Life as an English teacher in Spain

My partner and I moved to Spain straight after university, with the intention of staying a couple of years before heading off somewhere else. Fourteen years later, we’re still here. And that’s true for many people who come to Spain, and especially those who end up in and around Cádiz.

A walk along the beach, January 3rd 2013

It has to be said that being an English teacher is not going to earn you megabucks here, especially given the fact that most schools will offer a nine- or ten-month contract. Your options in the summer are to head elsewhere to work at a summer camp or, if you’re lucky and well-qualified, a pre-sessional university course. Alternatively, after working in Spain for a couple of years, you can claim paro – unemployment benefits. However, it’s worth checking things out in your local office to see how much you’re entitled to and how long it’ll last before using it as a plan A.

At the end of my second year in Osuna, before leaving for Cádiz

So, given that we’re not getting rich, why stay in Spain? Well, for one thing, especially in the south, the weather is a huge draw for people coming from the UK or other northern parts of the globe. I was really shocked when we spent our first Christmas in Osuna, where we lived on first arriving here, that the sky was so piercingly blue and cloudless, when Christmas in my hometown tended to be grey and cold. Another shock to the system though was just how cold the houses can get here, as many don’t have central heating which we’d both grown up with in the UK. Perhaps that’s why so much of Spanish life takes place on the streets – in winter and spring, there are definitely days when it’s warmer outside than in and when the sun is beating down in the summer, who wouldn’t prefer to be in a leafy, shaded square or at a beach bar drinking a refreshing beer than cooped up at home with the blinds drawn?

An ELTChat summary I wrote a few years ago

And another reason people stay is the people – Andalucians in particular are incredibly welcoming and we’ve built some incredible relationships in our time here. The students as well are fun to teach – they’re enthusiastic and willing to talk – a perfect mix for the Communicative Approach! Yes, there are times when they natter away in Spanish and I have heard colleagues say that younger students here are less well-behaved than, for example, students in South Korea; but at the same time, they’re affectionate, cheerful and happy to throw themselves into learning a language.

One thing which will definitely affect your decision to stay anywhere though is the working environment. I’ve heard a few horror stories about language schools in Spain which offer really poor contracts, cut hours without warning or expect their teachers to put in extra, unpaid hours ‘because they care about their students’. I was lucky my first job was in a school which supported me as a new teacher, with caring bosses who helped us to settle in to life in a new country.

Find out as well what the professional development opportunities are where you work, both in your school and in the local area. Whilst I’ll admit that I’m incredibly keen on professional development and can appreciate that not everyone shares my fervour, if you’re going to have a career an an ELT professional, you need to keep learning and local events are also an opportunity to meet new contacts and find out about what life’s like in other schools. Also, attending professional development events opens up your eyes to everything you can do in ELT. When we first arrived, I assumed I would work for a few years then open my own school, as that seemed like the logical career path to take. However, there’s so much more to ELT than just the classroom, so I wish you all every success on your ELT journey, wherever it takes you.

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