Guide to TEFL in Spain
If you decide to take a TEFL course in Spain, this decision will almost certainly turn out to be one of the most productive and rewarding decisions you’ve ever taken in your life. Primarily, it will give you the chance to learn first-hand about Spain and get to know Spanish people, how they think, what is important to them and how they live, all essential for you to become a good teacher for them later.
Spanish culture is delightfully rich in many spheres – art, history, religion, literature, music, cinema, gastronomy, sports – and all these aspects of life here are framed within the geography of an outstandingly beautiful country and a vibrant and stimulating society. After obtaining your TEFL qualification, should you stay in Spain to work, you will already have made friends and contacts who will help you to fit in immediately in this fascinating, charming and, above all, welcoming country.
What type of job can I expect if I teach English in Spain?
The answer to this question ranges from formal classes focused on exam success, principally in the exams offered by Cambridge ESOL, Oxford Test of English, Trinity College, Pearson, TOEFL and a variety of Spanish institutions, to informal conversation classes with adults or children who just want or need to improve their English. Some students may need classes centred on Business English, for instance, or simply for their own convenience and comfort for tourism, or in their place of work, which could be a bar, a bank, a factory, a TV station or a train station.
The classes are usually given either in an academy or language school, in the student’s workplace or home, or in the teacher’s home. The traditional route to gaining a foothold in the town or city where you work is through a contract with an established language school. Once you’re hired, you can then seek out private classes to top up your salary and fill out your working day, should it be necessary. These classes will often be one-to-one, or two-to-one (couples, siblings, father and son etc.) and can come to form a significant part of a teacher’s income.
Why should I teach English in Spain?
This is probably the most pertinent question you can ask and if you ask it to experienced English teachers here, their answer will probably be a mixture of the following: the wonderful climate, the way of life, the quality of life, the food and drink, the sense of community, the transport system (clearly one of the best in the world), and, most importantly, the PEOPLE. Most Spaniards you meet in a classroom context are out-going, friendly, inquisitive and keen to learn – all qualities which make a teacher’s mission easier and that much more productive, personally rewarding and satisfying.
Where can I find a job teaching English in Spain?
Obviously, in the larger cities there is greater demand for English classes of all types; Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, Seville, Bilbao and Zaragoza lead the way, but demand can also be high in smaller, less well-known cities – Santander, Oviedo, Salamanca, Palma, León, Valladolid, La Coruna, Badajoz… Jobs can also be found, though, in some of the remotest towns and villages in Spain, such is the global reach and importance of the English language today for so many people.
What are the professional requirements to teach English in Spain?
You don’t need a degree to be able to teach English in Spain, but you should have a recognised TEFL qualification issued by an established and respected centre – Cambridge Celta, Trinity CertTESOL or equivalent courses, for example. Reasonably, this shows you have the aptitude and personality to be a good teacher, having been trained by the best professionals in their field. These courses will require you to demonstrate the prior academic ability considered necessary to cope with the demands of an intensive course; this may be a description of educational and/or work experience.
Sometimes, though rarely, academies or language schools may ask for a specific background in a particular field, or a minimum of a certain number of years’ teaching experience. Many non-native English speakers are also excellent English teachers, so this need not be an obstacle, depending on the nature of the classes and the needs of the students and the employer.
Must I be an experienced teacher to teach in Spain?
Before taking a TEFL course, you probably have had little or no teaching experience. This is not a problem, and is precisely why you are taking the course. However, future employers will reasonably expect you to have had experience during the course and maybe after it. Experience means fully-sensorial, real teaching in a real situation with real people, not by Skype or Zoom from your living room, although online teaching has become more relevant to both teachers and students since the pandemic, and of course can count in some way as experience.
What are the legal requirements to live and teach in Spain?
To be able to live and work in Spain, you have to do the paperwork, let’s say. This is inevitable, but is not as daunting as it may seem. Short-term tourist visas allow you to stay legally in the country for up to 90 days. EU nationals currently have few obstacles to overcome to be able to live and work in Spain as long as they apply for legal residence and an identity card.
Non-EU nationals also have to comply with Spanish law once they have signed a work contract; their future employer must contact the appropriate government department and ask for legal residence on their behalf, as well as a social security number. Once all this is obtained, the employee must contact the local Civil Guard office and apply for a residence card. This sounds easy, and it is, in essence, but may entail visits to offices with photos, making copies of certain documents, queueing, filling in forms etc., but don’t let this put you off.
The length of tourist visas granted for non-EU nationals depends on their country of origin, and maybe on the niceties of some international treaty, so the best thing to do is get well-informed of the requirements before committing to coming to Spain for whatever reason. Once through the red tape, it’ll be worth it.
When do language schools in Spain recruit?
The Spanish state and private academic years run from September/October to June, so the summer months are the right moment to start contacting future employers. Many academies and language schools offer intensive English courses, often exam-centred, over the summer, and English summer camps are popular in Spain, so these may provide openings, too.
January tends to see an increase in interest in English classes, although as demand is essentially hard to predict, any moment is good for first contact to be made.
How much money can I expect to earn?
The amount of money you earn will depend on where you work, how many hours you do and the relative generosity of your employer(s). Most academies will offer a fixed monthly salary for a fixed number of class hours, the content of which may range from classes with children to higher level Business English or exam-related classes. (A teacher’s hourly rate may occasionally increase as a result of pupil numbers passing a certain level in a group).
