain depending on how many hours you do and which part of Spain you are in. Language Assistants are usually earning less at around €600-800 a month. More money is to be earned up in Northern Spain, but cost of living is a bit more, yet you earn less in Southern Spain but you’ll find that the majority of people are earning about half as much as you. For the first few months at least, you probably will not be paying any tax, and then the tax will come and it will steal some of your money. I was once stung for €280 and to this day have still not got it back, but most of the time it’s between €60-€100 a month, again dependant on how much you are earning and where you are based.
Private classes are also in high demand, especially for kids. Try and find out what the average price is amongst other EFL teachers in your area and stick to it. Everyone will try and cut your price down, but do it for one customer and the next customer will try and cut you down even lower, so stick to your guns on this one! Also, although you might want to offer a friend some help every now and again, don’t make it into a regular free event as this affects the EFL private market and other teachers will not thank you for it. In the area I’m in, the average price is €15/hour but I know that bigger cities the average is €25 for an hour class.
Getting paid is an interesting one in Spain. You’ll find that the majority of places will pay you “within the first 5 days of the month”, which although doesn’t sound too bad, make sure if you have any direct debit payments that they are after the first 5 days of the month- even to be sure put them on the 10th as otherwise chances are you’ll get in some mess there. Also, regularly you will have to stay a few days at the end of the academic year for your school to “process” your last payment and give it to you in cash. Something to remember when it comes to booking your flight home/to your next job as Spanish people aren’t known to rush anything, so don’t expect that just because you are finishing on the 16th that you will never have to go back to school again and can leave and move on. It is very common that you will need to return the first Monday/Tuesday after term finishes in order to do a couple of bits of paperwork and get your all important last pay cheque.
Legal Requirements in Spain
Upon arrival in Spain in order to get paid legally, and to have access to a doctor, you need to get registered at the local police station. Your school should help you with this as they need it for their contracts etc, but you also need to have this as the last thing you want to happen (as it did to me!) is desperately needing a doctor but you can’t go because you have failed to register with the police that you are living in Spain as your EU health card won’t cut it with certain angry receptionists. “Carta de residencia” is a small ID card that you will be given with your NIE (National Insurance number) which also has your address on it. It is a relatively simple process to get this but if your Spanish isn’t quite up to scratch then your school will (or any decent one will) come with you and help. You also need to visit the town hall in all of this process and inform them that you have accommodation, which is a bit longer than the visit to the police station usually as this is where everyone informs the state of any change to their life (birth, death, marriage, moving etc) so take a book or a friend. You will get bored.
Getting a Visa in Spain
For those of you who aren’t EU nationals, you can get visas to visit for a short period of time and if you are very lucky, then you will find a school that is willing to sponsor you to get your legal papers to stay. However, this is rare so don’t bank on it. You have more chance of finding places like this in Madrid or Seville and I’ve only ever heard about it through word of mouth so get yourself to these places and start looking from the first day. I know of a few people who have outstayed their visa and nothing (as of yet!) has come of it. They have got themselves a job at a small private language school and do a lot of private classes, and pray to god that they don’t need a doctor or the police anytime soon. It’s a risky game but they are hoping to find their own way of staying (by marriage/sponsor/winning the lottery) any day now and are not willing to just give up and go home. It’s certainly not advisable but it is done.
Both EU citizens and other foreign nationals are also required to secure a residency permit. Part of the requirements to get a residency permit is for you to have a proof of income. It is therefore necessary to secure a teaching position before you make an application.
For non-EU nationals, it should also be borne in mind that work permits are tied to the employer that petitioned the authorities on your behalf. If you choose to quit your job and take up other employment, it will be necessary to secure a new work permit. However, for those seeking to stay long-term, after a period of six years your work permit becomes transferrable between different employers and/or occupations.
Cost of Living in Spain
Food and Drink
Spanish food is not all about paella, although when it is cooked in the traditional style it is a delicious meal and a very big social gathering is usually involved so do seek it out, but there are many other foods to try too.
Tapas can be enjoyed at the majority of bars and cafes and ranges in price from €1-€3 euro depending on the food. The plate sizes in Spain work as “tapas” “media” or “raccion”, simply -small, medium or large portion sizes. The majority of time when I am eating out, I’ll get one or two tapas and sometimes a media to share with my friends. Spain is all about sharing food! If your food looks tasty to someone else in your group, they have every right to jump across the table and grab some, and you can do the same to everyone else in the group too, and some people think it is rude not to try a bit of everything. This is a fantastic way when you first arrive to become accustomed to the variety and names of all the different types of food available.
