Spain: I went to try teaching and stayed 22 years

After five years of working in an inner city school in London, I decided to try teaching in Spain.  Now, 22 years later, I’m still here and continue to feel motivated, fulfilled and with few regrets.

Unlike the UK, most schools in Spain provide education right through from 3 years-old to sixth form.  This leads to enriching experiences for teachers who benefit from being part of a larger team of colleagues from other phases. Naturally, Spanish language and culture courses are compulsory and these are taught by specialist teachers.  We base our teaching on the British National Curriculum and have a slightly longer day than in UK schools.  We don’t lose out, though, because the school year finishes in June.

Schools vary in composition of intake depending on location: some are mainly occupied by Spanish children while others take in a mix of nationalities.  All British schools offer International GCSEs but sixth forms can differ.  Most also teach A- levels but others opt for the International Baccalaureate.  A small number switch post-16 to the Spanish Bachillerato programme taught by locally employed Spanish teachers.  Some schools also offer the Cambridge or Trinity EFL examinations.

You won’t get rich working in Spain, but you can enjoy your job and lifestyle.  EU citizens working here have access to the National Health Service and your social security payments count towards your state pension which can be drawn either here or in the UK.

Everyone arrives in Spain wanting to learn Spanish and one of the best (and nicest) ways is to visit a bar.  I learned this from friends and it’s true that you’ll improve your fluency by simply chatting in a social environment.  Use this to complement regular Spanish classes for the best effect.

I decided to heed the bar advice after my tutor group in Madrid cracked up laughing when I read them a passage about a cinema.  I asked them if ‘foyer’ was a new word to them.  They laughed more.  I repeated the word louder.  They became hilarious.  After the class, some pupils hung back to explain that I had managed to turn the entrance to a cinema into the Spanish ‘f’ verb.  Fortunately, those children had no hard edge to them, and that’s pretty much the same today.

Once you’ve left home shores, you don’t have to say goodbye to professional development.  I chose Ofsted training for my own personal development.  While I’ve never inspected schools in the UK, it led me into inspection over here.  The British Council is responsible for the scheme which is run in partnership with the National Association of British Schools in Spain, an organisation set up to promote British education.  Schools will normally be visited for one or two days every six years.

The best part of teaching in Spain is the friendly, motivated children.  The worst is when some schools stop paying teachers for two months while they are on their summer holidays.

My tips:

  • Decide what it is you want from the country.  Is it realistic?  You could be disappointed if your expectations are not met.
  • Do lots of research and this will help you to decide if Spain is suited to your needs.
  • Look at your motives for applying.
  • Find out about the schools and the city by visiting websites, looking at school information, local papers and the tourist board.
  • Be honest with yourself about your level of adaptability.  You’ll be leaving home comforts and familiarity behind, so flexibility is a must. 

Useful organisations:

European council of international schools
ISC research


For more advice on working abroad, visit Teaching overseas