What I Know Now About Teaching English in Spain

Sarah Perkins Guebert Bio PhotoAre you a teacher or language assistant? Thinking of teaching English in Spain? It goes without saying that there are differences in culture and education between any two countries. There are certainly quite a few between Spain and the US, where I grew up. 

You may have heard some stereotypes about Spanish education, and, no, here in Spain we do not take naps at school in the middle of the day. Nor do teachers instinctively know how to dance flamenco. In many ways, schools in Spain and the US are actually quite similar. However, there are a few notable differences that might surprise you. These are the five things I wish someone had explained to me before I started teaching English in Spain as an American. 

Five Things I Learned Teaching English in Spain

Ditch the Heels

You may be surprised to discover that Spanish teachers do not dress to impress. In fact, casual attire is the norm. This includes jeans, sneakers, and tees. It certainly wasn’t the scenario I’d pictured when I moved to Spain. When I arrived for the first time, I brought clothes typical of an American teacher: slacks, button-ups, smart cardigans, etc. However, I quickly realized that dressing too formally was out of place in the public school environment and ditched the skirts for jeans.

On a First-Name Basis

Not only do Spanish teachers dress down, but they also go by their first names. This was quite a shock to me after coming out of the American education system. On the first day of my teaching job, I was stunned when students ran up to my boss and addressed him by his first name as though he were their best friend or cousin. However, this is not something out of the ordinary here. Have fun with it and remember that the kids do not mean any disrespect.

Winging It

American teachers know that lessons require several hours a week of painstaking work. Not so in Spain. In general, Spanish teachers do not believe in working unpaid overtime. They do not usually prepare extensive lessons, handouts, or other materials. In fact, they prefer to follow the textbook, and some even show up (sometimes late) and throw a lesson together at the last minute. This can certainly be shocking for new teachers and language assistants; however, to put this in perspective, oftentimes teachers are shuffled around between grades from year to year and cannot rely on past lesson plans.

Chitter Chatter

Spanish children are incredibly active and talkative. In fact, it’s very difficult to get them to be quiet at all. This can be challenging for a teacher, but it also means that these students excel at speaking activities and games and always enjoy a lively debate with their classmates. They are happy to discuss almost any topic at length and are always eager to participate. Make sure to put a time limit on your activities, because Spanish students can easily take over an entire class.

Black Pen or Blue?

One of children’s biggest challenges is trusting in their own decisions. They sometimes struggle to make even the smallest of choices without adult guidance. Everything is dictated to them at school from a young age, making these little decisions and creativity as a whole very difficult for them to grasp. Giving Spanish students too much freedom can even result in panic. Be prepared for confusion, a bombardment of questions, or even tears from the younger if you give them too many options to choose from.

If you plan on becoming a teacher or language assistant in Spain, I would advise simply spending time in the country and immersing yourself in the culture before walking into a class. Enjoy the parks, the bars, and the street. Understanding Spanish culture will help you understand the school environment and your students. Once you’re in class, relax, exchange your fancy clothes for comfy ones, go by your first name, and most importantly, take it one day at a time.