Updated January 2021
Teaching English in Spain – whether you’ve already submitted your application and have gone through your rounds of interviews, or it’s merely a thought that has become a potential consideration in the near future, I would like to share with you some insight into the experience as a former English teacher in Madrid, Spain. I do want to clarify before you start to freak out over this list (or any other list) about x amount of things I wish I would have known before teaching English in Spain, I want you to know that none of this should seriously scare you or make you want to back down from potentially one of the best things you will ever do in your life. Seriously.
So if anything, please take these lists you find on the internet similar to this one (mine included) as suggestions and insight, and consider yourself equipped with knowledge on what your experience may entail abroad. As for this list I came up with, these are things that I learned during my year teaching English in Spain. Though the learning of these lessons is what added to my overall experience (which I LOVED), knowing them ahead of time could have saved me a little bit of stress and certain disappointment, which I want to spare you from. So without further ado, here are 5 things I wish I would have known before teaching English in Spain.
1. Lower your classroom expectations
Though it’s great that you are starting the year strong with the following…
- Contacting the teachers you are working with
- Writing your lesson plans for each class
- Imagining how you’re going to change your students lives and how much their english will improve
- And that new stationary you’re so ready to use!
I will tell you it won’t always go as planned. Teachers will take their sweet time in responding to you, some will be helpful and some won’t, not all of your lesson plans will be the most amazing or fun ones, even if you spent a long time
searching for them online creating them. Another thing, you won’t dramatically change the student’s lives. Now with that last part I mean to say that though you yourself won’t change the lives of the students, you will still definitely be impactful (in a good way of course). The students have been learning English for a while, and they’ve had other English teachers in the past. You are merely adding to their English language skillset and enriching them with your ability, culture, and accent. So I’ll say it again: you’re not changing their lives in the school year that you’re there, but you are still creating a positive impact that will continue to grow with the teacher that comes after you.
Another reason why I say that is also because I don’t want you to feel that kind of pressure. Don’t think that you are solely responsible for your students passing their Cambridge exams and that if they fail, it’s a reflection of you and your teaching. NO. You are an auxiliar or assistant teacher, so you are not their only English teacher. Also, consider the possible fact that going into the job, it may be your first experience teaching you should be easy on yourself. In time, you will start to find out what will work best for you, teach-wise, and how your students learn best. In time you will be used to your students and your students will know what to expect from you. Just give yourself that time to allow progress for yourself and everyone else to adapt and get a groove. teaching English in Spain
2. Know your worth at your school
Though it’s important to be flexible with whatever may come your way of teaching English in Spain, that does not mean that you should let others take advantage of you. In Spain (as I’m sure that it occurs in other countries with English teachers) you will hear horror stories from English teachers who have been either overworked and/or under-appreciated, and in some cases, not paid on time. Don’t feel afraid or like you don’t have much of a voice to speak up if you don’t feel happy or comfortable. While you decided you were going to go through this experience to teach English abroad, ready to face issues that may arise, you must also be ready to ask for help when you need it. At the end of the day, recognize that you are an asset to them; they are very lucky to have a native speaker, especially you! I can assure you of this. So be vigilant, and anything that you don’t like, please do something about anything you feel needs attention and also ask any and all questions you have!
3. Be mentally prepared to have side teaching gigs
If someone would have told me that as an English teacher in Spain, I would have needed to look for additional sources of income aka side teaching gigs to not only make ends meet comfortably but to also travel – I would have probably said nah. Well, let me tell you, yaaass! You will definitely be needing at least one other private class to cover those additional expenses. Remember that you’re living on an English teacher salary for a whole year and whether you’re living on your own or with a host family, extra money is not a bad thing to have for all the experiences you dreamed of and visualized having before even leaving your home country!
