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Ten things I wish I’d known before I started teaching English in Spain

What would English-language teachers in Spain do differently if they could start all over again? Cormac Breen draws from his own experiences and that of other 'profesores de inglés' to offer some invaluable advice.

Ten things I wish I'd known before I started teaching English in Spain
What regrets and tips do English-language teachers have for those thinking of moving to Spain and pursuing teaching work. Photo: Parabol/Unsplash

Long seen as one of the most popular destinations for English language teachers, Spain offers countless opportunities for those looking to spend a few years abroad sampling the best of what the famed Mediterranean lifestyle offers.

But what to expect in terms of living and working in Spain can often be quite different to what budding teachers imagine.

We spoke to some English teachers about the things they wish they knew before making the move to Spain.

Learn at least a little bit of Spanish

It’s possible to get by with little to no Spanish in large cities like Madrid and Barcelona, but many teachers start out their teaching careers in España in smaller, provincial cities where there are fewer English speakers.

Taking the time to have even a couple of Spanish classes before moving can make all the difference when it comes setting up life here whether that be opening a bank account, finding a place to live or dealing with the infamous Spanish civil service.

From a teaching perspective, having some knowledge of Spanish can better help you understand the challenges your students face when learning English, especially with low levels or young learners.

Be aware of dodgy schools

While some teachers work within Spain’s public education system as language assistants (auxiliares), most teachers will find work with private language academies when they arrive.

Most are reputable and treat their teachers well, but there are always horror stories of so-called ‘cowboy academies’ that look to pay cash in hand, roll back on contract offers and working conditions, or who expect a certain amount of unpaid hours of work.

When applying for any job, try and find some reviews of the academy, whether they be by students or ex-teachers, so as to make sure you choose the best school.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of being a language assistant in Spain

Be prepared to look for summer work

Speaking of contracts, most academies will offer their teachers nine-month contracts to cover the academic year, meaning you will be technically unemployed during the summer months until you return at the start of the academic year and are ‘rehired’.

This can be quite a shock for those who come from public teaching backgrounds in Ireland or the UK, where you typically have a 12-month contract.

Despite this, there are always opportunities to find summer work, whether that be in summer school courses or English summer camps for kids and teenagers.

READ ALSO: Do I have to pay taxes in Spain if I earn below minimum wage?

Don’t expect to be a millionaire

There is no denying that living and working in Spain is a wholly rewarding life experience, but unfortunately it is not often a land of riches.

Teachers earn on average about €14 an hour which is slightly above the minimum hourly wage, and with most working between 20 to 30 hours a week, you can expect to take home about €1,000 to €1,400 a month.

While it is true life in Spain is generally more affordable that Northern Europe, big cities like Madrid and Barcelona are becoming more and more expensive and with the recent rise in inflation, so teachers are seeing their actual living wage go down.

READ MORE: ‘Hard to stay afloat’ – Is working for an English language academy in Spain worth it?

Working on the side

Whereas some teachers get by on their academy salaries, it’s routine to look for private classes to boost your earnings and help with the rise in the cost of living.

You can charge between €15 and €25 an hour depending on the content of the class and your relevant experience. Finding students is never usually a challenge given the demand for learning English in Spain with sites like offering the chance to advertise yourself as a private teacher.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to make some extra money in Spain

Working until 10pm is not uncommon

Life in Spain goes on a little later than in the, US, UK or Ireland, with it being completely acceptable for businesses and services to stay open until 9 or 10 at night.

With this in mind, don’t be surprised if you find yourself teaching a class at 8 or 9 in the evening as many English academies have their classes from 4 in the afternoon until 10 at night.

Some academies offer morning classes, but the demand is often much lower, resulting in most teachers working an afternoon shift.

This might sound like the death of your social life, but meeting someone for a meal or a drink at 9 or 10 at night is the standard in Spain, especially towards the end of the week, so don’t worry about missing out.

READ ALSO: The ultimate A to Z guide to teaching English in Spain

Working as an English teacher in Spain offers more opportunities to branch out into other fields related to education. Photo: Chris Montgomery/Unsplash

Working with kids

Finding yourself in a classroom of hyperactive eight-year-olds can often be a big surprise to those who came into the industry through completing a CELTA course which focuses on adult education.

That’s not to say that you won’t have adult classes, but it’s a frequent occurrence for new teachers to find themselves teaching learners of all ages, as many academies focus on kids and teenage classes as their main earners.

Some teachers come from backgrounds in primary or secondary education, but for those who don’t, make sure you have an extra coffee for that extra boost of energy kids’ classes require.

Don’t bin your materials

It’s common for those who spend several years teaching in Spain to live and work in different parts of the country, and as you move from school to school, it’s tempting to bin lesson plans, prepared presentations, resources etc.

While each school may use different textbooks, resources, holding on to what you have made in previous schools can often be invaluable when starting in a new school, especially if you are new to the industry and are still learning the ropes.

Building up a bank of lesson materials, plans and other resources that you can take anywhere will make those tricky first few classes in a new academy all the easier.

Short term vs long term

Teaching English abroad is often seen as a type of post-university ‘Erasmus’, with most people not planning to spend many years in the industry.

Having said this, it’s increasingly normal to will find teachers with well over 10 or 15 years of experience, and with this comes the advice of one teacher who has enjoyed a long-term career in the industry.

