Teaching English in Spain was a life-changing experience for me. Sure, I had studied abroad before in Australia, but no matter how much time you’ve spent abroad before, nothing can match the depth of the experience you get when you work abroad.
While you’re working abroad you are thrust into a deep dive exploration of another culture as you learn to navigate differences while performing a role that is necessary. Sometimes it can be tricky as a traveler to find authentic ways to connect with cultures, but as a teacher in Spain, this won’t be a worry for you. As you work with students and interact with fellow students, you’ll be taking in the new culture around you, sometimes without even realizing it.
Work culture, just like social culture, is different overseas, and Spain, a robust country with more than 46 million people has diverse cultures of its own. If you are planning to teach English in Spain, we’ve put together a few pointers to prep you with the basics of work culture. Buena Suerte!
Misconceptions about Working in Spain
When I came back to the United States after teaching English for a year in Spain, one of the first comments people would make would be that it must have been nice to take a siesta every day. The siesta is a post-lunch nap that Spain is supposedly known for. As I was living in Madrid, a bustling capital city, the siesta was non-existent.
Yes, the school I taught at held a two-hour lunch break in the middle of the day, but teachers used this time to eat leisurely and lesson plan. No napping was involved. Spain is a country that varies from region to region, but if you are in a major city or the north, don’t expect siestas. Some places in the South of the country do still uphold this tradition, however.
Another misconception about working in Spain is that Spaniards don’t have a strong work ethic. This is plain hogwash. I found all the teachers at the school where I was placed to be extremely passionate and dedicated to their students, putting in long hours to lesson plan and help their students. Don’t go into a teaching position in Spain expecting that your colleagues won’t have a strong work ethic.
Differences in Teaching Styles
If you've taught before in the United States, or spent any time in classrooms with students recently, you’ll be sure to notice that teaching in Spain is much different from teaching in the United States.
In Spain, as elsewhere in Europe and the world, teachers take a more interactive, hands-on-approach with teaching. As there are fewer standardized tests involved, the curriculum can focus less on teaching to a test and more on learning through play. Often times lessons involved collaborative activities such as creating a model city out of cardboard boxes, planting seeds in a garden and choreographing a dance that illustrated the parts of a flower. I found that these activities made learning more enjoyable for my students.
As I mentioned before, it is also typical to have a two-hour lunch break during the day. During these longer lunch breaks, children play outdoors. Even in the winter months when snow was on the ground in the mountains surrounding Madrid, the students at my elementary school would spend at least an hour outdoors, playing football, building dirt forts, or making bracelets, a popular trend at the time.
Teachers are also more affectionate with their students than they are in the United States. There’s less of a barrier for personal space and teachers will get closer to their students to give hands-on aid. I was even allowed to hug my students, which is definitely not appropriate in a classroom in the United States.
As a teacher in Spain, you will be responsible to some degree for classroom management. Granted, many programs for North American teachers place them in the classroom as teaching aids, not full-time teachers, so this will not be the bulk of your responsibility all the time.
Classroom management in Spain is similar to classroom management in the United States as children are children wherever you go. Classroom management is an underrated skill that can take years to master, so if this will be your first time teaching it will likely be your greatest struggle. Call on the seasoned teachers at your school for advice should you struggle. For starters, use a calm, natural voice, speak only when students are quiet and use hand signals to help send a message to your students that you are the authority.
As a teacher in Spain you will have to go through much bureaucracy and administration to get your paperwork together in order to legally work in the country. Whether you are participating in a program run by a third party provider or going directly through the ministry of education, you will receive a detailed outline of the steps you will need to take in order to get this paperwork in order.
While you’ll receive an outline of steps to take, it will still be your responsibility to gather necessary documentation, set up appointments at government offices and transport yourself to these places in order to move the process along. These steps can take quite a bit of time and planning, so be sure to factor this in when planning your experience with teaching in Spain. In addition to spending time lesson planning and running lessons in the classroom, time spent organizing paperwork will also be necessary.
Work-Life Balance in Spain
One of the greatest perks about teaching in Spain is the work-life balance. As you will likely be a teaching assistant and not the full-time teacher, this means you will have fewer responsibilities outside of the school day. Additionally, many programs cap the number of hours you work between 20 and 30, giving you heaps more free time than you would have if you were working a standard full-time job back in the United States.
Know that your position as a teacher in Spain is one of luxury; full-time teachers at your school will work more hours than you, so this lowered responsibility is a reflection of the program you are participating in, not the school system.
That being said, Spanish culture does tend to have a better work-life balance than in the United States. There is a greater emphasis in Spain on spending time with family, eating slow, freshly cooked meals, and spending time in the outdoors. Overall I found the lifestyle in Madrid to be much healthier than my lifestyle in the United States. This is something I still miss today, so enjoy it while you can!
Adapting to Work Culture in Spain
This article is intended to give you a good overview of the basics of work culture in Spain. However, it’s important to note that there is no way to fully prepare for working in a different country. Your journey as a teacher in Spain will be full of many discoveries. Enjoy them! Each challenge you face will open you up and guide you to become even more of a global citizen.