If you are a vegetarian then coming to Spain may not be the easiest place to live. Friends who have asked for their meals to be meat free have often found that the waiter/waitress has attempted to hide a bit of meat under something else on the plate – so check your food before you eat it!
However, those of you like me who enjoy meat and fish will find that there is a vast array of food to keep you very happy indeed. In Northern Spain it is very common for beer to be a bit more expensive than in the South of Spain, but you get tapas with it. So, in the South you can get a beer for €1, and in the North you are looking closer to the €2 mark, sometimes even €3, but food comes with it.
If you’re looking for something stronger than beer, then spirits are usually around the €5 mark and naturally more if you are partying it the local nightclub.
Getting an apartment in Spain is relatively easy in comparison with the UK and on both occasions when I personally have rented an apartment, you view it on one day and can move in from the next day and the majority of friends here have had the same experience. It is very simple and you will need only a few things – your passport and/or “carta de residencia” (see above about how to get this!) and more than likely a deposit which is equal to one months’ rent. Some places don’t always require a deposit, but this is rare so don’t count on it.
The cost of apartment depends on quality, location and if you are sharing or not. If you are sharing, it is usually around the €200-250 mark, usually including bills. If you are looking to go it alone then you are looking at around €350-400 for a reasonably good quality place, but bills are not always included. Your potential landlord will explain when you view the property if bills are included or not. It is not that common for accommodation to already have the internet installed so if this is a complete deal breaker for you, ask the question before you go to view the flat as this will save you essential flat viewing time.
Remember when sorting out finances before you arrive that you will need one month rent and a deposit, so you are going to need at least €500 and not all places come fully equipped. If you are someone who desperately needs an iron then check if they have one otherwise that’ll be another cost, and cleaning products etc. Most places already have a fully stocked kitchen but again if you love your steam cooker don’t expect they will have one and consider these things when planning your money for the big move.
There are many websites to check out accommodation before you arrive and set up viewings for the first few days there – fotocasa.es and piso.es are good places to start but there are many others available.
Paying rent here is more often than not done in a cash exchange with your landlord either at your property or sometimes at a mutual convenient location and it is always easier to have the exact change than expect them to provide it.
What do I need to bring with me to Spain?
Although you might not think you’ll need that big fat jumper or your wellies, it is advisable to pack a good jumper and jacket and some water proof shoes as the rain does come in Spain, and even more so if you are going to be based up North.
There are a lot of shops in Spain that will be familiar to those of you used to shopping on the high street in the UK; H&M, Mango, Zara and even Primark, so don’t worry about not keeping up with the latest fashion.
The majority of things are easy to get hold of in Spain and you’ll find that with your wages as an EFL Teacher in Spain you will be able to afford to go shopping regularly if you so desire. The measurements of clothing is slightly different as it is European, so if you are looking for the perfect size 10 jeans, check what that is in European measurements before you go shopping to make the process easier.
Health Services in Spain
If you ever need a doctor in Spain, then you do need to ensure you have either your NIE or your Social Security number with you in order to register at the doctors. After registration you will soon get a small card in the post which you will need each time you visit the doctor as your prescription and information will go on this for you to then present in the pharmacy to get your medication. If you ever feel the real need to speak to someone in English regarding a medical problem then most health centres will have at least one good English speaker, but there are also private doctors who are English available all around Spain. The best way to find one of these however is word of mouth and as they are private, they will cost to visit (usually around €40) but the option is there is you need it.
One of the best ways of finding out information like local English doctors, or the best nightclubs to go to, and the worst bars to avoid is by finding your local “intercambio”. Intercambio directly means exchange and it is a local group of Spanish and English people who meet and practice each other’s languages for free! It is a great way to meet locals, get speaking to natives and practice functional language and an excellent way to find out all important information that only locals possess.
It’s never easy making the decision to move to a different country and you should certainly do your research, but once you’ve found your school then the rest of it naturally follows and is easier than expected, even with very little to no Spanish. So, if you are looking for a country which is crying out for English teachers and where you can live in the sun with a variety of different entertainment and good food then Spain may well be the choice for you to begin life teaching English abroad!
Interviews with English Teachers in Spain