When asked about what he had wish he’d known before moving here, the first thought that came to mind was the idea of trying to have a plan of whether you intend to stay for two years or ten years.

It’s important to be aware that after four or five years, most salary increases plateau or drop off completely, and with most academies offering limited promotional positions, it can lead to the risk of drifting within the industry.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything to stay for, but rather it’s important to try to plan ahead for the time you choose to spend teaching in Spain.

A career beyond simply teaching

While this article may paint the English teaching industry in Spain as limited, thanks to the professional and personal experience gained from it, many teachers go on to find themselves working in industries such as publishing, examining, content creation, app development and business.

With the increase in online learning and the education industry constantly evolving, the door of opportunity has been opened to those with some years of experience in teaching, who can now expand their horizons more easily and build a successful career in education here in sunny Spain.

One former teacher The Local Spain spoke to recently started working for a start-up who are launching a business English learning app.

Article by Cormac Breen

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‘Spain must invest in Spaniards rather than turning to migrants’: EU work chief

The European Commission’s head for jobs and social rights has said Spain “must first find a solution for young people, women and the elderly” with regard to its labour market and “see later if they need immigrants”.

'Spain must invest in Spaniards rather than turning to migrants': EU work chief

The European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit recently took part in a summit on job security in Bilbao, where he spoke with Spain’s Labour Minister and Second Deputy Prime Ministers Yolanda Díaz about the state of affairs for workers in the country. 

When discussing potential solutions to Spain’s high unemployment rate, Schmit explained “I would not exclude immigration, but when I analyse the data, I see youth unemployment of 30 percent, more than double the European average”.  

“The priority for Spain must be to invest in its people,” Schmit continued.

“They must first look at their labour market and find a solution for young people, women and the elderly. They will see later if they need immigrants”.

Despite high unemployment levels which currently amount to three million people, Spain has worker shortages in a wide variety of sectors. 

READ ALSO: The ‘Big Quit’ hits Spain despite high unemployment and huge job vacancies

The Spanish government recently changed its immigration laws to make it easier for employers to hire non-EU citizens for sectors with shortages, from waiters to plumbers, whereas previously recruiters were required to prove that they couldn’t find an EU candidate for the job and the skills shortage list was limited and outdated. 

READ MORE: How spain is making it easier for foreigners to work in Spain

In 2023, Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration wants to hire 62,000 third-country workers to cover an array of construction and trades jobs, something the country’s Labour Ministry has not agreed to yet. 

READ ALSO – EXPLAINED: Spain’s plans to recruit thousands of foreigners for construction and trade jobs

The government also recently passed its new startups law to attract foreign investors, digital nomads and talent to the country.

Could Spaniards not be trained to do these jobs as Schmit alludes to? Currently, low wages and unstable working conditions are dissuading many locally trained professionals from staying.

This includes almost 20,000 doctors who have moved abroad in recent years as salaries in other European countries are significantly higher than in Spain, with a newly qualified doctor’s salary only around €1,600 gross per month.

Staff shortages in the health sector are not helped by the fact that foreigners with non-EU qualifications wait for several years for their qualifications to be recognised in Spain through an unnecessarily laborious administrative process known as homologación. This applies to a number of regulated fields, from engineering to dentistry, all of which face shortages. 

READ MORE: How Spain is ruining the careers of thousands of qualified foreigners

Spain’s Socialist-led government has partly addressed some of its labour market issues by reducing the rate of temporary contracts and increasing the minimum wage (SMI), but voices within the opposition have accused Sánchez’s administration of “dressing up” the dire reality.

When asked about the rise in minimum wage, Schmit said that he believes “it will not mean significant changes for Spain, which already has a tradition of updating the minimum wage on a regular basis… but the government must take into account factors such as the cost of living and the economic context”.

“Spain must question whether the SMI allows for a decent life or creates poor workers. Its economy cannot be supported by low wages and low productivity,” he continued.  

When asked if salaries and inflation have to go hand in hand, Schmit argued “wages must be set by collective bargaining. We are experiencing very high inflation because of the explosion in energy and food prices. If there is a large lag between wages and inflation, there will be an impact on demand and the risk of recession will increase”.

With regards to pensions, Schmit explained: “I don’t think that pensions are very high in Spain and if you leave a gap between the rise in benefits and inflation, you can create a situation of poverty among the elderly. Spain has a disadvantage in that it has one of the fastest-ageing societies… The solution is to modernise the economy to make it more productive and attract more people to the job market”.  

Despite these issues, the commissioner acknowledged that the Spanish labour market has surprised many with its resistance this year. “Employment will remain strong if there is no deep recession,” he said.  

“The national plan for access to European funds has a good combination of measures to invest in green energy, digitisation, education and public employment services… Spain experienced its economic miracle due to the real estate boom, which exploded, and now it has to transform to go in the right direction”.

According to a report carried out by human resources company Hays on work trends in Spain in 2022, 77 percent of Spaniards surveyed said they would change jobs if they could. Furthermore, 68 percent of them confessed that they are actively looking for another job and the main reason they argue is to get a better salary. 

According to Eurostat data from January 2021, 37 percent of Spain’s workforce is overqualified, 17 percent higher than the EU average.

READ ALSO: Why more people than ever in Spain are overqualified for their jobs