In León, for example, a teacher’s hourly rate in a language school or academy is between 20 and 25 euros. Rates in Madrid, Barcelona and other major cities will swing between 15 and 20 euros an hour approximately, the inevitable result of greater competition. The exact rate for private classes is much harder to pin down, but is more or less the same for qualified native teachers; there are many factors to be taken into account in this case – class times, travel, class content, the teacher’s experience and qualifications etc.
Of course, you have to pay tax on declared income. For teachers this is levied at around 20% of their salary. Spanish law has a maze of tax bands, thresholds and allowances, but very few new teachers will have to worry about these.
Should you be fortunate enough to land a contract for classes with employees of a large company which pays the teaching fees, your hourly rate may be considerably higher.
Time spent planning and preparing classes will not be considered paid work time, so first-time teachers have to accept this aspect of the job. If teaching is your vocation, or passion, you won’t mind!
Living costs in Spain
The majority of new arrivals in Spain rent a small flat (piso), or maybe a room in a shared house, and the cost will depend on the usual factors, which are the same in most countries across the world: the age and condition of the property, the presence of furniture, the inclusion or not by the landlord of some utility bills in the rent, its proximity to the town or city centre, the desirability of the area, and the going market rates at the time. As a general rule, if you earn 2,200 euros a month in Madrid, you can expect to pay nearly half of this in rent alone on the outskirts of the city. If you live in a smaller city, about a third of the same amount will go on rent.
A rental agreement usually depends on the future tenant having a work contract, so many people start off in hotels or hostels when they first arrive before they sort out a place to rent. (If you’re lucky enough to have a friend or contact living in the area, his or her sofa or spare room can be very useful for a fortnight or so, as can his or her help and advice on how to find a flat). Rental contracts normally last for one year, with one or, sometimes, two months’ rent required as a deposit.
The cost of transport is another essential factor to take into account, but clearly has to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Climate permitting, it’s a bicycle or you walk, although, as I mentioned earlier, Spain’s urban and rural public transport systems are a joy. (The major road network is excellent, too, but Spanish cities, like most cities everywhere nowadays, can and do become clogged with cars at any time).
Social life and leisure activities, and their costs, are a purely personal matter, but eating healthily and well in Spain, both at home and out, is quite easy and is not as expensive as in other countries in Europe, so indirect savings can be made in this area. Good clothing is relatively cheap, too.
How can I get started as an English teacher in Spain?
The first step is to make sure you want to be an English teacher in Spain. When you know you do, and once you’re qualified, your TEFL course provider, either in Spain or elsewhere, should offer you access to a jobs and careers network of contacts and openings. Take these opportunities as seriously as possible and pay great attention to any advice and tips given by experienced teachers and prospective employers. If you are still living outside Spain while job-hunting, ask around in your social and family circles to see if anyone has any friends or acquaintances who teach or have taught abroad, in Spain or elsewhere, or who maybe live in Spain. Nerves can be greatly settled by knowing that your possible new employer is a friend’s friend’s cousin, for instance.
Your next step is to make sure your CV is updated, professional and polished, and you have a copy in Spanish, too. It should include a recent photo. Get it out to as many schools, organisations, companies and individuals as possible. Give thought to the possibilities of having to provide a reference if required, and to having to travel to an interview. Spaniards are keen on letters of introduction, so write up a good one of these, too. Use reputable websites to advertise, and get yourself into the world of English teaching through social media sites.
If possible, meaning you’ve taken the plunge and are already living in the area where you want to work, visit the academies, schools and institutions you have contacted and introduce yourself; that first impression may be the key to the job. On a practical level, a Spanish mobile and home address will give you all you need to start your career as a teacher.
The next step, and preferably before committing to coming to Spain, is to feel confident about the terms and quality of any contract you may be offered; if you have doubts, or feel unsure about some aspect of the nature of the work and its conditions, or its legality or practicality, take time to check things out again and think it all over once more.
The last step is out of your hands up to a point and may take time to reach; a good reputation by word-of-mouth is everything, and essential in such a chatty society as Spain. So, once here, tell as many friends and acquaintances as possible that you are available, keen and looking for work. Try to look and sound confident and professional (easier said than done, I know!), dress appropriately and don’t smell of wine before an interview or a class! Most importantly, if you’re a good teacher, word will go round, and you will find work.
A few little tips:
Don’t be afraid to let people hear or overhear you speaking in English in the street with students you bump into, or in a café or shop with friends and colleagues. Your voice is not only your principal tool as a teacher, but also a great form of free advertising! (I’m not suggesting you go into a bar, stand on a table and start declaiming chunks of “Hamlet”, but it’s always good for as many people in the area as possible to know you are a native speaker).
Be prepared for people to be late for a class, a date or an appointment. Obviously, not all Spaniards are always late, but it tends to happen. Make sure you’re never late.
If your Spanish is non-existent or just basic when you arrive here, don’t worry; most people will make an effort to understand you in an office, shop, café, station etc., or will at least try to get hold of someone who can help out. Many more Spaniards speak better English now than those I had to deal with when I arrived 30 years ago, and it shows. (If you know some French, try that in an emergency, as many Spaniards, especially of an older generation, have also studied this language at school).