Now, I am basing this off of my experience living and teaching in a suburb town near the city center of Madrid and with a host family. I had my major costs like food and shelter covered, but for other daily expenses and my cell phone bill, and not to mention travel to other places on the weekends and puente holidays- your girl needed at least 3 more classes to comfortably be able to do it all. So don’t be afraid to ask your co-workers at the school you’re teaching if they know of anyone who is looking for an English tutor – 7 times out of 10 it may be your co-workers looking for someone to teach their kids after school for an hour and they may even approach you since they already know you (which is big for Spaniards, to know you beforehand rather than picking someone random online). Also, become part of the auxiliar page of your city on Facebook – there are ALWAYS private classes up for grabs on there as well. Having private classes outside of your 9-5 teaching job (yes, actually 9-5 in Spain) will take a little bit of adjusting, but you’ll be able to make it work! That’s why if your side gigs are with teachers at your school, they’ll be close and you can just walk over rather than taking a bus or train 🙂
4. Make friends with the other teachers – trust me
Going into my year teaching English in Spain, I didn’t really know if I would be making friends at the school I was going to be working at. To be honest, as close minded as this was (mind you, this was before I even left home) I only thought I would be hanging out with my friend who was also teaching English that I knew from college, as well as a few friends I had made through the Madrid auxiliar Facebook group, and that would be it. Please don’t limit yourself! Make friends with your coworkers! These are the people that you will not only spend many many hours with throughout your year, but also the ones who will give you those restaurant recommendations, the ones who will help you when you’re not feeling well, the ones who will have your back at school, and give your insight on how schooling works in the country, and really, how everything works within the society you’re currently living in, and so much more.
In my case, I ended up making some really amazing friendships and connections with teachers I worked with at my school. Towards the end of my year, some of them invited me on weekend trips to their little corner of Spain. Through those friends, I was able to go to Valencia, Granada, and Avila; cities in Spain that I got to explore with locals, as well as stay with. You never really know who you’re going to meet and befriend, so I would just recommend that you keep an open mind, and be genuine with people. Friendships can stem from coworker relationships, and before you know it, they can feel like family. So, don’t stay contained within just one group of friends, especially if they are other American auxiliary because you want to take advantage of this unique work situation. Don’t deprive yourself of getting to know others more, as well as a different culture! It’s a beautiful thing 🙂
And if you’re wondering how to start conversations and make friends with your co-workers…this should help!
Conversation Starters – How To Make Friends
The list of ice-breaker questions and conversation starter prompts that helped me make the friends you see in the picture above. It’s not that hard, but as an American going to Spain, it was slightly different to understand friendship culture and co-workers in Spain – especially if Spanish is not your first language. Leave me your email down below and I’ll send it to you right away!
5. Try your best, but also don’t stress out
Teaching English in Spain means a lot of good things, but it can also mean receiving a lower pay and looking for other teaching opportunities outside your school. You will start to get busier between teaching at your school, teaching private lessons, commuting, and trying to have fun, it can get a bit overwhelming but, like, you’re in Spain so….😉
However, as you start to get more social, always just keep in mind your job and your responsibility to set time aside to work on lesson plans and other teacher-related work. Always try your best, don’t slack off even if you may see others doing it. I will admit, finding a balance can be challenging because it’s almost like being stuck in between two forms of work – your punctual, focused work style that we as Americans have been trained in mostly, and then there is the Spanish way, which is a lot more chill about getting things done. It’s a limbo that you’ll get used to, but may be a bit challenging at the beginning.
If you’re trying to work in the robust American way while your coworkers may seem a little more lenient on a few items, it can be a challenge but don’t stress out! In time, you’ll find that this challenge will lessen, and you will see that you will get better at knowing how to work with different people and work styles. It kind of goes hand in hand with the first suggestion when I say to give yourself that time to progress and learn, so just give yourself that time and wiggle room. The opportunity to be able to see how other societies work and how you will function within this shift will be worth it. Now it will be your opportunity to see how other parts of the world do things, and rather than stress about how you’re going to make it, think of what you can learn from them. So as one of my students always told me; don’t worry, be happy 🙂
Let me know if you thought these suggestions were helpful by leaving a comment below! I’d also really love it if you let me know if you have taught abroad, and if so where and what was your experience like? Do these suggestions sound familiar to you?
You guys, teaching abroad has left me with more to learn than what I feel I left my students with lol. I will never become tired of repeating that this experience was an incredible, eye-opening one. If you’re about to start teaching abroad soon, I hope these suggestions helped you out a little bit. If you haven’t considered teaching abroad, maybe this post gave you a little bit of insight to potentially learn more about it. Thank you guys for reading, and I’ll see you in the next post!