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Teaching English in Spain

The Down and Dirty Guide for Prospective Teachers

So you’ve decided that you want to move to gorgeous, sunny Spain for a year (or three) and are stumped as to how you’ll survive financially. If au pairing or studying abroad doesn’t appeal to you, teaching English is the way to go. Here’s the down and dirty guide:

Should I get a TEFL certificate?

Most English teaching jobs require that you have some sort of certification in EFL teaching, often called a TEFL (Teacher of English as a Foreign Language) but sometimes called a TESL (Teacher of English as a Second Language). Even the smaller academies will look for more than just “native speaker” on your resume.

Where Should I Get One?

You may want to budget out a month and do your certification in Spain rather that in your home country. Why? Networking, networking, networking, and a chance to get acclimated to a new culture while in the security of a program. I know many English teachers who met in a locally run TEFL certificate course. Doing the course in Spain rather than in the States will give you time to find an apartment, make friends, learn some Spanish, and scope the teaching scene before you start the official job hunt. It will also give you the specifics of the current teaching situation in a particular Spanish city.

A “standard” TEFL course runs for about a month, totals 120 course hours, with four to six hours of supervised teaching practice. Costs can run from $900-$2,500, depending on where you take the course and who teaches it. Good bets are International House Spain, which offers the widely-recognized CELTA certification, and EBC, which offers its own certification but also offers a lot of help with job placement. Both have sites in Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville, among others. Don’t get your TEFL certificate online—it won’t give you the valuable supervised teaching practice that an in-person program offers.

How Do I Get a Job?

Everything in Spain is done in person. Emails and phone calls are not as productive as they are in the States, and most jobs aren’t advertised. The best way to go about a job search is to print out a million copies of your CV. Look up the academies (Escuelas de idiomas, Academias de idiomas, or just idiomas) in the Paginas Amarillas and go visit them. This is totally acceptable. The worst thing that can happen is that they will say no. Also refer to newspapers like Segundamano and In-Madrid, which frequently have advertisements for teachers. Online, www.tefl.com has the best resources for the Spanish job market—most of it tends toward year-round academy work.

Where Can I Work?

Forget the Spanish public schools—public school teaching is reserved for those who have passed the lengthy competitive examinations, or “oposiciones.” You have three choices: an academy, or private language school; an agency which sends you out to do in-company classes (increasingly popular, especially in Madrid and Barcelona), or private classes.

Academies are usually open from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and generally—though not always—closed for lunch. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that you’ll have an early morning class, another at noon, a third at 5 p.m., and your last ending at 10 p.m. Academies provide test preparation as well as general English to students ranging from five to 50. Company classes generally pay more (see below) but you’ll be spending all day on public transportation and accommodating corporate schedules: early morning classes (think 8 a.m.), lunchtime classes (2 p.m.) and post-work classes (around 6 p.m.) These are the prime times for company classes—if you go this route, make sure you don’t have any days where you’re teaching all three time periods.

I’m an American With No EU passport. Will Anyone Hire Me?

You won’t have health insurance, job security, or even a guaranteed paycheck at the end of the month—so know that if you’re working under the table, you should be willing to accept the consequences. Many Americans end up going on a tourist visa and taking a trip outside the EU (hello, Tangiers) every three months. Be wary of jobs that offer “papers.” Due to the bureaucratic difficulties surrounding working papers for foreigners, it might take your school up to a year to get you official working papers—at which point you may have decided to go elsewhere. However, if you love the school where you’re working and would like to stay for a few years, this may be the way to go.

How Much Money Will I Make?

In smaller towns, academy rates are between €7 and €9 per hour. (That’s right, even if you have a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate.) Madrid and Barcelona offer higher rates, around €10 to €12 an hour, but this barely makes up for the drastic difference in the cost of living. Rooms in a shared apartment in a small Spanish town like Valladolid or Salamanca that go for €150 a month can cost up to €400 a month in Madrid. If you decide to accept a full-time teaching position, check how many hours. The range can be from 22-29 teaching hours per week—and believe me, those seven extra hours on the upper end are a big deal. If you’re salaried, expect to make €700-€800 per month in the smaller towns and €900-€1,200 per month in the bigger ones (Barcelona, Madrid). To give you an idea of how much this is worth, a recent poll found that the average Madrileño made €1,500 a month. The cost of living in smaller towns is much lower, so keep this in mind.

Companies generally pay better, but this doesn’t take into account the fact that you’re spending 40 minutes to get out there and two hours killing time in between one class and another. Factor your travel time into your rate-setting. Company classes in Madrid can pay from €15-€25 an hour, with teachers who contract directly with a company making €35-plus. (This kind of opportunity rarely presents itself to newbies.)

What Should I Know to Be an EFL Teacher in Spain?

A language teacher in Spain who doesn’t know grammar will be viewed with a suspicious eye. Learn about ALTE (Association of Language Testers in Europe) and the Cambridge ESOL exams. These are PET, KET, First Certificate, Advanced, and Proficiency. The five levels correspond to the five proficiency levels set in ALTE. They are very popular and knowing them might get you a job. If you are American, exploit your accent by learning a thing or two about the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) administered by ETS (yes, the same people who gave you the SAT). The TOEFL is required for every Spanish student who wants to study in the United States or apply for a Fulbright scholarship.

Private Students

You might see flyers about town advertising for clases particulares (Castilian for “private classes”) for €6 an hour. These are either non-native speakers, usually Spanish university students, or Brits on holiday. If you have a bachelor’s degree and TEFL certificate, you shouldn’t charge less than €10 an hour in the towns and €15 per hour in the big cities. I found my private students through students in my academy—one of my students wanted a tutor for her son—but don’t offer any students through the academy to cut out the middleman and teach them privately. It won’t score you any points, and if the director finds out you’ll be fired.

What It’s Really Like

You’ve got the job, now what? If you participated in any reputable TEFL program, you’ll have learned all kinds of new things about the communicative approach to second language teaching. You’ll be full of ideas for flashcards and ways to keep teacher talk down to a bare minimum. Then, you’ll be saddled with eight different classes that meet once, twice, or three times a week and range from false beginner to upper intermediate, and whose ages range from 12 to 60. You start work at eight and finish at eight, with a long—but thoroughly unproductive break from two to four, when everything is closed for siesta. And you’re either too tired or frazzled to come up with 10 new teaching activities each week that really reach out to every learner in the class.

Take a deep breath. Realize that your students’ goals might not be as lofty as yours. Many Spanish students just want to improve their fluency and have their grammar and pronunciation corrected—or praised—by a native speaker. If you have a textbook, use it; if you have access to any of the Penguin “Games for Grammar Practice,” these are pure gold. The “Instant Ideas” series provides solid reading, listening, and vocabulary practice using real news items. You’ll save a lot of time by planning your syllabus and schedule for each class ahead of time. And relax—most of your students will be friendly, easy-going, and eager to share information about their culture with their foreign teacher. (Just make sure they share it in English.) Being a teacher can be time-absorbing and exhausting, but unlike many study abroad programs, it gives you an unparalleled opportunity to meet Spanish people on a regular basis—an experience that you’ll value for the rest of your life.

For More Info

 Madridteacher.com is great for job posts and school information.

 Eslcafe.com has a regional bulletin board for Spain, as well as job postings.

 Segundamano.es is an invaluable re-source for apartments, jobs, and private students. If you’re apartment-hunting, beware! They go fast. Cough up the 30 cents per text message for access to a phone number—the best deals can go within 24 hours of being posted.

 Tefl.com has great job postings for major Spanish cities as well as some of the smaller ones. It also has a cost-of-living calculator.