What I Know Now About Teaching English in Spain

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.

36 thoughts on “What I Know Now About Teaching English in Spain

  1. This is a fascinating insight into many expats’ entry route into Spain: education. I urge all those who are Iberia bound to read this first. It will help bridge the cultural divide.

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment. It is definitely true that most people who move to Spain do it through education.

  2. I wish I had your job! Spain is my dream country! I’d really love to experience the coffee there. And the siesta. And yes, to learn the language, too.

  3. That sounds like it was quite a learning curve. Although, I must say that being able to wear casual attire must have been a VERY nice surprise.

  4. That is really smart to spend some time exploring and getting acquainted with the area before jumping into the classroom. This can really give you more opportunities to connect (and get cute flats too).

  5. Teaching is such a noble profession. I used to dream of going abroad to travel and teaching is one of the alternative careers I considered when I hit the road.

    1. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it, but the opportunity came up and I took it. I have definitely enjoyed it a great deal!

  6. Wow — what a great experience to teach in Spain! Love how they use first names, even for teachers. I work for a company that does that and it helps bring about openness and collaboration — both are crucial for a learning environment!

  7. It sure is different in every country. I like that the Spanish students are talkative and eagerly participate in discussions, but of course, there should be limits. Thank you for sharing your experience. I wish I had the same job as you. It sounds like fun.

  8. I bet this was an eye-opening experience! I hadn’t really considered the differences in the educational systems. That is so interesting!

    1. Yes, I hadn’t considered it at all before coming over here. Some aspects of education were a big surprise!

  9. What a great experience and glad that you have such wonderful stories to share! That sounds like fun and I would love to do that some times in the future, too! – Knycx Journeying

  10. Teaching is a very noble job. To be honest, I miss teaching young kids! PS: I use blue and purple pens all the time!

  11. I loved this post so much. I love how cultures are so different. As an ESOL teacher I could see the difference you mention here. From dress code to procedures in the classroom. Wow, what a chuck to learn how classrooms are in Spain.

  12. I have never been a teacher in my life. But i loved reading about your experience teaching in Spain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.